No. 739 - Ridgley Methodist Church - "A viler sight I have never seen"

Ridgley is situated approximately 15 kilometres south of Burnie and in recent years has effectively become a commuter suburb of the city. It was once a small farming town established by the Van Diemen's Land Company. Ridgley also played an important part in the building of the Emu Bay Railway. The town has been well served by a number of religious denominations including Anglican, Catholic and Methodist.

The Ridgley Methodist church was originally located at Stirling (also known as Nine Mile), the former name of a small settlement contiguous to the township of Ridgley. By the time of the Great War the name Stirling was dropped as the larger settlement at Ridgley overshadowed and absorbed its smaller neighbour.

The first Methodist service at Sterling was held in May 1891 in the home of Mr and Mrs William Coventry. Between 1891 and 1897 regular services continued to be held in local homes until a paling hall with a shingle-roof was built on the property of Mr Cowling. The simple church hall also served as a school and this remained in use until a new church was constructed in 1910. The new building was erected on the site of the old “dilapidated” church hall which was pulled down. Seven years after the new Stirling church opened it was moved about half a mile to a site in Ridgley and thereafter became known as the Ridgley Methodist church.

The foundation stone of the new Stirling Methodist church was laid in September 1910 and the church was completed within a matter of months and was officially opened on Sunday 4 December 1910. It was described as:

“…A very neat structure, and stands on the site of the old one. It is 32ft x 21ft, with Gothic windows and doors. The painting has been very tastefully done and gives a nice finish - both outside and inside. The pulpit railing is of blackwood, prettily designed, and reflects credit upon Mr. C. Clark, who designed and erected it. A picket fence is to be erected and when this is completed, the Methodists…will have one of the nicest churches in the district,….”.

The church indeed proved to be a “happy spiritual home” but the decision to build at Stirling was not a wise one. Even by 1910 it had become apparent that nearby Ridgley would become a more important centre, and it was not long after that Stirling’s name would be lost to history as the settlement was absorbed into its more populous neighbour. In March 1917 the ‘North Western Advocate’ reported:

“The Methodists have decided to remove the church from Nine Mile [Stirling] to Ridgley, where a block of land has been purchased for that purpose”.

In late April 1917 the church’s successful removal to its new site was described by the ‘North Western Advocate’:

“There was something in the nature of a stir at Ridgley on Good Friday, when the Methodist Church was removed from its old site at Stirling to one at Ridgley which had been cleared by a working bee. The building, which is a large one 21 feet wide, was pulled along the metal road by means of two of Mr G. Adams’ traction engines, on a sledge made of two long poles. In one place the road was only 18 feet wide and the contractor had to widen the cutting and pull down the fence along the Ten Mile Creek. Only four hours were occupied in the removal, the road was in no way injured, while not a pane of glass in the window was cracked”.

The church was reopened in mid 1917 by Reverend A.V. Ballard of Burnie.

Not long after the church’s reopening it became the target of an attack by Ridgley’s notorious larrikins. Larrikinism was once an unpleasant and all to common problem in many Tasmanian towns. Often churches were the target of vandalism and worshippers were subject of intimidation and abuse. Around the time of the Great War the issue of larrikinism became a serious social problem and Ridgley developed a reputation as a place to be avoided. In 1919, an attack on the Methodist church caught the attention of Tasmanians and was taken up by the press across the State. In March 1919 a report in Burnie Advocate fuelled public outrage and prompted the authorities to finally take action:

“The larrikins of Ridgley have crowned a constantly growing list of dastardly achievements with an outrage so vile that it is perhaps unprecedented in the history of Tasmanian hoodlumism. Mr. Albert Allen, superintendent of the Ridgley Methodist Sunday School, on going to prepare for service last Sunday morning, found that the contents of a number of sanitary pans had been emptied into the church from an overhanging window, which had been reached with the aid of a rail placed on an adjoining fence. From this elevation a disgusting mass of filth was flung over the floors, walls and seats, as well as over hymn books and Bible. "The place was practically smothered," remarked a visitor yesterday; "a viler sight I've never seen.” One would have to go to the land of the Huns to find conduct to compare with that of Ridgley larrikins. They have made for themselves a name and reputation which stink in the nostrils of decent human beings. Only a few days ago the tails and manes of valuable horses were clipped. During a conscription meeting, sanitary pans were emptied into a motor car which had conveyed Mr. Laird Smith, M.H.H., and others to the district. The Ridgley State School was burned down. Tourists are not anxious to visit the place to see its beautiful waterfalls, for the reason that some visitors have returned to find car lamps stolen, tires slit, upholstery ripped, and engines rendered useless. Broken glass, tacks, etc., have been strewn across the road to puncture tires. Larrikins throw stones at people who are driving along the road, and in broad daylight, too! At public meetings egg-throwing and the like are expected. Churchgoers are exposed to the annoyance of having motor horns "tooted" through the windows and doors. "When a Ridgley larrikin wants a ride home," declared a Burnie resident yesterday, "he steals a horse for the purpose. When the journey is over he throws the saddle and bridle away in the scrub and turns the horse loose. As for the theft of fruit from orchards, etc.that is only a minor thing so far as the Ridgley larrikin is concerned!” The latest outrage is the defilement of a church-a house of God. It is usually understood that this kind of thing was a specialty of the Hun, but people who were under this impression will have to bring themselves up-to-date in this direction. Above is the unenviable record of the Ridgley larrikin.…”.

The attack on the church proved to be a step too far by Ridgley’s ‘larrikins’. A public meeting was called and attended by local politicians and councillors as well as the Methodist minister, Reverend Ballard. Ballard was one of many who addressed the meeting:

“Rev. A. V. Ballard said that it was a matter for for residents and for the police authorities, but as the latest outrage had been committed on a house of worship, and on one of his own churches, he had felt it his duty to be present. Enough had been said as to the dastardly nature of the outrage. He thought that the residents should form themselves into a vigilance committee. Even so far away as Hobart people looked disgusted when the name "Ridgley" was mentioned. This was the case all over Tasmania. How could residents expect people to come to the district? But there was a higher way of looking at the matter, and a more serious one. The parents' of Ridgley were trying to bring up children, and in what a moral atmosphere were these young people being reared?”

The larrikin issue was taken up by newspapers across Tasmania. The Hobart World labelled the action as “Filthy Ruffianism” and The Advocate referred to the youth as “a nest of super larrikins” and the “Ridgley Bolsheviks”. The Launceston Examiner suggested that Ridgley “badly needed a policeman” and “also a missionary”.

As a consequence of the adverse publicity and public anger, Ridgley got a policeman and also a new State School, replacing the building set alight in 1918. Although there is no record of the culprits being apprehended, the problem of larrikinism at Ridgley seems to have come to an abrupt end following the incident at the church.

The subsequent history of the church is far less dramatic. The latter years of the church are barely recorded and the last significant event was that of its 80th anniversary held on 6 June 1971. I have yet to establish the date of the church’s closure and what became of the building.

Additional information about the Ridgley Methodist church is welcomed as all articles will be updated. I can be contacted through this page or my Facebook page "Churches of Tasmania" which is linked here: <Churches of Tasmania>

The Ridgley Methodist church at its original location at Stirling. I have yet to find a photograph of the church at its new site at Ridgley. (source: Weekly Courier 1911)

A public meeting was called as a consequence of the vandalism at Ridgley's Methodist church (The Advocate 1919)

Sources:

North West Post, Saturday 30 July 1910, page 5
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Monday 3 October 1910, page 2
North West Post, Thursday 10 October 1910, page 2
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Monday 5 December 1910, page 2
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Monday 12 December 1910, page 4
The Weekly Courier, Thursday 16 February 1911, page 24
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Wednesday 7 March 1917, page 4
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Saturday 21 April 1917, page 2
The Mercury, Thursday 27 June 1918, page 6
Advocate Wednesday 26 March 1919, page 2
Advocate, Wednesday 26 March 1919, page 4
World, Wednesday 26 March 1919, page 6 
Advocate, Thursday 27 March 1919, page 3
Examiner, Thursday 27 March 1919, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Monday 31 March 1919, page 3
Advocate, Monday 31 March 1919, page 4
Advocate, Monday 2 June 1941, page 4
Advocate, Tuesday 26 June 1951, page 7

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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