No. 554 - Sulphur Creek Methodist Church - "His Snakeship"

Sulphur Creek is a small coastal settlement approximately 5 kilometres west of Penguin in the north west of Tasmania. It was originally known as Penguin Creek before the town Penguin was established.

For many years Sulphur Creek was a venue for horse racing. According to Max Stansall [Tasmanian Methodism] the land on which a Primitive Methodist church was built formed part of a racecourse and was donated by Andrew Ballantyne with the intension of breaking up the racing.

A report on the church’s opening in January 1890 was carried by The Examiner and The Tasmanian:

“A Sulphur Creek correspondent writes: — The Primitive Methodists opened their new church on Sunday, the 5th inst. The Kev. J. T. Pithouse preached in the morning, Rev. W. Bowe in the afternoon, and the Kev. J. May (Wesleyan) in the evening. The congregations were large and attentive. On Monday tea was provided, which was well patronised…. A public meeting was held, which was addressed by the Revs. J. May, J. T. Pithouse, and Messrs W. Boatwright, Ellis, Ockerby, and Ballantyne. The choir rendered excellent service, under the leadership of Mr A. Ockerby. Miss Ballantyne presided at the organ. The cost of the building is £84, towards which is raised £54. The building is 30ft x 16ft, and reflects great credit upon Mr Bellion, the contractor”.

In 1929 the church suffered a disaster when it was swept off its foundations when the creek flooded during the catastrophic State-wide flooding during April of that year. The Advocate reported on a somewhat amusing incident following the flood:

“During, the recent floods at Sulphur Creek, the Methodist Church situated near the road near the bridge was lifted by the flood from its foundations, and slewed almost, end for end, with one end projecting over the creek bed. A lot of driftwood, etc., was deposited under the building, which was comparatively uninjured. On Monday, preparations were made for restoring the building to its former site. Willing workers cleared the rubbish from under the building, under which they crawled, dragging it out with their hands. They had got most of it out in a heap in the open, when they heard shrieks and cries of alarm from two ladies of the party. The cause of the outbreak proved to be a black snake over three feet long, which after removal with the rubbish from a reputed sanctuary to an evident fire-heap, had crawled forth to investigate, and possibly make war upon the disturbers of its peaceful slumbers. However, it had but a short respite, for the ladies, with one accord, rose to the occasion. So did their weapons of driftwood, and the snake got the worst of it. The mere men are still wondering which one of them dragged "his snakeship" to life and death, and by what margin of safety he missed being the chief subject in a coroner's inquiry. It is hoped to be able to complete the restorative work at the church next week”.

The church was successfully restored to its foundations but this proved to be only temporary. In 1965 Preservation Drive was widened and the Public Works Department acquired 15 feet of frontage of the church’s land. The building was moved to another part of the block and placed on new foundations.

In 1970 the church was renovated and the old weatherboard was replaced with the once fashionable ‘brick-board’ and the porch was ‘glassed in’. At some point after the establishment of the Uniting Church in 1977 the church closed and the building was sold. A 2008 Google Street view image of the church shows the building reasonably intact but in 2010 substantial renovations rendered the building unrecognisable as a 120 year old church.

A photograph of the church off its foundation following the 1929 flood.  Source: Libraries Tasmania PH30-1-8011 

A view of the church in 2008 with its 'brick-board' cladding.  The building is no longer recognisable following rebuilding in 2010.

Andrew Ballantyne - the founder of the church - Obituary 1916:

"Quite a pall was cast over the town yesterday morning when the sad news was received of the demise of one of our oldest and most popular citizens, Mr. Andrew Ballantyne, who passed away at Nurse Moreton's private hospital, Ulverstone, at 3 a.m., at the ripe old age of 79 years. The late Mr. Ballantyne was born in Ayrshire,Scotland, on March 2, 1837, and up to the date of his coming to Australia was engaged in the soft goods trade. He landed in Melbourne by the ss Tiverton in 1883, and immediately transhipped on the ss Southern Cross to Launceston, with Mrs. Ballantyne and eight members of his family. One of his shipmates was the late Mr. Featherstone Ockerby, of Sulphur Creek, who recently predeceased him. After a short stay in Launceston, Mr. Ballantyne and family removed to Sheffield, where he engaged in store keeping and farming for 3 years, after which time he removed to Sulphur Creek, and followed the farming industry for a period of 14 years. Relinquishing farming, he retired to Albion House, Penguin, where he resided till Friday preceding his death where he was conveyed to Ulverstone for an operation, which, owing to bodily weakness, was more than he could bear. A familiar and highly respected figure has passed from our midst, after an active life, largely spent for the public good; for no matter of ordinary importance was lost to his attention. The sympathy of the district goes out to the widow and family in their bereavement. Permanent monuments to the deceased's memory are to be found in the Sulphur Creek Methodist Church, for which he gave the land and superintended the building in 1890, and he had been closely associated with it ever since. The public hall, which until recently had been used as the State school, was largely the outcome of his energy, to which might be ascribed many of the pleasant evening and social functions which this facility afforded to the residents of the district. The Creamery road, which now proves such a boon to travellers, is due to his undaunted enthusiasm in the matters he took in
hand. Penguin will retain his memory in the permanency of the recreation ground, which is the outcome of his foresight; and the local brass band have lost a true and faithful supporter, he having acted as trustee since its inception. Happily during recent months the secretary was enabled to return the original joint and several which he had signed, with the late Mr. J. D. McKenna, that the instruments might be purchased. The funeral will leave Albion House at 3 p.m. to-morrow. Flags were half mast in town during the day as a token of respect.


Launceston Examiner, Saturday 7 December 1889, page 2
The Tasmanian, Saturday 11 January 1890, page 28
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Friday 29 September 1916, page 2
Advocate, Thursday 18 April 1929, page 7

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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