No. 576 - Burnie - The Primitive Methodist Church

Burnie is a port city on the north west coast of Tasmania. After it was settled in 1827 by the Van Diemen’s Land Company it was known as Emu Bay. In the 1840’s the settlement was renamed Burnie after William Burnie, a director of the Van Diemen's Land Company.

The city of Burnie has had five Methodist churches. These were:

A Primitive Methodist church built in 1869 (Mount Street).
A second Primitive Methodist church built alongside the earlier church in 1891 (Mount Street).
A United Free Methodist Church built in 1885 (Mount Street).
A Wesleyan Methodist Church built in 1894 (Cattley Street)
The Uniting (Methodist) Church which was built on the site of the two Primitive Methodist churches on Mount Street in 1901.

The Primitive Methodists first appeared in Launceston in 1857 and developed a strong presence in northern Tasmania. Their camp meetings generally attracted the working classes who sometimes did not feel well-accepted by the Wesleyan Methodists. The “Primitive” movement began in 1808 and was led by Methodist lay preacher Hugh Bourne, who 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’, a reference to their crude and often noisy preaching. The Primitive Methodist Church established itself in Tasmania’s North West from the 1860’s with churches built at Norfolk Creek, Penguin, Gravel Hill (near Ulverstone), Forth Beach and Penguin. The Burnie Primitive Methodist Church was built in 1869 while the Wesleyan Methodists  arrived in the town some 20 years later.

On the occasion of the Burnie Methodist Church’s 50th Jubilee in 1919, Richard Hilder, a local historian, lay preacher and founding member of the town’s Primitive Methodist church, recalled the early years of the church in an article, ’Burnie Methodist Reminiscences’, which he wrote for the Advocate:

“Some time in 1868 the first Methodist preaching services were held in Mr. Thomas Atkinson's house, situated at what was then known as the One-Mile Post, near Ford's Creek, South Burnie. The Atkinson family, and Mr. James Cumming (now of Wynyard) were the chief promoters of this first service, and Mr. J. H. N. Keene, now of Devonport, was one who took part on that memorable Sunday afternoon. A local preacher from Penguin tramped along the sandy track to fill the post of leader, and, not arriving to time, Brother Keene led the meeting until the ''local" arrived. Sunday afternoon services and cottage prayer meetings followed this first effort, and the cause was greatly stimulated by occasional visits from Rev. W. H. Walton, of Longford, who undertook the perilous task of riding on horseback, visiting and preaching to his scattered flock".

"During one of such visits Rev. W. H. Walton, who was a minister of the Primitive Methodist Church, was authorised by the agent of the V. D. L. Co. —a Mr. Gibson, who resided up country—to select a site in what was then known as Emu Bay. The late Mr. Wm. Mollison, who then lived in the old cottage on New Country road (Mount road), now occupied by Mr. Grainger, found Rev. Walton in the scrub near the water trough in Mount street, and piloted him to the Ladbroke street crossing. Thus, the site of the present Methodist Church property in Burnie was secured that day".

"In May, 1869, the first Primitive Methodist Church was built, the sawn timber for which was cut by hand, at a saw-pit situated at the bottom end of Ladbroke street, where Mr. Scritchley's boot shop now stands. The timber for walls, linings, and roof was split, the 5ft. palings coming from near the 3-mile line, New Country road. The building was 30 x 20. with 12ft. walls; and stood facing Mount street. It was erected largely with voluntary labor by poor, but sympathetic people, and not all Methodists".

"The opening day was made a gala day, visitors from Norfolk Creek, Don, Forth, Leven, North Motton, Penguin, and Table Cape coming to “The Bay" to take part in the opening ceremonies. Rev. W. H. Walton was preacher. The tickets for tea were 2/. The church, which cost £500, was opened free of debt. About 17 years later when Burnie had grown a bit bigger services were commenced in Burnie by the Rev. D. Porteous, United Methodist Free Church minister. A church was built in Mount street, situated where Mr. C. B. Beveridge now lives and later a minister of that denomination resided at Burnie".

"In 1891 the "Primitives" built a second church, beside the old one. It was of very fine design, and was well finished. Rival services, however, continued. Somewhere in 1890 the Wesleyan Methodists, began a "cause" in Burnie, and some time later built a small brick church, now the Salvation Army Hall, Catley street. A Methodist Union was now seriously contemplated in high quarters, and a basis of union was adopted to come into operation in 1902. Burnie Methodists proved their sincerity in this matter, and, obtaining temporary sanction, proceeded to put their sincerity into operation. Choosing the Primitive Methodist site, the two churches previously mentioned were removed, and made, with some additions, into schoolrooms. The present fine church was built and opened for public worship in June 1901, and some 8 months before the organic union was ratified by the conference of 1902”.

The 2019 marked the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Burnie's first Primitive Methodist church. The Uniting Church which occupies the original site of the Primitive Methodist Church, at the intersection of Mount Street and Ladbrooke Street, will be the subject of a follow-up article on ‘Churches of Tasmania’.

A photograph from the Tasmanian Mail showing the two Primitive Methodist Church's. The original church (1869) is on the right and the new church (1891) is on the left.  At the time the photograph was taken the old church was used as a Sunday school building.


Launceston Examiner, Saturday 29 May 1869, page 5
Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, Saturday 29 November 1890, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 6 December 1890, page 3
Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, Saturday 28 February 1891, page 2
The Tasmanian Mail, 21 June 1902, page 24
Advocate, Thursday 20 November 1919, page 4

Richard Hilder, History of Methodism at Burnie: specially written for its Diamond Jubilee, [Burnie, Tas. : Advocate Printers, 1929].


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