No. 1364 - Kellevie - "The Christian's Chapel"

Kellevie is a small settlement about 10 kilometres north of Copping. It is situated at the junction of Kellevie and the Bream Creek Roads linking the Arthur and the Tasman Highways. The district was known as the Ragged Tier and Kellevie was previously known as Upper Carlton.

The history of Kellevie’s settlement is outlined in an article published in the Hobart Mercury in 1929:

“How and when Kellevie first received its name the writer does not know, but its development seems to have been contemporaneous with the other two districts of the Ragged Tier, Bream Creek, and Copping, which began in earnest in the eighties, when the hard work of pioneering a wilderness of giant blue gums (some nine feet in diameter and of immense height), wild pear, musk, lightwood, dogwood, and other forest trees, with almost impenetrable undergrowth was beginning to reap its just reward. In connection with the accomplishment of this great enterprise the names of Freeman, Brown, Tunbridge, Corbett, Woolley, Kingston, Dunbabin, Allanby, Byran, Clifford, with others, will ever be associated for their good work at different points on the tier….The public buildings at Kellevie include a State School, hall, Druids' Hall, and church, and there are a general store and post and telephone office, with Mrs. J. Woolley in charge…”.

Kellevie’s church opened in 1891 replacing a simple building used as place of worship from the early 1880s. Known as the “Christian Chapel”, it was established following preaching by the evangelist Stephen Cheek who was active in district in the late 1870s:

“Stephen Cheek, although called a false prophet by some people, …laid the solid foundation of a great work in that district, and his work still lives. On one occasion Stephen Cheek walked from Hobart around the coast to Kellevie, for no effort was too great for him. The districts of Nugent, Coppington, Dunalley, Sorell, were all touched by Stephen Cheek”.

Cheek was a convert to the Open Christian Brethren but by the time he visited the ‘Ragged Tier’ he had become more closely associated with the Church of Christ, then known as “The Christians”. The settlers in the district were noted for their strong religious beliefs and some had joined the Congregational Church. When a new evangelical group began evangelising in the district, some residents objected to their religious practices which included baptism by total immersion. In 1879 objections to Cheek’s proselytising turned violent.

On the 8 September 1879 Stephen Cheek was subjected to a violent assault. The Court record, published in the Mercury, reveals much about the isolated Ragged Tier communities:

“The Sorell Police Court was over-crowded today by an excited throng to hear the charge preferred by Mr. Stephen Cheek, who described himself as a "religions missionary," against John Riley, Charles Thallen, Thomas Bryan, and Henry Williams, for assaulting him at Bream Creek, after one of his religious services….Mr. Andrew Inglis Clark appeared for Mr. Cheek, and described the assault as one striking at the very root of religious liberty, and one that should never be tolerated in any British community where liberty, of speech, and faith, was the glory of the people. He [Cheek] did not press for vengeance, but he desired that the defendants should be taught a lesson that would let them know that they lived under the British flag, under the protection of which no man can be assailed and beaten for holding and maintaining his conscientious religious notions, whatever they might be.

Stephen Cheek, Cora Stacey, Harriett Stacey, George Mundy, and George Bellett were examined for the complainant, and from their evidence it appeared that John Riley flogged Cheek with knotted rope, and threatened that if he did not clear out of Bream Creek within twenty-four hours he would "tie him to a tree and separate his flesh from his bones," - that Thomas Bryan struck Stephen Cheek with a stick - that Charles Thallen, with a blackened face, did likewise - that Williams pasted Cheek with rotten eggs - that George Bellett and Mrs. Stacey saw the bruises which had raised a lump the size of an hen egg on the left arm of the religious missionary.

Mr. Cresswell addressed the Bench on behalf of defendants,…he described the "religious missionary," Mr. Cheek, as a man who had turned Bream Creek upside down, and converted it into a bear garden, setting father against son, and daughter against mother, neighbour against neighbour, and family against family, and sowing the seeds of strife broadcast by his mission.

The Bench….were unanimously of opinion that a cowardly assault had been proved; but as the learned counsel for Mr. Cheek did not wish for vengeance, the defendants would be each fined 20s. 6d, and costs; but, should they, or any others, repeat the offence, they would receive what they would richly deserve, imprisonment without the option of a fine….The fines were immediately paid by subscription…”.

Stephen Cheek’s plea for leniency for his tormentors helped end opposition to the “Christian” congregations and places of worship were soon after established at Bream Creek and Kellevie. Little is known about Kellevie’s first place of worship but this building was replaced by a more substantial chapel which was officially opened on Thursday 17 April 1891:

“The building is 40ft. by 24ft., built of weatherboards, and very nicely lined inside with Norwegian pine. A small portion of the floor at the far end is raised about 12in., and here is fixed the baptistry while on each side are two small anterooms. The body of the building is well fitted up with seats made of pine, and altogether very comfortable, and, in short, the building reflects great credit upon the perseverance of the small body people who have had to contribute and place the building where it now stands. The opening of the building as a place of worship was celebrated by a large festive gathering to which people came from all parts of the district to honour the occasion. Two rows of tables were arranged from one end of the room to the other, and it would be needless to add were garnished with every thing that hand could devise in order to satisfy the many eager appetite; among those present. Business in this direction commenced at 12 o'clock, and it was not until about 3 o'clock that all had been satisfied. Everything being at last cleared away, a short address was delivered by Mr. Maston, of Victoria, but the throng was so great that many were not able to get admittance….”.

Despite this happy scene, it would appear that religious sectarianism was still present at Kellevie as was evidenced by the deliberate burning down of the “Christians’ Chapel” on Tuesday 29 January 1895. Following the fire services were held in the Kellevie State school. This building was burnt down on Sunday 3 February, five days after the chapel’s destruction. A correspondent for the Mercury wrote:

“On the morning of Tuesday the Christian Chapel was burned to the ground under circumstances which seemed to indicate the work of an incendiary and now I have to chronicle a second act perpetrated on our State School, which appears even more audacious, base, and cruel than the former.

The use of the schoolroom was granted to the Christians by the Local Board, in which to hold service until such time as they could have their chapel re-created, and on Sunday the room was first used for the purpose. At about 10.30 p.m. Mr. Whyte [the school’s teacher] was awakened by a tapping noise at the front of the house accompanied by the barking of his dog. On hearing this Mr. Whyte jumped out of bed and peered through the bedroom window in the direction of the front door, but not seeing anybody he retired to bed. At about 11 or 11.15 Mrs. Whyte aroused her husband on account of a crackling noise which she heard but too plainly, for Mr. Whyte on opening the door saw that the partition between the schoolroom and residence, and the ceiling of the sitting room, were on fire.

The inmates of the dwelling were aroused and hurried from their beds into the open air with but their nightdresses on, and an alarm was given by ringing the school bell. The neighbours quickly put in an appearance, and succeeded in getting out a few articles from the back buildings, but the flames spread so quickly and the smoke was so dense that nothing could be taken from the main building… The general opinion is that the fire fiend, whoever he may be, was not pleased with the quick way in which the congregation was recompensed by insurance and accommodated by the school-building after his dastardly work of Tuesday morning, and thought well to still further inflict an injury on the community even more devilish than the former, by setting fire to the State school, notwithstanding the human beings unconsciously slumbering within its walls….”.

The arsonist was never identified or the motive for the attack. However the community was not deterred and the church was rebuilt and reopened in August 1895. The Mercury reported:

“Messrs. Walker and Hayton, contractors for building the Christians’ Chapel, have completed their work, and reflects great credit upon them, so much so that the committee has made them a present of £5….”.

In February 1914 the church was again destroyed by fire, although not at the hands of an arsonist but by bushfires that swept across southern Tasmania:

“Bush fires raged in many districts on Saturday night, and now that news is beginning to come in from outlying districts it appears that the actual damage done to property was greater than that caused by the big fire on Mount Wellington and others around the city. As was noted in yesterday’s Mercury, big fires raged on Saturday near the Carlton River, and a little further eastward, at Kellevie,… No less than five houses were burnt, in addition to a church, numerous outbuildings, barns, and their contents, besides a great deal of fencing…..”.

Following the bushfires the church was again rebuilt. Although there is no published record of its reopening, a brief report in the Mercury in April 1914 noted that:

“The Chief Health Officer forwarded the plans and specifications for a new church at Kellevie to replace the one destroyed by the recent bushfires, with the remarks of the chief sanitary inspector on certain alterations required”.

The rebuilt church, the fourth place of worship at Kellevie, was more closely associated with the Church of Christ and its former name “The Christians’ Chapel” was dropped.

The subsequent history of the Kellevie church is not well recorded although worship continued there until the 1950s or 1960s. Some time after its closure the Kellevie church was removed to Copping along with another church from Bream Creek. These buildings now make up part of the facilities of the Copping Christian Fellowship. The photograph accompanying this article shows the third church built in 1895 which replaced the chapel built only four years earlier.

Kellevie Christian's Chapel (1902) Photograph posted by Joy Every in the Sorell Historical Society Facebook Group, 13 April 2020. Photographer not stated.

The remains of the baptismal pool which was accessed through the floor of the church. Photograph supplied by Tony Clifford

The site of the church. Photograph supplied by Tony Clifford

The Kellevie church and hall, circa 1960. Photograph courtesy of Lionel Williams

The settlement of the insurance claim for the destruction of the chapel in an arson attack in 1895 was settled in a matter of days. Source: Mercury, 13 February 1895

Stephen Cheek - Source: A.B. Maston (1894) Truth in Love

Stephen Cheek's memorial at Warwick Cemetery, Queensland. 


Mercury, Tuesday 20 May 1879, page 3
Mercury, Thursday 18 September 1879, page 2
Mercury, Tuesday 23 September 1879, page 3
Tasmanian News, Tuesday 25 June 1889, page 2
Mercury, Wednesday 14 January 1891, page 4
Mercury, Monday 21 September 1891, page 3
Mercury, Tuesday 5 February 1895, page 3
Mercury, Friday 8 February 1895, page 4
Mercury, Wednesday 20 March 1895, page 3
Mercury, Saturday 17 August 1895, page 3
Mercury, Tuesday 17 February 1914, page 5
Mercury, Monday 13 April 1914, page 2
Mercury, Friday 1 April 1921, page 6
Mercury, Wednesday 21 August 1929, page 13

Haywood, Harold E., The Invasion of Bream Creek, Churches of Christ, New South Wales, Occasional Papers in History and Theology, July 2011.

Maston, AB ed.1894 Truth in Love (excerpts from Cheek's publication), Austral Publishing


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