No. 504 - Norfolk Creek Primitive Methodist Church - "A Few Earnest Men"

Norfolk Creek lies on the Forth Road, approximately midway between Don and Forth. The origin of the name “Norfolk Creek” may come from Thomas Yaxley, who was born in Norfolk England, and settled in this area “in the very early days”.

A Primitive Methodist church was built at Norfolk Creek in 1863 but it enjoyed only a brief existence with the last mention of it being in 1873. In 1863 a report in the Launceston Examiner states that the church was located on the Forth Road, about two miles from the River Don, which would place it in the vicinity of the junction of the Forth and Lillico Roads. The church should not be confused with the Forth Beach Wesleyan Methodist Church which was located about 2 kilometres north west of Norfolk Creek on a site which is marked with a memorial plaque alongside the Bass Highway. The Forth Beach church opened in 1867 and was pulled down in 1911.

The Launceston Examiner carried a fairly lengthy report on the Norfolk Creek church’s opening in late March 1863. The article does not provide much in the way of a description of the church but it praises the voluntarism which made the building possible and railed against the lack of government aid for building rural churches:

“A Primitive Methodist Chapel has been built at Norfolk Creek about two miles from this, and the opening services were to have been conducted by the Rev. J. Sharp, of Launceston, but who was at the last moment prevented from coming down by severe indisposition. This was regretted by all parties as he is much esteemed on the coast. On Wednesday a public tea meeting was held and attended by about 130 persons, and the whole arrangements were carried out satisfactory to all. After justice had been done to the abundant good things provided, a public meeting was held, and after singing and prayer, the Rev. W. Mathieson was voted to the chair; and after an address by Mr. Barker, Mr. Tait made the financial statement showing an apparent debt of £11; but a friend stated that the amount was promised, so that the chapel is really out of debt. Mr. Casely followed in an able speech, and the interest of the meeting was admirably kept up till the close. A vote of thanks to the Chairman, the ladies, and friends for their sympathy and attendance, brought this in interesting meeting to a conclusion. The opening of the above chapel shows what can be done by vigorous voluntary effort. One gave palings, another shingles, and others work, so that a building capable of seating about 100 persons is erected without aid from Government, and by a few earnest men not blest with much of this world's goods. It is a crying sin that State Aid should be given to large and wealthy congregations in our principal towns, and districts like the Devon, from Deloraine to Table Cape, including Port Sorell, Mersey, Forth, Leven, &c., should not have one clergyman residing amongst them. What would be come of country districts if it was not for those who are supported by the voluntary principle? Truly they would be worse than heathens. If State Aid is or can be of any service let it be taken from the towns and given to clergymen who will be expected to go into the highways and hedges like their divine Master, and instruct the ignorant and those out of the way….”

I have found about a dozen references to the church over a period of ten years before the record falls silent. The church formed part of a Primitive Methodist ‘circuit’ which included a church at Penguin and ‘the Gawler’ (Gravel Hill). In 1868 Reverend W. Walton preached in the Primitive Methodist churches along the coast and he was replaced by Reverend W.H. Palfreyman and Reverend J. Langham in late 1870.

It was under Reverend Langham’s ministry that news about the church come to and end. In November 1870 there is a curious report which may provide a clue to the end of the Norfolk Creek Church:

“The Rev. J. Langham has arrived in succession to Rev. Mr. Palfreyman, and preached at Norfolk Creek yesterday afternoon. I am informed that the rev. gentleman walked from the Penguin Creek (as he is unable to ride) a distance of about 20 miles”.

The same report continues:

“Respecting the unfortunate dispute amongst the Primitives on the coast, I am not prepared to write, and would only say the breach appears wider and no appearance at present of being bridged over”.

With this I can only speculate that Reverend Langham’s lack of horsemanship skills and a dispute amongst the Primitive Methodists may have contributed in bringing about the eventual demise of the Norfolk Creek Church. The last report of the church comes from October 1873 when Reverend J.H. Brown of Penguin gave "an interesting lecture in the Primitive Methodist Chapel at Norfolk Creek" on the subject of "God in Nature and alcohol in the human system". I assume that these were two discrete lectures. 


With the church's closure some time after 1873, the Norfolk Creek congregation had a choice of attending the Forth Beach church or the new Methodist church which was build at the Forth township in 1875.

The Norfolk Creek church is now only a historical curiosity but is one of many examples of short-lived churches which have left little record yet form an important part of the rich story of the early settlement of the North West coast of Tasmania.

No image of the church exists. I have used a later photograph (1912) of the Yaxely farm on Forth Road that would have been close to the church's location and which provides a view of the landscape in the area.

The Yaxley Farm - Norfolk Creek (1912) - Source Devon Historical Society

Launceston Examiner, Monday 20 August 1866

Sources:

Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 31 March 1863, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 23 April 1863, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Monday 20 August 1866, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 18 January 1868, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 7 January 1869, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 30 December 1869, page 3
The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 17 September 1870, page 14
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 18 October 1870, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 19 November 1870, page 4
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 25 October 1873, page 16



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