No. 588 - Burnie Uniting Church - 'The Crown of the New Union"

Burnie is a port city on the north west coast of Tasmania. When 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.

On Thursday 22 November 1900 the town of Burnie experienced a partial eclipse of the sun. This was an auspicious sign for it was also the day that the old Primitive Methodist Church on the corner of Ladbroke and Mount Streets was removed to make way for a new church. This was an auspicious occasion for another reason. This new church was effectively the first church in Australia to be built under the banner of the Methodist Union. This union formally took place one year after the foundation stone was laid for Burnie’s new Methodist church.

Burnie had led the way in the movement for Methodist union in that the town’s three Methodist denominations had effectively already merged in 1900, two years before the Australian Methodist Union. The Burnie union was led Reverend William Hamilton until the national Methodist Union was formed in 1902. During this time Burnie’s Methodists cooperated in bringing the congregations together and building a new church which came to symbolise the union.

Prior to this union the three Methodist denominations at Burnie were:
1. The Primitive Methodist church built in 1869 (Mount Street). A second Primitive Methodist church was built alongside the earlier church in 1891.
2. The United Free Methodist Church built in 1885 (Mount Street).
3. The Wesleyan Methodist Church built in 1894 (Cattley Street)

These three churches have been covered in previous articles on ‘Churches of Tasmania’.

The foundation stone of the new church was ceremonially laid on 9 January 1901. The Hobart Mercury commented on the significance of this event:

“There are many interesting features in connection with laying the foundation-stone of the new Methodist Church at Burnie. The building will be the first in Australia in which the members of the various Methodist bodies will meet as one. The Rev. W. H. Walton who laid the foundation-stone, is the pioneer of the Primitive Methodist Church on the North-West Coast. He conducted the first service in the first Primitive Methodist Church erected at Burnie…”.

By the middle of 1901 the building of the new church was completed. The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times printed a detailed report on the opening services:

“Clerically considered one of the most important events which have taken place on the North-West Coast was witnessed in Burnie yesterday in the opening for divine service the splendid structure which crystallises and seals in brick and mortar and architectural grace the great Methodist Union of Australasia. The Burnie Wesleyans, Free Methodists, and Primitive Methodists have earned the proud distinction of leading their fellow worshippers of Australasia in the organic union of the bodies mentioned, which union already decided on will take general effect in 1902. But in Burnie the three important sects referred to have already merged into the common denomination of Methodists, and that union celebrated early in the year now receives tangible visible evidence in that fine church which, erected on a capital site, at the corner of Mount and Ladbroke streets, does more than credit to the adherents of the new United Methodist Church of Australasia. Very fittingly indeed does the new church crown the new union; Methodism can boast of nothing to equal it this side of Launceston, and it reflects credit on the architects, Messrs A. and S. Luttrell, and the builder, Mr C. J Hiller, also on the sub-contractor, Mr W. Bergmann, for the manner he carried out the cement and plaster work”.

“A fine day unexpectedly shone on the functions yesterday, and the announcement that the Rev. H. Worrall, now of Hobart, would preach was the last element of a contributing number needed to signalise the opening day as one gratifying to church members. For the opening service at 11 a.m. the church was well filled, at 3 p.m. there must have been some 400 seated, and in the evening it was crowded to the doors, perhaps 600 being in attendance….”.

The report went on to describe the church in detail:

“The building, which stands on the corner of Mount and Ladbroke streets, Burnie, is 34ft wide by 56ft long, and the walls are 20ft high. Facing Mount street on each side are porches 10ft by 8ft each giving access to the building through swing doors (Smith's patents). The construction is of brick on concrete foundations, and was begun about nine months ago. Externally the building is of Gothic architecture. The facade to Mount street has a central sandstone tracery window, some 15ft high and 11ft wide; the side windows are placed in pairs, each about 8ft high by 20in wide, whilst the west end carries a rose window of 5ft in diameter. Throughout the design cement bands run round the building, giving a pleasing blend of colour to the red of the brickwork. The whole design suggests a simple dignity not often attained in buildings of this character, and the architects are to be commended in omitting useless ornaments, and adhering rather to proportion and shape for their chief idea whilst designing the structure”.

“Inside the building a somewhat daring innovation has been adopted, inasmuch as the usual Gothic ceiling has been omitted and a plastered “cove” ceiling with an elliptic centre built….The whole of the walls are plastered and 'blocked out.' The western end has been furnished with a large 'Gothic' arch of heavy moulding, springing from trefoil columns on caps, and blackwood dado runs round the building 5ft high. The rostrum has a curved front with handsome Gothic railing and reading desk. The floor slopes 2ft from the front towards the rostrum. The seating throughout is of comfortable and substantial blackwood. The whole of the windows are of Cathedral lead lights in harmony with the general design of the building, that of the tracery window bring very fine. This work is from the hands of Mr W. Montgomery, stained glass artist, of Melbourne. The cost of the whole will considerably exceed £2,000, …”.

In 1911 Burnie became the head of a new Methodist Circuit. The Burnie Circuit became the centre of a large region which included nearby towns, rural communities and mining settlements to the south.

On 16 February 1974 a further union took place. The Methodists and Presbyterians celebrated the establishment of the Burnie United Parish. Once again Burnie led the nation, foreshadowing the establishment of the Uniting Church of Australia which was formed on 22 June 1977.

The physical appearance of Burnie’s Uniting Church has changed little over the past century. The old Primitive Methodist church which was removed in 1900 was used as a Sunday school on a new site at the rear of the block. In 1958 extensive renovations and extensions took place and the old church was demolished. Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Methodists at Emu Bay in 1868. More than 100 years after it was built, Burnie’s Uniting Church still “crystallises and seals in brick and mortar and architectural grace” Church union in Tasmania and Australia.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

The Methodist Church in 1902 - The Tasmanian Mail

North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Friday 23 November 1900, page 2
The Mercury,  Thursday 17 January 1901,  page 4 
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Monday 24 June 1901, page 3
The Tasmanian Mail, 21 June 1902, page 24
Advocate, Tuesday 26 October 1920, page 1

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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