No. 372 - Horton College and its Chapel - "A Blessing to Their Children"

Horton College, which was situated near the town of  Ross, midway between Launceston and Hobart, was one of the most significant Methodist educational institutions established in Australia in the second half of the 19th century. Horton College appears in ‘Churches of Tasmania’ for two reasons: the first is because it was an important centre of Methodism in the colony; the second being that for a brief time the College had its own chapel.

Horton College’s roots lie at Somercotes homestead which is regarded as a cradle of Methodism in the Tasmanian Midlands. Somercotes was was frequented by Wesleyan ministers from about the 1830’s and meetings were regularly held regarding church business. 

The homestead was built by Captain Samuel Horton in 1833. Born in Lincolnshire in 1796, Horton came to Van Diemen’s Land in 1823 after serving as a Captain in the Merchant Navy. He was persuaded to move to Tasmania by his cousin, the Reverend William Horton, the first resident Wesleyan Minister in Hobart Town. At Somercotes, Captain Horton frequently conducted religious services up until the time Horton College opened in 1855.

In 1850 Captain Horton granted 20 acres of land for the establishment of a school ‘near the Ross Bridge’. Horton’s gift of land and £1350 enabled the construction of college to provide a “thorough Wesleyan training”.

The foundation stone of the College was laid on the 6th of January 1852 in the presence of every Wesleyan minister in the Colony. The ceremony was reported in the Colonist:

“It had been arranged that the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the Wesleyan College should take place on that day at 12 o'clock. As the time drew near, conveyances of all kinds and people of all classes, were to be seen moving towards the spot, and at the appointed hour a large number of spectators of both sexes had assembled. Not the least interesting part of the audience was the children of the Ross Wesleyan Sunday School, who were very properly assembled to witness the ceremony. All the Wesleyan ministers in the colony were present. The Rev J. A. Manton … addressed the assembly. He said that the idea of the establishment of a Collegiate School had originated with Captain Horton. They were indebted to that gentleman's christian liberality for the gift of the eligible plot of land on which they stood, (20 acres) and for a thousand pounds towards the object. He hoped that this example of generosity would call forth a corresponding effort on the part of Wesleyans and the friends of education generally in these colonies. The Rev. gentleman referred to the necessity which existed for such an institution, and he expected that thousands of families would be attracted to this part of the world by the recent discovery of gold, when that necessity would be greatly increased. He concluded a very eloquent and forcible address, by exhorting the assembly to contribute as God had given them ability towards an institution designed to be a blessing to their children and children's children….The property has been conveyed in trust to the Wesleyan Church for its sole use and benefit as a collegiate institution for ever”.

The College opened with the enrolment of its first student in October 1855. Qualification for admission to the College was “an ability to read the New Testament with facility”. Reverend J. A. Manton was appointed governor and chaplain of the college. The school was a substantial two-storey building dominated by an ornate tower over an arched entrance. There was a large chapel, measuring ’70 feet by 30 feet’ in the top storey. Little is known about the chapel and it was probably only in regular use until the early 1870’s. In December 1875 the Hobart Mercury reported:

“….during the first half [of the year] they had been visited by the prevailing epidemic, and for the first time in the history of the college, the chapel had been turned into a hospital, in which half the numbers were lying sick”.

By the time of the opening of a new Wesleyan Methodist church at Ross in 1885, the chapel had become redundant and was converted into sleeping quarters for junior students. Evening worship were still held at the College throughout the 1880’s but the location of these services is not known.

After the opening of the new church, the boys would attend services at Ross in the morning with some also attending a second evening service:

“On Sunday mornings the boys had to get out of bed at 7 instead of 6:30 o’ clock, and when breakfast had been disposed of, they had to walk to church at Ross, 2½ miles away - it was practically a march, not a walk, as they went three or four abreast - where they occupied the gallery…”

In 1892 Horton College closed as a result of low enrolments which brought on bankruptcy. By the time of its closure some 770 boys had passed through the College. It was leased to another private school for a year but this enterprise also ended in failure. The school was transferred back to to the Horton Estate and the residential portion of the building was occupied until 1917 by Thomas Riggall, a nephew of Captain Horton.

With the death of Riggall in 1917, the building was pulled down and the materials were sold. Some of the bricks were taken to Launceston and in 1935 built into one of the walls close to the foundation stone of the Mary Fox wing of the Methodist Ladies College on Elphin Road. The College bell was taken to Hutchins School in Hobart.

With the exception of the College's entrance archway, which still puzzles many passers-by travelling on the Midland Highway, virtually nothing now remains of what was once one of the best known Methodist educational establishments in Australia.

Source: LINC  PH10-1-38

Source: LINC PH30-1-1142

Source: Weekly Courier  11/07/1918

Source: Weekly Courier  11/07/1918
An updated photograph of a group of boys at Horton College. Source LINC AB713-1-11818

Somercotes, the residence of Captain Horton. Source: LINC PH30-1-9483

The Wesleyan Methodist church at Ross. Photo: Duncan Grant 2018


Colonial Times, Tuesday 20 January 1852, page 3
The Mercury, Tuesday 21 December 1875, page 3
The Tasmanian, Saturday 16 August 1884, page 14
The Tasmanian Mail, 30 December 1920, page 32
Mercury, Tuesday 7 January 1930, page 8

Mercury, Thursday 8 July 1937, page 15 (P.W. Steel, An old scholar)

Pretyman, ER 1958 , 'Some notes on Horton College, once, a Well-known school near Ross' , Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, vol. 92 , pp. 185-190 .

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


  1. Congratulations! Your blog is included in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris

    Thank you, Duncan. I love this series...

  2. Do you happen to know if a register of school enrolments is archived anywhere?

  3. Yes, a copy of the register is on microfilm at available at the Archives Office of Tasmania (NS588/1/1) and a published register is available in Hobart & Launceston libraries (edited by Keith J Sykes)


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