No. 560 - Gunns Plains - Two Church-Schools - 'The Indefatigable Mr Earle'

Gunns Plains is a farming district approximately 25 kilometres south of Ulverstone. It is noted for its impressive limestone caves which are a tourist attraction. The district is named after Ronald Gunn, a botanist and explorer, who discovered the caves in the late 1850’s.

Gunns Plains is one of very few districts in the North West where only the Anglican’s established churches. The Anglican’s built not one but three churches. This article will focus on the first two churches which were built in 1900 and 1908. Both of these buildings also accommodated local State schools. The phenomenon of churches having a dual purpose, as place of worship on the weekend and schoolhouse during the week, was common in the early bush settlements. By the turn of the century Anglicans had erected several church-schools in the Ulverstone hinterland including Wilmot, Upper Castra, Riana, West Pine, and Preston.

By late 1898 plans were underway for Gunns Plains to acquire its first church and schoolroom. In January 1899 a correspondent for the North West Post described the preparation of a site for a church in an article titled  'A Trip to Gunns Plains':

“On arriving on the Plains the first greetings I received were from the Rev W. Earle. Mr Earle was there for a day or two, arranging for a "working bee" to clear an acre of ground on which to erect an edifice for the holding of church services, and also suitable for a State school. The "bees" were to begin work on Wednesday. All the men of the district, together with those employed by Mr W. Henry, are to do the work, while the good wives and cheerful daughters encourage by supplying them with provisions. Mr Earle is indefatigable in his object, which is to erect such buildings throughout almost uninhabited parts of the bush. He has also earned for himself a well deserved reputation for his kindly attentions to the poor of his district…”

By November 1899 the site was cleared and tenders were advertised for a contract to construct a church-school. The contract was awarded to Mr Stephen’s of Penguin on land donated by William Henry. The building was completed by mid 1900 with the official opening advertised to take place on July 8 but this was postponed due to heavy rain. The local correspondent for The North West Post reported:

“The rector, however, journeyed to the building, and preached a short sermon, the Rev. W. Earle reading the lessons. The church is very well built, and will accomodate a considerable number of people. Many had intended to be present at the opening from North Motton, Preston and Ulverstone, but were prevented by the heavy rain. The formal opening service will be duly announced, and it is to be hoped that the weather will be more favourable”.

A formal opening appears to have taken place in November 1900 when the Bishop of Tasmania visited the region. In late November The North West Post reported:

“On Tuesday [27 November], a special service was held in the Gunns Plains Church, when a striking and earnest address was given by the Bishop, who was aided by the rector and the Rev. W. Earle. All the services were very well attended, and the Bishop expressed himself greatly pleased at the beauty of the country through which he was driven….”

It is somewhat surprising to discover that barely two years after the church had opened plans were being considered for the buildings removal. In January 1903 Launceston’s Daily Telegraph reported:

“There is a movement afoot to endeavour to effect the removal of the present building which serves as the Anglican Church, State school, and meeting place to a position further south. This it is claimed, will make it much more central, providing a… bridge can be thrown across the Leven River somewhere opposite Mr Henry's residence, thus giving an outlet to the settlers and the settlers children living on the western bank of that stream. Probably a public meeting will be called at an early date to discuss the whole position, and decide upon the course of action”.

Nothing more was reported about the church’s removal but by 1907 it is evident that a decision had been reached to built a second church and schoolroom in a more central location. In June 1907 The North West Post reported:

“Inconveniently Situated School — For some considerable time past it has been felt that the State school, which is situated near the entrance to the district, was too far away to suit the majority of residents. The people had a talk over the matter, and now Mr Ansell has given a piece of ground, situated at the junction of the two roads, and 4½ miles higher up than the present site. A church for the Anglican body is to be shortly erected here, the timber being already out, and the people are quite willing, when the building is finished, to rent it to the Education Department for school purposes. There are 24 children in the vicinity who do not attend school”.

Tenders for the construction of a new church at the junction of Ansell Road and Gunns Plain Road were advertised in November 1907. The building was completed by early 1908 and officially opened on Sunday 24 May of that year. The opening services were reported by The North Western And the Emu Bay Times:

“There was a large congregation at the opening service of the newly-erected Anglican church here on Sunday afternoon. Rev. W. Earle, of Penguin, officiated, preaching a sermon suitable to the occasion. Amongst those present were a good many residents of Gunn’s Plains proper, and others would have attended but for the bad road between the two places…. Arrangements have been made whereby fortnightly services will be held in the new church. This will be good news to residents, as this is the only church they have. Twenty-nine children already attend the Sunday school. The action of the Anglican authorities in supplying religious teaching in these back districts has been and is keenly appreciated”.

The Ansell Road church served the southern part of Gunns Plains for 30 years and closed in the late 1930’s when it was replaced by the more centrally located St Mark’s church in 1940. The [1908] church-school building was sold and was later converted into a house but no longer resembles a church. It ceased being used as a State school in 1925. The earlier church-school built in 1900 continued to be used as a school until 1929 when it was replaced by a new State school building on a more suitable site.

St Mark’s, the third Anglican church to be built at Gunns Plains, will be the subject of a future article on Churches of Tasmania.

The second church built at (South) Gunns Plains (1908) - Photo courtesy of the Ulverstone History Room

A photo of the Gunns Plains State School c.1910 which was accommodated in the Anglican church.  This is probably the church built in 1900 as the 1908 South Gunns Plain Church had no porch and the gothic windows are subtly different from the later church. Photograph courtesy of the Ulverstone History Room.

A map showing the location of the three Gunns Plains churches and the dates they were established. Source:


North West Post, Saturday 21 January 1899, page 2
North West Post, Saturday 28 January 1899, page 2
North West Post , Saturday 25 November 1899, page 2
The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Friday 22 June 1900, page 2
North West Post, Thursday 28 June 1900, page 3
North West Post, Saturday 7 July 1900, page 3
North West Post, Tuesday 10 July 1900, page 2
North West Post, Thursday 29 November 1900, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Monday 26 January 1903, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 9 March 1905, page 6
North West Post, Saturday 15 June 1907, page 2
North West Post, Saturday 16 November 1907, page 5
The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 
Tuesday 3 December 1907, page 2 (Advertisement)
North West Post, Saturday 8 February 1908, page 2
The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Friday 22 May 1908, page 4
The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Saturday 23 May 1908, page 5
The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Thursday 29 May 1908, page 2
Advocate, Wednesday 16 June 1920, page 2
Advocate, Saturday 20 January 1940, page 6
Advocate, Monday 22 January 1940, page 6

Henslowe, Dorothea I and Hurburgh, Isa Our heritage of Anglican churches in Tasmania. Mercury-Walch, Moonah, Tas, 1978.

Hyland, Raymond John 2017, The history of Gunns Plains through the newspapers, Raymond Hyland, Cooee, Tasmania


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