No. 528 - Beaconsfield - 'Brandy Creek' Primitive Methodist Chapel (1878-1883)

The origins of Beaconsfield, previously known as Brandy Creek, dates back to the late 1840s with the first discovery of small quantities of gold. Commercial gold mining only got underway in the 1870s which led to a boom in the town’s population. Brandy Creek was renamed Beaconsfield in 1879 in honour of Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield and the British Prime Minister. By this time the reef was the richest gold discovery anywhere in Australia and virtually overnight Beaconsfield had become Tasmania's third largest town.

Like most boom towns, churches were soon established and the Wesleyan Methodists and Primitive Methodists arrived at Brand Creek in the mid 1870’s. The Primitive Methodists first appeared in Launceston in 1857 and developed a strong presence in northern Tasmania. Their camp meetings attracted the working classes, who sometimes did not feel well-accepted by the Wesleyan Methodists. The “Primitive” movement began in 1808 led by Methodist lay preacher, Hugh Bourne, was expelled from the British Methodist movement. Bourne and his followers became known as Primitive Methodists, meaning ‘first’ or ‘original’. Bourne's followers were also disparagingly called 'Ranters' with reference to their crude and often noisy preaching.

Two Primitive Methodist churches built at Beaconsfield, the first chapel opened in 1878 and this was replaced by a second church in 1883. This article will focus on the first church, which I call the Brandy Creek Chapel, to distinguish it from the later and larger Beaconsfield Primitive Methodist church.

While researching the chapel I came across a fascinating and detailed account of a trip to Brandy Creek to attend a ‘tea meeting’ held the day after the chapel’s official opening. Published in the Examiner under the pseudonym “Slow-and-Sure”, it is a rich description of an 8 hour journey by a party of 30 Primitive Methodists from Launceston to support the newly formed congregation at Brandy Creek. I have reproduced the report in its entirety even though details about the new chapel form only a small part of the account:

“Having recently paid a visit to the much-talked of Brandy Creek goldfields I will endeavour to set before the readers of the Examiner an account of my journey to and from the above place. Before entering into particulars, which must necessarily, be very brief, I may here remark that the object of my visit was to be present at the opening tea-meeting of the Primitive Methodist Church. Therefore as the Examiner would in all probability publish a notice in reference thereto,I intend to take things in order, and embrace the church opening, etc., in this article. And now to proceed to business".

"On Monday morning last, about 7 o'clock, I, in company with a number of friends, determined to start in conveyances for Brandy Creek, but owing to the very threatening state of the weather, and knowing that we should have some lady passengers, a delay in starting was made until eight o'clock; when the sky presented a brighter appearance. About 17 of us (all Primitives) having assembled in Wellington-street, and the vehicles being ready, the word of command was given, and away went a very happy party indeed, all feeling equal to the occasion, having heard of the wretched state of the road to the West Tamar goldfield. During the first part of the journey nothing of particular interest occurred. The party consisted of eight ladies and nine gentlemen, amongst the latter being one who enlivened the proceedings by frequent bursts of music on a cornet, which if inferior to the great Levy in execution, was none the less agreeable, to those journeying".

"After going about 10 miles on the road is which had been very fair travelling, a halt was made and all hands, including the quadrupeds, partook of refreshments. While the males unharnessed the horses, the ladies set about lighting a fire to make tea, and spread a family cloth on the green grass, upon which a choice selection of eatables was quickly placed. Soon the welcome sound of “lunch, oh!” was heard, and right heartily did everyone of us respond to the call. We camped for about an hour altogether, and another start was effected about one o'clock: Strict orders were given by the "captain in command" to hold tight to the cart for the remainder of the journey, because we all knew we had a very rough road to travel, but certainly did not think it was half so bad as events proved. Walking, with an occasional trot, and stopping now became the order of the day. To go through puddles and holes was nothing to speak of, but to have to go over logs and trees was too much for one's digestion".

"When we arrived near the Supply River we found men at work, and the road blocked. We were not to be baulked. "All hands dismount" came the order, and the passengers, with the exception of the drivers, had to foot it over the new road the best way they could, while the vehicles turned off in the bush through mud and slush, and finally managed to regain the road proper about fifty yards the other side. Two of the party, a lady ad gentleman, had a tumble, but did not hurt themselves. Surely, we thought, that must be the worst place; but, oh! my readers, it was only the thin edge. Walking the horses, stopping, and getting out very often, was a very tedious affair, and had it not been for the cornet and the good humour of the entire party, the journey would have been a sorry undertaking. As it was everyone made the best of a bad bargain, and laughed and joked at each other's expense, because we all cut such pretty (?) figures, being splashed with mud from head to foot. However, we trusted as we were "slow," we would also be "sure" in the end of reaching Brandy Creek that night".

"While we were plodding along, two young men on horseback over took us, and kindly told our "Captain" that there was "an awful bit of mud" to pass a little way on, but if we all liked to get out they would lead the vehicles through a bush track to escape the bad road. Of course, on arriving at the place, we immediately got out, and true enough it was an awful bit of mud. I certainly pitied the ladies, but nothing daunted, they bravely struck off into the bush and managed somehow to get over the difficulty. The sterner sex, minus drivers, also joined them after getting over their boot tops. In the meantime the vehicles had followed the horsemen, and being one of the drivers at this particular time on account of my light weight, I can say that the like I have never seen before, and what is more, I don't want to experience again. Truly the track was not particularly heavy pulling, but being very sloppy the wheels of the cart sank a great deal. But what made it worse in my opinion than the road we avoided was on account of fallen trees that were hidden by the mud, and every now and then the cart would pitch and toss like a ship in a storm, and it was a very difficulty thing to keep your seat, let alone hold the reins. However, "all's well that ends well," and I am glad to say that the carts got safely on the road again, without any mishap. Where the majority of our passengers were we could not tell, because they had walked on, thinking that time was very precious now, as the tea meeting took place at half-past five, and we did not know when we should see Brandy Creek".

"Again we started and picked up the passengers as we overtook them, some of the ladies having walked about three or four miles. The remainder of the road, though very bad, was not quite so wretched as the piece we had just passed, and after some more jolting and shaking, we had the loud-speakable pleasure of seeing the smoke of the diggings. "All hands get ready" was wafted back from the first car by the breeze, and, regardless of shakes, a trot was made, and amid the ringing notes of the "Conquering Hero” on the cornet, we bravely drove up the main street of the now-famed goldfield. The journey from Launceston occupied about eight hours. Water, soap, and brushes soon effected a material change in our appearance, and about five o'clock we were ready for the tea-meeting".

"Before proceeding further, I must now notice the opening services held on the preceding day (Sunday.) The church has been erected by the Primitive Methodist connection, at a cost of about £70, including all expenses, and will accommodate 100 persons comfortably, the seats having backs. I am unable to give full particulars as to size, builder, etc., but I may say that the church appears to be in every way suited to the place. The Rev. F. Sinden, of Launceston, preached morning and evening to good congregations, the church on the latter occasion being crowded. In the afternoon Mr S. Baker, of Nine-Mile Springs [Lefroy], delivered an appropriate discourse".

"The tea-meeting (as my readers no doubt anticipate) took place in the evening at half-past five, and was a great success, two or three courses having to be prepared. The lady members of the congregation and other friends provided a very nice assortment of good things, and the people seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. Notwithstanding that it commenced to rain about half-past six o’clock, before the public meeting began, the church was crowded to the doors. The chair was taken by.Mr J. Prossor, of Launceston, who briefly referred to the pleasure he felt at being present on such an occasion, and, judging from the pleasant faces he saw before him, he thought they would have a very good meeting. Messrs Blackett, S. Baker, Tennant, W. Ride, John Long, T. Docking, and the Revs. Sinden and Gould then delivered appropriate and interesting addresses, the choir, under the leadership of Mr H. Goninon, rendering selected pieces of music between the rising of the various speakers".

"The chairman's opening remarks were correct, for the meeting never once proved tedious, but a lively interest was kept up throughout, and proved the wisdom of "short, quick, and to the point" speeches. I believe some thing about £50 was raised at these opening services, etc. After the meeting the Launcestonians had a "confab" as to where they were to sleep for the night, but this difficulty was soon overcome by the good people of Brandy Creek. Early the next morning the visitors might have been seen strolling about here and there, viewing the various novel sights only to be seen on a goldfield. A trip to the battery by some of the ladies, and a ramble through the bush by others, filled up the time to 10 o'clock, the hour when the cornet was again heard "calling" the stragglers in. We certainly presented a comical appearance. Some had bush flowers, Some large reeds, or “kangaroo tails"; others splashed and muddy boots, while not a few had sore bones, the result of sleeping on strange and hard beds".

"We mustered another vehicle at the start for home, some more of our friends having arrived a short time after we did. Every thing being ready the cornet was sounded, and amid the best wishes of our Brandy Creek friends we started homewards. I need not give a description of our return, because it was but a repetition of what we experienced the previous day, with one exception. When we camped this time it came on to rain, and it was really laughable to see us getting dinner on the ground under carts, umbrellas, shawls, trees, etc. I am happy to record, however, that notwithstanding the ups-and-downs of the trip we enjoyed ourselves immensely, and arrived home about six o'clock on Tuesday evening wiser, but not sadder, though more tired than when we started”.

I doubt very much that many modern Christians would undertake such an arduous journey for a ‘tea meeting’ and a sermon! It is also difficult to appreciate that a journey which now takes less than 30 minutes from Launceston to Beaconsfield took 8 hours in 1878.

Exactly one year after the epic pilgrimage, ‘Slow-and-Sure’ made another journey to Brandy Creek for the first anniversary of the Primitive Methodist chapel. The settlement had been renamed Beaconsfield, the road had improved significantly and the town grown considerably. The original chapel was small, its dimension being only 30ft. by 17ft. It was soon outgrown to the point that worshipers had to be turned away as there was not even standing room. In 1881 the building was lengthened to 50ft at a cost of £60 but this soon proved to be inadequate. Plans were made to extend the church again but in 1883 a decision was made to build a completely new church.

The photograph accompanying this article is undated but it was taken in the first years of the mining boom at Beaconsfield. A portion of the 1878 Brandy Creek chapel can been seen on the left of the photograph. The new church built in 1883 was substantially larger and took the place of the old chapel which was removed to the rear of the block to be used as a hall and Sunday school building. The establishment of this second church will be the subject of another article on the Primitive Methodists at Beaconsfield.

The fist Primitive Methodist Church at Beaconsfield can be seen behind the new church built in 1883. This is the only known photograph of the building.  Source: Libraries Tasmania - PH30-1-4069P20
A detail taken from the photograph above.

Examiner, Friday 1 November 1878


Examiner, Friday 1 November 1878, page 3
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 2 November 1878, page 15
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 7 November 1878, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 19 April 1879, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 5 November 1879, page 3
Mercury, Tuesday 14 August 1883, page 3
Tasmanian, Saturday 18 August 1883, page 9
Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 30 October 1883, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Friday 2 November 1883, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 20 December 1883, page 3
Tasmanian, Saturday 22 December 1883.


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