No. 661 - New Norfolk - St Paul's Uniting Church

New Norfolk is a historic town on the banks of the Derwent River approximately 40 kilometres north west of Hobart. It grew dramatically when settlers from Norfolk Island moved into the district after 1807. When Governor Lachlan Macquarie visited the township he named it Elizabeth Town after his wife. However, it was later decided to adopt the name New Norfolk, to acknowledge the large number Norfolk Islanders.
New Norfolk is home toTasmania’s oldest Anglican church with part of the building dating back to 1825. The town is also the location of Australia’s oldest continually used Methodist (Uniting) church which opened in 1836.

Methodist activity at New Norfolk began in the early 1820’s. Two preachers, Benjamin Nokes and Samuel Dowsett, have rival claims as to having been the first who gathered the Methodist-minded residents together for a service. In 1821 Reverend William Horton, the Methodist minister at Hobart Town, extended his ministry to the Derwent Valley, preaching in the homes of settlers throughout the scattered district. In the following year Reverend Nathaniel Turner, who was on his way to New Zealand, was detained at Hobart Town because of the Maori wars. In this interval he preached in the New Norfolk, Back River, and Plenty River settlements.

The Derwent Valley was not visited regularly until 1834. Hobart preachers began to hold regular services under an old gum tree. As the number of Methodist worshippers grew, temporary accommodation was obtained in one of the New Norfolk inns, where regular services were conducted until the old courthouse at New Norfolk was made available.

An account of the early work of Methodist preachers is contained in a letter written in 1835 by Abraham Biggs:

"Having gained the consent of the Hobart Town brethren to make an attempt, Bro. Wilkinson and I started between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Monday with my horse and borrowed gig. About 9 a.m. we went round the town of New Norfolk, calling at many place and inviting all we saw to attend Divine service at 2.30 p.m. on the green near the church (St. Mathew's Church of England). I gave out my text, “But the end of all things is at hand.” Long before I had done our congregation had swelled to near 150, among whom were many of the first respectability. In answer to their entreaty we went again. Mr. Barnett and I, that day fortnight. The day being wet, Mr. Barnett preached in a large newly-built taproom to a most respectable congregation. Dr. Officer, the most influential gent in the town, invited us to his board and our horse to his stable, telling us the courthouse would be at our service next time we came. It was so, and it was filled to the brim. We now preached there in two places every Sunday and alternate Thursdays (New Norfolk and Back River). Expect two new chapels up very soon. Nearly £200 subscribed."

In 1835 construction of a chapel began. Land was donated by Sir Robert Officer. The foundation stone was laid by John Kerr on Tuesday 8 December 1835. Construction was completed by October 1836 however the church was not officially opened and dedicated by Reverend Joseph Orton until November 2, 1837.

The church was built by James Turnbull and the simply design in the fashion of 19th century English Methodist chapels has remained mostly unaltered (although there was no porch on the original church). The furnishings were of cedar and the pews were fitted with doors with the original seating plan providing for family pews. In the early days the church Trust charged a rent of 1s. 3d. a sitting for pew seats, seperated from the “poor seats” at the rear of the church. In 1885 the church trustees decided to build a gallery in the church as a memorial of the Wesleyan jubilee. The tender of Mr. Thomas Biggs, £128, was accepted, and the gallery was opened in the same year.

The first Methodist Sunday School classes started In 1839 and had an attendance of 13 girls and five boys. Later a Sunday School was built at the rear of the church which officially opened on August 25, 1852. The Shoobridge family were strongly associated with the church and their influence played an important part in the advancement of Methodism in the Derwent Valley. The church is now a part of the Uniting Church and weekly services continue to be held in the 184 year old building.

* All photographs used in this article are my own.

Notice of the church's opening - The Colonial Times


Hobart Town Courier, Friday 11 December 1835, page 2
Launceston Advertiser, Thursday 17 December 1835, page 3
Colonial Times, Tuesday 28 November 1837, page 3
Mercury, Wednesday 28 November 1934, page 10
Huon and Derwent Times, Thursday 6 December 1934, page 1
Mercury, Monday 19 October 1936, page 5
Huon and Derwent Times, Thursday 29 November 1934, page 1
Mercury, Saturday 17 October 1936, page 10

New Norfolk Methodist Church. (1936). New Norfolk Methodist Church centenary : Souvenir 1836-1936. [New Norfolk: The Church.  [State Library Victoria]


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