No. 365 - The Gravel Hill Primitive Methodist Church [Ulverstone] - A Moving Story

In 1808 the Methodist lay preacher, Hugh Bourne, was expelled from the Methodist movement. Bourne and his followers became known as Primitive Methodists. Bourne adopted the name from a statement that had been made by John Wesley in 1790: "I still remain a primitive Methodist." Bourne's followers were also called 'Ranters' with reference to their crude and often noisy preaching.

The Primitive Methodists appeared in Launceston in 1857 and were strongest northern Tasmania. Their camp meetings attracted the working classes, who sometimes did not feel well-accepted by the Wesleyan Methodists. In the north-west, the ‘Prims’ established communities at Penguin, North Motton, Burnie, Blythe [Heybridge] and Gravel Hill at Ulverstone.

The first Primitive Methodist services at Gravel Hill were held in 1866 in a 'small hut'. A chapel was built nearby in 1873. There is a brief reference to the construction of the Gravel Hill chapel in the Weekly Examiner in December 1873:

“A neat little chapel, in course of erection on land given by W. Mason, Esq., is not far off completion. The building is in connection with the Primitive Methodist cause, and will accomodate upwards of 150 persons…. The contractor, is Mr George Heaton, whose work generally is of such a character as to bear inspection. The Rev. Mr Brown, of Penguin, will officiate in this place of worship”.

A report in the the Cornwall Chronicle describes the opening service on Sunday 11 January 1874:

“The opening of the new Primitive Methodist Chapel here were held on Sunday… Two impressive sermons were preached by the Rev. J. H. Brown to good congregations…. The cost of erecting this really pretty little building is about £80. This with labor given, donations, and the proceeds of the collections and tea, is reduced to £30".

In 1901, the Gravel Hill church was moved to nearby Gawler where it briefly continued as a Primitive Methodist church until the Methodist union in 1902. In an article published in the Advocate in 1924, several of the Gravel Hill church’s founders, including Joseph Stratton and Henry Pickett, recalled the early years of the church up to the time of its removal to Gawler:

“There was no tea or public meeting immediately following the opening Sunday, but such an event followed in January of 1874, and was largely attended. The church…. occupied a spot at the Gravel Hill, a mile nearer Ulverstone, and it was called the Gravel Hill Church for 28 years. The sawn timber for the building was cut in a saw pit at Mutton Flats, on the Cornhill Estate. The late Mr. Fred Frampton, of honoured memory, and a man named Sammy Barrett were the pit sawyers. Mr. Stratton could not remember where the palings for walls and roofing were split, but Mr. Henry Pickett, gave their history as having been split by Mr. Robert Eustace, now of Devonport; and they came from the North Motton Road. Mr. Eustace assisted to build the church in 1873. Mr. Richard Hilder, of Burnie, whose connection with the church as a local preacher, and frequent visitor, extended over 28 years, supplemented Mr. Stratton's history up to the period of the removal from Gravel Hill and Methodist Unionism in 1902. Up till Union it had been a church connected with the Primitive Methodist Circuit of Penguin, and was ministered to by the following superintendent ministers: Revs. J. H. Brown, Henry. Robinson, John Oglethorpe, William Harris, Samuel Richards, T. W. Cameron, John T. Pithouse, William Henry Walton, James Rogers, and Charles Mason. During the term of the latter the church was shifted to Gawler Junction, and Methodist Union, was consummated….”

After the church was moved to Gawler it underwent renovations and improvements which were described by the North West Post:

“The old Primitive Methodist Church, so long at Gravel Hill, looks better than ever, it having been recently lengthened and well set up on a good stone foundation….”

The front end of the church was extended by about 10ft to accomodate an additional three rows of pews. The building was also painted and a fence was erected at the front of the church.

The history of the Gawler Methodist Church will be covered in a future blog entry but the eventual fate of the old Gravel Hill/Gawler Church will conclude this story. Given the close proximity of the Ulverstone Methodist Church, the Gawler church was closed and in 1972 it was moved to Turners Beach for use as a new Sunday-school building adjoining the Methodist church. The Turners Beach church had similarly been moved to the site in 1958, having previously been the old Melrose state-school. Both buildings are still at Turners Beach but have been converted into a house in recent years. Subsequent renovations to the buildings have unfortunately rendered them barely recognisable as the former Gravel Hill church and Melrose State school.

The church in the late 1890's. Source: Courtesy of Craig Broadfield - originally posted on the Ulverstone and District Pictorial History Facebook Page - 26 September 2013

Google Street view image (2010) The Melrose State-school building is in the foreground and the Gravel Hill church is attached to the rear of the building. 

The building at Turners Avenue at Turner's Beach in 2010 - source: Roberts Real Estate

The heavily modified Gravel Hill/Gawler church is on the right. Gothic windows are visible through the front window. Source: Roberts Real Estate (2010)

Map showing the movement of the Gravel Hill church


Weekly Examiner, Saturday 13 September 1873, page 5
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 20 December 1873, page 16
Cornwall Chronicle Friday 16 January 1874, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Friday 28 November 1884, page 3
North West Post, Saturday 2 March 1901, page 2
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Thursday 19 September 1901, page 2
North West Post, Thursday 21 November 1901, 4
Advocate, Tuesday 15 July 1924, page 4

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. (accessed 10/3/19)


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