No. 734 - Penguin - Primitive Methodist Chapel (1866-1872)

Penguin is a seaside town situated approximately 10 kilometres west of Ulverstone. It was established in the 1860’s and was one of the last coastal towns in the northwest to be settled. The Victorian gold rush created a renewed demand for timber and consequently wood cutters and splitters moved into the area. The settlement was named by the botanist Ronald Campbell Gunn after the penguin rookeries that were once common along this part of the coast.

This article’s focus is on Penguin’s first Primitive Methodist Chapel which was built in 1866 and taken over by the “Independent Methodists” in 1872. A second Primitive Methodist Church (1874-1903) and the present Uniting Church (1903) will be the subject of future articles.

The history of Methodism and Penguin’s Methodist Churches is somewhat complex. It can be summarised as follows:

1866 - A Primitive Methodist Chapel was built on a hill on   
           the Western end of Main Street (the site of the Uniting   
1868 - A Mission House was built at Mission Hill.
1869 - The Chapel was lengthened by 12 feet.
1872 - A split occurred in the Methodist community. An 
            Independent Methodist group took over the Chapel.
1874 - A new Primitive Methodist Church was built to  accomodate 
           150 worshippers. It became known as the ‘upper chapel’ and 
           was located on southern side of Main Rd between Deviation 
           Road and Mission Hill Road. 
1901 - The two congregations united (United Methodist Free  Church 
           and Primitive Methodists).
1902 - The United Methodist Church (which was the original 
            PrimitiveMethodist church) was moved to the rear of the site 
            of the present Uniting Church, for use as a hall and Sunday 
1903 - A new church for the United Methodist congregation was built 
            and opened. (now the Uniting Church)
1904 - The second Primitive Methodist church ( the ‘upper chapel’ 
            built in 1874) was destroyed in a deliberately lit fire on Friday 
            21 October.
1904 - The Sunday School hall (the original Primitive Methodist or 
           ‘lower chapel) was destroyed in a deliberately lit fire on 
            Monday 28 October - a week after ‘upper chapel was 
            similarly burnt.
1976 - The Mission House was destroyed in a fire.

Primitive Methodist services in the Penguin district commenced regularly in 1864 when the first service was held at the home of John Merelie near Myrtle Creek. Primitive Methodist ministry was introduced to the North West coast by Reverend William Walton. Walton commenced his ministry in England in 1859, and arrived in Tasmania four years later. In his journal, in 1867, he wrote:

“Travelling is both difficult and dangerous, but I pushed my way among the scattered settlers, preaching the Gospel of Christ at Penguin, North Motton and Leven, and Emu Bay”. 

The chapel built at Penguin was at the time the only church between Forth and Emu Bay (Burnie). Efforts to build a chapel at Penguin began in September 1865. By January 1866 the chapel was completed and opened. The ceremony was extensively and poetically reported by a correspondent for the Launceston Examiner:

“Sunday and Monday, the 14th and 16th of the present month, were days long to be remembered by the friends of religion at this place. The former was the day appointed for the opening of the new Primitive Methodist Chapel recently built on land given for that purpose by Mr. Lewis Grant, of the Don, and never did a day dawn upon this district with more serene brilliancy than the Sunday In question; and as the forenoon advanced a gentle breeze arose, wafting along the fragrance of innumerable trees and shrubs, while the wavelets broke in silvery ripples upon the gently sloping strand of the bay, in front of which the chapel stands; and Old Ocean, during this and the following day, which was equally fine, seemed to smile with placid gladness, while his gentle murmurs were just enough to remind the otherwise unheedful of his presence”.

“As the hour for divine service drew nigh, men, women, and children were seen coming to the chapel from various directions, and many brought luncheons, showing thereby their intention of remaining all day. The assemblage was soon joined by the Rev. Mr. Long, who received a hearty welcome, and service was shortly commenced, when the reverend gentleman preached with considerable fervor and eloquence, and he also preached with like effect in the afternoon and evening. Monday being appointed for a tea meeting, the chapel was tastefully decorated with flowers and leaves of the tree-fern, and with the motto in large letters "Righteousness exalteth a nation," which had been displayed on similar occasions at the Independent chapel at the Forth. Again the people assembled, and at about three o'clock p m. grace having been sung about seventy adults and a considerable number of children partook of a choice collection of luxuries which had been provided by Mesdames Hales, Good, Ling (4), and Lancaster. After the tea e'oquent and impressive addresses were delivered by the Revs. Messrs. Long and Mathieson. Mr. Barker and Mr. Ling also addressed the meeting. A paper was read showing that the cost of the chapel amounted to a little over £69, which sum had been chiefly met by labor given; the proceeds of the tea, collections on Sunday, and money promised, amounted to. £10 19s, which would reduce the debt on the chapel to about £4. This I would remark is a highly creditable state of affairs considering the means of those by whom the chapel has been erected, but more remains to be done. A pulpit is required and the present make shift forms should be replaced with proper ones, and though pine in the log will be given for the latter, labor will have to be employed for making them, and therefore any friends at a distance who may render timely assistance will be remembered with admiration and gratitude”.

In the following year the Examiner reported:

“The Rev. W.H. Walton having been appointed to Penguin Creek, a small district with insufficient accomodation for a minister, the settlers bestirred themselves and have decided upon building a suitable residence for the rev. gentleman, by supplying amongst themselves the materials and labor. Mr Walton seems to be a great favourite with the residents”.

Thirty acres of land was purchased to build a Minister's residence. To pay for the deposit on the land Reverend Walton sold his "pioneering horse 'Clowes'".  By early 1868 the Mission House was completed:

“This house is now nearly completed and is not the "primitive affair" which many were led to suppose it would be; but it is a well built substantial building with four moderate sized rooms. The reason why the house has been so well-built is that a first-rate builder (Mr. F. Groom) has done all the more important work while he has directed the rest….”.

In November 1869 the Launceston Examiner reported that the chapel had been extended:

“It was recently found necessary to enlarge the Primitive Methodist Chapel at this place by adding twelve feet to its length, and this having been done, the reopening services were held on the 14th inst., when the Rev. W.H. Walton preached in the morning and evening with his usual earnest impressiveness”.

For reasons not entirely clear a split occurred amongst the Primitive Methodists in the early 1870’s with a group of Independent Methodist’s retaining the original chapel and the Primitives moving away to build a new church which was built near Mission Hill Road and completed in 1874:

“The place of worship formerly used by the Primitive Methodist, of this locality is now in the possession of a congregation of Independents, most of whom seceded from the Primitive Methodist body about three years ago, still retaining the building in which they worshipped”.

In 1874 the Tasmanian reported that the original chapel was further modified by the “Independents”:

“The Independent Chapel has undergone several alterations since last year; the erection of a porch, the enclosure of the allotment, and the repainting of the building being noticeable improvements”.

The same report noted that:

“…the claim which the Primitive Methodist Church has for some time past asserted to this chapel has now been abandoned in consideration of the sum of £85 paid to that church by the chapel authorities”.

In 1887 a visitor to Penguin described the settlement’s three places of worship: the 'upper' Primitive Methodist chapel; the Anglican church and the 'lower' independent Methodist chapel:

“…Penguin is something under ten years growth, and was only proclaimed a township 18 months since. The population is 80 souls, and there are three churches in the place. Coming into the township from the west, I first noted a neat little meeting house on the top of a hill; it had the Primitive Methodist sign board over the door, painted in legible letters. The builders of this Zion know their text, and built their chapel on high with its foundation in the rock, the only objection that I could see to the situation was to women with babies in their arms, and to old folks short of breath. Next came the English Church, and farther on a good sized building with a porch, which any poor lonely stranger would naturally take to be the public school. I opened the wicket, walked into the paddock, and knocked; no answer; I knocked again, no answer; I peered at the keyhole and saw nothing. The keyhole was stuffed up with paper or other opaque substance. I listened to catch the busy hum of the little ones, or the "whack" of the teacher's cane, but hearing no sound, from which I judged it was holiday time, or the school was absent with measles. ….You will never guess. It was another church, and this time the property of the persuasion of Independents. I once dwelt in a city of churches, but never in a village of churches. Three churches amongst 80 of them. How many attends each of them?….”.

The old and original (lower) chapel was used by the Independent Methodists (officially the United Methodist Free Church) until the Australian Methodist Union of 1902. The building was then moved to the rear of the site for use as a Sunday school hall before construction of a new Methodist church began in 1903. The second Primitive Methodist (upper chapel) was sold and used as a carpenter’s workshop for a short time before it was destroyed in a deliberately lit fire in October 1904. A week later, in similar circumstances, the lower chapel was also burnt down. 

The history of Penguin's second Primitive Methodist Church (the 'upper chapel' built in 1874) and the new Methodist Church (1903) will be the topic of future articles on 'Churches of Tasmania'.

A photo of the first Primitive Methodist Church at Penguin c.1870 - Source: Libraries Tasmania PH30-1-7964

The Mission House. (undated). Source: Libraries Tasmania PH30-1-8039

Notice of the chapel's opening:  The Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 10 January 1866

Another early photograph of Penguin's first Primitive Methodist Chapel c.1870. Source not known.


The Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 10 January 1866, page 6
Launceston Examiner, Monday 21 January 1867, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 23 January 1866, page 5
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 24 December 1867, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 4 February 1868, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 20 November 1869, page 3
Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 20 November 1869, page 6
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 20 December 1873, page 16
Cornwall Chronicle, Friday 1 May 1874, page 3
Tasmanian, Saturday 5 December 1874, page 7
The Mercury, Friday 8 December 1876, page 3
Tribune, Tuesday 1 May 1877, page 3
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 26 January 1878, page 7
Examiner, Thursday 27 October 1904, page 7.

Barns, Wallace: An abridgement of "A history of the Primitive Methodist Connexion in Tasmania, 1857 to 1902". (1970)

Stansall, M. E. J & Methodist Church of Australasia (1975). Tasmanian Methodism, 1820-1975 : compiled at the time of last Meeting of Methodism prior to union. Methodist Church of Australasia, Launceston, Tas


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