No. 452 - The Wesleyan-Methodist Church at Bothwell - "From Bad to Worse"

Bothwell is one of the oldest settlements in Tasmania and it is also one of the most important Georgian towns in the State. It is situated on the Clyde River, about 75km miles north of Hobart. The majority of the first settlers in the region were from Scotland. Bothwell once had four churches of which the Anglican, Uniting (Presbyterian) and Catholic churches remain.

Bothwell’s Wesleyan Methodist church had a relative short life; opening in 1859 and services ceased at some point in the 1880’s. The church was demolished in 1903.

The Methodists were active early in Boswell’s history and ministers had been despatched from Hobart for fortnightly services from 1836. In 1849 Bothwell was included in the Oatlands circuit but was transferred to the New Norfolk circuit in 1855. By the late 1850’s the Methodist community had gained sufficient momentum in the town for a chapel to be built. The Hobart Town Daily Mercury provides a detailed account of the church’s opening in March 1859:

“On Sunday last the new Wesleyan Chapel was opened for public worship, when the Rev. Mr. Smith of Campbell Town preached a sermon suitable to the occasion. Several respectable members of the Episcopalian Church were present. In the evening the Rev. Mr. Tuckfield preached to a crowded congregation. The polite attention shown by the managers in handing their visitors to their seats, supplying them with printed papers of the hymns to be sung, and in accommodating them was something new in Bothwell. A collection was made at the close of each service and about fifteen pounds were collected. The Sunday school children about 60 in number sung some very suitable hymns, and the manner in which they did so reflected great credit on their precentors, Mr. and Mrs. Wiseman”.

“On Monday, a tea meeting in the chapel was well attended; several ministers addressed the meeting and elicited, great applause. Mr. Ife read the statistics from which it appears that the building (which is of brick) 35 feet by 18 cost £257 11s. 10d. Towards which the inhabitants generally contributed £215, which, with £15 collected on Sunday, left about £27 as a debt on the place. A collection was made and repeated again and again, and before the, party separated the chapel was out of debt and a small surplus in hand!”

“On Tuesday the children met the Rev. Mr. Downes at the chapel and were regaled with tea, cakes, &c, after which the Rev. gentleman quite astonished the rustics with his interesting and funny anecdotes, A Mr. Hood likewise addressed them and presented them with a neat white tablet with the words " Bothwell Band of Hope" in gold letters inscribed on it, and recommended the formation of a Band of Hope under the superintendence of Mr. Wiseman, which was immediately adopted and 41 names were enrolled. The children were particularly cautioned not to enlist without their parents' consent, I should have stated that a handsome pulpit was presented by George Nicholas Esq, in addition to his liberal donation; but for these proceedings we should have been very dull”.


Land for the building was donated by Mr Robert Blake who was also a major contributor to the building fund, contributing £27. The pulpit was donated by Mr George Nicholas and Mr Robert Mason. Mr George Ife, who owned the Bothwell general store, preached at the church until its closure in the 1880’s.

By the 1890’s the building was in a very poor condition. In 1897 the local correspondent for the Hobart Mercury complained:

“This year we have not had many visitors, and those who have honoured us with their presence must, while strolling round, be struck with the neglected appearance of some of the buildings and fences. Once building in particular calls for comment, viz, the Wesleyan Chapel, which presents a very unsightly appearance. There is scarcely a whole pane of glass in the windows, the boundary fences are broken more or less, and also the grave fences. One would think that the trustees of the Chapel would try to make the building an ornament to the place instead of what it is now”.

In ‘Tasmanian Methodism’, Reverend Max Stansall’s describes the final years of the church:

“By 1900 the Bothwell church had fallen into a disgraceful condition. One Hundred and Fifty Pounds had previously been offered for the property but, hoping that the railway would reach the town, the trustees refused to sell. The situation went from bad to worse and in 1902 a letter was sent to the Chairman of the District regarding the deplorable state of the building. The vestry was being used as a general laundry, the church was a carpenter’s shop, and a saddle rested on the communion rail. Through the persistent efforts of Mr. Ife, one of the oldest trustees, permission was finally given to sell and in 1903 the chapel was sold as building material for Sixty Pounds”.

Following its sale the chapel was demolished and the stone was used to build a cottage in High Street. The only photograph of the church known to exist, probably taken in the 1880’s, shows the chapel to be an attractive building. Its unfortunate decline and demolition represents a significant loss for the town of Bothwell.

An undated photograph of the church c.1880 - Bothwell Revisited


Sources:

Hobart Town Daily Mercury, Saturday 26 March 1859, page 3
Hobart Town Daily Mercury, Wednesday 6 July 1859, page 3 
Mercury, Thursday 22 April 1897, 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.

Ellis, Shauna.  Bothwell revisited : a history : foundation, federation and the millennium / edited by Shauna Ellis  Bothwell Historical Society Bothwell, Tas  2001


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