No. 1301 - Hobart - New Wharf - Bethel Chapel (1838-1862)

The subject of this article is the little known Bethel chapel that stood on Hobart’s ‘New Wharf’. This served sailors visiting the town for a little over 20 years before it was replaced by the Mariners Church built on Franklin Wharf.

In 1835 a ‘Bethel Union’ was established to meet the ‘spiritual needs’ of ‘seamen’ visiting Hobart:

“In the year 1835, a few gentlemen interested in the welfare of seamen belonging to, or visiting the Port of Hobart Town, assembled at Dr. Ross's Library and Reading Room, Collins-street, when an association was formed under the designation of the Bethel Union, for the purpose of visiting the shipping, distributing religious tracts, and preaching to seamen of vessels in the harbour. In this work, ministers and others belonging to the different denominations, took part…”.

In 1836, as a result of representations made by Reverend Frederick Miller, Lieutenant-Governor Arthur granted the use of a building on New Wharf as a Bethel chapel. The building had previously been used by convict labourers:

“A prison hulk was stationed in Sullivan's Cove, and the Government men were employed in excavating for the New Wharf, when the Bethel formed part of a group of buildings, containing blacksmiths' shops, tool sheds, and overseers' quarters, enclosed by a wall, and was originally erected as a dining room for the prisoners. It was built of rough stone, and answered the purpose, being sufficiently commodious, 35ft. by 27ft, and 11ft in height”.

Before it could be used the building had to be modified for use as a chapel:

“The walls not being considered exactly safe a considerable sum had to be expended in putting up buttresses which was done under the superintendence of the late Mr. McLeod, of Williamson-street. The place was fitted with convenient benches and made otherwise comfortable for worship and they called the name of that place Bethel”.

While there is no published record of the Chapel’s opening in April 1838, in July the Colonial Times belatedly reported:

“We observe that in clearing the New Wharf of the erections made for the use of the prisoner gangs lately employed there, the Government, have left a very conveniently situated building for the purpose of being employed as a BETHEL CHAPEL for seamen, and that it is now employed as such. We feel no small pleasure in conceding our need of praise to his Excellency for this generous act; and we hope, that all those pious individuals who can conveniently attend, will kindly countenance and encourage the sailors in the momentous duty of divine worship”.

For twenty years religious services for seamen were held on Sunday afternoons with officiating ministers drawn from various Protestant churches, most notably Dr. Lillie of St. Andrews and Reverend Frederick Miller of the Congregational Church.

In July 1861 a campaign to build a “more commodious” church was launched and the Bethel was replaced by the Mariners church in 1863. The old Bethel Chapel was demolished in September 1878, surviving just long enough to appear in a photograph of the New Wharf taken in the late 1870s.

A cropped photo of "New Wharf" c.1875 showing what appears to be the old Bethel Chapel in the foreground. The building's location matches that shown on a map of the wharf in 1850. The chapel was directly in line with Kelly Street. The original photograph can be view here:

A cropped map from 1850 showing the location of the Bethel Chapel on "New Wharf" The original map can be viewed here:

The New Wharf c.1857 The Bethel chapel is on the extreme left. source:  Walton, W. L. and Lloyd, Henry Grant. and M. & N. Hanhart.  Hobart Town from the new wharf [picture] / H. Grant Lloyd del.; W.L. Walton lith  1857  <> National Library of Australia - Out of copyright

The Tasmanian,  Friday 23 October 1835

The Courier Sat 8 March 1845              


The Hobart Town Courier, Friday 7 August 1835, page 2
The Hobart Town Courier, Friday 23 October 1835, page 2
The Tasmanian, Friday 23 October 1835, page 3
Colonial Times, Tuesday 24 July 1838, page 7
The Courier, Saturday 8 March 1845, page 1
Mercury, Wednesday 18 June 1862, page 2
Mercury, Saturday 7 September 1878, page 1


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