No. 83 - Longford Baptist Tabernacle - 'Keeping it Plain'

The Longford Tabernacle was one of several Baptist churches funded by William Gibson who supported communities in Perth, Launceston, Devonport, Sheffield and Deloraine. The Longford Tabernacle has in fact an identical twin in Deloraine that also opened in December 1880, only two weeks before its Longford sibling. The foundation stone laying ceremony at Longford was reported in the Examiner in June 1880:

“The foundation stone of the…Baptist Church was laid on Friday afternoon by Mrs. William Gibson of Perth, in the presence of a very large assemblage, including visitors from Launceston, Evandale, Deloraine, Carrick, Cressy and Perth, the latter place being extensively represented. The cost of both churches (Longford and Deloraine) will be borne by William Gibson, Esq. of Perth, whose interest in the spiritual welfare of the people has evoked such commendatory results”.

But the stone laying ceremony did not go exactly as the crowd might have anticipated:

“The silver trowel presented to Mrs. Gibson, which that lady used upon both occasions, was subscribed for at both places, and has yet to be engraved to that effect. A cavity (as is customary) was left under the stone for depositing documents and newspapers, but much to the surprise of those present at the ceremony, it was not needed”.

No explanation was given for the failure to place the customary daily newspaper and coin under the foundation stone, but this omission must have drawn comments from those gathered. Gibson, while generous was also frugal; the two churches not only had an identical design but also shared the same silver ceremonial trowel for laying the foundation stone.

The Examiner’s correspondent went on to detail the design of the church:

“I may mention that the plans are drawn for both the Longford and Deloraine churches, the two places of worship corresponding in all respects. The style of a architecture appears to be Corinthian, four massive columns abutting on the front of the main building, which will be lighted by ten plate glass windows, four on either side and two in the front. The inside measurement is length, 55ft; width, 32ft; affording sitting accommodation for 300 people in the centre of the church, with provision for more seats when required down one side of each aisle next the wall”. 


At the Tabernacle's opening six months later large numbers gathered once again with three services being necessary to accommodate the crowd.

“Mr. and Mrs. Gibson (the donors) were present at the first two services, as were also a number of other residents from Perth, Deloraine, Carrick, Bishopsbourne, Cressy, and Illawarra, were also each represented throughout the day, the attendance being estimated as follows: Morning and evening about 400, afternoon 450. Mr. Thomas Spurgeon officiated at the first service. Mr. William Gibson, jun., of Perth, preached in the afternoon, and the pastor, the Rev. R. McCullough, in the evening”. 


The Tabernacle subsequently had a long and successful life. Perhaps it was too successful for in 1999, the community had grown to the point that a much larger church was needed. This was reported in the Examiner of that year:

“For nearly 120 years, the distinctive plain lines and high ceilings of Longford's Baptist Tabernacle have dominated the main street of the Northern country town and the lives of its parishioners. All that may now change, but the result will be a happy ending, not the sad ending of so many historic Tasmanian churches placed on the market.

Pastor Jeff McKinnon must be doing something right because his parishioners have swelled the sides of the old building and its surrounds about as far as they can go. Longford's Baptist congregation will put its church on the market after Easter with the plan to build a bigger community church on nearby land bought several years ago.  The plans have already been drawn up for the new centre, which will feature an auditorium to seat 300 with full stage lighting and acoustic equipment for concerts as well as special meeting rooms and areas for the expanding services. 


The Baptist Tabernacle was one of many around the State in the late 1800s financed by the Gibson family, who settled at Native Point, near Perth. “They were all basically very plain buildings, fairly large and imposing, but not ornate. The philosophy was to keep it plain so that people could focus on God,'' Pastor McKinnon said”.

The Tabernacle may well be plain but perhaps not quite so soulless as so many contemporary places of worship. In an ironic twist, the Tabernacle has continued to serve souls in a new incarnation as a chapel for a funeral parlour.



Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018
Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Sources:

Examiner Wednesday 15 December 1880
Examiner Tuesday 15 June 1880
Examiner Friday 18 June 1880
Examiner 31 March 1999

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