No. 181 - Underwood - Wesleyan-Methodist Church (1882)

The former Wesleyan Methodist church at Underwood is one of the oldest churches in the Lilydale district. The settlement at Underwood was established as the site of a timber workers' camp for Grubb and Tyson’s sawmill. 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 old sawmill literally contributed to the ‘foundation’ of Underwood's Wesleyan-Methodist church which was built 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.... ”.

John Thomason was influential in establishing several Methodist churches in the district surrounding Lilydale. Thomason was a Shetlander who had started life as a sailor. After his arrival in Tasmania he worked as a carpenter, mine manager, orchardist and a missionary.

Launceston's Daily Telegraph reported on the church's official opening on Sunday 21 May 1882:

“We have lately had a little life infused into this otherwise quiet and dull district by the opening of the new Wesleyan Church at Underwood. For some weeks past mysterious whispers have been floating about concerning the tea meeting and the Bachelor's table. On Sunday, the 21st inst., a large number of people attended at the opening services. Both services were conducted by the Rev. D Annear, and the singing was by the Upper Riper River choir under the leadership of Mr. J. Miller. The organ, a splendid instrument, lent for the occasion by Mr. S. Arnold, was ably presided over by Mr. Kerkham of Kirkvale. The collections amounted to over £5. Two well-rendered solos by Mr. J. Long, added interest to the services".

In 1886 Thomason retired from full time ministering and fittingly delivered his farewell sermon at Underwood. The Examiner reported:

“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”.

Thomason continued to periodically 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 at the Underwood church in recognition of the dedication of its founder.

In 1932 the church celebrated its 50th Jubilee with the unveiling of a corner stone by Mr James Box of Launceston, whose family had had a long association with the church. The Hobart Mercury reported that a handful of people who had been present at the opening service in 1882 attended the jubilee ceremony. When the church’s diamond jubilee was held in 1942, only Mr L. W. Lowe, the last member of the original congregation, attended the ceremony.

The church did not reach its centenary and by 1970s had fallen into a state of disrepair. The church was sold in the 1990s and was converted into a house.

Underwood Wesleyan Methodist Church - undated photograph from the Libraries Tasmania online collection. Item Number: LPIC147/7/93

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

The Underwood church in 2008, by which time the building had been restored and converted into a house. Photo:

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018


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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