No. 488 - Sheffield Uniting Church

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 first Methodist services in the district were held at Barrington in the early 1860's. Reverend H. Nye would walk from Devonport to hold a morning service at Barrington before heading off to Sheffield for afternoon and evening services. Reverend Nye could not ride on horseback and there were no roads in the early days. Services were held in the old Union Hall which stood opposite the site of the church.  In the 1860’s land for a church had been purchased by the first trustees (Mr F. L. von Bibra; Mr Powlett and Mr E. Lord) but the Methodists were not in a position to build until the 1880’s.

Sheffield’s first Methodist church opened on Sunday 26 November 1882. The occasion was reported by the Launceston Examiner:

“The opening of the new church here has been the topic of conversation for some weeks past…the new church was opened for divine worship, when three powerful sermons were preached…The building was filled to its utmost capacity, and numbers had to remain outside. The building is a very neat wooden structure, and in every way adapted to the requirements of the district, measuring 50ft. by 25ft., comfortably seating 250 people The acoustic properties are all that could be desired. On Monday, 27th, a tea and public meeting was held, which was an immense success, Fully eight hundred people were present. A most ample spread was provided, to which due justice was paid….”

The correspondent for The Tasmanian was a little more blunt in his assessment of the occasion:

“The opening services of the new Wesleyan Church at Sheffield were attended by an immense concourse. The building was utterly inadequate to their comfortable accomodation, and numbers were unable to obtain admission. The Rev. Mr. Millard lectured on Saturday evening, and preached three times on Sunday, so that it is, not a matter for surprise that he declared himself pumped out at the tea meeting on Monday….”

The old weatherboard church served the Methodists well but by 1922 consideration was first given to a new and larger church. In 1923 an estimate was obtained for building a brick front onto the church. However, due to insufficient funds the trustees left the matter in abeyance. A new start was made in 1929 but the intervention of the Great Depression resulted in the project being delayed until 1935.

The foundation stone for the new brick church was laid by Sir Walter Lee, former premier of Tasmania, on Saturday 6 February 1937. The building was designed by Mr H. A. Masters of Launceston. The church was built immediately in front of the old weatherboard building. The last service in the old church took place on Sunday 4 April 1937 before the new church was opened on Sunday 11 April 1937.

A feature of the church was a stained glass window at the front of the building commemorating the pioneering Methodist women of the Sheffield and which bears the inscription: “dedicated by Ladies’ Aid to Pioneer Mothers”. Other gifts to the church included a carved communion table and matching chair (in memory of Mr and Mrs Alexander), a memorial blackwood table (in memory of Mrs Walter Butler) and a baptismal font presented by Mr J.P. Ford.

The Methodist church became a part of the Uniting Church in 1977 and is now one of five denominations represented in the town. The original weather board church is the first church built at Sheffield and is one of the oldest original buildings in the town.

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

Sources:

The Tasmanian, Saturday 2 September 1882
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 2 December 1882, page 3
Advocate, Wednesday 17 May 1922, page 4
Examiner, Tuesday 29 November 1932, page 5
Advocate, Tuesday 5 January 1937, page 6
Advocate, Saturday 6 February 1937, page 6
Advocate, Monday 8 February 1937, page 6
Examiner, Monday 8 February 1937, page 8
Advocate, Tuesday 6 April 1937, page 6
Advocate, Monday 12 April 1937, page 2 
Mercury, Monday 12 April 1937, page 9

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.

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