No. 1408 - Sheffield - The Union Church (1866)

Sheffield is a country town in northern Tasmania approximately 25 kilometres south of Devonport. The area was explored by the surveyor Nathaniel Kentish in 1842 who was trying to find a route from Deloraine through to the north west coast. The area was subsequently opened up to settlement and by 1862 plots of land had been sold and the settlement of Sheffield had been named.

Sheffield’s first church was a ‘union church’ built in 1866 on a site close to the Uniting Church on Main Street. In 1865 a meeting was held at Powlett’s Hotel concerning the establishment of a non-denomination church. It was intended that the church be used by the Methodist, Independent, Baptist and the Anglican communities.

There is no report of the church’s official opening in December 1866 however a detailed description of the first anniversary service and tea meeting was published in the Cornwall Chronicle. This is a useful source of information about the church and also provides details about its origins:

“The first Anniversary of this Chapel was held on Sunday the 15th instant, when two excellent sermons were preached by the Rev. Andrew Inglis, of Torquay, Wesleyan Minister; the congregations were good, and marked attention was paid to each discourse. On Monday, the 16th instant, the Annual Tea Meeting was held. The Chapel was most tastefully adorned in the interior with ferns and wild flowers of various descriptions, presenting a pleasing aspect…The tea tables were profusely supplied with the good things of this life… A large number of people came from different localities — from Westbury, Deloraine, Torquay, Latrobe, Red Water Creek, and all parts of the immediate neighbourhood, in drays, dogcarts, on horseback, and on foot”.

“Men, women, and children, all intent upon a day's pleasure, and they had it….The tea over, and the tables cleared, the Public Meeting commenced, and the Chapel was soon filled. A hymn was sung, and a fervent prayer offered by Mr. Pulleyne, senr., who was afterwards unanimously called upon to preside on the occasion, which call he readily responded to, and delivered a most telling and instructive address, which all, by their deep attention, seemed to appreciate much, coming as it did from one whose whole life has been spent in preaching the everlasting Gospel of Christ; …”.

“Mr. George Parke, of Railton, was next called upon, and in his address referred to the fact of so commodious a place of worship being erected in so short a space of time, and in a district which, not more than eight years ago was almost without inhabitants….He also referred to the fact of a large number of families being located all around, and stated what a privilege it was that they, although of different sects, could meet and worship the same God, Sabbath after Sabbath….”

“It may not be known to all that this place of Worship was built by private subscriptions, collected by the indefatigable exertions of Mr. Pulleyne, senr., and several ladies. Among the munificent donors is Henry Hopkins, Esq., of Hobart Town, who never was in the township; but, he is well known throughout this and the other Colonies as a good Christian, and a princely benefactor. Mr W. Gibson, Esq., of Perth, kindly gave £10 towards it, and many others contributed more or less, according to their ability. A Day and Sunday School is also connected with this building, ably conducted by Mr. Pulleyne, junr. Both these institutions are in a very prosperous condition, considering the short period of there existence”.

“The Ministerial duties are performed alternately by the Wesleyan, Independent, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Primitive Methodist Ministers, and the worshippers are composed of members of each of the sects referred to; and this is the only Chapel in existence, for many miles round. It is also pleasing to notice the harmony and good feeling that exists…”..

Not only was the church used as a “preaching place” for the town’s Protestant denominations, it was Sheffield’s first public school-room and was also used as a Sunday school as well as for concerts and general public meetings. By the time of the construction of a Methodist church (1882) and a Baptist church (1891) at Sheffield, the old union church was no longer used for religious services.

A report in 1890 mentions that “the old structure is now in its dotage, being propped up, and very dilapidated” but “is still occasionally used”.

In 1894 is was suggested that the old church “might be repaired and made to serve for a library”. By 1910 the building was still standing and used as a “citizen’s hall”. A correspondent writing in the North West Post recollected:

“The Sheffield of to-day is vastly different from that of 1864, the time that it received most of its first residents. At that time there were only about three places in the town. The first erected was on the site at present occupied by Ford's Hotel, and was only a shanty used for the purpose of selling drink, meat, groceries, and in fact anything. This home was kept by a person named John Powlett. Sometimes religions services were held in it. The other building, also of weatherboard, was the watchhouse, just over what is known as Watchhouse Creek, the resident constable being the now well-known and popular Superintendent Driscoll. There was another home (still standing) near where the Baptist Tabernacle now is, and was occupied by a man named Harris, commonly known as "Snobby" Harris. A little later, about 1867, the Rev. Jesse Pullen came about once a quarter and held divine services, and through his instrumentality the building known now as the Citizens' Hall was built, and used for a Union Church. The old frame of the building is the same, but the outside boards have been replaced by new ones. The committee of this church was John Powlett, Edmund Lord, Ed. Powlett, Robert Manley, Chas. Coleman, and William Braid, and Mr Thos. Pullen, of Barrington, got the appointment of State school teacher, and opened the school in this church.”

In 1931 an article published in the Advocate concerning ‘Sheffield’s Pioneers’, written by H. Stuart Dove, suggested that the Citizen’s Hall “should be preserved for historic interest”. While his suggestion was not acted upon, the old church has survived more or less intact due its utility as a commercial premises, including a billiards room and honey processing room, the latter for about 50 years. More recently it has been the premises of and Ice Creamery and a Chinese restaurant and takeaway. This rather unremarkable building, apart its shopfront facade, is Sheffield’s oldest building. Hopefully it will survive and H. Stuart Dove’s suggestion back in 1931 that it be preserved, may be realised one day.

The old Union Church and Citizen's Hall. A shopfront was added to the hall many years ago. Image: Google street-view (2010) 


Launceston Examiner, Thursday 26 December 1867, page 3
Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 28 December 1867, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 5 July 1890, page 7
Launceston Examiner, Friday 13 July 1894, page 3
North West Post, Friday 21 January 1910, page 2
Advocate, Saturday 7 March 1931, page 7
Advocate, Saturday 21 March 1931, page 11
Advocate, Saturday 31 July 1937, page 6

Information provided Peter Sellars, Sheffield Tasmania, History, Photos, Memories (Facebook History Group), 6-10-2023


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