No. 115 - Wesleyan Chapel Evandale - An Unholy Squabble

The early history of the Wesleyan Chapel in Evandale is mostly silent. The building opened in 1836 but almost no record of its activities can be found over the next three decades.

In 1873 there are several reports about fundraising for repairs to the Chapel. A report in the Examiner in 1875 mentions the anniversary of the Wesleyan Sabbath School taking place in the Council Chambers and that “some are talking of having a new chapel, which is much needed, leaving the old one for school and other purposes”.

By the 1880's, the Wesleyans are in the news. A minor ruction developed between the Wesleyans and other religious groups over the building of a Mission Hall by Mrs Margaret Reed, widow of Henry Reed, founder of Launceston’s Mission Church. The Evandale Mission Hall, funded by Mrs Reed was opened in 1883 and this occasion was reported in several newspapers. The building was described as being able to seat between 150 and 200 people and being “an ornament to the township”. The Daily Telegraph published a detailed report that provides some context:

“The new Mission Room was opened last Sunday, at 3 in the afternoon, by Mr Hiddlestone, of Launceston... Considering the inclemency of the weather there was a fair muster. Before the sermon Mr Smith made a statement regarding the erection of the building. He said that some 27 years ago they found out the difficulty of obtaining a suitable room to hold evangelistic meetings in, when himself and Mr Russell interviewed the Council, on behalf of the people, in obtaining the Chambers. Difficulties were in the way, and in one of his communications on business to Mrs Reed he told her of the impediments in the way, but did not ask that lady for aid. Mrs Reed at once wrote to him, and offered, in the event of their building a room, to give £300 towards such a laudable object. He replied, thanking her, but put her in mind that if she would put a little more [in] to it the property would be her own. Mrs Reed wrote to him [Mr Smith] to go on building, and she would defray the cost. Hence the building was just as much that lady's as Mount Pleasant”.* 

The Examiner in its report on the opening ceremony noted that:


 “The building and site are the property of Mrs Reed, and will be available for use of any religious community, the members of which are not satisfied with the opportunities offered by the other four places of worship in the township”. [the four being Catholic; Anglican; Presbyterian and Wesleyan]

This intrusion of the new Mission Hall into Evandale seems to have become a source of some conflict in the community. The Mercury noted that:

“A good deal of difference of opinion exists over this hall, many thinking that there are four churches in the township and the building of a Mission Hall was unnecessary. The room previously used as a mission room has been renovated, and is now being used as a lodge-room by the St Andrew’s Society, and the Good Templars”.

In 1884 a report by a 'local correspondent' that appeared in the Daily Telegraph seemed to ridicule Wesleyans and the supporters of the Mission church:

“We are having a surfeit of religious services of one sort or another, as there seems to exist a kind of rivalry between one or two religious bodies here. I notice the Wesleyans are fast merging into the Salvation Army style of procedure. They have placards stuck up announcing a week of special services, at which knee-drill** is announced every Sunday evening. On Monday evening they marched down the street singing “The home over there”. If they had a band of music the effect would be greater. Last Friday evening we also had a parade and music from a detachment from Launceston in connection with Mrs Reed’s branch of the Mission Church here. I would advise the Salvation Army to send out a detachment of soldiers and open a campaign. I believe they would get some recruits, as it seems their style appears to take with some here”.

By 1886, divisions seem to have come to a head. In March the Mercury reported that:

“Services took place in connection with the new Wesleyan Church…. This church was built about two years since by Mrs Reed at a cost of £500. No doubt her motives were of the purest character, and she erected the edifice for the glory of her Master, but a clique had the management, and their objects being different from Mrs Reed's, consequently the two parties did not ride in the same carriage, hence the church was closed up by the above named lady when she saw the probable result. Mrs Reed having closed the building subsequently offered it for sale to the Wesleyans for £300, which they accepted, and paid cash for the purchase. Thus was threatening social trouble well ended”.

With Mrs Reed abandoning the project, the Wesleyans had gained a new church and the old chapel in Russell Street continued to be used as a Sunday school. A report in February 1885 mentions a service to “inaugurate the new Wesleyan Chapel” and in May of that year the old chapel was “to be offered to various friendly societies at very low rental per night, to hold their meetings in”. I do not know how long the new church was used by the Wesleyans or even where it was located or what has become of it. The mystery deepens because by the early 20th century the Wesleyans (now the Methodists) continued using the Council Chambers again for worship and fundraising for 'repairs to the old church'. Methodist activities in Evandale disappear completely from the newspaper record by the 1950’s.

The old Wesleyan Chapel and Sunday School have however survived the religious squabbling. It was later used as a Druid Hall, a Scout Hall and then by the Returned Services League of Australia (R.S.L.A.) as their Evandale Club Room. In 1975 it was offered for sale and in 2000 it was converted for use as heritage accommodation for which it is still used.


Notes 

* Mount Pleasant was the home of Henry Reed which at the time was described as the finest house in Northern Tasmania. ** A special Salvation Army service at which most of the time is spent on the knees in prayer.


Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

An undated photograph of the Chapel as a Druids Hall - Source LINC Tasmania NS3195-1-0648.
  
One of the last references to the Chapel's functioning as a church - Examiner Tuesday 6 April 1954  

Sources:

Weekly Examiner Saturday 31 May 1873 Page 6

The Tasmanian Saturday 31 May 1873 Page 4

Launceston Examiner Tuesday 30 Nov 1875 Page 5

Examiner Friday 26 October 1883

Examiner Saturday 27 October 1883

Daily Telegraph Thursday 25 October 1883, page 3

Mercury Wednesday 31 October 1883, page 3

Daily Telegraph Thursday 28 February 1884, page 3

Daily Telegraph Saturday 28 February 1885

Mercury Friday 29 May 1885, page 3

Mercury Thursday 18 March 1886, page 4

Examiner Tuesaday 6 April 1954 Page 6

Examiner Saturday 6 November 1909


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