No. 901 - Ravenswood Methodist Church (1868) - 'Mr Towse's Troubles'

Ravenswood is a suburb north of Launceston which was one part of the former St Leonards Municipality. The suburb is named after the farmstead ‘Ravenswood’ which was established in the 1830s.

A rudimentary Methodist church, that was also used as a schoolhouse, was established at Ravenswood in the mid-19th century. This was replaced by a new church built on Henry Street in 1868. This simply wooden building was used by the Methodists until the 1970s when the church was closed. A vacant block and fragments of gravestones are now the only visible evidence of the church’s existence.

Little is known about Ravenswood’s first Methodist church. In December 1867 the Cornwall Chronicle published an account of a Sunday school anniversary and a “tea meeting” to raise funds for a new church. The report provides a brief description of the original building:

“Our Anniversary took place last Sunday, when sermons were preached, ….The building was well filled on each occasion, and the collection amounted to £2 1s 7d. The building in which the School is held, and Public Worship, conducted every Sabbath afternoon, is neither wind nor water-tight and the floor is of clay. Thanks to Messrs Fryett, Faulkner, and Towse the building was neatly decorated with flowers and evergreens, or else it would have made our Launceston friends loath to come into it. However, we folks are content for the present. We have been thinking about a new building, and the friends of Ravenswood decided on holding a tea meeting on the 26th instant, to raise money for repairs, and to purchase forms, and we did so, and we can say that we have had a great tea meeting. Upwards of 120 people having sat down to an excellent tea provided by Mr Sim of Brisbane Street….. The meeting was a great success, and the Chairman intimated that in a short time they would be waited on for donations for a new building, and if any one had a thank offering to give, they had better visit Ravenswood school-house before they bestow it 27th December, 1867”.

Progress towards building a new Methodist church was swift. In May 1868 the Launceston Examiner carried a brief report on the opening of the Henry Street church:

“The opening service in connection with the building erected by the Wesleyan body at Ravenswood for the holding of divine service and also for school purposes, took place on Sunday. In the afternoon the church was crowded, when the Rev. G.T. Heyward preached, and there was also a good attendance in the evening. At both services collections were made in aid of the of the building fund….”.

Further information about the church comes from a report concerning a fund raising tea meeting held on Tuesday 6 May 1868:

“The tea-meeting in connection with the opening of the new Wesleyan Schoolhouse at Ravenswood was held on Tuesday evening, and was a very successful affair, about 120 persons sitting down to an excellent tea, which had been liberally provided by Mesdames Towse, Gibton, Fryett, Adam Hart, and W. Falconer. After tea a public meeting was held, the Rev. S. Williams in the chair, when addresses were delivered by the Chairman,…. Mr. Gibton read the financial statement. During the meeting sufficient money was raised by collection….so that the room is now altogether clear of debt. After votes of thanks to Mr. Towse for the gift of the land on which the building stands, and to the ladies for the tea, the meeting separated. During the evening the meeting sang a hymn composed for the occasion by Mr. Towse. Too much praise cannot be given to Messrs. Towse and Gibton for the active part they have taken in the work, and to whose zeal the residents in the neighbourhood of Ravenswood are indebted for the erection of this commodious and much needed building”.

David Towse’s gift of land for the church was soon to prove problematic. Towse neglected to convey the title of the land to the Methodist trustees (of which he was one). In 1882, a dispute arose in which Towse reclaimed the land and attempted to have the church removed.

David Towse was an interesting character. He hailed from Yorkshire and was a saddler and ironmonger by trade. He arrived in Tasmania in 1842 and later purchased a small farm at Patterson's Plains, (St Leonards). In 1847 he was left a “handsome legacy” in England, where he returned to receive (and spend) his inheritance. When he arrived back in Tasmania in 1858 he bought ‘Ravenswood House’ and farmland from Mr. William Stepney “for a significant sum of £1800”. Towse was described as a “very fair writer of prose and poetry” and was a regular correspondent to local newspapers using the non de plume “Hermit”. Towse’s artistic talent is born out by the report that he had composed a hymn for the opening of the Ravenswood Methodist church in 1868. Towse’s son-in-law was Robert Gibton, a native of Ireland and a trained school teacher. He was “a deep reader of theological works, and took a great interest in all religious affairs”. In the 1870’s Gibton established a gospel hall in the Quadrant in Launceston where he ran a free evening school for young men and boys.

A dispute over the land and chapel arose in 1882 over rent charged to the Education Board for using the building as a schoolroom during week days. The dispute is described in a report of a Board of Education meeting published in the Hobart Mercury in May 1882:

“A letter was read from Mr. David Towse, Ravenswood, giving the board notice to quit, by 1st July next, the chapel at Ravenswood now used as a schoolhouse. The letter was couched in very extraordinary terms, the writer describing the conduct of the board towards him in regard to the chapel as "arbitrary, illiberal, and Jesuitical;" complaining that they held his property at a very inadequate rent, and even that is to be spent on the property, and an account rendered to the Great Moguls of the Board of Education,” and declaring that: “any attempt to frustrate this notice I shall regard as a wicked and diabolical proceeding”. The notice to quit, and certain papers relating to the taking over of the chapel by the board, had been referred to…Inspector Rule, who, having seen Mr. Towse, reported that the chapel was built by public subscription on a site belonging to Mr. Towse, the subscribers appointing trustees to manage it, of whom Mr. Towse was one; that Mr. Towse had made no regular conveyance of the land to the trustees, and now declared the chapel to be his property, and that he was determined to spend the rent as he liked. On such terms he was willing to consider the convenience of the board by letting the occupation of the chapel for school purposes extend to the end of December. The inspector recommended that, in order to avoid closing the School, the regulation as to the disposal of rent be if possible set aside….”.

Members of the Board of Education were somewhat perplexed by the combative tone of the letter from Towse:

“Mr Hunter asked why Mr. Towse did not write to the Board in more respectful terms. Mr. Wright attributed Mr. Towse’s style of writing to his ignorance”.

The reason for Towse’s attitude is open to speculation but it is unlikely to have been a result of ignorance. Perhaps a change in Towse’s financial circumstances or his state of mind, a consequence of his advanced age, may have played a part. The church was never moved because Towse passed away in July 1884 at the age of 81.

The consequence of the dispute between Towse and the Board of Education directly led to the establishment of the first State schoolroom at Ravenswood which was built in 1884. The dispute may have also contributed to the establishment of the Ravenswood Mission Hall which opened in 1883. The Mission Hall was built on land belonging to Robert Gibton, Towse’s son-in-law. This building, which stood opposite the Methodist church (and which was later to become the Ravenswood Baptist Mission and then a Gospel Hall), can be seen in a photograph published in the Weekly Courier in 1909.

The subsequent history of Ravenswood’s Methodist church is not well documented. In the 1940s the Methodists allowed the Anglican’s to use the building for worship until All Saints Anglican church opened in 1958. The date of the church’s closure is not known but records suggest that this was before the creation of the Uniting Church in 1977. The date of the church’s removal from the site is also not known and I would be interested to know what became of this historic building.





                                   Ravenswood Methodist Church which stood on Henry Street 
                                          photograph credit: Allan Orr (Libraries Tasmania)

       In this photograph from the Weekly Courier (1909), the Methodist church is in the left foreground with    
       the Mission Hall  (later the Baptist Mission and then the Ravenswood Gospel Hall) in the background.

     A detail from a 1960s street map showing the location of the Methodist church on Henry Street with the 
      Gospel Hall (previously the Ravenswood Mission Hall) opposite. 


  
                                An advertisement from the Launceston Examiner (1870)


Sources:

Launceston Examiner, Saturday 28 December 1867, page 5
Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 28 December 1867, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 1 February 1868, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 7 May 1868, page 4
Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 1 January 1870, page 9
Cornwall Advertiser, Friday 29 December 1871, page 2
Cornwall Chronicle, Monday 6 January 1873, page 2
Mercury, Saturday 6 May 1882, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Friday 15 February 1884, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 29 May 1884, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 29 May 1884, page 2
Tasmanian, Saturday 19 July 1884, page 10
Examiner, Wednesday 2 October 1907, page 3
The Weekly Courier, Thursday 16 December 1909, page 19
Examiner, Friday 27 February 1953, page 3










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