No. 1313 - Launceston - Balfour Street - "Strict Communion Baptist Chapel" (1867-1869)

This article is one of a series concerning places of worship that are barely represented in the historical record. Often no images of these buildings have survived. My hope is that these brief articles may result in further information and photographs coming to light enabling a more complete history to be preserved.

In 1867 a Baptist chapel was built near the corner of High Street and Balfour Street in an area then known as Windmill Hill. This short-lived chapel was closely associated with an itinerant preacher, Samuel Cozens.

Cozens arrived in Launceston in June 1867. This coincided with the retirement of Reverend Henry Dowling, the founder of the Particular Baptist Chapel on York Street (1840). Dowling’s replacement, Reverend Frederick Hibberd, had a more liberal stance on Baptist beliefs and practices, leading to a split in the congregation, with nine members resigning. The schism presented Cozens with an opportunity to lead the breakaway group. The group, which included James Davis, Thomas Conoly, Joshua Beaumont and Thomas Clarke, initially met in the Wycliffe Chapel off York Street but they found the building “very much out of repair”. They then rented out a “large room” at the Town Hall for a period of a year. During this time work began on the construction of a chapel at what is now 1 Balfour Street.

In July 1867 the Launceston Examiner reported:

“A small chapel is also in the course of construction in Upper Balfour-street. Mr. Cozens, from London, is at present officiating for this body”.

A later report in the Examiner provides a few details about the building which was described as “substantially built” and being “capable of seating two hundred persons”. The chapel was built by Thomas Conoly, a member of the church.

The chapel, officially the “Strict Communion Baptist Chapel”, opened on Wednesday 25 December 1867. The Examiner reported:

“According to previous announcement a new chapel was opened in Balfour-street (Windmill Hill), yesterday morning, by the Baptist Church worshipping in the Town Hall. Mr S. Cozens preached, taking as his text part of the 1st verse of the 29th chapter of 1 Chronicles, “For the palace is not for man, but for the Lord.” At the close of the service it was announced that divine worship would be conducted in the new chapel every Sabbath, at the usual hours, and that the Town Hall services would be discontinued until further notice”.

The ‘Strict Baptist Church’ seemed to enjoy some success for in July 1868 the Examiner reported:

“Since the formation of the Strict Baptist chapel in Balfour-street, 12 months ago [sic], the number of members have more than doubled; the number then was nine, and now there are twenty members. A Sabbath School has been started in connection with the chapel”.

A little more than a year after the Examiner’s report the chapel appears to have closed. This coincides with Reverend Cozens’ departure from Tasmania as was reported in July 1869:

“The Rev. S. Cozens, late of the Baptist Chapel, Balfour-street, is about to leave for Adelaide having had a unanimous call from a church in that city”.

During Cozens’ brief time in Tasmania he was extremely active. He is recorded as having preached at the Harrington Street Baptist church at Hobart, at Mountain Vale (Liffey) as well as preaching to “navvies” working on the railway line at Jinglers Valley. Cozens regularly gave public lectures and was a frequent correspondent to the Examiner and Cornwall Chronicle. In 1868 he established a journal, “The Colonial Strict Baptist Magazine”.

The Balfour Street Chapel was sustained by Cozens’ energy and charisma thus was destined to flounder with his departure. The “Strict Baptists” seem to have disbanded soon after Cozens’ left for Adelaide and some may have rejoined the York Street church. The last published reference to the chapel appears in a report in the Examiner in January 1872 which described “a fire on the Windmill Hill….close to the Baptist Chapel”.

In 2007 the Strict Baptist chapel was back in the news with the discovery of a cement-lined baptistry when renovations were undertaken on a house near the intersection of Balfour and High Street. It would appear from recent real estate photographs that a small section of the original chapel may have been incorporated into a late Victorian Federation style house.

Launceston Examiner, 21 December 1867

The Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 3 July 1867

Samuel Cozens c.1880


The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 15 June 1867, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 29 June 1867, page 6
The Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 3 July 1867, page 5
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 25 July 1867, page 4
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 24 August 1867, page 4
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 24 October 1867, page 4
The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 2 November 1867, page 4
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 21 December 1867, page 4
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 26 December 1867, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 31 December 1867, page 5
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 16 July 1868, page 2
The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 19 September 1868, page 4
The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 26 December 1868, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 23 March 1869, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 31 July 1869, page 2
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 27 January 1872, page 7

Laurie Rowlson, The Life of Samuel Cozens, Launceston Historical Society Papers and Proceedings, 2009

Dr Eric Ratcliff, From Chapel to Church, Nonconformist Building in Launceston, Launceston Historical Society Papers & Proceedings 2009


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