No. 395 - The Christian Brethren Gospel Hall at Scottsdale - 'Breaking the Bread'

Scottsdale’s Assembly of Christian Brethren Gospel Hall is the town’s oldest surviving place of worship. The original churches belonging to the Wesleyans, Catholics and Presbyterians no longer exist.

The Christian Brethren, also known as the Plymouth Brethren, originated in Great Britain in the 1820s. By the mid 19th century the movement had spread to Australia, with the first revival meetings held in Tasmania from 1869. As a result, fellowships were formed in Hobart, Launceston, the Huon Valley, Smithton, Sheffield, Wynyard, Burnie and Scottsdale by the end of the 1870s. As lay movement with no ordained ministry, the Christian Brethren were ideally suited to rural communities. The Brethren placed an emphasis on weekly communion, the baptism of believers by immersion, and evangelism.


The Brethren evangelists first made an appearance at Scottsdale in 1874. The local correspondent for the Launceston Examiner reported:

“About four months ago the district was visited by two lay preachers, Messrs. Brown and Perrin, members of the Plymouth Brethren, persuasion. These gentlemen during their rather protracted sojourn in the district held a number of “religious revival" meetings, which were numerously attended, and would appear to have exercised considerable influence on the inhabitants, as on the walls of many a cottage can be seen numerous printed Scriptural texts; and on two successive Sundays no fewer than seventy persons of different ages, from young children to men and women of advanced years were baptised in a small rivulet; running through the centre of the district..” 

In the following year the correspondent for the Cornwall Chronicle wrote: 

“Our district has again been visited by that talented and useful evangelist Mr J. P. Perrin, of Victoria, who with his wife, has for some four or five weeks during the past and preceding month been labouring in the district, Sabbath and week-day services and visitations from house to house constituting the course of labours pursued. Such a course has been the means of confirming many in the faith of the gospel, and of awaking of many others to a sense of their spiritual destitution and necessities. Previous to the departure of Mr and Mrs Perrin, thirty four persons of either sex, and for the most part well-aged persons, submitted themselves to the ordinance of adult baptism, by immersion in a creek that had been prepared for the purpose. Altogether about one hundred persons have availed themselves or this ordinance since the district was first visited by evangelical labourers, some sixteen months past. I cannot forbear making special reference to Mrs Perrin; a lady by birth and education, and richly endowed with spiritual gifts, she has proved herself worthy of being a help-mate and co-worker with her devoted husband. As a wife and mother, and as a laborious Christian worker, she has secured a resting place in the deepest and warmest affections of the hearts of every one in this district who had the pleasure of making her acquaintance during her brief mission amongst us. Her simple, loving, earnest appeals to the unsaved to become reconciled to their Maker will not easily be forgotten, and the results which have attended those appeals prove that as a Christian lady she possesses that rare gift or wisdom, essential in winning souls”.

Tragically Charles Perrin died shortly after departing from Scottsdale. Historian Dr Elizabeth Wilson writes of Perrin’s evangelism in Tasmania and his untimely death:

“[He had]… first….travelled to Australia between 1859 and 1861 during a restless late adolescence. On his return to Ireland he experienced an evangelical conversion, partly the result of hearing of the sudden death of Prince Albert the Prince Consort. In 1866 he and his bride sailed for Australia, working mostly in Collingwood and Geelong …. an invitation to join in the first believers’ conference in Wynyard in January 1873 brought Perrin to Tasmania, after which he had very successful meetings with Brown in the Circular Head area. This pattern was repeated in 1874 and 1875, extending the areas of influence to Scottsdale, and to the Huon where Brown had pioneered previously. However, in 1875 Perrin died at Forth of rheumatic fever, brought on by an horrendous journey in appalling weather, just as he was planning to establish himself and his family in Tasmania”.

While Perrin did not live to see the opening of the Gospel Hall, the seeds of the new church were sown in fertile ground.  Initially Perrin and Brown held meetings in the Ellesmere Union church but a division in the congregation led to the ‘evangelists’ breaking away to establish a seperate church: 

“…A number of those brought in under the preaching of Messrs. Brown and Perrin decided to break bread every Sunday, and the remaining portion of the congregation only did so once a month. This led to a division among the church people, and those who favoured the teaching of Brown and Perrin decided that they would erect a sanctuary of their own, and so the Gospel Hall was built. This was in 1876. These were the first section of the people to leave the old Union Chapel”.

The breakaway of the Plymouth Brethren group was the first of an exodus of departures from the Ellesmere Union church which led to the establishment of Wesleyan and Presbyterian churches in the 1880’s.

The assertive nature of the ‘Evangelists’, as they were sometimes called, was a source of some friction in Scottsdale. This is revealed in the details of a court case where one of the Brethren, John Cunningham, charged Daniel Smith with unlawfully assaulting him on the 3rd September 1876 as he left a prayer meeting at the Gospel Hall. The details of court case were reported in the Examiner and comments made in the testimony of the local police constable are perhaps revealing of local attitudes towards the Brethren:

“Gustavus Hardy, constable, stationed at Scottsdale, deposed that Mr Cunningham came to the police station shortly after 10 p.m. on the 3rd and reported that he had been assaulted by the defendant [Daniel Smith], and showed him a mark of a blow on the left side of the head. Cross-examined by Mr Miller - I never knew the defendant to interfere with congregations; there have been many complaints in Scottsdale since the establishment of the Evangelists about the manner they interfere with others; great excitement has been caused by them”.

Nevertheless, Daniel Smith was found guilty of assault and fined fined £1 and costs of 15s 6d. The view that the Brethren were the source of “many complaints”, and that “they interfere with others” and cause “great excitement” no doubt are typical of prejudices commonly held against the group as well as that they were somehow responsible for bringing an end to the ‘religious harmony’ at the Union Church.

However, following the opening of the Gospel Hall in 1876, the Christian Brethren soon became a part of Scottsdale’s religious establishment. Almost 150 years have passed since the Brethren first arrived in Scottsdale and the Gospel Hall now survives as the oldest church in the town and one of 10 denominations represented.
Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

The Gospel Hall in 1909 - TheTasmanian Mail

Charles Perrin's headstone (and that of his son Richard) in the Congregational cemetery at Forth. Photo: Duncan Grant 2018

Sources:

Weekly Examiner Saturday 5 Sep 1874 Page 16 
The Cornwall Chronicle Friday 26 March 1875, page 3 
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 16 September 1876,  page 3
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 23 September 1876, page 8
Cornwall Chronicle, Friday 20 December 1878, page 3 
Launceston Examiner, Friday 20 December 1878, page 3
Tasmanian, Saturday 21 December 1878, page 13
North-Eastern Advertiser, Friday 28 January 1910 p 3 
The Tasmanian Mail, January 23, 1909, page 18


Elisabeth Wilson, “Ineffable impudence”? Christian Brethren Missionaries in Northern Tasmania, 1860s and 1870s, Launceston Historical Society Papers & Preceedings 2009

http://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/C/Christian%20Brethren.htm. [22/04/19]

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