No. 117 - Latrobe 'Methodist' Church - "Fox Hunting Parsons"

The original Wesleyan church on this site was a timber building that was removed from Sherwood (West of Latrobe) in the 1850's. The old church was surfaced with split palings and parishioners were called to worship by an old cow bell.(1) The building was moved once again to make way for the present church that was built between 1879 and 1881. For about 30 years this old building was used as a Sunday school before it was replaced by a larger weatherboard structure.(2) An arsonist burnt this down in 1997.

In 1879 the laying of the foundation stone for the new church was reported in the Devon Herald:

“The foundation stone of this very elegant little building was laid on Wednesday afternoon. Besides the flag of England flying on the spot, the plans were hung up for the inspection of the general public. These, together with the solid foundations are enough to satisfy the public that this house for divine service will form one of the finest ornaments of the township”.(4)

The Devon Herald’s report included in detail the speech of Colonel Shaw, who had been invited to lay the foundation stone. The copy is very difficult to read but parts of the speech which referred to the early years of the Wesleyan church were extremely inflammatory and stirred some controversy later:

“Dear friends, - You have invited me here today to lay the foundation stone of your church, but you did not merely expect me to lay one stone upon another. On a solemn occasion like this you expect me to make some sort of speech. I will endeavour to do so… When the Wesleyans came none worked more against them than did the Church of England. The clergymen were sometimes called “foxhunting parsons”. It was nothing for a clergyman to stagger to bed “with three bottles of port under his belt”, as the saying is. Large mobs were raised against the Wesleys [who were] hounded on and sometimes even led by clergymen of the Church of England with bludgeons and stones….” (5)

The Colonel went on for a while longer before a note was passed to him requesting him to stop his speech. A report in The Examiner reflected on the Colonel's performance:

“When addressing the crowd the mantle of Chiniquy* seemed to have descended on the veteran for a few moments, his object being the Church of England, and when a note was handed to him to speak short, the old soldier showed some of the young blood which must have fired him at times when facing the Queens enemies on the battlefields of India. At the close of his address the dauntless Colonel excited some amusement by his manifest determination to see the stone well and properly laid before he would say so, remarking that he never told lies. Whether the Colonel’s remarks anent [archaic – about] another church were well timed or in good taste, we will leave others to say.”(6)

If clergy from the Church of England had been invited to the ceremony, their response would have been most interesting but the Wesleyan minister, Reverend Thomas, was so clearly flustered that he forgot to take the collection of building funds over the newly laid foundation stone as was the custom.(7)

At the evening ceremony after the traditional tea meeting, speakers were limited to “10 minutes” because the programme was “rather lengthy”. One of the speakers, Colonel Angelo tried to make amends for the afternoon's proceedings:

“He [Colonel Angelo] rejoiced with them (the Wesleyans) in the laying of their foundation stone. He would be wanting in his duty as a soldier if he did not deprecate the sad occurrence of the afternoon. He respected the Colonel as a grand soldier, and he thought it [his words] was only meant in kindness. He was sorry for his not being permitted to say what he wanted to say. He did not know whether the note came from a churchman or not, but he was sorry it had occurred”. (8)

It is worth including other parts from the Devon Herald's report on the evening meeting because they give us an insight into the early Methodist movement in the Latrobe region as well as the sectarianism amongst the different churches and even amongst the ‘Methodists’:

“Mr Locke was called upon [and he] gave the meeting a little of his experience in this circuit in its early state some years ago. He arrived in the district in October 1854. He held his first service in the district in his own house. Preaching then was different to preaching now. All appointments had to be reached by walking. The churches were also different. Services were held in huts, stables, barns and even police buildings. All denominations used the same place of worship. Sometimes the Wesleyan preacher would arrive at his appointment and find that he had made a mistake – it was Catholic Church Sunday”.(9)

While the different denominations sometimes shared facilities, relations within denominations were not always cordial:

“Reverend J. Bennett made an interesting speech….When he came here from America he came with the desire to work heartily with everyone who worked to make known Jesus. …There was a party in the English church trying to lead it over to the Church of Rome. If the church did not know it, they ought…. There was room for both the Congregationalists and the Methodists…. He had heard an anecdote descriptive of the ministers as follows: - The Congregational minister is described as being straight and starched, the Primitive [Methodist] minister as shouting “Halleluah! Hurrah for the kingdom”, and the Wesleyan minister as saying, “a collection will now be made”.(10)

Unlike the foundation laying ceremony, the opening service of the new  church in January 1881 occurred without incident. The Examiner described the new buildings as:

“…a handsome edifice , built of brick, with freestone facings and a slate roof, after a design by Mr. Gadsby, and is capable of seating 200 persons comfortably”.(11)


On the 50th anniversary of the church in 1929, further improvements were made to the building and these were described in The Advocate:

“Additions have been made to the Methodist Church, in the form of a new chancel and vestry, on the occasion of this, the jubilee year…Besides adding to the size and convenience of the church, the extension at the rear does much towards enhancing the appearance of the building. …A large Gothic arch opens into the chancel, and…from here a door leads into a vestry, which also opens into the main body of the church… A handsome stained glass window adds to the appearance of the chancel. The whole is roofed with asbestos shingle. The reopening of the church will be the occasion of the jubilee celebrations on June 23. During the constructional work services have been held in the hall alongside the church”. (12)

The old Wesleyan church has also undergone several name changes; becoming Methodist at the turn of last century, the Uniting Church in the 1970’s and more recently it become an Independent Presbyterian Church.

Notes

* Charles P. Chiniquy (30 July 1809 – 16 January 1899) was a very high-profile, celebrated Canadian Catholic priest who left the Roman Catholic Church and became a Presbyterian minister.


The Methodist movement in Latrobe:

Latrobe was originally the centre of Methodist activities reaching as far as Ulverstone. The first Methodist ministers had many long rides on horseback to distant settlements. As the North West became more populated, the circuit was divided, with Devonport and Latrobe in the new circuit. A plan of appointments from 1887 reveal that services were held at 11a.m. and 7p.m. at Latrobe and Torquay (now East Devonport), and that Formby (now West Devonport) had only an occasional afternoon service. Other churches served by the two ministers stationed at Latrobe and Formby were at Sassafras, Wesley Vale, Greenbanks (near Moriarty), and Green's Creek (now Harford).(3) 

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:

The Advocate Thursday 13 June 1929 (1) (2) (3)
The Advocate Saturday 30 April 1929 (12)
The Examiner Saturday 12 July 1879 (6)
Devon Herald Saturday 12 July 1879 (4) (5) (8) (9) (10)
The Examiner Thursday 27 June 1929 (7)
The Examiner Wednesday 5 January 1881(11)
Stansall, M. E. J. and Methodist Church of Australasia.  Tasmanian Methodism, 1820-1975 / [by M.E.J. Stansall ... et al]  Methodist Church of Australasia Launceston, Tas  1975



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