No. 113 - Exton Methodist Church - "An Ornament to the Township"


The village of Exton lies between the towns of Deloraine and Westbury on the old Bass Highway. It was first known as Marsh Paddocks and developed as a small centre to serve the coaching industry.

The first Wesleyan church in Exton opened in 1855 but this was replaced by new church in 1885. The old church was later used as a school house and according to the 'Exton correspondent' in a report for The Tasmanian, it was a rather rudimentary building:

“Speaking of the State school reminds me [of]...the disgraceful state of this barn-like structure… it was used as a church by the Wesleyans, to whom it belongs. They found it untenable in winter from its increasing age, and so put their shoulders to the wheel and built something that would keep out the weather, in the shape of a pretty little church which stands opposite their old ' gunyah.' Yet still the Department of Education continues to use this rough paling, gloomy old relic as a State school! The teacher will have to have more hardness of heart than I give him credit for if he tries to enforce the compulsory clause of the Education Act during the promised rigours of the coming winter. Awake, people of Exton, and by bestirring yourselves you may get a proper school building in a year or two”.

The “pretty little church” which replaced the “barn-like structure” still stands off the highway but has now been converted into a private residence.

After its opening there was little out of the ordinary in religious life at the new Wesleyan church. In1885 the Daily Telegraph reported:

The new Wesleyan Church here was opened last Sunday by the Rev. B. T. Cox. It is a very handsome structure, capable of seating 140 persons….The site is a splendid one, consisting of a quarter of an acre, [it] is the gift of Henry Martin, Esq., of Exton. The congregations on Sunday were large, several people [were] unable to get in…On Monday the inevitable tea meeting was held, and the people came from far and near, nearly 300 being present. The public meeting was presided over by the circuit minister, and addresses were given by the Reverends Cox, Wykes and Tennent, and Mr S. Badcock… This little church is an ornament to the township; the people have reason to be proud of it”.

Families that were prominent in the Exton Wesleyan and Methodist community include the Badcock’s, Walker’s, Layton’s and Parsons. In 1912, 64 children were attending the Sunday school with 7 teachers in charge. But this era has long passed.

Exton is typical of many county villages. The consolidation of farms and the mechanisation of agriculture has resulted in dramatically shrinking rural populations. According to the 2016 census, the village of Exton now has a population of 154. At a squeeze, they could all fit into the old church.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018


Examiner Wednesday  29 September1954  Page 18

Sources:

von Stieglitz, K.R. (1946). Then and now in old Westbury : with notes on Exton, Hagley and Carrick. Launceston: Telegraph Printery.
The Tasmanian Saturday 20 March 1886
Daily Telegraph Tuesday 15 December 1885
Henslowe, Dorothea (1978). Our heritage of Anglican churches in Tasmania. Moonah, Tasmania.  

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