No. 584 - The Ravenswood Mission Hall

Ravenswood is a suburb north of Launceston which was once part of the St Leonards Municipality. The area is probably named after the farmstead ‘Ravenswood’ which was established in the 1830’s.

The history of churches at Ravenswood is complex and the historical record is somewhat patchy before the 20th century. In the 19th century Launceston’s newspapers infrequently reported religious and church activities in this area. However, in reviewing newspaper records I have determined the existence of the following places of worship:

1. A Wesleyan-Methodist chapel and school which opened on 3 September 1868. This replaced an older simple building. This chapel was leased as a schoolroom until a State school was was built at Ravenswood in 1884. After this the chapel remained in use as a Methodist church and Sunday school until the mid 20th century. The chapel was built on land belonging to David Towse of Ravenswood House. 

2. A Christian Mission Hall. This was effectively under the control of Henry Reed’s Christian Mission Church (on Wellington street). The Mission Hall opened in March 1883 and was built on land belonging to Robert Gibton near the intersection of Henry and Wildor Crescent.
3. A Baptist church. I have presumed that this was established in the former Mission Hall. The Baptist Mission as it was called fell under the authority of the Cimitiere Street Baptist Tabernacle after 1907. The Baptist church closed in the late 1930’s and then was restored and reopened in 1950 but subsequently closed. This building is probably the same building as the Ravenswood Gospel Chapel which no longer exists but was on or near the site of the Launceston Revival Centre.
4. From 1951 the Anglican’s used the old Methodist chapel until All Saints Anglican church was opened on Vermont Road in 1958.
5. A Catholic church, Holy Cross, opened in November 1976. This has closed and has been converted into housing.
6. Other churches established in the suburb in more recent times include Zion’s Hill Church, The Launceston Revival Centre and a Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall.

This article’s focus is on the Ravenswood Christian Mission Hall established in 1883. It existed for 25 years before it came under the control of the Baptists in either 1907 or 1908. A photograph published in the Weekly Courier (1909) shows a ‘church and school’ in close proximity, most likely at the intersection of Henry Street and Wildor Crescent. This is also the site of the old Ravenswood cemetery. I have not been able to definitively establish the identity of either building but I believe the photograph is of the Christian Mission Hall (1883) and the Wesleyan chapel/schoolhouse built in 1867. There are other possibilities and I would be interested to find out more about this photograph.

The story of the Mission Hall begins in 1883. In the winter of that year “A visitor to Ravenswood” described the settlement in an article written for the Daily Telegraph:

“This district (for there is neither hamlet nor village) is situated somewhat equidistant between Mowbray and Hobblers’ Bridge, having for its centre-point a chapel, also utilised as a school, built on the hill almost facing the English Cemetery, and close to which a cottage is being built for the residence of a gentleman to whose zeal and indomitable energy is in a great measure due the erection of the chapel, and the gathering of the people in this scattered place. A building was erected on some ground in the vicinity on the strength of a promise to reserve the land for the purpose, but the owner for some reason or other severed his connection and claimed the land, and though the owners of the building could legally remove it, they, with a spirit of energy and independence, set to work to erect the present neat and commodious edifice”.

Two buildings are referenced in this report. The “neat and commodious edifice” was the newly constructed Mission Hall, the subject of this article. The second building, that which “could legally be removed” was the Wesleyan chapel and schoolroom built in 1868. The dispute mentioned was between David Towse, the owner of the land on which the Wesleyan chapel was built, and the Education Board which rented the building. The dispute is described in an unusual report published in the Hobart Mercury in May 1882:

“A letter was read from Mr. David Towse, Ravenswood, giving the board notice to quit, by 1st July next, the chapel at Ravenswood now used as a schoolhouse. The letter was couched in very extraordinary terms, the writer describing the conduct of the board towards him in regard to the chapel as "arbitrary, illiberal, and Jesuitical;" complaining that they held his property at a very inadequate rent, and even that is to be spent on the property, and an account rendered to the Great Moguls of the Board of Education," and declaring that “any attempt to frustrate this notice I shall regard as a wicked and diabolical proceeding. The notice to quit, and certain papers relating to the taking over of the chapel by the board, had been referred to Mr. Inspector Rule, who, having seen Mr. Towse, reported that the chapel was built by public subscription on a site belonging to Mr. Towse, the subscribers appointing trustees to manage it, of whom Mr. Towse was one; that Mr. Towse had made no regular conveyance of the land to the trustees, and now declared the chapel to be his property, and that he was determined to spend the rent as he liked. On such terms he was willing to consider the convenience of the board by letting the occupation of the chapel for school purposes extend to the end of December. The inspector recommended that, in order to avoid closing the School, the regulation as to the disposal of rent be if possible set aside….”

The Board was perplexed by the combative tone of the letter from David Towse:

“Mr Hunter asked why Mr. Towse did not write to the Board in more respectful terms. Mr. Wright attributed Mr. Towse’s style of writing to his ignorance”.
It was probably Towse’s advanced age rather than ignorance which may have contributed to his impolite outburst. Indeed, he had been described as a “very fair writer of prose and poetry” and was a regular correspondent to local newspapers using the non de plume “Hermit”. Two years after the dispute with the Board, Towse died at his home, Ravenswood House, at the age of 81.

The consequence of dispute between Towse and the Board directly led to the establishment of the first State schoolroom at Ravenswood which was built in 1884. It also significantly contributed to the establishment of the Mission Hall built in 1883. The Mission Hall was built on land belonging to Robert Gibton. Gibton and Towse had in fact a close relationship in matters of religion and family as Robert Gibton had married Martha, the daughter of David Towse, in 1860.

David Towse hailed from Yorkshire and was a saddler and ironmonger by trade. He arrived in Tasmania in 1842 and later purchased a small farm at Patterson's Plains, (St Leonards). In 1847 he was left a “handsome legacy” in England, where he returned to receive (and spend) his inheritance. When he arrived back in Tasmania in 1858 he bought ‘Ravenswood House’ and farmland from the late Mr. William Stepney for a significant sum of £1800. His son-in-law, Robert Gibton was a native of Ireland and a trained school teacher. He was “a deep reader of theological works, and took a great interest in all religious affairs”. In the 1870’s Gibton established a gospel hall in the Quadrant and ran a free evening school for young men and boys. Gibton’s work in the Quadrant ended when Henry Reed returned from England in 1876. Reed converted the former Royal Hotel in Wellington Street into the Christian Mission. Gibton became involved with Reed’s Christian Mission and also with Reverend Daniel Hiddlestone, the first pastor appointed to Reed’s new church.

Thus it was that Gibton and Hiddlestone played a prominent role in establishing Ravenwood’s Christian Mission Hall. This is evident in the Launceston Examiner’s report of the Mission’s official opening in March 1883:

“The new mission was opened by Pastor D. W. Hiddlestone on Sunday afternoon, who sang and preached the Gospel to a large and attentive congregation, a goodly number of young children and young men and maidens being present. In the evening a service of song was rendered; Miss M. Matson playing the children’s organ, ably assisted by Miss L.E. Orchard and Masters J. and W. White with the singing. At intervals addresses were delivered by Mr. Archer, of the Christian Mission, and others. The building was filled to its utmost capacity. The amount voluntarily contributed amounted to £3 15s 7d. On Easter Monday about 200 men, women, and children sat down to an excellent tea, …. Pastor D. W. Hiddlestone, with a large number of his members, held a picnic in Mr. John Faulkner’s grounds in the morning; then in the afternoon he, with the Gospel Brass Band and a large company, marched to Ravenswood to help in making the effort to raise funds for the new Mission Hall a success….Several songs and melodies were sung with effect, and addresses were delivered by pastor D.W. Hiddlestone, R. Gibton, Joseph Ellmore, etc. A deed of gift was read by the donor, and the following were named trustees: -Messrs. Joseph Ellimore, John Faulkner, Pastor D. W. Hiddlestone and John Farmilo to hold the ground and building for the Protestants of Ravenswood….The cost of the building, which is 30ft, long by 15ft wide on a stone foundation with fireplace, nine windows, and two doors, will be £80….”.

Over the next twenty five years the Mission Hall was used as a place of worship and a Sunday school. It also frequently hosted temperance societies, the Band of Hope and Blue Ribbon, which is somewhat ironic given that Ravenswood has Distillery Creek on its western boundary.

Robert Gibton retained his involvement with the Mission Hall up until his death in October 1906. In the following year it appears that the Christian Mission at Ravenswood had reached the end of an era. In June 1907 the Examiner reported:
“On Wednesday night a public meeting was held in the Ravenswood Mission Hall, where Gospel services have been conducted for the past 24 years by workers from the Christian Mission Church, Launceston. Mr. G. Tole presided, and stated that the meeting had been called for the purpose of electing trustees for the property, in order to retain it for the Protestant population of the district. Messrs. F. Coulston and J. Piper, of Launceston, attended, to explain matters in connection with the past and the holding of future services….”

There are no further newspaper reports about the Christian Mission Hall after 1907. Instead, reports of a Baptist Mission at Ravenswood start to appear in the local press. Although there is no direct reference to the outcome of the public meeting called by the trustees of the Hall in June 1907, it is fair to assume that the Baptists took over the building to “retain it for the Protestant population”. There is also no reference in the press whatsoever about the Baptists building a hall of their own which further supports my belief that the building became the Ravenswood Baptist church. As such the old Mission Hall was used by the Baptists until the 1950’s and was probably demolished by the 1960’s.

A follow-up article on the Wesleyan-Methodist chapel and school room will appear in ‘Churches of Tasmania’ in the near future and hopefully the patchy history of Ravenwood’s early churches can be further clarified.


The Weekly Courier, Thursday 16 December 1909 - The caption to the photograph states: Street in Ravenswood showing the church and school.  Neither are identified - possibilities are the Methodist chapel/school; the Christian Mission Hall or even the State schoolhouse.

Notice in Telegraph, Friday 16 March 1883

A detail of a map from the 1950's showing the location of two churches - one on the corner of (now Wildor Cresecent) and Henry Street and the other opposite on Henry Street.


Sources:

Launceston Examiner, Thursday 7 May 1868, page 4
Mercury, Saturday 6 May 1882, page 3
Telegraph, Friday 16 March 1883, page 3 (advertising)
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 29 March 1883, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Monday 25 June 1883, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Friday 28 December 1883, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Friday 15 February 1884, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 29 May 1884, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 29 May 1884, page 2
Tasmanian, Saturday 19 July 1884, page 10
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 23 June 1885, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 5 May 1887, page 3
Examiner, Wednesday 17 October 1906, page 5
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 17 October 1906, page 4
Examiner, Friday 14 June 1907, page 4
The Weekly Courier, Thursday 16 December 1909, page 19
The Mercury, Friday 28 June 1935, page7
Examiner, Tuesday 12 March 1946, page 5
Examiner, Tuesday 31 January 1950, page 3
Examiner, Friday 27 February 1953, page 3

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