No. 286 - The Former Congregational Church at Devonport - ' A Boat Shed, A Bazaar and Three Larrikins'

West Devonport’s oldest church was the former Congregational Church, which originally stood on lower Steele Street before it was moved to William Street in the 1950’s. Unfortunately the church, which was one of Devonport’s oldest buildings, has been lost. Its history, which stretches back to the 1860’s, is an important part of the city’s rich religious heritage and also that of the Congregationalists who established an early presence on the North West Coast at Don and Lillico Beach.

Before the church was built, Congregational services took place in Thomas Hainsworth’s Sunday school room which was located on the Esplanade near Turton street. The Sunday school room was originally a boatshed adjoining ‘Greystone House’ (the house being built from ballast stone dumped by ships on the shore).

In 1870 land for a Congregational church was donated by Mr George Best. The church was built by Michael Wood and completed and opened on 26 November 1871. There is a brief mention of its opening published in the Launceston Examiner:

“The Rev. C Price preached both morning and evening in a most impressive and lucid manner, and the Rev. W. Nye preached in the afternoon with great eloquence, and all the services were attended by crowded congregations, and large collections were made”.

In 1880 the Sunday school ‘boat shed’ was moved to Steele Street and set up alongside the church where it was used as a schoolroom and hall for a number of years. In 1890, the church was extended by 15 feet and reopened in November of that year. The final chapter in the church’s history was its removal to William Street in 1952. The Steele Street site was sold and the proceeds were used to build a hall and Sunday school at the new location.

The reason for the demolition of the church is unclear but its disappearance has not erased a significant part of the history of Devonport’s early churches.

In researching the Devonport Congregational Church I came across two newspaper reports which I have included below. They are both entertaining to read and also provide a window into values and attitudes in late 19th century Devonport. The first report is about a fund-raising bazaar held at the time of the church’s opening and the second concerns an incident of ‘larrikinism’ at the church which resulted in a rather severe consequence for the young men involved.

“All went merry as a marriage bell”: 

“A bazaar was held at Formby, River Mersey, on Wednesday and Thursday, the 22nd and 23rd November, in a store, the property of Mr John Griffiths, and kindly lent by him for the purpose. The bazaar was in aid of the building fund of the Congregational Church, Formby, and the articles displayed on the stalls were really useful as well as serviceable. The stall presided over by Mrs. John Steer, Mrs Friend, Miss Lyons, and Miss Friend comprised the more costly articles, but that presided over by Mrs Fenton, Miss Fenton and Mrs Mathieson was quite up to the mark. As to eating and drinking there was enough and to spare. Mr Charles Friend distinguished himself by taking charge of one of the refreshment stalls and taking out a ginger beer licence, and woe be to the unlucky wight [creature] who sought to evade the payment for what is vulgarly called "grub." Mrs G., Best, the Misses Cocker, and Miss Griffith ably persuaded the public and unprotected females into purchasing 1d tarts for 1s. Mr John Steer did "Punch and Judy," and was very successful. Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, babies and widows coming from miles around to witness his impersonations of that notorious and disreputable character "Punch." They were satisfied, and it paid. Upwards of 110 [shillings] was taken, and the bazaar was a success. In summing up it is sufficient to say that raffles were held, music was played, Punch was performed, beautiful articles were sold, and the persons who received the money were actually observed to grin. In short, "all went merry as a marriage bell." People of all denominations not only assisted, but actually worked, and worked hard, for the bazaar; and also attended and purchased goods. And it is a pleasing thing to think that so much good feeling exists in the district. 

Only one accident happened, and that was to Master Leslie Griffiths, a little boy of about four or five years of age, who fell into the water, but was rescued in a very gallant manner by Mr Graham, who jumped in after the little fellow and brought him ashore, The boy was more frightened than hurt, although he was in the water some time". 

“Disturbance at Church”:

“Three young men, named Charles Burr, James Woodlands, and Joseph Taylor, residing at Formby, were charged with annoying residents of Formby while attending divine worship on June 3. Tho accused failed to appear in court, und the case was heard ex parte. Superintendent Driscoll stated that in this case a member of the Congregational Church at Formby had written to him, stating that Sunday after Sunday the congregation had been subject to annoyance by larrikins, who gathered in tho porch of the church. Hans Nelson, constable at Formby, deposed he knew the defendants. He was present at the church on the occasion. He identified the accused as the persons making a noise in the porch.

[The defendants here entered tho Court]. One of the worshippers present in church on the occasion gave evidence as to the noise made in the porch, and stated the service was disturbed. Sarah Bargoot deposed that she attended the Congregational Church on tho evening of June 3. Taylor and Woodlands annoyed her while entering the church. Taylor bumped his back against her, and Woodlands shouted out her name.

The defendants made statements to the effect that they did not enter the church while the pastor was praying, but waited in the porch. They denied making a disturbance.

Mr Kemp remarked that the Bench had not the slightest doubt but the defendants caused a disturbance at the church. Superintendent Driscoll stated that this sort of annoyance had gone on for some time, and he had to send a constable to the church services to prevent it. Woodlands and Taylor were each fined £1 and costs, and Burr, 6s and costs, in default, the two former to he imprisoned for 14 days with hard labor, and the latter for 7 days. A week was given wherein to pay the fine”.

The former Congregational Church on William Street. (undated) Source - The origin of the source is not know - previously posted on Devonport and Surrounds - A Pictorial History (Facebook Group) by Stephen Hiller (7-9-2015)

The Advocate 29 February 1952 page 5


Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 5 December 1871, page 3
The North West Post, Thursday 14 June 1888
The North West Post, Saturday 8 Nov 1890,  page 2
The Examiner,  Tuesday 15 October 1918,  page 3
The Advocate, Thursday 28 February 1952, page 8
The Advocate, 29 February 1952, page 5
The Advocate, Tuesday 11 March 1952, page 4


  1. I was astonished to stumble across this article today, whilst researching some family history. My grandparents were married in the Congregational Church in Formby which is in Merseyside in the north west of England (about 17km north of Liverpool). The church in question was a corrugated iron structure that had been purchased and relocated from London in 1888 and it stood there until the 1930s when a new brick church was built. It is now the United Reformed Church. If you look at the picture of the 'Iron Church' on the Formby URC website's 'about' page you will see a striking resemblance in shape, if not in materials, to the church pictured in your article.
    I was previously unaware that there was either a River Mersey or a Formby in Tasmania, let alone a church so similar in style to the one my grandparents were married in. As I was brought up in Formby on Merseyside in England, imagine my surprise!


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