No. 466 - The First Baptist Tabernacle at Sheffield

Sheffield is a country town in northern Tasmania approximately 25 kilometres south of Devonport. The area was explored by the surveyor Nathaniel Kentish in 1842 who was trying to find a route from Deloraine through to the north west coast. The area was subsequently opened up to settlement and by 1862 plots of land had been sold and the settlement of Sheffield had been named. According to J R Skemps’ ‘A History of the North West Coast’, in 1861 the first licence for a public house, the Sheffield Inn, was taken out by James Poulett, a native of Sheffield in England, and probably gave the town its name.

The Baptists were amongst the first denominations to become established in the region and churches or tabernacles were opened at Beulah, Paradise, Promised Land, West Kentish, Staverton, Lower Barrington and of course at Sheffield. The current Baptist tabernacle is Sheffield’s second Baptist place of worship after the first ‘tabernacle’ was destroyed in a fire in 1930. This article covers the period from the establishment of the first tabernacle in 1891.

A detailed description of the original tabernacle was published in The Coastal News and North West Advertiser. Typical of that time, newspapers had a great interest in religious matters and the establishment of new churches were reported voluminously and precisely:

“Several new buildings are in course of construction in Main Street, the Baptists are erecting a "new tabernacle which is a fine lofty and capacious building of weather-board exterior on a stone foundation, covered with a galvanised iron roof. On entering the building in front is a long lobby the whole width of the building and about four feet wide, the main building is about 50 feet long by 22 feet wide by about 16 feet high, the walls are finished in cement and; blocked out and lined in imitation of atone, a wood dado about 4 feet high is fixed all round the building. In the ceiling are several ceiling flower ventilators, and over each window in the walls is a large plaster ventilator, at the extreme end of the hall is a baptistry, which is built in brick and lined with Portland cement having a finishing coat of Keen's cement, access is obtained to the baptistry by a flight of steps at each end, the water being supplied from tanks at back of building, on the top of the baptistry is a moveable platform on which the preacher's desk will stand; at the back of the building are two large vestries capable of being utilised, as school rooms these are plastered and finished with a dado. The building will undoubtedly be the finest place of worship in the township. Mr Harry Conway is the architect, and Messrs Roe Bros. are the contractors for the building, which is to be opened early in May”.

The ‘tabernacle’ was officially opened Sunday 10th May with a morning, afternoon and evening service, led by Pastor A. J. Clarke and Pastor H. Woods, who had previously served at the Launceston Cimitiere Street Tabernacle. Mr W. Gibson of Perth, a major benefactor to the church attended and presided over the fundraising tea meeting held on the Monday following the opening.

Almost 40 years after the opening, the tabernacle was completely destroyed in a fire. The Advocate describes the event:

“A fire which occurred in Main street, Sheffield, during the early hours of yesterday morning resulted in the total destruction of the Baptist Tabernacle and a four-roomed cottage owned by Mr. Lockwood. The fire, which was first seen about 2 a.m., then had a good hold on the cottage, which was built of weatherboards and lined with pine. It burned fiercely and rapidly, and the heat was so intense that the few people present at the time could not approach the space separating it from the church. This space, about 8 feet wide, was spanned by the flames, and the Tabernacle was soon beyond saving. The latter was built about 35 years ago, of weatherboards, lined with plaster. The building burned slowly, but owing to so few being present the contents, with the exception of a few chairs and a small organ, were totally destroyed. ….The Baptist Church was partly covered by insurance, the amount, it is understood, being £300, which will not nearly cover the loss. ….Had a water supply been available the Tabernacle could have been saved. The police, who were on the scene early, are unable to say how the fire was caused, unless through a fire which had been burning at the rear of the house. The Presbyterian Church was placed at the disposal of the Baptists for services yesterday”.

A new tabernacle was built which opened in 1931 . This building will feature in a follow up blog entry.

The original Sheffield Tabernacle (undated) Source: Advance Tasmanian Baptists
Sources:

Coastal News and North Western Advertiser, Saturday 2 May 1891, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 14 May 1891, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 14 May 1891, page 2
Advocate, Monday 24 March 1930, page 6
Mercury, Monday 24 March 1930, page 5

Advance Tasmanian Baptists, December 2018, Lessons from Our Home Missions Churches - 100 years ago, Laurie Rowston, pages 4-6

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