No. 119 - Deloraine Baptist Tabernacle - 'A Wordless Book and a Wordless Woman'

The Baptists first arrived in Deloraine around 1860 led by Reverend Jesse Pullen who preached from a building in Barrack Street. Baptist activity seems to have subsequently petered out until a revival in 1879 which was financed by William Gibson of Perth. The arrival of Reverend Harrison from England, accompanied by Reverend Thomas Spurgeon and Reverend R. McCulloch, mark the beginning of a Baptist renewal movement across Northern Tasmania. William Gibson had approached Charles Haddon Spurgeon of the London Tabernacle* to send preachers to Tasmania. One of the men who arrived was Spurgeon's twin son Thomas. Gibson and his son (William junior), funded the building of the Deloraine Tabernacle as well as the Baptist Tabernacles at Perth, Sheffield, Longford, Latrobe and Launceston. 

The foundation stone of the Deloraine Tabernacle was laid on June 11 1880. This event was reported in The Examiner:

“A large number of persons gathered to witness the laying of the foundation stone of the new Deloraine Tabernacle, to be erected by the liberality of Mr Gibson…. The proceedings were presided over by Mr Thomas Spurgeon. ... He expressed the hope that the building might prove a blessing to the township, and called upon Mrs Gibson to lay the stone”.

Mrs Gibson had played a significant role in the Baptist’s revival in Tasmania yet convention and perhaps modesty required that she should stay out of the limelight. At the foundation stone laying ceremony, Thomas Spurgeon made the curious comment that “if Mrs Gibson had been a man she could have told them the pleasure it felt in laying the foundation stone”. In the Examiner’s report we are told that following the laying of the stone, her son William, “...then addressed the assemblage. As his mother could not address them herself, she had told him what she wished to say”.

The building was completed and opened for its first service in December 1880. The Examiner’s coverage of the event is as follows:

“Sunday, the 5th of December, was a day long to be remembered by the people of Deloraine. …The morning was beautifully fine, and half an hour before the time appointed a number of people had gathered round the Tabernacle…. some estimated the number of people present at between 300 and 400”.  


Thomas Spurgeon led the service, with the opening hymn “The Holy Ghost is Here”, which was composed by his father Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The Examiner also described events of that afternoon: 

“Mr Harrison gave an address to the children and young people from the “Wordless Book”. He showed them a book of simply four colours, opening it first all black, then red, then white, and lastly gold, very clearly explaining the black represented sin; the red, the blood of Christ; the white, Christ’s righteousness; and gold, the golden harps and the streets of Heaven”. **

The ‘Wordless Book' seemed to silently echo the wordless Mrs Gibson at the foundation stone laying ceremony 6 months earlier.

While the Gibson’s funded the Chapel which cost £1000, as well as providing seating and other donations, the number of Baptists at Deloraine was small with only 17 foundation members. The church went through 17 pastors in the first 50 years of its operation. Its founder Reverend Harrison, resigned shortly after the church was completed. Reporting on its 50th Jubilee in 1930, The Mercury alluded to the church ‘having its ups and downs’ and that “not many of the members even of 25 years ago remain”. It is possible that while the Gibson’s money, faith and enthusiasm had provided the impetus for a wave of Tabernacle building, perhaps the depth of support for some of these communities was not enough for them to be sustained. It is estimated that the Gibson’s and their son William Gibson Junior of Scone, spent approximately £40 000 on Baptist churches, Sunday schools, dwellings, the provision of ministers and various funds and trusts. Like all investments, not all pay dividends.

Unlike the Tabernacles in Longford and Launceston; the Deloraine Baptist Church has not only survived but still serves the purpose for which it was built.

Notes

* Charles Haddon Spurgeon:


Charles Haddon Spurgeon was an English Baptist preacher. Spurgeon remains highly influential among Christians of various denominations, among whom he is known as the "Prince of Preachers". Spurgeon was an author of many types of works including sermons, an autobiography, commentaries, books on prayer, devotionals, magazines, poetry and hymns. Spurgeon frequently preached to audiences numbering more than 10,000. On 19 October 1856, as Spurgeon was preaching at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall someone in the crowd yelled, "Fire!" and in the ensuing panic and stampede several people died. On 7 October 1857, he preached to the largest crowd ever; 23,654 people at The Crystal Palace in London. In 1861, the Metropolitan Tabernacle at Southwark opened, which seated 5000 people with standing room for another 1000. The Metropolitan Tabernacle was the largest church of its day. Spurgeon continued to preach there several times per week until his death 31 years later.  When Charles Spurgeon died in January 1892, London went into mourning. Nearly 60,000 people came to pay homage during the three days his body lay in state at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Some 100,000 lined the streets as a funeral parade two miles long followed his hearse from the Tabernacle to the cemetery. Flags flew at half-staff and shops and pubs were closed.

More information can be found at this link: Christianity Today

** Wordless Books

This was ‘invented’ by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The book consists of several blocks of pure colour that, in sequence, represent a nonverbal catechism about basic Christian teachings for the instruction of children, the illiterate, or people of different cultures.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Sources

The Mercury Thursday 4 September 1930
The Mercury Monday 8 September 1930
The Examiner Tuesday 23 November 1880
The Examiner Wednesday 8 December 1880
The Examiner Thursday 8 June 1880

http://webjournals.ac.edu.au/ojs/index.php/ADEB/article/view/1168/1165

http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/pastorsandpreachers/charles-spurgeon.html


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