No. 486 - Upper Castra Baptist Church

Upper Castra is a farming district on the Castra Road approximately 20 kilometres south of Ulverstone. It was once part of a thickly wooded area developed by Colonel Andrew Crawford after he retired from the Indian Army. Upper Castra once had three places of worship; these being Anglican, Methodist and Baptist churches. All of the churches have closed and have been demolished or removed.

The Baptist church was a short-lived church and is the least known of Upper Castra’s three churches.
In June 1907 the North West Post reported on Baptist activity in the area:

“The Baptist brethren are preparing to build a church in this district. A deacon has generously given a piece of land in a favourable position, whilst another deacon of the church has offered to supply almost the whole of the timber for the building”.

A later report reveals that Mr Spellman had donated the timber and the land had been donated by Mr Kenner. The church opened in July 1908 and the North West Post carried a short report describing the opening ceremonies:

“The opening of the new Baptist Church took place on Sunday, the ceremony being performed by the Rev. C. Palmer, president of the Baptist Union. Two services were held, there being large congregations at both. The Rev. Mr Palmer…congratulated the residents on their enterprise in erecting such a fine building to further God’s work”.

In typical country style, celebrations spilled over into the week. The North west Post reported:
“The opening celebrations of the new Baptist Church were brought to a close on Wednesday evening by an interesting and instructive lecture by the Rev. C. Palmer…The Ulverstone choir, under the baton of Mr Morgan, also gave two selections….The large drag load of visitors came from Ulverstone, and provided all the musical part of the programme”.

The year 1908 held good prospects for Upper Castra. In November the North West Post published a commentary on the districts recent improvements:

“Wonderful progress has been made by this district during the past twelve months, and several people who visited Upper Castra after a year's absence, at the time of the last sports meeting, were surprised at the many improvements to be noticed on every side. Settlement is slowly but surely pushing southwards. A few years ago Blackwood Park was virtually the end of civilisation. Now there are farms miles on the other side of it. Between the Anglican Church and “Durley” quite a township is springing up. The Methodist and Baptist denominations have both put up neat places of worship, and a commodious public hall, general store, and blacksmith’s shop have lately been erected. Numerous private dwellings are also clustered between these places. The cutting of the Heathcote Estate has given a great impetus to the district, this large block of rich agricultural land now consisting of many small farms, each with a neat house upon it. The one thing wanted, and what the people are earnestly wishing for, is the tramway from Ulverstone…”

While Upper Castra thrived, the Baptist church, for reasons unknown, struggled to establish itself and in little over a decade services ceased and the church closed. There are three interesting reports about the church over a 10 year period but none of these provide any clue as to why the church closed so soon after opening.

The first report from 1911 reveals that the church had been damaged by larrikins in an act of vandalism which was fairly common in most country districts at this time:

“On Tuesday morning it was found that two large windows windows in the baptist chapel had been smashed with a stick, damage to the amount of 15s. being done. The matter matter was reported to the police, and everything points to the perpetrator being found out….It is nothing to be annoyed at religious services by these young larrikins. This is the second time that the windows have been broken. One would think that these young fellows, although rather mentally deficient, would have enough respect for their own people than to do such contemptible deeds…”.

A report in 1912 refers to baptisms taking place in the Wilmot River:

“On Thursday afternoon a “real Baptist baptismal service” was conducted by Mr. Clarke down at the River Wilmot (River Jordan for the time being), when five persons went through the ceremony. This nowadays rather novel way brings us back to the simple method of John the Baptist”.

In November 1918 a memoriam service to the Sergeant Jack Spellman was held in the church:

“There was a large number of people present, some being unable to gain admission. The Rev. J.W. Fisher officiated, and delivered an impressive and eloquent discourse, specifically referring to the noble and sterling qualities of the deceased soldier. The front of the altar was tastefully draped with black and purple and the Allied flags. Above the altar were the words “He nobly lived” and “He nobly died”…”.

By 1920 the record of the church falls silent in the local newspapers. Then, in 1924 the church is mentioned for the last time:

“Mr. L.L. Flint, who some time ago purchased the abandoned Baptist Church, has had the carpenters busy for the last few weeks, turning the late church into a neat and comfortable little residence.The carpenters (Messrs. Dixon and Gardam) have now finished and Mr. Flint and family have moved in”.

The date of the last service and the reason for the church’s closure is not known. In the book “Ulverstone sesqui-centenary celebrations” (Ulverstone History Museum), it is stated that in 1940 the building was relocated to Ulverstone to a site on Main Street, where it was used as a dwelling. I have not been able to determine its location on Main Street or if the building still exists. No photograph or image of the original building is available.

No image of the church exists. This is a photo of a farm in the Upper Castra region in 1913 showing recent clearance of the dense bush  - photo courtesy of Craig Broadfield 

The location of the Upper Castra district on North West Tasmania (placenames.gov.tas.au)

Sources:

North West Post, Saturday 29 June 1907, page 2
North West Post, Monday 29 June 1908, page 2
North West Post, Tuesday 14 July 1908, page 2
North West Post, Friday 17 July 1908, page 3
North West Post, Saturday 21 November 1908, page 2
North West Post, Thursday 16 November 1911, page 2
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Saturday 24 February 1912, page 2
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Thursday 7 November 1918, page 2
Advocate, Tuesday 23 December 1924, page 4

Ulverstone History Museum.  Ulverstone sesqui-centenary celebrations souvenir 1852-2002 / Ulverstone History Museum  Sesqui-Centenary Book Committee, Ulverstone History Museum Ulverstone, Tas  2002


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