No. 1270 - Hobart - Collins Street Primitive Methodist Chapel (1861-1902)

In 1861 the Primitive Methodists acquired the former Knox Chapel on Collins Street for a place of worship. The building was erected in 1836 as an Independent or Congregational church and Sunday school. [see No. 1000]. In 1857 the building was sold to Reverend John Downes and reopened as the Knox Chapel. [see No. 1093] In 1861 Downes left Tasmania to take up a position at a church at Learmonth in Victoria. The departure of Downes resulted in the closure of Knox Free Chapel which was then taken over by the Primitive Methodists.

The Primitive Methodist movement began in 1808 and was led by Methodist lay preacher Hugh Bourne, who had been expelled from the British Methodist movement. Bourne and his followers became known as Primitive Methodists, meaning ‘first’ or ‘original’. Bourne's followers were also disparagingly called ‘Ranters’, a reference to their crude and often noisy preaching. Their outdoor camp meetings generally attracted the working classes who sometimes did not feel that they were accepted by the Wesleyan Methodists.

The centre of Primitive Methodism in Tasmania was at Launceston while the movement was far less successful in Hobart and the South. Wallace Barns traces the establishment of the church in Hobart in the booklet ‘A History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion in Tasmania’:

“Before the arrival of E.C. Pritchard in late 1860, laymen went from Launceston to begin missioning in Hobart Town. But the cause in Hobart was never strong, probably because of the sociological fact that Primitive Methodism had an appeal to the working class and Hobart, with its elegant society had a class consciousness that placed firm restrictions upon movement within society. This meant a certain lack in evangelistic zeal, for too much enthusiasm as shown in open-air preaching etc. was thought a little fanatical”.

Charles Dugan’s ‘Century of Tasmanian Methodism’ states that the first first service at Hobart was held in a large room at the lower end of Argyle Street. Further meetings were held in a building in Argyle Street between Macquarie and Collins Streets. In 1860 the British Primitive Methodist Conference appointed Edward Cook Pritchard to Hobart, where he arrived in late 1860. Prior to this a local preacher, John Shepherd, had moved to Hobart and carried out work in preparation for the new missionary.

In 1861 the Knox Chapel was purchased at a cost of £850. The first service were held on Sunday 21 April 1861 and the chapel was officially opened on Sunday 19 May. A General Missionary Society was established and revival meetings were held at the Cascades. In winter meetings were held indoors and in summer open-air gatherings were the norm.

From the Collin’s Street base, Primitive Methodist communities and ‘preaching places’ were established at Kingston, Snug, Margate and Woodbridge. In Hobart ‘preaching places’ were established at Summerleas; Arthur Street; Goulburn Street; Sackville Street; Sandy Bay and New Town.

In January 1902 the Methodist Union between five Methodist denominations in Australia brought an end to the Primitive Methodist movement. The Collins Street chapel was sold in June 1903. The Daily Telegraph reported:

“The Primitive Methodist Church, which nearly faces St. Peter’s, was auctioned to-day, and passed into the hands of a Mr James Boxall lor the sum of £900. The conditions of sale prevented many people bidding. The auctioneer gave out that the building was not to be used for liquor or dancing hall purposes, and this announcement somewhat damped the competition. Mr Boxall got hold of a cheap property, but what he intends to do with it goodness only knows. Wharf business has moved now right up to the doors of the “old Primitive,” and the probability is that it will be used for commercial pursuits of some kind or other”.

Soon after after the sale the chapel was incorporated within a new building. The eastern wall of the original chapel is still visible and can be seen from the corner of Market Place.

An undated photograph of the Collins Street chapel. The date 1860 which appears on the building refers to the date the Primitive Methodists were established in Hobart. The chapel was opened in 1861. Source:

A notice of opening services for the Chapel - The Mercury, saturday 18 May 1861

Reverend Edward Cook Pritchard, the first permanent Primitive Methodist minister. source: Primitive Methodist Magazine 1888

The original 1836 chapel survives behind the facade of a later building on Collins Street. Photograph supplied by Colin Chick


The Mercury, saturday 18 May 1861, page 1
The Mercury, Wednesday 22 May 1861, page 3
Mercury, Tuesday 21 April 1936, page 9

Barns, Wallace. and Methodist Church of Australasia.  A history of the primitive Methodist connexion in Tasmania, 1857-1902 : an abridgement  Methodist Church of Australia, Victoria and Tasmania Conference, Tasmanian Division [Launceston, Tas  1970

Dugan, C. C.  A century of Tasmanian Methodism, 1820-1920 / by C.C. Dugan  Tasmania Methodist Assembly [Hobart]  1920

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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