No. 569 - Burnie Baptist Church - "Practical and Unique"

Burnie is a port city on the north-west coast of Tasmania. Burnie’s origins date back to 1827 when a settlement was established at Emu Bay by the Van Diemen’s Land Company. The settlement was later renamed Burnie after William Burnie, a director of the Van Diemen's Land Company.

The Baptists were one of the last of the major religious denominations to become established at Burnie. A large wooden church was built on a site on Mount Street in 1901 on land donated by Mrs Gibson of Perth [see No. 559]. Given the generous size of the church, it is surprising that it was outgrown in a little over twenty years. In 1925 it was replaced by a larger brick church and the old building was moved to the rear of the block for use as a Sunday school.

The foundation stone for the new building was ceremonially laid on 1 August 1925 by Mr Joshua Tovell Soundy, former president of the Baptist Union. At the time of the ceremony the foundations of the new building had already been laid and some of the walls were partly constructed. A report in the Advocate provides a detailed account of the occasion and information about the new building:

“The laying of the foundation stone of the new Baptist Church at Burnie on Saturday afternoon was performed in the presence of a fairly large attendance. It is only a comparatively short time since the members of the Baptist denomination at Burnie decided on the erection of a new church on the site of the old one, but in that period great strides have been made with the work. At the outset the wooden structure in which the services were held, was shifted bodily to the rear of its former position, and the foundations and portion of the walls of the new structure are already built….The old church is to be used as a schoolroom, while the new building, which is of brick will form a handsome church. Of the total cost of £1500, the church-people have given £670, and a further response was made on Saturday, amounting to £100….”

The last service in the old church was held on Sunday 6 December 1925. The first service in the new building took place on the following Sunday. A report in the Advocate has an interesting description of the new church, whose setting was somewhat different from the busy shopping district on found on Mount Street today:

“Among the numerous plans submitted one received well-merited support. The design was entirely new and showed promise of an attractive appearance when accomplished. This was submitted by Mr. Pearce, of Burnie, and once a decision had been arrived at no time was lost in making a start. Mr. P. Parsons was placed in charge of the woodwork in connection with the building, and Mr. Baylis was asked to attend to the brick portion with Mr. Dowling, senior, as clerk of works….Work has been carried on as fast as possible almost entirely by members of the church, and the building is now completed. Its appearance is striking and pleasant, the contrast between the red brick and cement spires and scrolls forming a design both practical and unique. A low brick fence separates a small lawn from the footpath on to the road and the growing grass and small palms will shortly form a pleasing entrance. Two cosy vestibules provide conveniences for visitors to leave coats, stained glass windows enhancing their appearance. The church is lofty and wide, a feature being the myrtle ceiling and dado, nicely finished. A sloping floor is a convenience which will be appreciated and the blackwood pulpit which is built in semi-circular fashion provides excellent accommodation for the minister. The choir has a special position to the left of the pulpit and facing the minister. The other corner is occupied by an open baptistry which is said to be the first of its kind in the State. It is constructed of cement and steps lead from it into vestries. The old school will now be used as a school hall, wherein Sunday school and other meetings will be held, the kindergarten children also having a separate room. A roomy kitchen will be appreciated by the lady members of the church and the minister has also been provided with a small room. There is still a good deal of land at the rear of the church when further extensions are necessary. This will not occur for some years, probably, however, the church having been constructed to hold 350 persons…”.

The heritage listed building has little changed from the description of it in 1925. The low brick fence and palms at the front of the church have gone and the building has been connected to the former manse built in 1901. The building has also been extended at the rear replacing the old weatherboard church and Sunday school hall. The “practical and unique” church is approaching its centenary and is still the home of Burnie’s Baptist community.


Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Sources:

Examiner, Friday 10 July 1925, page 2
Advocate, Monday 3 August 1925, page 2
Advocate, Wednesday 9 December 1925, page 13
Advocate, Saturday 12 December 1925, page 9
Advocate, Monday 14 December 1925, page 2

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