No. 1135 - Trial Harbour - Orient Mine Methodist Church (1883-1885) - 'The First Church on the West Coast'

Trial Harbour is small coastal community on Tasmania’s West Coast. Trial Harbour once served as a port for Zeehan, providing an important function in the development of the mining industry in the region. Originally called ‘Remine’, the settlement was renamed Trial Harbour in 1881. Situated approximately 5 kilometres east of Trial Harbour was the short-lived “Orient Mine”, which has the distinction of being the site of the first church built on the West Coast.

The Orient Mine was established in 1881 to extract tin from the Heemskirk tin fields in the vicinity of Mount Agnew. By the mid 1880s the mine had failed and was abandoned. The mine was later incorporated into the more successful Mayne’s Mine in 1902. A traveller who passed through the area in 1888 described the defunct settlement around the abandoned Orient mine:

“When passing Mount Agnew we saw the now abandoned Orient tin mine, a standing record of a shareholders’ money wasted and labour lost. The huts and workings are still standing, and there is a water-race cut out of the solid rock… As was remarked to me the reckless squandering of money by some of the companies “is enough to make a man sit on a stone and cuss”….”.

In 1889 another traveller commented on the buildings at the site:

"Judging from their substantial appearance a great deal of money must been expended upon them, this formed part of the Heemskirk fizzle. A repetition of such reckless and wasteful expenditure of money will, I hope, never be witnessed in Tasmania again. The stocks of stores that were wasted and reckless purchase of timber, machinery, etc., should be a lasting lesson to shareholders to look sharper after their directors...".

Only six years earlier, the Hobart Mercury’s special reporter, Theophilus Jones, gave a description of the mine when he accompanied the Minister for Lands, Nicholas Brown, on a visit to the Heemskirk tin field in May 1883. At the end of a detailed report of the diggings, Jones mentioned that a small church had opened a week earlier:

“Before leaving the ground, a neat little church built on a hill to the right of the row leading to the whim [windlass] was inspected. Service in this church was commenced on Sunday, 20th inst. Mr. Walker, of the Cliff mine, officiating. A number of people from the Harbour and the various mines were present, and the services were highly appreciated. On Thursday (Queen's Birthday), in the evening, a tea meeting was held, which was a great success. This church will be used as a reading-room during the week, and papers have been supplied for the use of the men on the works”.

Considerably more detail about this church is recorded in an article published in the Zeehan and Dundas Herald in 1896. The author, who is not named, had an intimate knowledge of the church and had probably attended the opening service. This is evident in the very particular details provided in the report that follows:

“The first church on West Coast, excepting the Government church built by convicts on Settlement Island, Macquarie Harbour, was built on the Orient Tin Mine, on the principle of a working bee. All the men on the mine, including Mr T. S. Williams, the mining manager, and two of his sons, Luke and Tom, worked early and late at the erection of the building, which was made of sawn timber on end, being mostly the outside slabs from the logs from which the mine timber had been cut. The roof was covered with split shingles in 2ft 6in lengths, the floor was of celery top pine, and the inside neatly fitted up. Neatly dressed 6in blackwood boards were placed around the inside walls as a dado, and on each of these a narrow strip of the white sap-wood, cut from large blackwood logs, was nailed, the edges of the white wood was scalloped and gave the interior of the building a very neat appearance. A raised platform, about 1ft above the floor, with a small desk did duty as a pulpit. Around this platform was placed a very neat railing of blackwood. The building was provided with two chandeliers, each holding six candles, and when in use gave a good light; on either side of the preacher was a candlestick. After several weeks of steady work the church was ready for opening, and on Queen's Birthday, 1883, the building was officially opened with a tea meeting, which is the usual Wesleyan Methodist style of celebrating any new event in church work. Mr Williams and his family were members of that denomination, but unlike many churches, his was not built on denominational lines, but for the use of everyone who wished to preach or to listen”.

“The tea meeting, too, was by general invitation; admission free — no collection. The eatables being provided gratis by all the ladies then residing on Heemskirk, everyone was invited, everyone was there, and everyone enjoyed themselves. It was wonderful to see the splendid display of luxuries in the way of sandwiches, sponge cakes, blanc manges, etc, which were on the tables”.

“After tea was over, the usual public meeting followed, the building, which was about 25ft x 14ft, being packed, and as the various speakers warmed up to the subject, the congregation, moved by the speech of that jolly old sailor, Captain Murray (now of Devonport), felt that they must take up a collection. There was very little cash on Heemskirk in those days, as all the mines paid by cheque, and the proverbial Methodist threepenny bit was thus conspicuous by its absence, not one having been found in the Captain's hat; but there were some pound notes, and several I O U's, half- sovereigns, and half-crowns, the collection totalling about £11, every I O U being paid in due course; that was the only collection ever taken up in this church, and Mr Williams has been often heard since to remark that the members of that congregation would not have to answer for the sin of putting threepenny bits in the collection plate. Several Zeehanites of today have pleasant recollections of the event, now over 13 years past. The first trouble was, "What to do with the collection? Some of it was spent in books, some for extra fittings to the building, and the balance was given to the Wesleyan minister who visited Heemskirk from Waratah to pay his travelling expenses, and thus the difficulty was got over”.

“During the weekdays the building acted as a reading room, and was always open to anyone who wished to go there and spend an hour or two in reading and study, some splendid books having been sent by various people and firms in Hobart, and thus a very nice library was obtained. The building did good service until the mines closed down, and it has since been pulled down….”.


The date of the church’s removal is not known but it was most likely around mid 1885 when the Orient Tin Ming Company was dissolved. Apart from the description of the building in the Zeehan and Dundas Herald, little else is known and no photograph of the church exists. However, this unremarkable building holds the honour of being the first church, and possibly library built on the West Coast.


The track to Trial Harbour looking towards Mount Agnew. c.1900 - Libraries Tasmania - Object number PH30/1/66


Trial Harbour (undated) Libraries Tasmania - object number LPIC 147-7-90

The location of the Orient Mine marked on the map - about 5 kilometres east from Trial Harbour in a direct line.



The Mayne's tin Mine (previously the Orient Mine) 1902. State Library of Victoria


Sources:

Mercury, Monday 28 May 1883, page 3
Tasmanian News, Tuesday 8 January 1884, page 2
Mercury, Thursday 28 May 1885, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 9 October 1888, page 3
The Tasmanian, Saturday 15 June 1889, page 22
Zeehan and Dundas Herald, Friday 25 December 1896, page 1
Zeehan and Dundas Herald, Monday 17 March 1902, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Monday 25 May 1908, page 8

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