No. 490 - Forth Beach Methodist Church - "Hard by the Dancing Waves"

Alongside the Bass Highway near Lillico beach, a stand of six poplar trees and headstones can be seen near the road’s edge. At the site is a memorial plaque which states that this place was the location of the first Methodist service held in the Forth District. Only two headstones remain with the rest of the cemetery along with the church grounds now buried beneath the Bass Highway.

The first church erected at this site was described as an “inconvenient and gloomy building”. It was replaced by a new church which opened in November 1867. A record of the opening is preserved in a report published in the Launceston Examiner:

“On Sunday, the 3rd instant, the new Wesleyan Chapel on the Forth Beach was opened for divine worship. The Rev. J. Waterhouse, from Westbury, preached on the occasion to crowded congregations, and collections were made in aid of the building fund. On Monday afternoon a tea-meeting was held, the usual concomitants being provided gratuitously by the females connected with the Church, and despite the very unfavourable and stormy weather, about 200 sat down to tea. After satisfying the wants of the inner man, a public meeting was held, Mr. R. Stewart being voted to the chair. Interesting addresses were delivered by the Revs. Inglis, Waterhouse, Mathison, and other friends of the cause. I am not able to give the financial statement not having been supplied with it, but I might state that the chapel is 35 feet long by 18 feet wide, lofty walls, and well ventilated, and will seat about 100 persons; the seats and pulpit have yet to be provided, but I believe the building itself is free from debt….And Iast, but not least, the acoustic properties have been studied for the minister’s voice could be heard distinctly, although apparently no effort on his part was required”.

Another description of the church is found in a report about the annual fund-raising ‘tea meeting’ held in 1869. The report mentions Thomas Trebilcock, whose infant children are named on one of the two surviving headstones, as well as James ‘Philosopher Smith’, who had a farm between the Forth and Leven Rivers:

“It is a lovely spot, hard by the dancing waves. The chapel is almost hidden in foliage. A stream of crystal water meanders by, and empties into the sea. There are long wavy plumes of blossoming reed rising from the water, and trailing wreaths of indigenous ice plants drooping into it. The innumerable tints of the dark tea-tree and other native shrubs lend a peculiar enchantment to the place, and constrain us to exclaim “What a place wherein to love the creature, and worship the creator..”. The charms, or as some would say, the absurdities of fashion are not by any means obsolete in these parts. You can see as pretty a bird's nest, and as huge a chignon here in this bush (as you townies would call it) as in the very core of the metropolis. But I fear I have left no room for the tea, and, Oh! the speeches. Well, you must really hear something about the speeches. There were four reverend orators — Messrs Walton, Graham, Mathison, and Inglis, each and all of whom said something witty, and a good deal of wheat was mixed with their chaff, Mr T. Trebilcock in a neat little speech paid a well merited compliment to the rev. Mr Walton, who is shortly to leave the Penguin, to the vast regret of every one. Mr Geologist Smith returned thanks for the ladies who provided the tea, and who had been voted princesses by acclamation. Mr Smith said a great many pretty things, showing his most perfect appreciation of the fair sex, … In regard to the tea, it was hot, strong, and sweet, and I would wish to thank three of the ladies for their kind efforts to indulge peculiar tastes…”.

Services continued at the Forth Beach church until 1908. The church organ and other furniture were moved to the new Methodist church at Upper Castra which had opened in 1907. In 1911 the North West Post reported the church's demise:


"The old Methodist Chapel, which for nearly half a century, was used for public worship at Forth Beach, was last week pulled down, and will be used for a stable on a neighbouring farm.... many of the older people were married there, while others are buried in the churchyard attached to the church".

Now, only two headstones and a memorial plaque are the only indication of the church and community which once worshipped and socialised at a spot next to the busy highway.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Significant sections of the old church form part a barn on a nearby property. Photo supplied with thanks to Matt Hillier 

Significant sections of the old church form part a barn on a nearby property. Photo supplied with thanks to Matt Hillier 


Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

The site of the Forth Beach Methodist church and cemetery on the edge of the Bass Highway


Sources:

Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 12 November 1867, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 1 December 1868, page 3
Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 13 November 1869, page 5
North West Post, Monday 3 July 1911, page 2.

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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