No. 631 - Hobart - The Harrington Street Particular Baptist Chapel

The Harrington Street Baptist Chapel was the second Baptist church built in Tasmania. It opened in March 1841, three months after the first Baptist church was established on York Street in Launceston in December of the previous year. Tasmania cannot claim to have the first Baptist church built in Australia* however it can claim that the Australian Baptist movement began in Hobart in June 1834.

In December 1834 the arrival of Reverend Henry Dowling gave impetus to Hobart’s fledgling Baptist movement. Dowling had been pastor of the Colchester Particular Baptist Church in England. He arrived in Hobart at the age of 60 and immediately commenced work as a Baptist missionary, conducting baptisms in the Rivers Derwent, Ouse, and the North Esk.

The first Tasmanian Baptists were ‘Strict’ and ‘Particular’, meaning that communion was closed to those who had not been baptised as adult believers. Basing himself in the north, Dowling became pastor of the Launceston York Street Chapel. Only months before Dowling’s arrival in Tasmania, the Hobart Town Baptists had established a place of worship in a small dwelling in Elizabeth Street with the first gathering was held on Sunday 14 June 1835. Services were later held in the home of William Williams of Macquarie and Argyle Streets and at several other houses in the locality. In 1839 the construction of a chapel on Harrington Street began with the support of Henry Dowling.

The Harrington Street Chapel was officially opened on Sunday 21 March 1841. There were three services on the day led by Reverend W.R. Wade in the morning, Reverend F. Miller in the afternoon and Reverend Henry Dowling in the evening. The Colonial Times reported:

“The Chapel was crowded at each service, and the collections made amounted to £23 14s. 3½d. It is fair to state, that the Government has not contributed one shilling toward the erection of this building, which is a neat edifice, with a handsome stone front”.

The style of building was typical of nonconformist churches of the time. It was designed to imitate a temple rather than a traditional church and this is evident in the chapel’s columns, pilasters and a small pediment above the entrance.

With the opening of the chapel the congregation was able to secure the services of Reverend Wade, who administered the chapel until 1846. In 1846 Reverend Samuel Hewlitt, of Wollongong, New South Wales, succeeded Rev. Wade as pastor. He was replaced by the Reverend Dixon Davies, who was succeeded by the Reverend Kerr Johnston, who had charge of the chapel for many years.

Thereafter the Harrington Street Chapel struggled to secure ministers. The last minister was probably Reverend A.W. Grant from Bathurst who took charge of the chapel around the time of its 37th anniversary in June 1878.

In the early years the Baptist church struggled to establish a significant presence in Tasmania. This changed in the late 1860’s when eminent London preacher, the Reverend C.H. Spurgeon, sent out young students to the colonies from his Pastors' College. The passage of these men to Tasmania was paid for by Mary Ann and William Gibson, wealthy pastoralists of Native Point, Perth. The Gibsons went on to fund the building of many churches in the North of the colony and supported the formation of the Baptist Union of Tasmania in 1884.

The final years of the Harrington Street Chapel are described in an article published by the Hobart Mercury on the occasion of the centenary of the Baptist Church’s establishment in Tasmania:

“Mr. McCullough came to Hobart from Northern Tasmania in 1883. For several years Hobart had been without a Baptist minister, consequently, the congregation had become scattered. Mr. McCullough, after viewing the Harrington Street edifice, decided to take steps to bring about the erection of a new church, and on February 20, 1884, 19 faithful members of the church met the minister at the home of Dr. Benjafield, and there the church was once more established, this time on a firmer footing than before. The first deacons of the newly formed church were Dr. Benjafield, Mr. J. T. Soundy, and Mr. S. B. Smith. Services for a time were held in the Exhibition Building, which then occupied the site where the City Hall stands, and afterwards at the Alliance Building in Macquarie Street. With the assistance of Mr. William Gibson, those responsible for the administration of the church's affairs were able to buy for £900 the site where the Tabernacle now stands In Elizabeth Street, and there a temporary building was erected. Plans for the construction of the Tabernacle were then made, and the corner stone of the building was laid on October 5, 1887. The building was completed in January, 1889, and was opened for public worship on January 20…”.

The article in the Mercury does not explain why a temporary building was erected at the Elizabeth Street site instead of making use of the Harrington Street Chapel. Indeed, as late as 1885 the Chapel was still in use as a Sunday school and children’s services. From 1885 it was used by the Band of Hope for temperance meetings and by the 1890’s for general public meetings.

By this time the Harrington Street Chapel was under the control of the Baptist Union and it was rented out for various purposes. It was retained by the Union until 1907 when it was sold. Proceeds from the sale of the property were used to fund the construction of a Baptist church at Moonah. By 1912 the building housed Cuthbertson’s Boot Factory. The date of the church’s demolition is not known. The site of the chapel, at the corner of Harrington Street and Goulburn Street, is at present being used as a parking lot.

* Australia's first Baptist church was built on Bathurst Street, Sydney in 1836.

The Chapel in c.1912 - Source: Libraries Tasmania (PH30-1-7141)

An earlier undated photograph of the Chapel. Original source not known

Notice of the Chapel's opening - The Courier, March 1841

Sources:

The Courier, Friday 12 February 1841, page 2
Colonial Times, Tuesday 16 March 1841, page 3
Colonial Times, Tuesday 23 March 1841, page 3
Tribune, Saturday 13 April 1878, page 1
Tribune, Saturday 8 June 1878, page 3
The Mercury, Monday 26 April 1881, page 2
Tasmanian News, Saturday 22 August 1885, page 2
The Examiner, Friday 5 April 1907, page 5
Mercury, Wednesday 12 June 1935, page 12

https://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/B/Baptist%20Churches.htm
http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dowling-henry-1988
https://hobartbaptist.org.au/about-us/history/



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