No. 339 - The Wesleyan Methodist Church at Ulverstone - "Like a Pack of Cards"

Wesleyan Methodist activity began in the Leven River area in that late 1850’s at a house at Gravel Hill (about 2km from the centre of Ulverstone). By the 1860’s Reverend Cooke and Reverend Edward Nye were conducting services in a building known as ‘Rats Castle’ on a farm on the outskirts of Ulverstone owned by Samuel Tongs. It was a very rough building which had had its partitions knocked out to create a space for the congregation. Reverend George Heywood continued to hold regular services at ‘Rats’ Castle’ until it fell into ruin. After the demise of ‘Rats Castle’ Sabbath meetings were held at the Ulverstone residence of Mr Stratton up until a church was built in 1880.

Planning for the church began in July 1880 and by the 17th October a weatherboard building was opened for service. A report in the Devon Herald provides a record of the services:

“The attendance on either occasion was not large; no doubt the very heavy rain we had on Sunday morning and the threatening aspect of the weather had a deal to do with keeping the numbers away, who had any distance to come”.

The inclement weather did not keep the local rabble rousers away. In the same report, the Leven correspondent for the Devon Herald complained:

“Towards the close of the evening a few sailors and larrikins, headed by the ever green “Valentine”, somewhat annoyed those present, by their conduct outside the building”.
A report in the Examiner provides a description of the building which had been constructed in less than a month:

“The building is about 30ft. by 22ft., and has a high gable roof which imparts an ecclesiastical appearance, the windows and door being in the Gothic style. The site of the Chapel is in Reibey-street, not very far from the Post-office, and is in that part of the township where building has not yet commenced, excepting the Independent Chapel…. Both of these edifices…may be regarded as pioneers of civilisation as well as in the matters of religion…”

Unfortunately, it was uncivilised behaviour that targeted the church in 1885. The Examiner’s correspondent for Ulverstone reported:

“I am sorry to say that a most disgraceful piece of larrikinism was perpetrated here a short time ago. The Wesleyan Chapel had lately been done up - the door painted, also a neat batten fence in front, when one night all the fresh work was daubed over with tar. It is believed that a new door must be supplied, as the tar cannot be got off, while the fencing it will always show through. I wonder if the argument “doing as you would be done by” were submitted and earnestly pressed upon these vandals, whether it would produce legitimate results. I think high-toned morality should be taught in the public schools in place of dogmatic theology”.

It was not the larrikins but mother nature which was to have a devastating impact on the little church. On Wednesday 17 May 1893, the church was flattened by a cyclone which struck Ulverstone at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Apart from destroying the church, the storm caused considerable damage in the town. The “Typhoon” was described in some detail by the Coastal News and North Western Advertiser:

"An unusual and unwelcome visitation in tho shape of a typhoon swept over Ulverstone on Wednesday afternoon,..The full force…was felt by the schooner "Isabel" which was lying at the wharf empty, being blown over on her side, the masts resting on the wharf keeping her from going under, .… The buildings on the Esplanade near Crawford Bros., quivered with the shock, the plate-glass window in Heatley & Co.'s shop was blown in, and the skylights out of the blacksmith's shop, and a fence demolished near the Bank of Australasia. Passing to the rear of Messrs House and Mason's store, an agricultural implement, standing about 4½ ft high and weighing several hundred weight was lifted bodily off its feet and landed 4 or 5 feet away on a heap of packing cases, …Sweeping towards Badger street, the current must have been met by that travelling in the opposite direction, the full force of both currents being diverted across Mr Webb's boarding house and the Wesleyan Church. A considerable portion of the galvanised iron roof was stripped clean off the roof of Mr Webb’s and was scattered hundreds of feet away.

The resistance to the course of the current offered by the Wesleyan Church was very short-lived, the porch and doors being blown down and the whole building lifted bodily several feet off the foundations, the building then buckling up and crashing down like a pack of cards….With regard to the Wesleyan church, the whole structure is completely demolished, with the exception of the flooring and foundations, a considerable portion of the furniture being also destroyed. When the news was known, a number of persons set to work to get out the books, organ, and such effects as were liable to further damage from the element's. Fortunately the organ was uninjured, being, protected by joists falling in a slanting position….The building is practically smashed up, very little of the material will be serviceable for re-building”.


Following the disaster, the Wesleyans were able to use the Congregational church for services until a new church could be built. The brick church which was built in 1894 will be the subject of a second blog entry on the history of the Methodists at Ulverstone.



A detail of the wrecked church. Source: Queen Victoria Museum Launceston (QVM:1998:P:0793)

Original photograph: Source: QVM:1998:P:0793 (Queen Victoria Museum)

The new church built in 1894 - This will be the subject of a follow-up article. Photo: Duncan Grant 2019

Sources:

Devon Herald, Wednesday 21 July 1880, page 2
Devon Herald, Saturday 16 October 1880, page 2
Devon Herald, Wednesday 20 October 1880, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 23 October 1880, page 1
Launceston Examiner, Friday 13 February 1885, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 18 March 1893, page 6
Coastal News and North Western Advertiser, Friday 19 May 1893, page 2 
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 23 May 1893, page 7
North West Post, Saturday 7 October 1893, page 4
Advocate, Saturday 4 October 1930, page 13
Advocate, Thursday 6 June 1935, page 2
Advocate, Friday 11 October 1940, page 4
Examiner, Saturday 12 October 1940, page 6

Stansall, M. E. J and Methodist Church of Australasia Tasmanian Methodism, 1820-1975 : compiled at the time of last Meeting of Methodism prior to union. Methodist Church of Australasia, Launceston, Tas, 1975.

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