No. 859 - Kentish Gospel Hall (1875-1930)

Kentish was a small settlement on the Kentish Road to the west of Sheffield. It is named after Government Surveyor Nathaniel Kentish, who with a party of 20 probationary convicts explored and surveyed the area in the early 1840s.

The Kentish Gospel Hall is significant in that it is the first Gospel Hall established in Tasmania by the Christian Brethren. The Brethren were established in Ireland and England in the 1820s. The Brethren place an emphasis on weekly communion, the baptism of believers by immersion, and evangelism. The Christian Brethren should not be confused with the 'Exclusive Brethren, a restrictive group which broke away in 1848. In Tasmania, most Brethren are 'open', that is, they do not belong to the 'exclusive' Brethren who avoid contact with outsiders to the religion. 

By the 1850s the Christian Brethren had arrived in Australia, with evangelists William Brown, Edward Moyse and Charles Perrin holding revival meetings in Tasmania from 1869.

Historian Dr Elizabeth Wilson writes of Perrin’s evangelism in Tasmania:

“[He had]… first….travelled to Australia between 1859 and 1861 during a restless late adolescence. On his return to Ireland he experienced an evangelical conversion, partly the result of hearing of the sudden death of Prince Albert the Prince Consort. In 1866 he and his bride sailed for Australia, working mostly in Collingwood and Geelong …. an invitation to join in the first believers’ conference in Wynyard in January 1873 brought Perrin to Tasmania, after which he had very successful meetings with Brown in the Circular Head area. This pattern was repeated in 1874 and 1875, extending the areas of influence to Scottsdale, and to the Huon where Brown had pioneered previously”. 

Perrin’s evangelism in the Barrington and the Kentish districts was to result in the opening of Tasmania’s first Gospel Hall in October 1875.  However, Perrin did not live to see the fruits of his labour.  In May 1875 Perrin died at Forth of rheumatic fever, brought on by a difficult journey in appalling weather.

Perrin’s end is recounted by Alan Dyer in “God was their Rock”:

“…While crossing a creek which almost certainly would be Clayton’s Rivulet, near where to-day stand the Christian Youth Centre [Camp Clayton], one wheel slipped over the side of the narrow wooden bridge, almost tipping the cart with his wife and children in it, except that the hub of the wheel became caught in the roots of a tree. After some delay, help was obtained, and the wheel extracted with considerable difficulty with assistance from a farmer who lived in the neighbourhood…. On Sunday and Monday Mr. Perrin complained of severe pain in the back, and by the following day rheumatic fever developed…for two weeks his illness continued…”. 

Perrin died on the 7th May 1875 and was buried in the former Congregational Church cemetery at Forth.

The Kentish Gospel Hall was built approximately 3 kilometres south of Sheffield on the Kentish Road. Land was donated by by Mr Joseph Crack near a small creek and close to a junction where a blacksmith and a wheelwright’s shop were established.  The hall, built of split timber palings, was officially opened on Sunday 10 October 1875.  The Launceston Examiner records a brief account of the historic event:

“A new chapel and schoolmaster’s residence have been erected here [Kentishbury] by the Believers; the buildings are quite an ornament to the place. The chapel was opened for divine service on Sunday last by Messrs. Brown and Moyes, Evangelists, who have been labouring in the district for some time past, with great success. A very impressive sermon was delivered by Mr Brown on the occasion to a large congregation, many of whom came a long distance”.

Immediately after Christmas of 1875  an Annual Believers conference was held, a tradition that was to continue for 120 years.  

In September 1886 the property was transferred from Joseph Crack to 7 trustees.  In 1899 a new wing was added and in 1922  further alterations was made to the hall. In 1925 original Gospel Hall demolished and new Hall built by J W Sellars, opened Boxing Day 1925. 

The opening of the new Gospel Hall is described in a report published in the Burnie Advocate:

“The opening of a new church building or hall is always an important event in the religious life of a community and, as such, the opening of the new Gospel Hall in the Sheffield district will make December 26, 1925, an epoch in the history of that district. The old hall which the new replaces was built some fifty years ago by those sturdy pioneers whose ranks time has sadly thinned , but whose faith and courage make their memory blessed. Money, they had none, but they had what was infinitely better, an indomitable will and patience. One gave the land, others went into the bush, felled, cut and split the material; others carted whilst the rest erected, and soon they had a building in which to worship God and teach His Word, and many a happy hour they spent therein. As the district grew the building was enlarged and renovated till the original identity was almost lost. But as it was felt that something better was needed it was decided to erect a new structure, which was erected by Mr. J. Sellars. With the addition of some voluntary labor a neat building of some 49 x 27 feet was completed, reflecting credit on contractor and helpers alike. The official opening was followed by a two days’ convention, the meetings being largely attended, many visitors being present. Missions were represented by Messrs H. Barnett (China), Ray Williams (Africa). Other Christian workers who were present included: Messrs H. Martin (N.S.W.), Fox (N.Z.), Brewster (Vic), Baird and Ferguson (Tasmanian Bible carriage)….”

Four years after the opening of the new Gospel Hall, disaster struck. The Hall and adjoining cottage belonging to the church were destroyed in a fire on 23 October 1930. The Advocate provides the details of this disaster:

“The Gospel Hall and a small cottage on the Kentish road, about one and a half miles from Sheffield, were destroyed by fire about 9 o’ clock last night. The cottage was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. E. Heazlewood and three children, and was situated very close to the hall. Mr. M. Byard, who was passing at about 8.30 p.m. saw the cottage on fire, and gave tho alarm. Mr. and Mrs. Heazlewood were in the hall at the time engaged in their work as caretakers, and were unaware of the fire until called. At that time there was no possibility of saving anything. Beyond a few forms nothing was saved from the hall, and only a few odds and ends were salvaged from the cottage. … The hall was practically a new building, ….About a month ago another cottage a few hundred yards distant was also destroyed by fire”.

Church services continued in Oldfellow Hall at Sheffield until 1931. Instead of rebuilding on the site of the original hall, the Brethren elected to rebuild in Sheffield on a site on High Street. Construction began in February 1931 and was officially opened on Saturday 6 June of that year. This building is now called the Sheffield Bible Chapel. The history of the Sheffield Gospel Hall is described in a previous article on Churches of Tasmania. [see No. 502]

* Thank you to Alan Dyer for providing additional information and for photographs enabling this article to be updated.

  The new Kentish Gospel Hall built opened in 1925 and burnt down in 1930. Photograph supplied by Alan Dyer.

A partial view of the old Gospel Hall (undated) Photograph supplied by Alan Dyer

The original split-timber paling hall. Photograph supplied by Alan Dyer


Edward Moyse, England (standing), William Brown, Scotland (seated left), and Charles Perrin, Ireland (seated right).  Photo credit:  Elizabeth Wilson - original source not indicated.

                            Charles Perrin's grave and headstone in the Forth congregational Cemetery 
                                                                         (my photograph)

Sources:

Examiner, Saturday 16 October 1875, page 3
Advocate, Thursday 31 December 1925, page 4
Advocate, Thursday 7 January 1926, page 4
Advocate, Friday 24 October 1930, page 4
Advocate, Saturday 25 October 1930, page 8
Advocate, Wednesday 14 January 1931, page 4
Advocate, Friday 13 February 1931, page 4
Advocate, Wednesday 20 May, 1931, page 6
Advocate, Thursday 28 May 1931, page 4
Advocate, Friday 5 June 1931, page 8
Advocate, Wednesday 10 June 1931, page 6

https://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/C/Christian%20Brethren.htm

Correspondence with Alan Dyer 28 January 2021

Dyer, Alan;  God was their rock...[the] story of Christian Brethren pioneers and their descendants in the Kentish District of Tasmania. Sheffield (Tasmania), Pioneer Publishers, (1974).

Elisabeth Wilson, “Ineffable impudence”? Christian Brethren Missionaries in Northern Tasmania, 1860s and 1870s, Launceston Historical Society Papers & Preceedings 2009






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