No. 431 - Tunnack's First Presbyterian Church - "Joe the Splitter"

It is hard to imagine that the building in the photograph was used as a church. Since the photograph was taken in 1975 all but the stone chimney has disappeared. The building is typical of the first places of worship built by settlers in the earliest years of the colony. Most spilt timber and shingle roofed churches would have been replaced by a ‘permanent’ church within a few years of the establishment of a settlement. Dedicated for public worship in 1875, Tunnack’s first Presbyterian church remained in use for an incredible 75 years.

The church’s founding is described by John Seymour Weeding in “A History of the Lower Midlands of Tasmania”:

“The story of Presbyterianism at Tunnack is closely linked with the arrival of four Scottish families - Byers, Hay, Scott and Campbell. For almost twenty years before the erection of of a Presbyterian Church their spiritual guidance was limited to an occasional service in the home or travels to Mt. Seymour or Oatlands to attend Divine Worship”.
Weeding goes on to explain:

“The early Tunnack Presbyterian church has rather a unique record in church history. Erected on land donated by Mr. James Byers of “Stuartfield” and dedicated for public worship in 1875, the small shingled church, with its stone chimney, served the congregation for over seventy years. The timber used in the construction of of the church was hewn by hand by an ex convict only known as “Joe the Splitter”, who was assisted by the small band of Scottish settlers…. Each season, when their crops had been harvested, the congregation followed the example of their Scottish forefathers by attending a service for Harvest Thanksgiving. During this service, almost as old as Christianity, the people gave tanks to God by decorating their humble church with flowers and offering Him the first fruits of their harvest as a token of gratitude for the blessings they had received during the past season”.

The old shingled church was abandoned after a new weatherboard church was opened at Tunnack in 1953*. When Frank Bolt photographed the church in 1975 the building had deteriorated considerably. Forty years on, the chimney is all that remains of ‘Joe the Splitter’s’ church.

* The new church will be the subject of a follow-up article on the blog.

The Tunnack church in 1976 - Source: Libraries Tasmania LPIC 33/1/73

A photograph of the church in the c.1950.  Source:  With thanks to Wendy Harris - who shared the photograph on 'Gravesites of Tasmania' Facebook Group (May 2016)

Another view of the church. Source: QVM 2000:P:1091


Weeding, J. S. (John Seymour) A history of the lower midlands (4th ed). Regal, Launceston, Tas, 1994.

Examiner, Tuesday 10 November 1953, page 8


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