No. 1356 - Lisle - Wesleyan Methodist Chapel (1879)

Lisle is a former mining town situated east of Lilydale in a secluded valley on the northeastern slopes of Mount Arthur. The discovery of gold in 1878 resulted in a mining boom which attracted about 2500 people into the area. On 12 March 1879, Governor Weld visited the area and named the township Lisle, in memory of his wife's family name (DeLisle). The unofficial name of the settlement was Bessell's Creek, after Charles Bessell, who discovered alluvial gold deposits at Tobacco Creek.

The first three years of settlement saw the construction of four hotels, shops, a post office, police station and a Wesleyan Church. The mining boom was short-lived and by the end of 1884 the population had plummeted to about 80.

In August 1879 a visitor described the Lisle diggings and the emerging town:

“Passing on from these claims, which are about one mile and a half on the west side of the township, I came to several newly erected paling houses; most of them seem to have been hastily put up without regard to architecture or proportion. In one long paling shed (that I think is the proper name for it) I could hear some drunken men quarrelling; at another clump of places I was invited to drink spirits by a crosseyed individual. I steadfastly refused to be tempted, however, and kept on my way to the township. I crossed the main creek soon after this, where I saw a great many men at work in various claims, some were stripping, others were sluicing the dirt. I think the Main Creek is the best part of the Lisle. There seems to be more men employed about it than anywhere else. I was not long arriving at the township, and strolled along the principal street, which was in a dreadful state, considering the stretch of fine weather we have had lately. I saw several public houses; nailed up on the front of one was it a piece of calico with four blacks in a dancing attitude and these words were written "That licks you mate." I went into another place and asked for a drink, and could not help seeing a boy with a pork pie hat on, ludicrously intoxicated. He was swaying and rolling his head about, and talking about "whisky straight”. There seems to be plenty of competition here in almost every branch, in fact, I believe, according to the population there are too many business places. All the houses are built of wood. They have an assembly room, and a Wesleyan chapel, also a Lisle minstrel club. It rained all night, but the weather did not keep some of the men from getting drunk and rolling in the mud. Next morning a dray would bog anywhere in the main street. I left while it was raining, and was glad to get back to my own place after travelling through mud and wet ferns for four hours”.

The first religious service at Lisle took place in April 1879 and was conducted by an Anglican minister. The Local correspondent for the Cornwall Chronicle wrote:

“On Sunday last we had our first religious service, which was held in a large room (only finished on Saturday night), kindly lent by Messrs. Herbertson and Paice. The Reverend A. Cass, of St Leonards, conducted the service, which was well attended, and considering there were no seats in the room it was very encouraging to see the men so attentive and pleased to have a service….”.

The origins of Lisle’s church dates back to May 1879 when a block of land was donated by Mr C.E. Button for the construction of an “undenominational chapel”. However, it was the Wesleyan-Methodists who took charge of the building fund. In July the Cornwall Chronicle reported:

“A building has been erected, 40x20, to be used as a Wesleyan Chapel. The public subscribed towards the sum necessary to cover the expenses. Tenders were called some time ago for it, but it is a general complaint that it was a job. It, however, remains to be seen whether the committee will pass it or not, for when the chapel is opened next week, we expect to hear an account of what money has been subscribed, and how it was expended”.

The details of the alleged “job” are not recorded and indeed very little information has survived concerning the church.

In December 1879 the chapel is mentioned in a report of a funeral:

“I am sorry to have to chronicle the advent of a visit from that grim tyrant death. The victim being Mr James McLean, a miner and one very much liked and respected by all who knew him. As the inhabitants of Lisle do not possess a consecrated Godsacre it was determined to inter the body close to the Wesleyan Chapel, and this afternoon the mournful tolling of the Chapel bell warned me that the cortege was coming. So joining in the procession we arrived at the grave. The beautiful service for the dead was read very ably by Mr W.T. Bridges. The rain that had been falling to torrents all day doubtless prevented many from following that would have done so had it been a fine day….”.

A brief report published in the Hobart Mercury in September 1880 provides a further glimpse of religious life at Lisle:

“The Wesleyan body have a church here under the care of Mr. Thomasson, a most painstaking bush missionary, where service to good congregations is regularly maintained. They are making an effort to buy one of Mason and Hamlin’s organs for the use of the church; the necessary amount is nearly raised, and it is expected before many weeks to have its assistance in the service”.

While the organ was successfully installed it became subject of a dispute when it was removed to the Methodist church at Patersonia in 1884. The issue of its removal was explained by the ‘bush missionary’ John Thomasson in a letter published by the Hobart Mercury:

“The organ in question has been removed for safe keeping to the next station in the mission; for the past 12 months there have been only about two services held in Lisle. The population has become so small, and the remaining few rarely if ever attending, compelled me to temporarily discontinue the services. In the absence of any member of the Wesleyan Church or person to take care of the property, it [the chapel] has been forcibly opened, and the valuable instrument not only used, but considerably abused, and as there is a still a considerable debt due upon the said organ, for which I am personally responsible, I consider myself justified in protecting it.… At the same time should Lisle look up again, it will only be, a source of pleasure to resume the services and return the instrument….”.

Methodist services never resumed and the organ presumably remained at the Patersonia church. It is unclear what became of Lisle’s Methodist chapel although it is likely to have been used by the Anglicans up until just before the Great War. In the book ‘Memories of Myrtlebank’, J.R. Skemp writes:

“A fortnightly service was later performed by a visiting Anglican by the name of Reverend Wilkinson. He was also Headmaster of the Church Grammar School, which was situated in Elizabeth Street, Launceston. The Minister would travel on horseback from Launceston to Patersonia to hold a morning service at Millwood's ‘Mount Arthur Hotel’ before riding the rough track to Lisle for an afternoon service at the Anglican Chapel”.

In addition to the Anglicans, the chapel was used by the Salvation Army in the 1890s with the Lilydale 'contingent' holding fortnightly services. A complaint of "Larrikinism at Lisle" is described in a letter to the Launceston Examiner in 1896 following the disruption of  a service:

"Permit me through your valuable columns to draw the attention of the authorities to the disgraceful conduct carried on by the larrikin element, or I may say brainless noodles, of this place.
We have fortnightly visits of the Salvation Army officers of the Lilydale contingent; on these occasions the conduct and language indulged in by these young men is simply disgusting to any right thinking persons, and I think Lisle is in as great a need of a resident constable now as it was at any time. On Wednesday evening last the Salvationists held their usual meeting, when the larrikins collected outside the church with, I presume, the intention of making a disturbance by shouting at the door and occasionally forcing it open, throwing missiles through the windows, and blowing the fumes of tobacco through any aperture they could find and, to crown this, when the congregation were coming out started jostling with, no doubt, the intention of upsetting the captain, and of course succeeded. This officer has been subjected to several insults from these silly loons, and this is not all....".

Despite the demise of mining, Lisle remained home to a small permanent population. In 1921 a community hall, the Lisle Memorial Hall, was opened. By 1930 the township was reduced to a Post Office, hall, school, a general store and had a population of about 60. In 1937 the Lisle School closed. In 1940 the building was transported to Launceston and became part of the new Summerdale Primary School at Prospect.

No photograph of the Wesleyan Chapel or of the early township are available and I have used photographs from a latter period to illustrate this article. There are few physical remains of Lisle and the diggings which have been reclaimed by bush and forestry plantations.

The Lisle Memorial Hall (1921) Weekly Courier - photo: W. Wurr 

A reconstructed map of Lisle township drafted by Andrew S. McGuinness (1991) An Anglican church is shown on the map. This was probably the same building used by the Methodists before they departed in 1884.

The organ in the Patersonia Church is probably the organ removed from Lisle in 1884. Photo:

A general scene of Lisle in 1921 - Weekly Courier (photo W. Wurr)


Launceston Examiner, Thursday 17 April 1879, page 3
The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 3 May 1879, page 2
The Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 2 July 1879, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 16 July 1879, page 3
The Tasmanian, Saturday 13 December 1879, page 7
The Mercury, Thursday 2 September 1880, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 12 December 1883, page 3
Mercury, Thursday 31 January 1884, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 18 March 1896, page 3
Weekly Courier, Thursday 29 December 1921, page 24

Dickens, G. J., The Lisle Goldfield : a brief history. Dept. of Resources and Energy, [1991]

Skemp, John Rowland.  Memories of Myrtle Bank : the bushfarming experience of Rowland and Samuel Skemp in north-eastern Tasmania, 1883-1948  Melbourne University Press [Melbourne]  1952

Henslowe, Dorothea I. and Hurburgh, Isa.  Our heritage of Anglican churches in Tasmania / by Dorothea I. Henslowe ; sketches by Isa Hurburgh  [S.l  1978


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