No. 899 - Hobart - Argyle Street Carpenter's Shop Chapel - "The Scoffs of Man"

On 25 April 1820, the Wesleyan Missionary, Benjamin Carvosso arrived at Hobart on route to Sydney from London. Carvosso preached the first Methodist sermon in Van Dieman’s Land on 28 April 1820 from the steps of the Hobart Town Court House. Carvosso’s wife Deborah, stood alongside him and led the singing of the first Methodist hymn in the colony. After his visit, a second missionary, Ralph Mansfield, spent a fortnight in Hobart, preaching almost every day before sailing for Sydney on 8 September 1820.

On 29 October 1820, a meeting to form a Methodist Society was sponsored by two laymen, Benjamin Nokes and George Waddy. The beginning of regular Methodist services is dated from this occasion. On 12 February 1821 the first meeting in the Argyle Street chapel was held. This building was a rented carpenter’s shop owned by Charles Donn. The chapel was situated on land bounded on the north-east by Argyle Street and on the south-east by the Hobart Rivulet. The site, now occupied by the Argyle Street Car Park, is marked by a memorial plaque unveiled by in 1970 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Methodism in Tasmania.

The story of the founding of the Argyle Street chapel is related in some detail in John Blacket’s “Missionary Triumphs” published in 1914. Although somewhat embellished, as was the style of that era, the account nevertheless makes interesting and entertaining reading:

“The nucleus of a Methodist Church was formed in Van Dieman's Land by a few converted soldiers. These men received their religious impressions in New South Wales under the ministry of Samuel Leigh and Walter Lawry. The leading spirit amongst them was Sergeant George Waddy, of the 48th Regiment, ….These two or three pious soldiers had no sooner reached their barracks at Hobart Town than they saw that the wickedness of the place was great, and it grieved them at their hearts. Accustomed to meet for social prayer at Sydney, they sought a convenient place at Hobart Town for holding a prayer-meeting. These soldiers enlisted the sympathy of a settler named Benjamin Nokes, who became one of the leaders in the pioneer Methodist Society”.

“In October, 1820, this devoted man went through Hobart Town inviting those whom he knew to a prayer-meeting to be held in a private house in Collins Street. About eight persons attended. The movement was growing, and the powers that make for evil began to make their influence felt.As in the apostolic age, the rabble gathered, and assaulted the house in which they were assembled. In a communication to Samuel Leigh, Mr. Nokes said: “We applied to Mr. Wallis for permission to assemble at his house in Liverpool Street, who readily complied, saying it was a good cause, and that his house was at our service. Here we met with some persecution, stones and bricks being thrown by the mob, who declared that they would not allow us to put the town in an uproar. Several persons tried to annoy us by fighting in part of the house. We formed a class of seven persons, and I encouraged the brethren not to be depressed by the scoffs of man. The congregation increased so rapidly that the house could not contain the persons assembled”. Benjamin Nokes was appointed leader. The singing of the praises of God in a private house, and the offering of fervent prayer, was something new in the godless town of Hobart. The persecution was such that the owner of the house became alarmed, and closed his doors against the little society, telling them that they could meet no more under his roof. Thus persecuted and expelled they were at a loss where to go; but God, in His providence, soon provided them with a place of worship”.

“Benjamin Nokes waited upon a person living in Argyle Street, and asked permission to meet for worship in his shop. This person was Charles Donn, a freed convict, a man of good Christian character. When the deputation waited on him Charles was busy at work about his shop. He had no objection to let the place for a religious service, but it would not be safe for him to do so without consulting Mary, his wife. This woman was a notorious drunkard, a scold, and a bitter Roman Catholic. She refused to allow the room to be used for a religious service. She would suffer no Methodist to come near her dwelling. Charles Donn had to say ‘No’. During the night there was a severe thunderstorm; the lightning flashed and the thunder pealed. Mary Donn could not sleep. She believed that there was some connexion between the storm and her refusal to allow the Methodists the use of the room for worship. In the darkness of the night, feeling the upbraidings of conscience, she said to her husband: “The Methodists shall have the skilling, Charles. The Methodists shall have the skilling.” In the morning a message was sent to the little flock informing them of the fact, and filling their hearts with gladness…. The rabble of the baser sort again gathered around Charles Donn's shop, throwing stones, bricks, and other missiles, and threatening to wreck the structure. In spite of persecution the society increased to thirty-four; the attendants upon public worship also increased. The building was enlarged, and provision made to accommodate two hundred persons….”.

The Argyle Street Street chapel was used for only a few years until a permanent chapel was built and opened on Melville Street on 27 November 1825. In the interim a Sunday school was commenced at the Argyle Street chapel by John Hiddleston, this being the oldest Sunday-school established in Australia. Another noteworthy fact is that a Wesleyan Library, the first public library in Australia, was established in the Argyle Street chapel on the 19th September 1825, two months before the Melville Street Chapel was opened. 

      A plaque outside the Argyle street car park marking the location of the Carpenter's Shop Chapel 
                                                              Photograph Credit:  Chris Yuen

                                        The approximate location of the Argyle Street Chapel 
 .                                                  Photograph Credit:  Chris Yuen

        
         
   Wesleyan Missionary, Benjamin Carvosso - source: Wesley Hobart Museum
                      
       
Wesleyan Library rules for the Argyle street Chapel - source: Wesley Hobart Museum

Sources:

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.

Blacket, John. Missionary triumphs among the settlers in Australia and the savages of the South Seas : a twofold centenary volume / by John Blacket Charles H. Kelly London 1914

https://ehive.com/collections/5237/objects/473541/carpenters-shop-plaque

https://ehive.com/collections/5237/objects/473542/revd-benjamin-carvosso-portrait

https://ehive.com/collections/5237/objects/473538/wesleyan-library-rules-framed

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