No. 614 - Beaconsfield - Primitive Methodist Church (1883-1902)

The town of Beaconsfield, previously known as Brandy Creek, dates back to the late 1840s when small quantities of gold was discovered in the area. Commercial gold mining only got underway in the 1870s which led to a substantial growth in the town’s population. Brandy Creek was renamed Beaconsfield in 1879 in honour of Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield and British Prime Minister. By this time the reef was the richest gold discovery anywhere in Australia and virtually overnight Beaconsfield became Tasmania's third largest town.

The first two churches established at Brandy Creek belonged to the Wesleyan Methodists and the Primitive Methodists and had opened by late 1870s. The Primitive Methodists first appeared in Launceston in 1857 and went on to develop a strong presence in northern Tasmania. Primitive Methodist camp meetings mostly attracted the working classes who sometimes did not feel well-accepted by the middle-class Wesleyan Methodists. The “Primitive” movement began in Britain in 1808 led by Methodist lay preacher Hugh Bourne who had been expelled from the Methodist movement. Bourne and his followers became known as Primitive Methodists, implying ‘first’ or ‘original’. Bourne's followers were disparagingly called 'Ranters' with reference to their crude and often noisy preaching.

Two Primitive Methodist churches were built at Beaconsfield; the first chapel opened in 1878 and this was replaced by a second church in 1883. The first church was described in an earlier article. [See No. 528] The second church, which is the focus of this article, was used by the Primitive Methodists until the time of the Methodist Union of 1902. This building remained at Beaconsfield until 1936 when it was moved to Beauty Point.

The original ‘Brandy Creek’ church (1878) was a small building measuring a mere 30ft x 17ft. The rapid grown of Beaconsfield necessitated the enlargement of this building. By 1883 it became necessary to replace it altogether.

The foundation stone for the new church was laid on Monday, October 29, 1883. Prior to this the old church was shifted to the rear of the block for use as a hall and Sunday school. The stone-laying ceremony was described in a report published by Launceston’s Daily Telegraph:

“The ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the new Primitive Methodist Chapel, took place at half-past 4 p.m., to-day. The service was curtailed in consequence of a heavy rainfall. A large number of people were present. The Revs. C. Anthony and Nichols conducted the proceedings,… A bottle containing… a copy of the Daily Telegraph, one of the Examiner, Saturday's copy of the only issue of a paper published here entitled the Beaconsfield Tickler, a sixpence, an old halfpenny, a farthing, and some other memorials of the present period were placed in a cavity under the stone. The stone was placed in position, and truly laid by Mr Andrew Burt. The friends were requested to balance the stone by depositing whatever sums of money they chose to present on the stone. The result was a fair collection…”.

Construction of the new weatherboard church was completed in about 6 weeks and was officially opened on Sunday 16 December 1883. The Daily Telegraph’s report on proceedings provides some information about this building:

“Last Sunday… was a red letter day for the Primitive Methodists here, as it was the day on which they decided to open their new chapel for public worship….It is a plain, large and handsomenbuilding capable of seating perhaps 400 people, a large flight of stone steps lead up to the main entrance; the building is well lighted with some 10 windows; the ventilation is also good….The Rev. C. Anthony, of Launceston, preached morning, noon and night; each service was crowded, the evening one especially so….”.

The Launceston Examiner’s report provides a little more detail:

“The Primitive Methodists are to be congratulated on possessing the finest place of worship in Beaconsfield. It is a lofty and well ventilated building, capable of seating 450 worshippers, though with a little squeezing the number could be increased to 500. Many good people lament that the buildings devoted to the service of religion are frequently of an inferior character compared with those that are for secular uses; they will be pleased to learn that in Beaconsfield there is an exception, and that exception is the Primitive Methodist Church. Though a wooden structure, it has an appearance of solidity, and this appearance is increased by the stone foundation, which rises several feet above the level of the ground. There, is a flight of steps before thendoor. The windows fixed on each side and two in front are, I believe, what is termed Gothic, as is also the door. The interior is painted in Messrs. Chittock and Rundle’s best manner, of a dove colour, perhaps out of compliment to the ladies. The windows are shaded with green, thus subduing the noon day glare and bringing the place more into harmony with my ideas of what a church should be…. At the far end is a recess railed off for the preacher and for speakers at religious meetings. In front of the rail stands the reading desk, and to the left of this the organ and the seats for the choir. Great praise is due to Mr. Ferrall, the contractor, not only for the thorough workmanship displayed in the building, but also for the energy with which he has pushed forward the work…”.

The church was used for almost 20 years before the union with the Wesleyan Methodists. The Wesleyans built a substantial new brick church in 1900 and this became the home of both Methodist congregations. The Primitive Methodist building remained at Beaconsfield for another 30 years; for what purpose it was used is not known. However it remained under Methodist ownership for in 1936 the church trustees consented to the buildings removal to Sandy Beach (Beauty Point) to be used by local Methodists.

In 1975 the Beauty Point Methodist church was described by Max Stansall:

“The building is lined mainly with plywood and masonite. Although it still serves a weekly congregation, its weather-boards and window sills are deteriorating badly”.

The deterioration of the building described by Stansall accounts for the significantly different appearance of the church today. The weatherboard has been replaced by ‘colorbond’ and the two gothic front windows have been replaced with rectangular aluminium frames, as have the 10 side windows. The gothic style entrance has gone and has been replaced by a porch. The old Beaconsfield Primitive Methodist Church is now the Beauty Point Uniting Church. Those not familiar with the area’s history may be a surprised to learn that Beauty Point’s rather unremarkable Uniting Church is almost 140 years old and a remnant of the days of Beaconsfield’s mining boom.

Detail of a photograph showing the new Primitive Methodist Church with the old church situated in its new position at the rear of the block. Note the gothic style windows and door. Source: Libraries Tasmania PH30-1-4069P20

Another detail of the photograph above. Source: PH30-1-4069P20

The Beaconsfield Primitive Methodist Church - now the Beauty Point Uniting Church.  Photo: Duncan Grant

Sources:

Mercury, Tuesday 14 August 1883, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 15 August 1883, page 4
Tasmanian, Saturday 18 August 1883, page 9
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 26 September 1883, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Friday 26 October 1883, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 30 October 1883, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Friday 2 November 1883, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 20 December 1883, page 3
Tasmanian, Saturday 22 December 1883, page 1483 (bound)

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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