No. 1051 - Hobart - Baptist 'Tabernacle School-room' (1885-1889)

The Baptist denomination first appeared in Hobart in 1835. The church’s progress was fairly limited until the 1880s. In 1883 the arrival of Irish born preacher Rev. Robert McCullough, who was financially backed by William Gibson of Native Point, marks the revival of the Baptist cause in the city.

The focus of this article is on a ‘Tabernacle School-room’ which served as a place of worship prior to the completion of the present Baptist church fronting Elizabeth Street. The ‘Tabernacle School-room’ still stands, albeit with a somewhat altered facade and is mostly hidden behind the Baptist church. The building was used a church for only four years and then became a permanent schoolroom. It now known as the Gibson Hall.

The history of the revived Baptist movement is succinctly outlined in an 1887 article published in the Hobart Mercury:

“The history of the Baptist cause in Hobart, or at least that portion of it over which Pastor McCullough exercises spiritual charge, is not a long one. Just four years ago - on the first Sunday in October, 1883 - he commenced preaching in the Exhibition building, and kept it up for some time with success, until at last the use of the building was taken from him. It was his custom at that time to spend Saturday evening in Liverpool-street distributing handbills announcing his next day's services, and the result of this judicious advertising was that very good congregations attended his ministrations from the beginning, although there was no regular church organisation.

When the Exhibition-building was compulsorily vacated, the pastor and his congregation were without a place of meeting, but this was only for one Sunday. Previous to this the allotment of land in which the present Tabernacle stands was purchased, and a temporary building which well deserved the name of Tabernacle, was put up, its erection occupying only six days. It was constructed of packing cases, iron, and other materials of a like nature, and its architectural lines suggested to some newspaper wag, the idea of dubbing it a "shedifice," and the name adhered to it until it was demolished. Its alternative appellation was the tin chapel, and when it rained the congregation were obliged to keep well in the centre of the building to avoid a baptismal sprinkling”.

In November 1884 the foundation stone for a second temporary tabernacle, the ‘Tabernacle School-room’, was ceremonially laid. As the name implies the building was to serve as both a place of worship and as a Baptist school. The foundation stone of the ‘Tabernacle School-room’ was laid on Tuesday 4 November 1884 by Mrs Amelia Benjafield, wife of Dr Harry Benjafield, the founder of Hobart’s first homeopathic pharmacy. The Hobart Mercury carried a report about the event:

“The formal ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone of this schoolroom was celebrated yesterday afternoon in the presence of a fairly large gathering of spectators. The want of a suitable building for public worship has long been felt by the attendants of the much more useful than ornamental structure, which is known as “The Tabernacle,” and which is situated in a prominent position in the upper part of Elizabeth Street. The present building has the advantage of being able to accommodate a large congregation, but as its walls throughout are composed of ordinary woodwork, with an outward protection of galvanised iron, it was considered by the numerically small band of adherents that the time had arrived when it had become necessary to erect a building more in accordance with modern requirements. A movement was set on foot, liberal promises of support were obtained, and about a month ago a building, the foundation stone of which was laid yesterday afternoon, was begun. The spot upon which it stands is at the back and immediately adjoining the present unpretending “Tabernacle,” and it is intended by and bye to erect a new church, and to convert the present in embryo structure into a schoolroom. The building already mentioned will be 50ft. by 40ft., with a height of 14ft., and will possess seating accommodation for about 400 persons. The walls will be of freestone, and the seats in the present tabernacle will be utilised until the other building has been erected…. At the present rate of progress the building will be ready for occupation before Christmas. It will cost about £400 or £500, but as a considerable portion of this amount is already in hand and has been promised, it is confidently anticipated that the building will be opened free from debt….”.

The ‘Tabernacle School-room’ was completed in a little over four months and was opened for worship on March 22nd, 1885.

The Mercury reported:

“Those who complained of the temporary tabernacle in Elizabeth-street as an eyesore will be pleased with the neat edifice that is now almost completed on the ground. As the beginning of a large and costly building in contemplation, the Baptists are so far to be congratulated. The present structure is only intended for a school-room at a future date, but it is really very suitable for a place of worship for some time to come. The interior is beautifully finished. The principals are stained a dark red beneath a white ceiling, the front of the platform and the dado are of varnished blackwood, and the porch is made of framed work with panels of Huon pine. Mr. J. Maddison is the contractor for the masonry, and Messrs. Butler and Gooding for the carpenters' work. The workmanship is highly creditable to them”.

The ‘Tabernacle schoolroom’ was used for a little less than 4 years when the present Baptist church was officially opened on Sunday 20 January 1889. Over the years the ‘Tabernacle schoolroom’ has been significantly modified but is is still clearly recognisable.

The former 'Tabernacle-Schoolroom - now the Gibson Hall. The building has been significantly altered but is still recognisable in the partial image of the building in 1900 (see below). Photograph courtesy of Colin Chick.

A detail from a photograph (1900) partially showing the 'Tabernacle School-room'. 

The Elizabeth Street Baptist Tabernacle 1900 -  Source: Libraries Tasmania - Item No. NS1013-1-145

Notice of the Tabernacle-School-room's opening in March 1885 - The Mercury


Mercury, Wednesday 5 November 1884, page 2
Tasmanian News, Wednesday 5 November 1884, page 4
Mercury, Saturday 21 March 1885, page 1
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 25 March 1885, page 2
The Tasmanian, Saturday 28 March 1885, page 19
Mercury, Tuesday 4 October 1887, page 3


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