No. 736 - Wynyard - The United Free Methodist Church (1878-1922)

Wynyard is a town on the northwest coast approximately 20 kilometres west of the city of Burnie. The area around Wynyard was originally named Table Cape by the explorers Bass and Flinders. The name was changed to Wynyard in the 1850s, in honour of Edward Buckley Wynyard, Lieutenant-General of the New South Wales Corps. In his capacity as commander of troops in New South Wales, Van Diemen’s Land and New Zealand, Wynyard visited Table Cape in 1850-1. Until the 20th century Wynyard remained a small town with a population of less than 500.

The United Free Methodist Church was the fourth church to be established at Wynyard. It was originally located near Wynyard’s railway station at the western end of Dodgin Street before being moved twice and it is now situated alongside the Uniting Church on the eastern end of Dodgin Street. It should not be confused with Wynyard’s Wesleyan Methodist Church which held services in the Town Hall before the Methodist Union of 1902.

The Free or Independent Methodists, as they were sometime called, became active at Wynyard in the early 1870s. In January 1878 the Weekly Examiner reported that a church was to be built at the settlement:

“The Independents have decided on erecting a church in Wynyard certainly not before it was required; and as their pastor since his arrival in the district some years since has always taken a thoughtful and active interest in local matters, temporal as well as spiritual, he is deservedly very popular even amongst those who differ from him in religious opinions…..Some of the leading members of Mr Palfreyman's congregation held a meeting a few days since, and resolved to commence the erection of the church as soon as circumstances would permit. Subscription lists were opened, and £30 or £40 subscribed by those, present”.

A further report in the Weekly Examiner published in June 1878 reveals that the construction of the church was well underway:

“Any person travelling along the Circular Head road, across the plains skirting our little township, cannot but observe that Wynyard is advancing. Hitherto it has been confined within a cluster of trees on the bank of the Inglis, but the two buildings now going up outside the cluster in the plains would seem to indicate a desire in Wynyard to advance. One of these buildings is a cottage, which Mr J. Tong is erecting for himself. The other is Mr Palfreyman’s new church, the skeleton of which towers above its neighbour of less dimensions. I understand the subscriptions toward, the erection of this church are not coming in quite so fast as the treasurer would wish, and the builder will soon expect a substantial recognition of his skill and workmanship”.

The church was completed by November and its official opening was described by the the local correspondent for the the Examiner and the Tasmanian:

“On Sunday last, the 3rd inst., the new Independent Church, built here lately, was duly opened for divine service by the Rev. Mr Brown, from the Penguin. There was both morning and evening service. The attendance on both occasions, considering the state of the weather, was very good. On the Monday following the, opening services of this church, a tea meeting was given by several ladies interested in the welfare of this church, and its worthy pastor the Rev. J. H. Palfreyman….. Some of the speeches were humorous, some containing good wholesome advice , and one, Mr Sprent’s was of a most practical nature…. he presented the the Building Committee with the Title Deeds of the ground (1 acre) that the church was built upon. The want of a suitable place of piece of ground for an Independent Church here was long felt until Mr Sprent came forward and presented the Building Committee with their present satisfactory site. The church itself is a neat structure, built in a tolerably substantial manner by Mr J. Cumming. It is a weather boarded gable ended building with a view down Dodgin street, which would now be all the better of a little improvement… There are now four places of worship at Wynyard, viz., the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, the Evangelists’ Church, and the last, but I hope not the least, the Independent church, so that the spiritual welfare of the inhabitants at Table Cape is pretty well attended to”.

In the 1890’s it became necessary to move the church to a new location at the eastern end of Dodgin Street. In July 1895, Launceston’s Daily Telegraph published a short description of the operation:

“On Friday and Saturday last the United Free Methodist chapel, a wooden structure of some considerable size, was removed from the part of the township on the plains to a spot in the middle of the town where it will be far more convenient for those who attend the services. The building was removed bodily, being placed on two long spars, which in their turn were put on rollers, and the whole dragged along by 26 bullocks lent for that purpose. The shouting of the bullock drivers and the novelty of the work attracted a great many spectators, and the business was very successfully carried out by Messrs. Wm. Peart and Wm. Garner, who had the general superintendence of the operation”.

Before the Methodist Union, the Wesleyan Methodist’s had worshipped in Town Hall and around 1900 the two groups joined to form a single congregation at the Dodgin Street church. It was only a matter of time before the building was outgrown and replaced by a brick church in 1922. The old church was moved for the last time and was thereafter used as a Methodist Sunday School. Although the building still exists, additions and alterations have all but obscured the original structure. Wynyard’s original Catholic and Anglican churches were replaced in the early 20th century thus the old Independent Methodist church is now Wynyard’s oldest original place of worship and is rapidly approaching its 150th year.

The history of the current Uniting Church, which opened in 1922, will be the subject of an upcoming article on Churches of Tasmania.

The gable of the original church is partly obscured by a more modern addition at the front of the building. (my photo)

Two of the windows and weatherboarding of the 1878 church can be seen on the side of the building (my photo)


Sources:

Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 9 January 1878, page 3
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 12 January 1878, page 8
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 22 June 1878, page 3
Tasmanian, Saturday 13 July 1878, page 13
Cornwall Chronicle, Monday 11 November 1878, page 2
Tasmanian, Saturday 16 November 1878, page 6
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 20 November 1878, page 3
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 23 November 1878, page 20
Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 23 July 1895, page 4
Advocate, Tuesday 8 July 1941, page 4

Stansall, M. E. J & 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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