No. 589 - Somerset Uniting Church

Somerset is located on the estuary of the western bank of the Cam River midway between the township of Wynyard and the city of Burnie. At one time it was a town in its own right but is now practically a satellite suburb of the city of Burnie. In 1856 the settlement was named in honour of the Earl of Somerset. In earlier times it was also known as ‘Port Maldon’ and ‘The Cam’, with the latter name being used well into the 20th century.

At first glance ‘Cam Rise Uniting Church’ appears to be a modern sprawling building on raised ground above Wragg Street. A closer inspection reveals that incorporated within the modern building is a much older church disguised under a camouflage of brick-board sheeting. The remains of two gothic style windows confirm the remnants of a Methodist church built over a century ago.

In 1904 the church is briefly mentioned in a scene-setting description of Somerset published in Launceston’s Daily Telegraph:

“It is only somewhat recently,…that the name of Somerset is known generally by residents on the North-West Coast, as applied to a little township five miles west of Burnie on the main Coast road. In former years this town was invariably known and spoken of as the Cam, which is really the name of a river on whose banks the town of Somerset may be said to stand….This little town is peculiarly forced upon the mind of the stranger as he approaches it from Burnie, as being a quiet little place, without any ambition to rise, a kind of tranquility prevails which impresses itself on its inhabitants and peace and contentment reign…Among the public buildings of Somerset are a Town Hall, Church of England, Roman Catholic Church, and Methodist chapel… With these places of worship the people should lack nothing spiritually…”.

The Methodist chapel had been built only three years earlier although Methodist worship had taken place in the Somerset Drill Hall before this. In M.E.J. Stansell’s ‘Tasmanian Methodism’, the origins of the chapel is described:

“Although land had been granted in 1868, it remained for a few Wesleyan families who arrived in 1900 to build a church in Somerset. At a meeting in the home of the first Wynyard superintendent minister, on 10 April 1901, it was decided to build at Somerset. Trustees Rev. J.R. Lynex and Messrs. Francis von Bibra snr, Jeremiah Heyward, William Crocker, James Brown, Isaac Arnold and George Smith were appointed at the meeting”.

It did not take long for the trustees to organise the construction of a chapel. Within three months a small building measuring 30ft by 18ft had been constructed. The Launceston Examiner carried a short report report on the opening services held in July:

“The pretty little Wesleyan chapel which has lately been erected here was opened on Sunday last, morning, afternoon, and evening services being held. The afternoon one was devoted to children, who joined in singing the sacred songs, solos, duets. etc. Each service was presided over by the Rev. Wesley Johns of the Forth, who delivered splendid discourses…..Crowded congregations attended at each. Much credit is due to Mr. Hodgman who has been efficiently training the choir for some weeks past”.
A report on a fund-raising tea meeting published by the North West Advocate reveals a few further details about the new church:

“Too much praise cannot be given to the Von Bibra family for the indefatigable manner in which they have worked for the erection of the church, which has cost about £60, and has been built in a most satisfactory style by Mr J. Franks. It is capable of comfortably seating about 100, but at the opening on Sunday upwards of 130 were present at the evening service. The situation of the church is an admirable one, and the building can easily be enlarged as necessity arises”.


The proposal to increase the size of the church was soon realised and in 1905 the building was enlarged and a porch was added.

Somerset grew rapidly after World War Two as did the Methodist church. In 1977 it became a part of the Uniting Church and the building was latter extended further and in the process the old church has been absorbed into the new.


Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Sources:

North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Wednesday 13 March 1901, 2
Examiner, Thursday 1 August 1901, page 8
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Wednesday 31 July 1901, page 2
Mercury, Monday 12 August 1901, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Saturday 5 March 1904, page 8

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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