No. 331 - The Ulverstone Congregational Church 'Suit Your Singing to the Times'

The Congregationalists established an early presence on the north west coast with a church at Forth in the 1840’s; Leith in the 1850’s; Don in 1862 and Devonport in 1871. Preparations for the establishment of a church at Leven River (Ulverstone) began in the late 1870’s.

In December 1877, the Launceston Examiner’s correspondent at Leven reported on a fundraising bazaar in the nearly completed church on Alexandra Road. The report provides useful detail about the building:

“The walls of the building were decorated as well as could be 'done' under the circumstances, the workmen having to vacate to allow of the proceedings, a sacrifice which will not pass unheeded. Monetary considerations determined the committee to use the unfinished building for the above purpose, and it is hoped in about a month or five weeks it will be ready for divine service. The plastering only remains to be done, for which the contract is let. I would state here that the building is 40 x 25, is walled with well dressed weather boards, has a porch on one side which presents a frontage to the road, the whole resting on a stone foundation. The site was given by J. Quiggin, Esq., and is centrally situated. Messrs Brain and Eustace were the contractors for the woodwork, and they have fulfilled their agreement with integrity. Mr Stubbs performed the painting, which is done in a tasteful manner. The whole reflects a credit on all concerned. Mr R. Rawson supplied the plan and specification….”

The building was completed in early 1878 in time for its official opening on the 23rd January. Reverend William Law and Reverend Charles Price, as well as the pastor of the church, Reverend F Fairey, conducted the service. The Weekly Examiner published a fairly lengthy report on what was a low key ceremony, due to a festival at the Catholic church in nearby Forth and because of bushfires around the Leven district:

“The new Congregational Chapel was regularly opened for divine service on Wednesday last, when the Revs. C. Price and W. Law, from Launceston, were present and took part in the services, assisted by the Rev. Mr Fairey, who has recently accepted the charge of the Independent Churches on the coast. The introductory address was delivered by Mr Price, who spoke in an earnest and emphatic manner; while Mr. Law, in concluding, dwelt upon the solemnity connected with the dedication of a place of worship. The attendance was not large, as many were prevented from coming in consequence of the bush fires raging in all directions, by which nearly everyone would be affected, more or less. A counter attraction, in the form of a festival which came off the same day at the Forth, also diverted several from the immediate neighbourhood, including the Leven band. After the service, a comfortable tea was provided, to which about 80 persons sat down and apparently realised all the enjoyment that could be evoked from this transaction. In the evening a public meeting was held, when the attendance was considerably augmented, and much interest shown in the proceedings. The Revs. Price, Law, Fairey, and Oglethorpe (the latter the Primitive Methodist minister) ascended the platform and gave characteristic and appropriate addresses. Mr Price was as humorous as ever, and suggested that as they were opening a new place of worship the people should suit their singing to the times, which were quick. … Mr Law spoke of the chapel and said how much pleased he was with it in every way, it size, design, and general appearance, and gave a short account of its inception…. During the evening Mr Rawbon performed on the harmonium. After a vote of thanks had been passed by acclamation to all who had been instrumental in the erection of the building, the benediction was pronounced, which closed the proceedings”.

A survey of local newspaper reports reveal that the Independent church had an unremarkable history over the next 20 years although it did escape destruction from a nearby bushfire in 1893. In 1901 a report in the Daily Telegraph indicates that services had ceased in the church and that vandalism had become a serious problem:

“A growing evil is the way in which children, or, possibly, adults, seem to start breaking the windows of any unoccupied building. Some time ago services ceased to be held in the Independent church at Ulverstone. The building is a good one, well finished and furnished, and yet no sooner was it known that the services were not being held than the windows began to be broken, until now over sixty panes have been destroyed, and it will take pounds to replace the broken glass; also the miscreants, not content with this silly and damaging mischief, have thrown stones through the windows, breaking the lamps inside”.

Around 1910 the Presbyterians temporarily used the church while a new church was built on Main Street. In May 1911 the building was purchased by the Baptists for a sum of £200. The first Baptist service at the church took place on Sunday 11 June 1911. Some time after its purchase, the building was modified and shifted, as may be seen by comparing the two photographs of the church below.  In 1958 it was replaced by a modern Baptist church. The timbers of the old church were recycled to build a house at Manley Street at Turners Beach.

While the Congregational church had a relatively short existence, only operating as an independent church for two decades, it nevertheless has had a significant place in Ulverstone’s rich social and religious heritage.

A photograph of the Congregational Church in the Baptist years c. 1950 - Courtesy of the Ulverstone and District Pictorial History Facebook Group
The Congregational Church in 1910 in its original position. When it was built it parallel Alexandra Road. It was moved around and altered after it was acquired by the Baptists.  Source: Posted by Ann Layton - and reproduced courtesy of the Ulverstone and District Pictorial History Facebook Group

The Baptist Church which was built close to the site of the Congregational church. Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019


Devon Herald, Friday 28 December 1877, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Monday 24 December 1877, page 3
Devon Herald, Saturday 26 January 1878, page 2
Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 30 January 1878, page 3
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 2 February 1878, page 19
The Coastal News and North Western Advertiser, Friday 24 February 1893, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 5 November 1901,  page 3
The North West Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Thursday 7 April 1910, page 2
Examiner, Monday 25 July 1910, page 8
Daily Telegraph, Saturday 19 November 1910, page 11
The North West Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Thursday 25 May 1911, page 2
The North West Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Tuesday 13 June 1911, page 2
The North West Post, Saturday 10 June 1911, page 2

Ulverstone and District - A Pictorial History - Facebook Group - discussion and research by Craig Broadfield and others, 1 June 2015. 

Sharples, Theo E. and Congregational Union of Tasmania.  Congregationalism in Tasmania, 1830-1977 : a brief history / compiled by Theo E. Sharples  Congregational Union of Tasmania Hobart  1977


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