No. 69 - The former St Stephen's Presbyterian Church Beaconsfield - Two Fires and a Stoning

I spotted this country hall at Rowella on my way back from photographing churches along the West Tamar. Country halls often mimic the features of churches but there were a few features of this building which are strong clues that it was indeed a former church. After a bit of research, it turns out that it was the old Presbyterian Church at Beaconsfield that had been transported to Rowella in 1927 to serve as a community hall. It also so happens that it has an interesting history.

One of the first news stories I found is oddly entertaining so I will start with this before tracing the churches history:

“At the police court on Monday, before Mr Adye Douglas J.P., a boy was charged with disturbing the service at the Presbyterian Church by pushing open the doors, throwing stones, and otherwise creating a noise. The lad pleaded guilty, and Mr Sub-inspector Hayes asked for a light sentence as a warning to others should they persist in misconducting themselves in the manner described above. Mr Douglas, taking into consideration the lad being in gaol all night, sentenced him to six hours imprisonment”. (The Tasmanian Saturday 30 June 1894)

The church opening was reported in the Examiner in May 1882. The next time it appears in the record is March 1891, where it came close to burning down when an adjacent property seems to have been deliberately set alight. And then in March 1908 it actually did burn down! According to the report in the Examiner:

“One of the most disastrous fires that have occurred here for many years happened this morning about 3.30 [a.m]. The fire whistle blew at 1.45 a.m., and very soon a large crowd gathered, but nothing could be done to save the buildings. The, fire started in Forsyth's cycling shop, or rather in the kitchen at the back of the shop…. The Presbyterian Church which was about 30ft from Forsyth's and was covered with shingles, was soon a mass of flames, and nothing was saved. The organ, forms, etc., were all lost. The church had only recently been renovated, at a cost of about £40, and will be a great loss to the congregation. Mr Zanker, who carries on the business of a cabinetmaker, and was only separated from the church by a few feet, next fell a victim to the fire fiend. Plenty of willing helpers, however, saved the contents of the shop and house…. Another house, occupied by Mr Williams, …was saved by a number of men keeping blankets saturated with water hung on the walls. The police, under Sergeant Harris, were present, and saw that the furniture was removed to the Presbyterian manse, which is empty, and Mr Zanker and his family were allowed to occupy the manse for the present. The Presbyterians are arranging to continue services and Sunday school in the Masonic Hall until a new church is erected”.

As the church was insured, it was not long before a new church was opened in September 1908. This was reported in the Examiner:

“A lovely day and a half-holiday combined drew a very large number to witness the placing of the foundation stone of the new Presbyterian Church at Beaconsfield. The place looked quite gay with strings of flags, whilst over [at] the tripod below the Commonwealth flag …the Moderator delivered an address on some of the teachings of the church. He referred to the great loss the people had sustained when the church was burned down, but he trusted that when the new building was opened it would prove a greater blessing to the people. The stone was ready to be lowered into position. A bottle was placed in the cavity, in which copies of the "Examiner" and "Telegraph" of the 16th …and a programme of the day's proceedings, a list of former ministers, the names of the elders and board of management, the date of the erection (1882) of the old church and the date… when [it] burned down, were placed…. A very large contingent of visitors from Glengarry and Winkleigh where present….”

The church was dedicated in November 1908 and was named St Stephen’s. It was described as having a “very neat appearance, the ceiling being picked out in blue and white”. The end of mining activity in Beaconsfield, with the closure of the mine in 1917, was accompanied by a rapid decline in the town’s population and within 20 years of its dedication the church had been closed and removed to Rowella to serve as a community hall. It was purchased by public subscription and moved by a bullock dray to its current location.

As a footnote to the story, the hall recently survived an attempt to close and sell it by the west Tamar Council. However, the community fought back and hopefully it will survive for many years to come.  Link to story here


Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

A commemorative plaque inside the Rowella Hall


The dedication of the church as St. Stephen's - Examiner Monday 23 November 1908



Sources:

Examiner Wednesday 4 March 1908
Examiner Friday 18 September 1908
Examiner Wednesday 17 May 1882
Examiner Saturday 7 March 1891
Examiner Monday 23 November 1908
The Tasmanian Saturday 20 May 1882
The Tasmanian Saturday 30 June 1894









Comments

  1. Hehehe. Kids haven't necessarily become worse after all!!

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