1372 - Lower Turners Marsh - Wesleyan Methodist Church (1886-1888) "Disastrous Dissension"

Lower Turners Marsh is a rural location north east of Launceston centred around the junction of the Pipers River and Bangor Roads. The development of Lower Turners Marsh progressed with the establishment of a slate mine at neighbouring Bangor in the 1870s.

In 1884 the construction of a church at Lower Turners Marsh was proposed by John Thomason, an itinerant Methodist preacher. Thomason was a Shetlander who had started life as a sailor. Following his arrival in Tasmania he worked as a carpenter, mine manager, orchardist and a missionary. Thomason was successful in establishing several Methodist churches in the Greater Launceston region including Underwood, Patersonia and Lisle. In April 1884 the Launceston Examiner reported:

“Mr Thomason…was at present labouring at Lisle, and lately they had a little success there….He appealed to the Launceston people for help in the matter of educating the children in his district. He was also, he said, trying to raise funds to build a church at the Bangor Slate Quarries. This church, on week days, would be used as a school”.

The proposed Bangor church was the same building mentioned in a report in the Daily Telegraph concerning a church planned for Lower Turners Marsh on a site north the slate quarry:

“New Wesleyan Church at Turner’s Marsh (North). — A meeting, adjourned from February 12, for the purpose of deciding upon the best and most expeditious means of establishing a school and Wesleyan Church combined in the northern part of Turner's Marsh, was held at Mr John Freeman's residence on March 10, when the following gentlemen were present : — Messrs. John Thomason (chairman), J. Barrett, sen., J. Barrett, jun., Joseph Gee, George Marsden, Jas. M'Kennan, George Richardson, James Warren, Joseph Aldred, John Freeman".

"It was decided that the school and church be amalgamated, and that the piece of Government land adjoining Messrs. Freeman and Knight's residences be applied for purchase. It was also decided that a local school board be elected of not less than five members. The building in question will be 35ft long, 20ft broad, with stone or slate foundation, and roofed with slate, and when completed will present a rather neat appearance. The site upon which the church is to be erected will be applied for at once, and it is expected, in a few months' time the building, which will cost about £150, will be ready for use. The meeting was then adjourned till April 1. Turner's Marsh is gradually increasing in regard to population, and already we learn that a daily average of from 30 to 40 children can be got together, but up to the present no school has been provided for them. We hope the philanthropic effort put forth by the above gentleman will be soon carried into effect”.

About 18 months were to pass before the church opened. A fundraising tea meeting was held on Monday 24 May, a week before the church’s official opening a week later. The Launceston Examiner published a brief account of the event:

“The tea-meeting to celebrate the opening of the new Wesleyan Church near Bangor was held on the 24th, when there was a fairly good attendance. On the following evening they had a coffee supper, and despite the bad weather, about 34 or 35 put in an appearance. It is rather a new way to hold the tea-meeting a week before the actual opening of the church. The Rev. H. Saloway, from Launceston, preached appropriate sermons morning and evening to fair congregations”.

The next report about the church concerns a rather astonishing public notice about the building’s auction, published in the Daily Telegraph in October 1887. The auction was to take place on the instruction of Mr John Freeman, one of the church’s trustees. The property was described as:

“15 acres 38 perches of land situated at Lower Turner’s Marsh, 18 miles from town, upon which is erected a building, formerly used as a Wesleyan chapel, adjoining property occupied by proprietor. Building, 34x20, built of weatherboard and shingle”.

It appears that the property was not sold for in the following year the church was the subject of a court case concerning the non-payment of the contractor for its construction. The details of the case which was held at the Supreme Court in August 1888 were published in the Launceston Examiner. In a subsequent article the Examiner commented on the unfortunate outcome of the case:

“The issue of the case Freeman v. Thomason,… furnishes a salutary lesson. The Judge… had no other course than to record what morally appeared to be a harsh decision against the defendant. The Wesleyan Society at Lower Turners Marsh some years ago decided to have a church erected, and at that time the defendant…was in charge of the society as home missionary. He personally entered into a contract, of course merely as the mouthpiece of the society, with the plaintiff, a young man, to do certain work in connection with the erection. The folly of the contract consisted in its being made without…any definite understanding as to rate of remuneration for the plaintiff, and, worse than all, without the distinct understanding that the society would furnish the means….The details of the case illustrate how a good cause may be disastrously hindered by the unhappy dissensions which frequently obtain in religious societies in small communities. It appeared that at a society meeting held at the residence of Mr. Freeman, the plaintiff’s father, it was decided to have a church, and the latter took an active part in the matter".

"The idea was to secure a piece of Crown land upon instalment payments, but for a time the matter seems to have slumbered. With what motive it did not transpire, but it seems Freeman, sen., secured the plot of land for himself, and as stated Mr. Thomason gave Freeman's son the order to build. It seems a mystery that the society should proceed to build without having the site secured to them, and the judgement virtually gives Freeman, sen., the land, church, and pays his son for its erection into the bargain. It seems anomalous how such an unbusinesslike proceeding could have been negotiated. It may be hoped, however, that the Wesleyan Society will not allow the burden of responsibility to fall exclusively on the shoulders of Mr. Thomason. It was stated that the elder Freeman imposed such terms for the conveyance of the property as the society could not accept, and they have the mortification of having to pay for a structure to which they have no right. The unfinished edifice stands a monument of unfortunate and disastrous dissension”.

The motive for Freeman’s intention of buying the land from under the Wesleyan’s is not known. However Freeman was clearly stung by the negative publicity he received from the outcome of the case. In a letter to the Examiner Freeman claimed:

"On three occasions I verbally offered Mr. Briggs, Wesleyan missionary, the land and buildings, stating I did not want a single farthing profit on it. I also offered the same in writing in December, 1887, and to Mr. Greenwood, Wesleyan missionary”.

To this the Examiner responded:

We know that the matter is an unhappy complication, and would urge conciliatory measures in its settlement”.

No further reports of the Lower Turners Marsh church appear in the press thus it may be assumed that the Wesleyans abandoned the unfinished building having used it for only a matter months. However, in the 1890s there are several references to the Wesleyan Methodists holding irregular services in adjacent Bangor in an existing building purchased for use as a church. This building was also used by the Salvation Army Corps from Lilydale.

In the 1920s and 1930s numerous reports of Methodist services at Lower Turners Marsh appear in the Examiner but these were likely held in the local State school. I have not established the exact location of the 1886 church built on Freeman’s property or what became of the building.

 Daily Telegraph, Thursday 27 May 1886

Daily Telegraph, Monday 24 May 1886

Daily Telegraph, Saturday 22 October 1887


Daily Telegraph, Thursday 13 March 1884, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 22 April 1884, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 20 May 1886, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Monday 24 May 1886, page 1
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 27 May 1886, page 1
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 3 June 1886, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Saturday 22 October 1887, page 1
Daily Telegraph, Saturday 11 August 1888, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Monday 13 August 1888, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 28 August 1888, page 2
Tasmanian, Saturday 25 July 1891, page 23
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 14 June 1892, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 2 April 1925, page 8
Examiner, Friday 28 March 1930, page 5
Examiner, Friday 27 March 1931, page 14
Examiner, Tuesday, 2 April 1931, page 5


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