No. 413 - Scottsdale Uniting Church - 'Fire and Fortune'

Scottsdale is the largest town in north-east Tasmania. It is named after the Government Surveyor, James Scott, who explored the region in the 1850’s. The town was initially planned around Ellesmere but it developed about a kilometre south of the original site which was officially called Scottsdale after 1893.

The first Methodist church in the Scottsdale district was built in 1870 at Springfield. Early services at Scottsdale were conducted in the Union Chapel at Ellesmere. The first permanent minister was Reverend Robert Thompson who was appointed in 1878.

A year after Thompson’s appointment, a Methodist church was built on Listers Road at Ellesmere. It was built by P. and T. Brewer of Bridport at a cost of £380. A parsonage was built in 1881 at an additional cost of £370. The official opening of the Ellesmere church took place on March 9

1879. The occasion was reported by The Tasmanian:

“…The highly esteemed and energetic bush missionary, Mr William Blackett, preached in the afternoon…and in the evening… On the following day a tea meeting was held in the neat and commodious church at 4 p.m., when about 140 persons of all ages were present…”

A gradual shift of population from Ellesmere to Tucker’s Corner (now the centre of Scottsdale) resulted in the activities of the church being split between the two locations. By the 1880’s the Mechanics Institute Hall on Kings Street was used for Sunday school while morning services were still held at Ellesmere.

In 1888 the Ellesmere church was sold and demolished and services were held in a school hall which stood on the site of the present church on King Street. The parsonage was moved next to a site adjoining the “school-church”.

In January 1900 the “school church” was totally destroyed in a fire, which was one of a series of fires at in the town which may have been the work of an arsonist. A second fire a month later partly damaged the parsonage. The Launceston Examiner provides an account of the first fire:

“The origin of the fire which took place at Loone's stables yesterday is at present unknown. It started about 2 o'clock. Mrs. Loone's attention having been called to the stable being ablaze, an alarm was rung on the Wesleyan Church bell, which soon brought many willing helpers to assist in saving property and to check the progress of the fire as much as possible. It was with their assistance that the moveable property was conveyed to a place of safety, and that Mr. Loone's premises, the Wesleyan parsonage, and other dwellings were saved. The devastating element however, caught the gable end of the church, destroying the building and a shed used as a stable on Sundays…. Fortunately the wind was not sufficiently strong to carry the fire further than the church, otherwise, if the parsonage had caught, nothing could have saved the premises of Mr. E. T. Gregory, which had such a narrow escape…”

The Hobart Mercury’s report on the second fire reveals how close the parsonage was to being lost and raises the question of whether the fires were deliberately lit: The Mercury’s correspondent reported:

“[I] Am sorry to record another destructive fire in Scottsdale. While Mr. E. T. Gregory's apprentices were at work in the back yard, …one of them saw smoke coming out from under the eave and roof of an outbuilding which covered two-stall stable, buggy shed, also sheds containing kapok, curled hair and horse food and collars. When the alarm was given, Mr. Gregory saw no chance of saving the building, and removed all he could. The flames very soon spread to the stable, buggy, and, wood shed of the Wesleyan parsonage, and they were burnt to the ground, as also adjacent fences. Rev. Mr. Taylor lost some tools, horse feed, etc., all uninsured. His gig and a few things were saved. The sparks then caught the parsonage, and with great difficulty that was saved, it having caught fire under the ridging and shingles. Mr. J. A. Gregory got his leg burnt from the hot ridging while endeavouring to open the roof to get more water in. During this time all the furniture was removed to a place of safety… Mr. A. W. Loone's house also caught alight, but the flames was soon put out. This is the fourth fire since the fifth of last month, and it is time we had an investigation into these matters….”. 

As a result of the destruction of the “church-school”, a building and fundraising committee was promptly established to build a new church. The foundation stone for the building was laid in February 1901 and by May of that year the new church and school hall were opened. The Launceston Examiner reported:

“On Saturday night quite a hive of workers were engaged at the Wesleyan Church putting things into ship-shape order for the opening services on the following day. These were conducted by the Rev. J. R. Harcourt, B.A., of Launceston, in the morning to a large congregation, and in the afternoon he gave a most impressive address to the children. The church and school-room have been lighted with acetylene gas, which had been installed under the direction of Mr. Ed. Button. A trial was made on Saturday night, and proved to be eminently satisfactory, giving a nice, clear, soft, and mellow, light, sufficient for the building. It is the first public building here so lit up, and no doubt will be the forerunner of others, as well as private dwellings using the same illuminant”.

The Daily Telegraph’s report of the opening ceremony also provides details of the new building:

The church, which is an ornament to the town, is 52ft by 50ft; height from floor to ceiling, 18ft ; there are eight gothic windows, the church throughout is lined with tongued and grooved pine, while a handsome dado 4ft high runs round the whole of the interior, which is highly varnished, and gives the whole body of the church a heat and pretty appearance. A very nice dais has been provided, which enables the officiating clergyman to command a good view of the congregation. The back of the church has been made in panels in different coloured woods, highly polished, and gives the inside of the building a handsome appearance. The whole is portable, and can be removed in a few minutes, the effect of which is to give ingress to the schoolroom, and, in point of fact, to throw both buildings into one, a most admirable arrangement in the case of large congregations, and for various other reasons. There are 10 handsome blackwood pews, specially constructed in Launceston, which' give the body of the church a comfortable and handsome appearance. Blackwood seats have also been placed round the walls on hinges, which can be opened out, or let down, and which will be a great convenience in the case of large gatherings. There is a large porch with three gables, and three beautifully stained windows. The porch opens into a spacious antechamber, which has been nicely fitted with lockers to contain books, etc. The schoolroom is 50ft by 21ft, and 17ft from floor to roof, and is lined with tongued and grooved pine throughout, and varnished. It has a handsome dado 4ft high, varnished in dark woods, and is lighted with eight rectangular windows, and fitted with spacious lockers, a ship cabin principle….”

The old Methodist church joined of the Uniting Church in 1977. The detailed description of the church and school by the Telegraph’s Scottsdale correspondent 1901, reveals that little else has changed apart from the church’s name. The building is fast approaching its 120th year and exactly 140 years have now passed since Scottsdale’s first Methodist church opened at Ellesmere in 1879.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

The Tasmanian Mail 1901

The Wesleyan-Methodist Parsonage at Ellesmere - source: Queen Victoria Museum QVM 1986:P:1106

Daily Telegraph 1888

The Tasmanian Mail 1909

The Mechanics Institute where Sunday school was held in the 1890's - The Tasmanian Mail 1909


Tasmanian, Saturday 15 March 1879, page 7
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 27 March 1880, page 3
Daily Telegraph 1888, Monday 15 October 1888, page 1
Examiner Thursday 25 January 1900, page 5
The Mercury Wednesday 28 Feb 1900, page 5 
Examiner Wednesday 22 May 1901, page 3
Daily Telegraph Thursday 23 May 1901, page 4 
The Tasmanian Mail, 17 February 1900
The Tasmanian Mail, 23 January 1909
North-Eastern Advertiser, Tuesday 1 February 1921, page 2
North-Eastern Advertiser, Friday 23 June 1939, page 3

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.


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