No. 1209 - Forest - Union Church (1894)

Forest is a small settlement off the Bass Highway about 12 kilometres south of Stanley in Tasmania’s far North West. The early settlers referred to the area as "the forest" and when an official name was needed it became simply “Forest”.  For a time locals referred to the settlement as “Tierney’s Town”.

Forest and the surrounding district has been home to numerous churches, most of which have closed and whose buildings no longer exist.  The settlement at Forest centres on the intersection of Mengha Road and Back Line Road. Three churches were established near this intersection: St Bartholomew’s Anglican church (1905); a Union Church (1894) - now the Forest Christian Centre (Christian Brethren); a short-lived Baptist church established in 1913 and a Catholic church (1911) which was located near South Forest.

The Union Church was the first church established at Forest. It was initially used by Protestant denominations including the Methodist and Presbyterians. In time it was acquired by the Christian Brethren although I have not established a date for this. A timber frame building which forms part of the Forest Christian Centre likely retains remnants of the original Union Church although this needs to be confirmed.

In 1894 the Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette published an extensive article on the opening of the Forest Union Church. The author of the article undoubtedly had an intimate connection with the church and it provides considerable detail about the building’s origins. Most of the article is reproduced as follows:

“…Probably the most Interesting event that ever took place in Forest was the opening this week of the above building for public worship and Sunday school purposes. For a considerable time the want of a building in this neighbourhood had been much felt by many of the residents, and though a Wesleyan and Anglican Church existed at Black River, where regular services and Sunday school were conducted, the nature of the road was such they were on many occasions practically inaccessible and, for South Road residents, it was impossible to keep up regular attendance”. 

“Nearly four years since a public meeting was called at the Forest School by those more directly interested in the question and, although meagrely attended, it was resolved, after some discussion as to whether the proposed building should, be a secular hall available for the Sunday Services, [or] to erect a Union Church. A committee was appointed from that meeting to carry out the object, with Mr. Waters as treasurer.  The manager of the V.D.L. Co. was applied to on the question of a site and responded by securing to us for long term of years, at a peppercorn rent, the choicest site in the district for such a building”.

“The allotment is situated in the angle formed by the South Road and Back Line Road and is central for the entire district of Forest and Black River…. For some time matters progressed satisfactorily, until the then resident clergymen, for some cause unknown to tho committee, expressed themselves unwilling to preach in the building if erected. This had, for a time, the effect of diverting the promised and expected support of many of the people from the work, and progress became hampered for nearly two years. During these times services were regularly conducted in the schoolroom every Sunday evening, with an attendance of from sixty to one hundred and twenty, by evangelistic preachers, and twice a month in the afternoon by Rev. R. Plenty, Anglican. Sunday school was regularly carried on each Sunday afternoon in under great difficulties in a building far too small to hold the gathering — one large class having to sit outside in all weathers”.

 “About six months ago there was  a revival of interest in the proposed church. The committee took counsel together and amongst them secured the liability to complete the building. Several interested themselves in clearing the ground; tenders were called for the erection of the building, everyone seemed to put their hand to the wheel and worked with a will and with a “long pull, and strong pull and a pull altogether” we have today what has long been needed, a building suitable for our Sunday school and unsectarian  services”.

“The building is 30 feet long, 20 feet wide, with 10 feet studs and fitted with four gothic windows, 2 in each side, 6ft, by 2½ft., and a gothic door in the west end 5 feet wide and 8 feet high in the centre, opening out of a porch, At the east end of the church is a platform going right across the building, 5ft wide and 18 inches high. On this is placed the organ and also a desk. Ten pine seats, with backs, 13 feet long are placed across the building and down the side of each aisle are seats hinged to the wall which can be let down as required. A wainscot of pine neatly put up reaches right round the wall; the remainder of the lining will be completed as circumstances will permit. The whole is roofed with iron and reflects the greatest credit on the builder, Mr. H. C. E. Medwin, has worked not to benefit himself in any way but more with the desire of seeing it completed as economically as possible. The walls are covered with paling and have been painted.

The opening services took place last Sunday (June 10) when the Rev. W. H. Bowe, of Burnie, conducted three services, assisted in the morning and evening by the Rev. W. Martin, of Stanley. The weather was beautiful. Mr. Howe preached powerful and able sermons which were much appreciated. In the evening the building was filled before the hour of service, there being about 150 present. A very interesting address was given to the children in the afternoon on the Lord's Prayer, and at this and the morning and evening services the singing was appropriate to the occasion, the whole congregation joining in it heartily at the two latter services”.

“On Tuesday evening a social was given in the same building. There were three tables across the door and one on the platform, on which were most liberally displayed viands of the choicest and most tempting description.. A brighter and choicer display it would be difficult to make, and I feel quite sure a happier gathering never sat down together. The tables were very ably presided over by Mesdames Malley, Stokes, Thorp, Waters, Ollington, Murphy, Emmett, and Miss Blizzard, who worked like Trojans to make the gathering a success….The speakers were the Revs. Bowe and Martin and Mr. Blackett. Several items of signing were given and much appreciated. The secretary’s report showed approximate cost of building between £80 and £70, and present debt on same under £30….”.

The last reference to the Union Church dates to 1911 when it was used by the Baptists prior to the opening of the Forest Baptist church in 1913. Further information about this church is welcomed. I can be contacted through the comments or through the Facebook group "Churches of Tasmania".


This section of the Forest Christian Centre is presumed to contain remnants of the Union Church built in 1894.

Sources:

Tasmanian, Saturday 25 April 1891, page 32
Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, Thursday 21 June 1894, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Saturday 25 October 1902, page 6
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Friday 5 August 1904, page 2
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 25 January 1911, page 2



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