No. 181 - Underwood Wesleyan Church - 'Mr Thomason's Bricks'

The former Wesleyan church at Underwood is one of the oldest churches in the Lilydale district. Underwood was established as the site of a timber workers' camp and the Grubb and Tyson’s sawmill that operated in the 1860’s. In 1860 an 8-mile long wooden track was built from Underwood to Mowbray to carry sawn timber to Launceston. Falling prices and problems with timber supply forced the mill to close in 1869.

The former sawmill made a direct contribution to the ‘foundation’ of the Wesleyan church, which opened in 1882:

“About a dozen cottages built for their employees were abandoned. Mr Thomason obtained the bricks from the chimneys of the cottages to construct the foundation of the Methodist Church at Underwood”.

John Thomason was not just the founder of the Underwood church but was also influential in the spread of Methodism in the district. Thomason was a Shetlander who had started life as a sailor. After he arrived in Tasmania he became a carpenter, a mine manager, an orchardist and a missionary. A report from the Examiner in 1886 on Thomason’s ‘farewell’ sermon at Underwood provides some insight into the extent of his work in the Wesleyan Church:

“Mr. Thomason delivered two farewell sermons to moderate but representative congregations [at Underwood]. The reverend gentleman is giving up the Lisle mission in which he has been labouring for the past five years, and in which he has had many difficulties to surmount, and much indifference and opposition to contend with, notwithstanding which he has succeeded in establishing a church at Underwood which has supplied a long felt want, ….providing for the spiritual wants of the inhabitants. Mr. Thomason was also instrumental in procuring a like boon for Patersonia, and has always exerted himself for the general good of the various communities which his labours as bush missionary have brought him into contact with. Although I believe Mr. Thomason does not intend to relinquish altogether his vocation as a preacher, but will occasionally visit his old appointments, where his cheery voice and honest straightforwardness have made him always welcome…. Still he will be greatly missed, for he has proved himself to be the right man in the right place”.

After securing the bricks from the timber workers’ cottage chimneys for the foundations, it was not long before Thomason’s church opened. The Examiner reported on the opening on Sunday 21 May 1882:

“Notwithstanding the very unfavourable appearance of the morning when I arrived at the Underwood church, a goodly number had already congregated, and others were to be seen wending their way to the church from all directions”.

Two services were conducted that day with Reverend Annear of Launceston preaching at both the morning and afternoon service. A choir from the Upper Pipers River United Church sang at the service.

A Wesleyan Sunday school had been established at Underwood for some time prior to the church’s completion because a Sunday school prize giving was held in the week after the opening services. The new church was later to be used as Underwood’s public school during weekdays.

Despite his farewell sermon in 1886, Thomason continued to occasionally preach at Underwood up until 1907 when he suffered a debilitating accident. In turning a corner in his trap, he was thrown out of the vehicle and was found unconscious. He survived the accident but ensuing poor health ended his missionary work. He died in July 1911 at the age of 74. In the following year a memorial tablet was erected in the Underwood Methodist church in recognition of the dedication of its founder.

In the 20th century reports about the church in local newspapers become less frequent although anniversary services as well as meetings by the ‘Band of Hope’ and the Temperance movement are recorded. The church celebrated its 50th Jubilee in 1932 with the unveiling of a corner stone by James Box of Launceston, whose family had a long association with the church. The Hobart Mercury reported that a handful of people who had been present at the opening in 1882 attended the jubilee ceremony. In 1942, the church’s diamond jubilee was held, this time with only Mr L. W. Lowe, the last of the original congregation, being able to attend the ceremony.

I do not know if the church was still operating at the time of its centenary as it is not listed in the 1975 publication ‘Tasmanian Methodism”. It had fallen into a state of disrepair by the end of the 20th century but fortunately it has been restored and transformed into a lovely home surrounded by beautiful landscaped gardens. Unfortunately these gardens have made it difficult to photograph the church but enough of it is still visible behind the foliage as a reminder of the old days at Underwood.



The church in 1991 - Source: QVM:1997:P:2842  (Photo Margaret Tassell 1991)


Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018



Sources:

Launceston Examiner Thursday 25 May 1882, page 3
Launceston Examiner Friday 26 May 1882, page 3
Tasmanian Saturday 27 May 1882, page 27
The Telegraph Wednesday 31 May 1882, page 3
The Telegraph Monday 28 May 1883, page 3
Tasmanian Saturday 24 April 1886, page 15
Tasmanian News Tuesday 17 December 1907, page 4
The Examiner Monday 4 January 1909, page 7
The Examiner Friday 21 July 1912, page 5
The Examiner Friday 25 October 1912, page 5
Mercury Saturday 21 May 1932, page 7
North-Eastern Advertiser Friday 5 June 1942, page 3


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