No. 467 - Sheffield Baptist Church - "Hats off to the past, but coats off to the future"

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 this 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 church is Sheffield’s second Baptist place of worship after the first ‘tabernacle’ [see No. 467], which opened in 1891, was destroyed in a fire almost 40 years after it was built.

The fire started in a house adjoining the tabernacle in the early hours of Sunday morning on 23 March 1930. The Advocate reported on the blaze:

“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”.

The Baptists elected to build a new church rather than continue to use or purchase Sheffield’s Presbyterian church. The Presbyterian church was later removed to Ulverstone and was re-erected as a Sunday school hall in 1937. The ceremonial laying of the foundation stone for the new Baptist church took place in October 1930. The occasion was described in The Advocate in some detail:

“The ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the new Baptist Church at Sheffield was performed by Mr. John Soundy, M.H.A., on Saturday afternoon, in the presence of a large gathering. The new building, which is being erected by Mr. Haslock, of Devonport, is to take the place of the wooden building which was destroyed by fire about six months ago. The latter was built by the late Mr. William Gibson, of Epping, in 1891, so that it was for nearly 40 years in use. Notwithstanding this the building was in a splendid condition, and it would apparently have filled all requirements for many years. The new building is to be of brick, and when completed should prove a fine addition to the appearance of that portion of the town. In addition to the foundation stone a stone was laid by Rev. V. G. Britton as a memorial to the late Mr. William Gibson, the builder of the church destroyed by fire. Both stones are of white marble, and the inscriptions are in leaded letters. Both were laid on the front foundation of the church….”

“A temporary platform had been erected across portion of the foundations, and on this were seated the pastor of the Sheffield Tabernacle (Rev. McIntosh Brown), Mr. John Soundy, M.H.A., Rev. J. C. Salter (president of the Baptist Union), Rev. V. G. Britton, Mr. H. H. McFie, M.H.A., and the Warden (Cr. D. Russell). A large number of members of the Baptist Church from Sheffield and district and other centres was present”.

Reverend McIntosh Brown spoke on behalf of the Sheffield Church and:

“Welcomed those present, … There were two stones, he said, to be laid, one for the future and one for the past, and he would ask Rev. Britton, who had been closely connected with the church in Sheffield, to per- form the ceremony of laying the latter. They were undertaking a responsibility in the erection of the church, and would have to work hard together in the future. It was “hats off to the past, but coats off to the future,” as these were not the days to be standing still, and each had to do his, or her, share”.

"Rev. Britton said that the church which had been destroyed by fire had been the gift of the late Mr. William Gibson, who had also given the manse. Mr. Gibson and other members of his family had given between £40,000 and £50,000 to Baptist churches in Tasmania. The building of the new church would, he was certain, lead thousands to the feet of Jesus Christ. "The faith in which it is built will remind us of the munificence of our benefactor," he said, "and of the debts we owe to God the Father and Jesus Christ. This is the great foundation we must build on, so that when storms come the foundation and super-structure will stand securely." Rev. Britton then declared the stone well and securely laid, "in memory of William Gibson and to the glory of God.”… Rev. O. F. Snell (Anglican) congratulated the pastor and his congregation on the liberality of the design of the new building, which would be a handsome edifice, and also for their undoubted faith in the future.…”

The building was completed in less than four months and was officially opened on 31 January 1931. The Advocate reported on the opening service:

“There was a large attendance at the opening of the new Baptist Tabernacle at Sheffield on Saturday afternoon. The new building was erected on the site of the Tabernacle which was destroyed by fire last year. It is built of brick, and is 45ft. by 30ft., with two vestries at the back…The walls are plastered, and there is a cement dado. There are two vestibules,…and an entrance porch of the same dimensions. The building, which is electrically lit, cost £1500”.

“Before the crowd entered the new church, Rev. McIntosh Brown said that a few hours after the destruction of the old building last March the officers of the Presbyterian Church offered the use of their building in High street for services while the Tabernacle was being built. Thanks were offered to the architect, Mr. H. Morris, and the contractor, Mr. H. E. Haslock, who had combined their efforts to produce such a fine structure. Mr. Brown then officially opened the door of the new building. Mr. Brown presided over a large congregation in the church. Prayer was offered by Rev. L. J. Boulton Smith, of Launceston. The Salvation Army sent greetings. The president of the Christian Endeavour, Launceston, forwarded a Bible for the pulpit…. Rev. E. B. Woods, of Burnie. dedicated the building to the worship of God by reading Psalm 96. The opening of the Tabernacle, he said, started a new era for the Baptist congregation at Sheffield”.

In 1952 a new Sunday school hall was opened alongside the church which was described in a report carried by The Advocate:

“The new Baptist Sunday school hall was opened by the president of the Tasmanian Baptist Union (Rev. J. Roberts Thomson), in the presence of a large gathering. The golden key was then handed to the building secretary (Mr. G. O. Brown), and Rev. M. Brewer, of Devonport, led the prayer. Approximately 160 people sat down to tea in the spacious hall, which is of weatherboards with a brick front. It has a kitchen and other rooms attached, and is to be used for Sunday school and social purposes….”

Soon approaching its 90th anniversary, the Baptist church remains essentially unchanged since its construction. Apart from the Baptist church at Lower Barrington, the early Baptist churches in the villages in the Kentish region have now all closed and the Sheffield church serves the Baptist community of the region.

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

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019


The Advocate, Monday 24 March 1930, page 6
The Mercury, Monday 24 March 1930, page 5

The Advocate, Burnie, Tasmania, Monday, 13 October, 1930
The Advocate, Monday 2 February 1931, page 4
Examiner, Monday 2 February 1931, page 5
The Advocate, Thursday 22 May 1952, page 8 


  1. How wonderful to see the sign over the door "Jesus saves".
    The Bible says: "For there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby ye must be saved."
    Jesus Christ is the only hope for our world!


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