No. 628 - Waratah Primitive Methodist Church (1882-1894) - "There is Death in the Pot"

Waratah is a former mining town located approximately 80 kilometres south of Burnie. Waratah was briefly the site of the world’s largest tin mine. The town’s origins date back to 1871 when James "Philosopher" Smith discovered tin at Mount Bischoff. The population boomed and reached 2500 at its peak, which was large enough to support six religious denominations, including a Wesleyan Methodist and Primitive Methodist church.

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.

Little information is available about the Primitive Methodist church at Waratah and I have yet to find a photograph of it or establish its exact location in the town. There are only two brief references to its opening services which confirm that the church was formally opened on Sunday 7 May 1882 with services conducted by Reverend F. Sinden, of Longford. A fund raising ‘tea meeting’ was held two days later. A little more is learnt about the church’s establishment in a report published at the time of the first anniversary service held in April 1883:

“…The pastor, the Rev. J. T. Piercey, preached morning and evening. The church was crowded to excess, and we are happy to say that the word of life was blessed and fruits gathered. An anniversary and farewell tea was held on the following Monday,… Tea commenced at 5 p.m., and the ladies were kept going till 7 p.m. After the tables were cleared a public meeting was held. The report was read by the pastor. He said that the current expenses for the year had been met by the rent received from the Good Templar Lodges, and a collection made quarterly, but there was a debt of £150, which the trustees wished to reduce,…The Rev. W. Harris then addressed the meeting. He referred to the past two years labours of his colleague, and said he came as [a] one year probationer, but had successfully passed three years examinations in the two years, and was now at liberty to take to himself a wife,… Mr. Illgen spoke of the difficulties of the past two years, and said that for twelve months they had to worship in the public halls, but now had a neat comfortable church holding from 150 to 200 hearers. During the winter months their pastor had given 16 discourses from the life of Joseph to young men, and many had been added to the church. He said he had no doubt about the debt being cleared off if they worked together. He expressed his sorrow at Mr. Piercey's departure, but prayed for his prosperity. …Mr. Bell, on behalf of the members of the Church, presented Mr. Piercey with a handsome and expensive family Bible, as a token of their love and esteem…”.

The church faced a number of challenges over the next decade. Apart from the issue of debt on the building, the Methodists had difficulty in recruiting and retaining pastors. There was also the task of recruiting new members and the arrival of the Salvation Army in 1885 drew support away from the ‘Primitives’.

The Methodists were active in Waratah’s temperance movement and the Band of Hope frequently met at the church. The excesses of alcohol were a familiar story in mining town’s as was the Methodist’s fight against the ‘scourge’. In 1893 The Tasmanian reported:

“Rev. L. Howard, Primitive Methodist minister, preached a most impressive sermon on temperance, the occasion being the anniversary of the I.O.G.T. Waratah Lodge*, a large number of members being present in full regalia. The rev. gentlemen took his text from second book of Kings, chap, iv., 40—“There is death in the pot”. During his remarks he quoted Lord Shaftbury and many medical men of Great Britain and America to prove that most of the lunatic and pauper asylums were filled by unfortunate beings who had lost their mental reason and physical’ strength by over indulgence in intoxicating liquors….He also referred to the reports of life insurance societies, the returns of which gave a death rate of from 13 to 15 per 1000 from the same cause. The rev. gentleman handled his subject in a careful and masterly manner, made no allusion whatever to publicans, but confined his remarks to the fearful evils of the intoxicating cup, and strongly urged his hearers to avoid spirituous liquors in every way”.

Reverend Howard’s skill in avoiding riling the town's publicans was not matched by adroitness in converting the miners to the Methodist cause. In March 1894 Howard preached his last sermon at Waratah before leaving to take up a new appointment in Melbourne. Reverend Howard was not replaced, bringing to an end the brief existence of the Primitive Methodist’s in the town. By this time mining activity was in the doldrums and hard economic times no doubt also contributed to the ‘Primitive’s’ decision to leave.

The Methodists did not waste any time in disposing of the church for in July 1894 the Hobart Mercury reported that the Independent Order of Oddfellows had taken possession of the building with their new Lodge officially opening on Friday 29 July. The Bischoff Lodge, as it was known, continued to operate at Waratah until at least the 1940’s. The fate of the old Primitive Methodist church after this date is not known.

*The International Organisation of Good Templars

A detail of a panoramic photograph of Waratah's (The Tasmanian Mail 1899) I have yet to identify an image of the church.

Source - Tasmanian Mail

A postcard of another Waratah scene - source: Libraries Tasmania

An early Waratah scene - woodcut by Ebenezer and David Syme October 1878 (out of copyright)

David Syme and Co. 1892  (out of copyright)


Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 10 May 1882, page 2
Telegraph, Wednesday 10 May 1882, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 21 April 1883, page 1
Tasmanian News, Tuesday 26 May 1885, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Friday 30 October 1885, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 23 September 1886, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Friday 20 January 1893, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Friday 14 April 1893, page 3
Tasmanian, Saturday 3 June 1893, page 9
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 21 March 1894, page 3
The Mercury, Tuesday 10 July 1894, page 4
Tasmanian Mail, 14 March 1899, page 18


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