No. 142 - Latrobe Baptist 'Tabernacle' - "Sunny Faced Christians" and "Holy Violence"

The Baptists had been active in Latrobe from 1886 holding weekly meetings in the Odd-Fellows’ Hall. In 1891 their devotion was rewarded with the construction of a Baptist Tabernacle, the latest in a production line of ‘Gibson Tabernacles’ built across Tasmania over a period of 15 years. As the North Coast Standard put it:

“During the last few years several buildings styled “Tabernacles”, have been erected in this colony. Commencing at Perth, they are now to be seen both in Hobart and Launceston, and also in Longford, Deloraine, Devonport and Sheffield. Now Latrobe is to have one”.

The common denominator in all of these buildings were the Gibson’s of Perth, who had paid for the construction of ‘churches’ for each of these communities. The North Coast Standard praised Gibson’s “munificent liberality’ in having these “commodious structured upreared”. The Tabernacle at Latrobe was to be built on “one of the very best and most prominent sites in the township” and that its “goodly dimensions will proclaim that it will be a very important addition to the edifices of the place”.

The foundation or “memorial” stone for Gibson’s Tabernacle was laid on Sunday 18 October 1891. Gibson was not present at the ceremony due to the “pressure of business” but he did attend the opening ceremony less than four months later. His address was reported in the North Coast Standard and it presents Gibson as a man of deep faith:

“His object in helping to erect the building in which they were now, was not to forward the Baptist cause, but to aid his fellow men and further God’s cause, which he thought could best be effected throughout the Baptist Church. When passing through the world men should do as much as possible…. that a church should not pivot on the good preaching delivered within its walls, but on praying and acts of goodness…”

In his address Gibson seems to be speaking about himself in that he was a man of deeds and not just words. The legacy of his deeds were the ‘tabernacles’ that he planted and then left to grow.

One of the most successful ways of growing a church was through the establishment of Sunday schools. A report on the Latrobe Baptist Sunday school anniversary in 1899 reveals how seriously this education mission was regarded. Speaking at the meeting, Reverend Cox, from the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London (who was visiting Tasmania at the time), emphasised the importance of the Sunday school in “…instilling the course of duty into the minds of the children”. But he warned that the:

“…lessons imparted by the teachers were in many cases not seconded by parents. Sunday schools were frequently regarded simply as a place of convenience for getting children out of the way on Sunday, in order to afford the father an opportunity of spending a quiet hour or two in reading 'Lloyd’s' newspaper”.* 

Pastor Walton, the chairman of the meeting spoke about the desirable qualities of the Sunday school teacher and:

“Illustrated a simile between Sunday school teachers and a famous sculptor who used to work with a light placed upon his forehead, in order that his shadow would not obstruct his work. So it was with teachers. They should be careful not to let the characteristics of self intrude; otherwise the results of their work would be marred. The performance of the duties they had undertaken should be characterised by self-denial and devotion, having always before them the inspiring assurance that they were training some of the noble minds of the future”.

According to the 1900 Sunday school report, “77 scholars were on the Sunday school roll”. This was a significant number given that the size of the congregation.

The importance of both recruiting and sustaining the faithful had been emphasised at the Tabernacle’s opening in 1892. Reverend White encouraged the faithful to be willing to “buttonhole” their “unsaved fellows”. Pastor Wood “warned those present against a decline; a drawing back in spiritual matters”. He said that they “wanted more sunny faced Christians” and that “many had been a libel on God’s religion, by their long, miserable faces”. Wood suggested “holy violence should be used to pull falling ones from the fire”. And crucially:

“They should not slumber while the world was darkening, but show a willingness to do the Lord’s will by giving up their time to him, teaching in the Sunday school, speaking in the open air for him, and any other work He might require”.

The fervour of the Baptists and the strength of their faith cannot be doubted. It was the Sunday school which was the foundational rock on which the faith was sustained from generation to generation. It is not an accident that with the rise and improvement of State and secular education, the strength of the Sunday school movement began to wane. And with this came declining congregations. Fathers (and mothers) now had to put aside their ‘Lloyd’s newspaper’ and take up the slack of their children's moral upbringing. History will be the judge if they have been successful.

*Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper was an early Sunday newspaper in the United Kingdom.  It was the first of three popular papers to be created for those who only had the leisure to read on Sundays. Lloyd’s Weekly became the only British newspaper in the nineteenth century to sell more than a million copies.
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

North Coast Standard Wednesday 14 October 1891, page 2
Launceston Examiner  Monday 19 October 1891, page 4
Tasmanian Saturday 24 October 1891, page 13
Launceston Examiner Thursday 4 February 1892, page 3
North Coast Standard Wednesday 10 February 1892, page 3
North West Post Thursday 30 November 1899, page 1
The Examiner Thursday 26April 1900, page 5
The Advocate Monday 19 May 1941, page 4


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