No. 1440 - Hobart - Murray Street - 'Wesleyan Free Church' (1855-1869)

A ‘Wesleyan Free Church’ that was built in Upper Murray Street in 1855 was the predecessor of the ‘Ebenezer Chapel’ which replaced it in 1869. This article investigates the establishment of the Wesleyan Free Church in Hobart and the construction of its first place of worship at Hobart.

The ‘Wesleyan Free Church’ was the original name of a new religious denomination later known as the United Free Methodist Church. Founded in Hobart, further churches were established at Wynyard, Burnie and Penguin. The church was formally established in Hobart on 11 December 1854. The distinguishing features of the “Free Church” were circuit autonomy and and freedom to be represented in the Methodist Assembly by whichever minister or layman the congregation elected. This represented an attempt to unite Methodist “connexionalism” with Congregationalism. The Hobart church was associated with the Wesleyan Reform Churches in England.

The Free Church initially met in the rooms of the Upper Murray Street Infant School. In early 1855 plans were made to build a weatherboard church adjoining the Infant School. The building was officially opened on Sunday 7 October 1855 and was followed by a public meeting and fundraising ‘tea meeting’ held on Tuesday of the same week. The opening was reported by the Colonial Times:

“The new place of worship in Murray-street, in connexion with the Wesleyan Free Church, was opened for divine service last Sunday, when sermons were preached to numerous congregations, that in the morning by the Rev. Kerr Johnston, (Baptist minister)… And that in the evening by the Rev. George Clarke, (Independent)…The collections, notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather amounted to upwards of £8….”.

A lengthier report concerning the public meeting held on Tuesday was also published in the Colonial Times:

“Last Evening the Public Meeting on occasion of the opening of the place of worship, connected with the Wesleyan Free Church, took place in the new building, Murray street, adjoining the infant school. The interior was tastefully decorated with floral devices, among which was one that attracted much attention, occupying the whole length of one of the walls. This was the production of one of the ladies of the church, and was as follows: "Who hath despised the day of small things." After tea, to which about one hundred and thirty friends sat down, the business was commenced by singing hymn…”.

“The Church Steward…read the statement, which….alluded to the circumstances under which the church had been formed, the purchase of the property, the erection of the building, and the principles of voluntaryism on which the church was founded. There were twenty-two members, and seven on trial, and six acceptable unpaid ministers. In the Sabbath school 159 children had been admitted from the commencement, and the average attendance was given at 50. There were six male and four female teachers, besides three visitors. Reference was made to the liberality of members of various denominations in contributing to the building fund…”

“The Rev. Dr. Fry….briefly addressed the meeting, expressing his gratification at being present, and his sympathy in the erection of a new place of worship, where, he had no doubt, the simple truths of the gospel would be proclaimed. He repudiated any feeling of opposition to the cause, and expressed the esteem he entertained for the Wesleyans generally…..The Chairman stated that he had known the operation of the voluntary principle in South Australia, in contrast with the previous system of State grants….”.

In 1868 control of the church and its land was transferred to 12 trustees who administered the property for the benefit of the United Free Methodist Churches. The trustees were named as: James Smart; Peter Facy; Hubert Arnold; John Deakes; George Peacock; William Andrews; Robert Grey; James Gabriel; Elwin Pigeon; Thomas Rule; Robert McGough and John Rothwell.

In 1869 a new church, known as the Ebenezer Chapel, was built in front of the old weatherboard church. It is not known how long the original church remained standing before it was demolished. A photograph of the 1856 weatherboard church has not been found. The photograph used in this article shows the the Infant School (which became the Murray Street Free School in 1872) that was used for the Free Church’s Sunday school.

The history of the Ebenezer Chapel will be the subject of a future article.

Notice of the opening of the church and of a public meeting. (Colonial Times)

The Murray Street Infant School, which became the Murray Street Free School in 1872. Free Church Sunday school classes were held in the building. St Mary's Cathedral and convent school can be seen in the background. The original weatherboard church was located on the right side of the building. Photo: Libraries Tasmania - cropped copy. Item number: NS1013/1/400 - E.R. Pretyman Collection

The Ebenezer Chapel which replaced the original church in 1869. Photograph:


The Hobart Town Advertiser, Monday 18 December 1854, page 3
The Hobarton Mercury, Friday 5 October 1855, page 3
Colonial Times, Tuesday 9 October 1855, page 3
Colonial Times, Wednesday 10 October 1855, page 2
The Courier, Wednesday 10 October 1855, page 3
Mercury, Friday 16 July 1869, page 3
Mercury, Saturday 4 May 1872, page 2
Mercury, Wednesday 1 November 1899, page 2


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