No. 966 - North Hobart - "High Street" Wesleyan Methodist Chapel (1839-1905)

The suburb of North Hobart, as the same suggests, is on the northern fringe of the city. It has evolved into a mixed residential and commercial area since it was developed in the 1830s.

The lower end of Tasma Street (formerly High Street) was laid out in the late 1830s with the land on either side subdivided and granted to numerous settlers. In 1839 a Wesleyan chapel and Sunday school was opened on a site at 10 Tasma Street, close to the intersection with Argyle Street. The chapel’s site is now occupied by a warehouse. The chapel owes its existence to a quarrel and short-lived split amongst the Wesleyans. The High Street Chapel is also closely associated with the Swan Street Uniting Church which replaced it in 1905.

When the chapel and its Sunday school opened in1839, it was one of eleven Sunday schools in Hobart: three Anglican; one Presbyterian; two Independent; three run by the Wesleyan Society and two by the Wesleyan Association.

In 1838 a disagreement within the Methodist Church resulted in the establishment of the Wesleyan Association in opposition to the original Wesleyan Society. While the split amongst the Wesleyans was short-lived; lasting a little over two years, a direct consequence of this fallout was the establishment of the High Street Chapel.

In early 1840, barely a year after the High Street Chapel’s opening, the two bodies reconciled. In March 1840, the Colonial Times published a short account of the origins and resolution of the dispute:

“The Members of the Wesleyan Association have accepted the Rev. Mr. Turner's invitation (which, we announced a few weeks ago) to reunite with the Wesleyan Society. About two years ago, during the memorable administration of the Rev. Joseph Orton, a party of the useful members of his Church, for peace sake, were compelled to separate themselves from his capricious and tyrannical government; and now that the olive branch has been held out to them by a minister of peace, they have manifested their peaceable and religious spirit by returning to their former connection. The following short account of their progress will be the best proof of their industry and zeal. They purchased, from one of their body, premises in High-street for £250. There they built a chapel capable of containing about 350 sittings, where one of their number, Mr. William Barnett, officiated as pastor, gratuitously, with the occasional assistance of another member of the body. They established two Sunday Schools,—one at their Chapel and another in Harrington-street; and the public will readily have perceived their progress from the number of their children, above 150, which have paraded in procession at the several anniversaries. The building of their Chapel cost above £400, which, with the price of the ground, constituted a debt of £650. The subscriptions and donations of the generous public of this Colony, enabled them, not only to meet the current expenses of the establishment, but also to reduce the debt to £500, at which amount they have transferred the property to the Rev. Mr. Turner, in trust for the Wesleyan Mission; and now, that Mr. Barnett will have abundance of ministerial assistance, we trust that the attention of the community of that part of the town will be aroused to a serious consideration of their deep interest in the important duties of religion”.

It would seem that a driver of reconciliation was partly the debt accrued on the new building. Little information exists about the chapel and its Sunday school and only a single photograph of it exists. The chapel was built of brick and was clearly a large building given that it could seat 350. The chapel’s foundation stone was laid on Monday 17 September 1838 and the occasion was reported by the Colonial Times:

“We omitted in our last, to notice the laying the foundation stone of the Association "ARGYLE CHAPEL,’ * in High-street, which took place on Monday, the 17th instant, in presence of a numerous and respectable assemblage, amongst whom were John Dunn, Esq., J.P., Manager of the Commercial Bank, his Lady, and several of his family. The ceremony commenced by the Sunday School children singing part of a hymn, which was followed by Mr. Barnett, addressing, in a most solemn and impressive manner, the Divine Architect of the Universe for his blessing on the undertaking. Mr. Barnett who is the elected Pastor of the body) then read a statement, written on parchment, setting forth the reasons why they had separated themselves from the Methodist Society, on account of which they could no longer conscientiously continue in connection, together with the names of the Trustees of the Chapel, the Sovereign reigning, the Representative of Majesty here, and the year of our Lord. The statement was then put into a bottle, and deposited, by Mr. Dunn, in the corner stone, which he afterwards, laid in the usual manner. We have not heard that this body of Christians have yet applied to Government for the regulated allowance in similar cases, which may be some what accounted for in the circumstance, that Mr. Barnett, with a zeal and Christian spirit, not unworthy of the primitive ages, has hitherto discharged the duties of the Church - Gratis!”

The Chapel was completed in the following year and was officially opened on Sunday 24 February 1839. The Colonial Times reported:

"The High-street Association Chapel was opened on Sunday last for Divine Service according to advertisement. Most appropriate sermons were preached by their pastor to numerous, respectable and attentive congregations, who contributed about £11 in aid of the erection of the Chapel and School. The text for the evening service was, "despise not the day of small things,” on which the preacher dilated with an energy and pathos which delighted the congregation. We have often felt surprised and edified by Mr. Barnett's straight forward and fatherly manner of preaching, which puts us in mind of the first ages of the Church….”.

The reconciliation between the two Methodist bodies resulted in the cessation of Methodist services at the High Street Chapel. However, between 1845 and 1847 the chapel was rented by the Anglicans while the construction of Holy Trinity Church was completed. After this date the chapel was used infrequently by the Methodists but from 1875 weekly services were conducted by local preachers. Congregations reached a peak of about 200 in the 1870s but gradually declined up until 1905 when it closed following the opening of the Swan Street Methodist Church.

Following the chapel’s closure in 1905, the property was sold and converted into a house with a facade constructed which obscured the original building. In 1932 the Mercury recorded:

“A service of remembrance was held last evening at 10 Tasma Street, North Hobart, the site of the old High Street Methodist Chapel, where worship was conducted from 1836 to 1905. A private residence now stands on the site. The service was attended by nearly 100 persons, and was conducted by the Rev. B. R. Wyllie. Short addresses were given by the Rev. David Lewis, Major O'Brien, of the Salvation Army, who was a scholar of the Sunday school, and Mr. T. R. Morris, who was a scholar and teacher at the school. Silence for a minute was observed in honour of those who had served and worshipped in the chapel and school”.

At some later date the house and remnants of the chapel were demolished. Given that the chapel was still in use up until the turn of the 20th century, I am hopeful that further photograph of the building exist.

* Not to be confused with the second Argyle Street Chapel and Sunday school which opened in 1832

The High Street Wesleyan chapel and Sunday school (undated).  Source: Holy Trinity Archives

The chapel's location is marked on Jarman's map of Hobart Town (1858)

A notice of the laying of the foundation stone - Colonial Times 1838

A notice of the Chapel's opening - Colonial Times

A notice reflecting the tensions between the two Wesleyan bodies at the time of the High Street Chapel's construction (1838) Colonial Times


Colonial Times, Tuesday 11 September 1838, page 1
Colonial Times, Tuesday 25 September 1838, page 7
The Tasmanian, Friday 28 September 1838, page 1
Colonial Times, Tuesday 2 October 1838, page 1
Colonial Times, Tuesday 19 February 1939, page 7
Colonial Times, Tuesday 10 March 1840, page 6
Mercury, Saturday 27 May 1905, page 3
Mercury, Thursday 22 September 1932, page 5
Mercury, Tuesday 27 December 1949, page 4

Stansall, M. E. J. and Methodist Church of Australasia.  Tasmanian Methodism, 1820-1975 / [by M.E.J. Stansall ... et al]  Methodist Church of Australasia Launceston, Tas  1975


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