No. 407 - Chudleigh Presbyterian Church - "A Good Breeze Would Knock it Over"

Chudleigh is a small rural village near the Great Western Tiers and lies south of Deloraine in northern Tasmania. It was settled from the 1850’s but never developed into a sizeable town despite being connected by rail to Deloraine and Launceston in the 1890’s. The village was served by four religious denominations, one of which was a Presbyterian church.

Information about this church is very sketchy. Typically, published histories of Chudleigh state that a church was built in the 1870’s as a site in Burnett Street and that it was destroyed by fire. However, no date for the fire is given nor is the event described in any newspaper record. Most accounts state that the church was shared with Wesleyan Methodists until a Methodist church was built in 1885.

Curiously, a Presbyterian cemetery was established at Chudleigh in 1860, which suggests that a church existed before the 1870’s.  Indeed, a close search of newspaper records reveal that a Presbyterian church was opened at Chudleigh in November 1858:

“The new Presbyterian church at Chudleigh was opened on Sunday, 14th November, when a most impressive and appropriate sermon was preached by the Rev. R.K. Ewing, of Launceston… Notwithstanding the unfavourable state of the weather, upwards of one hundred persons were present; and the handsome sum of £17 15s. was collected to assist in defraying the expense of its erection. It is anticipated that for present the Rev. M. Duncanson, of Deloraine, will be able to perform Divine service in this church every alternate Sunday”.

The next significant record about the church appears in the minutes of the Presbytery of Tasmania’s which met in January 1874. A fairly lengthy discussion reveals that the Chudleigh church was no longer in regular use and that the Methodists were keen on purchasing the property. The minutes also reveal a dispute over a debt owed by the church to Daniel Pickett, a Chudleigh innkeeper.

Pickett was a former convict transported to Tasmania for 13 years for housebreaking. He received his ticket of leave in March 1841 and married Mary How in 1842. He was employed by Henry Reed for many years and went on to acquire the Van Diemen's Land Company’s grain store and inn at Chudleigh in 1853. Pickett ran a mail and coach service between Deloraine and Chudleigh and was a guide to the caves in the area.

The minutes, which are reproduced in full below, provide some clues as to the fate of the church:

“The Rev. J. GARDNER said he had been recommended by a committee appointed for the purpose to visit and report upon the condition of the church at Chudleigh. He made arrangements accordingly with the Rev. J. S. Greer, of Deloraine, and visited the township and district. The church was a wooden erection, and had about two acres of land attached, in which there had been a few interments, the church was in a state of delapidation. It would be almost impossible to sit inside the church on a windy day - in fact a good breeze would knock it over. A debt of from £27 to £30 had rested on the property for some years, and Mr. Pickett, to whom the money was due, was anxious to have it paid. The Wesleyans had used the church for some years, and they were quite willing to take all the responsibility of the building if the Presbytery handed it over to them. There were only a few cottages near the church, and there were only three or four Presbyterian families for miles, around. He recommended that the property be handed over to the Wesleyan body so soon as proper legal steps had been taken…

Mr. STORIE said that Mr. Pickett had never been employed to build the place. About 12 years ago there was a very active and energetic farmer in the district, who had given instructions and authority to build the church. He did not see why the Presbytery should undertake the burden of the debt, except in the way of private subscription. He also doubted the propriety of parting with lands that had become the property of the church of Scotland in the colony. The Wesleyans ought to be allowed to occupy the church until such time as the Presbyterians could use it. A small sum might be raised by private subscription so as to compensate Mr. Pickett in some way.

The Rev. J. GARDNER said the Wesleyans had an offer to purchase another property near the church. They preferred the Presbyterian Church; but if they did not get it they had determined to purchase the other property.

The MODERATOR said that Mr. Duff had taken a great interest in that part of the country and he (Mr. Scott) was quite certain that that gentleman would not desire to see any property that might be useful to the Church pass away. If they could see their way to part with it without harming future congregations all would be right, but otherwise he was averse to parting with Church property.

The Rev. Mr. MICHIE wanted to know whether the Presbytery had not a legal title to the property?

The Rev. Mr. STORIE said he thought it was a Government reserve.

The Rev. Mr. GARDNER said there was no doubt about it being a Government reserve.

The MODERATOR ruled that such being the case the Presbytery could not part with it.

It was ultimately resolved that Messrs. Duff and Gardner be empowered to do their best in order to compensate Mr. Pickett”.

In the following year there is a reference to correspondence from Mr Pickett to the Presbytery, which may indicate that the debt was finally settled. The Methodists went on to build their own church in the 1885. It is not known how much longer the the old church remained standing or in use. The last reference to it is dated to a report from the Tasmanian in December 1887:

“A Chudleigh correspondent writes… A tea-meeting was held in the Presbyterian Church, Chudleigh, on Tuesday last, which was well patronised. After tea a concert was held in Mr. Pickett’s store, when there was a fair audience considering the out-door attraction…”

The history of the church’s final years is not recorded but it is probable that the old building continued to deteriorate and either collapsed of its own accord or indeed did burn down at some underdetermined date. 

Gaps and questions about the history of Chudleigh’s Presbyterian church remain unresolved but hopefully this blog entry might lead to the eventual resolution of the issue of the church’s ultimate fate.

An undated photograph of the Chudleigh Presbyterian church.  Original source is not known.

Launceston Examiner Thursday 11 November 1858


Launceston Examiner, Thursday 11 November 1858, page 1
Courier, Friday 19 November 1858, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 11 December 1858, page 3
Mercury, Thursday 15 January 1874, page 2
The Tasmanian, Saturday 10 December 1887, page 24

As the lobster flows : Caveside-Chudleigh / an historical record compiled by the Reunion Committee for the Reunion of Caveside and Chudleigh Schools and District.  1994


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