No. 399 - Chalmers Free Church [Hobart] - 'Born out of Division - Died in Union'

The Presbyterian Church in Tasmania dates back to the early days of settlement. In 1821 Presbyterian settlers of Hobart Town petitioned the Scottish Church for a minister, and consequently Reverend Archibald MacArthur arrived late in 1822. In 1824 Hobart’s St Andrew's Church of Scotland opened as Australia's second Presbyterian Church.

A split in the Church of Scotland in 1843, the so-called “Great Disruption”, played out across the Empire. In Tasmania not one of the Church of Scotland ministers supported the Free Church which led to a number of individuals at Hobart applying to the Free Church of Scotland to send a minister to the colony.

Supporters of the Free Church of Scotland erected the Chalmers churches in Hobart and Launceston, named after their Scottish leader, Thomas Chalmers. Chalmers Church at Hobart opened in 1852 followed by Chalmers Launceston in 1860.

In April 1851 Reverend W. Nicolson arrived at Hobart and commenced preaching at the Mechanic’s Institute Hall, where he drew a significant following. This led to an appeal to build Hobart’s first Free Church of Scotland. The foundation stone for a church was laid in October 1851. 

The opening of Hobart Chalmers Church was reported by the Hobarton Guardian:

“The work is in the modern Gothic style, and according to a very chaste and tasteful design. The building is most creditable both to the architect and contractor, and will be a great improvement to the city where it stands. It accommodates about 750 persons, and, we understand, a great portion of the sittings were let in the course of a few hours, on the first day appointed for that purpose. The cost will be about £2000, the greater part of which has been already raised—having been entirely accomplished by voluntary subscription. Mr. Nicolson is also supported by the voluntary liberality of his hearers, and receives no pay from the Government. The foundation stone of this handsome church was laid on the 3rd October last, on which occasion Mr. Nicolson gave an exposition of the principles of the Free Church. The Church stands at the corner of Harrington and Bathurst-streets, in an elevated situation, and commanding a view of most beautiful scenery…”

“The interior is fitted up in a style of tasteful elegance—the pulpit is ornamental Gothic, and has a remarkably chaste and beautiful appearance: it, as well as the galleries, was hung with crimson drapery. During the evening service, the church was illuminated by several elegant chandeliers…. The congregations, both in the morning and afternoon, were very numerous, but in the evening, a dense crowd filled the sacred edifice. It was indeed a goodly sight to witness so many congregated together to offer adoration to the Most High—young and old, rich and poor, learned and illiterate, all joining in praising Him to whom all praise alone is due; and what enhanced the pleasure was to know that many were not of the Free Church of Scotland—this is as it ought to be…”

Born out of division, Chalmers' end came out of union. Over the course of the 19th century efforts were made to promote union between the two Presbyteries in Tasmania. This was finally accomplished in 1896, with the Presbyterian Church of Tasmania uniting all congregations of an undivided Church. In 1935 Chalmers’ congregation united with St Andrew’s Church to form Hobart’s Scots Church. Initially services alternated between the two churches but in 1949 services were limited to the Scots (St Andrew's) Church.

With the end of services at Chalmers, the building was put up for sale in 1952 and purchased by the Neptune Oil Company. The church was demolished in 1955 and the site was used to build a service station. Several stained glass windows were taken from the Chalmers church before its demolition and were later installed in the gallery of the Scots Church. The Scots Church pulpit sits on stone taken from Chalmers church while the stone font is also from Chalmers Church.

An undated photograph of Chalmers Free Church - Source: Libraries Tasmania NS4023-1-125

Source: Libraries Tasmania - Print by R.V. Hood 1860 - object no: NS3503-1-4
Source: Libraries Tasmania NS10113-1-1246

Source: Libraries Tasmania: NS10113/1/1247

Source: Libraries Tasmania NS 10131-1-346

Mercury Saturday 23 October 1954

Google Street View of the site of Chalmers (2017)

A detail of a window taken from Chalmers and now in the Scots Church - "The burning bush" Source: Heritage Tasmania


Colonial Times, Tuesday 14 October 1851, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 4 September 1852, page 2
Hobarton Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania, Wednesday 1 September 1852
Mercury, Thursday 31 December 1936, page 5
Mercury, Saturday 23 October 1954, page 2

History of the Amalgamating Congregations and the Scots–Memorial Congregations Hobart 1823 – 2006, Compiled by Sherrie-Lee Evans June, 2006


  1. What a marvellous historical resource.May your research continue


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