Wesley Chapel turns 175

wesley tongan choirBy NIGEL TAPP

In the 1800s, the pious Methodists of the Wesley Chapel in Melville St, Hobart, certainly did not take kindly to their members partaking of alcohol.

In fact, imbibing saw more than one gentleman find himself not only mentioned in the church’s minutes for being drunk and disorderly, but having his membership ticket revoked.

Penance and personal piety had to be completed before the repentant miscreant was allowed back into fellowship.

But smoking, it seems, did not overly concern members. During World War I the men decided they needed a smoking room – free from women – in which to meet.

Thus, The Lodge was created, although it is not known how long smoking was in vogue or exactly where on the site The Lodge stood.

At the same time it was agreed women also needed a place to hold Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps meetings for ‘patriotic purposes’. Wesley offered their rooms for the women to meet. Of course, prominent men of the church presided over the meetings.

And, when 14-year-old Maria Burgess sang in the choir at the opening service for the Wesley Chapel in 1840, few attending could have imagined she would become the world renowned opera singer Madame Marie Carandini, who took the world by storm in the 1850s and 1860s.

These are just some of the stories which have come to light from Wesley museum’s extensive collection of papers and submissions throughout the years. They offers an insight into times past as the Wesley Chapel prepares to celebrate its 175th anniversary on 25 October.

With such a long history the church is one of the oldest continuous places of Christian worship in Tasmania, but it does not recognise the beginning of Methodism in Hobart.

In fact Methodism has been in existence on the same site since 1826, when the original Wesley Chapel, now Wesley Hall, was opened.

It came six years after Rev Benjamin Carvosso preached the first open air sermon from the Court House steps in Liverpool Street  which signalled the arrival of Wesleyan Methodism into the young colony.

Rev Carvosso later recalled that day: “At the time appointed many came together. I took my stand on the steps of the door having my congregation partly within and partly without. With the help of my wife Mrs Deborah Carvosso, I commenced the worship by singing part of one of our hymns, which I believe was the first time ever that singing was introduced into worship on the island. So we sang nearly alone, as might be expected.”

Located next to the existing chapel, the new place of worship – once described as a ‘cathedral of Methodism’ – was built at a cost estimated to be 4150 pounds. The foundation stone was laid by the Governor, Sir John Franklin, on 27 December 1837.

A state contribution of 700 pounds was much lower than originally offered. But a bazaar, and other appeals and loans from the public and support from the church in London meant the chapel was free from debt by 1849.

By any standard, the new chapel was considered an impressive building, with the capacity to seat 1100 people. The cedar pews were fitted with doors with painted numbers which allowed church trustees to identify the seats rented to particular families.

Front pews on both sides of the chapel provided extra space for families with children.

At the rear of the chapel several pews did not have doors and such seats were reserved for the ‘poor’.

A report in the Hobart Town Courier described it as a “rather out of the ordinary style of architecture and magnitude. It presents an attraction quite English in its appearance.”

“Usefulness, and not ostentation, being the order of the day with the Wesleyans, their places of worship seldom exhibit anything but what is exceedingly plain.

“But, as regards the new edifice in Melville St, the interior portion of it is fitted with a degree of elegance and beauty that is seldom surpassed.”

The opening service took place on 18 October 1840 and was timed to coincide with the arrival of the Wesleyan Mission brigantine, Triton, which had been in the South Pacific and arrived with many members from Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand Maoris.

What the Islanders made of Hobart in spring is not known but the weather would certainly have been much crisper than many would have been accustomed to at home.

It is known that the opening celebration lasted three days, with Sir John and Lady Franklin attending one of the services.

The text Rev Carvosso first preached on his arrival in 1820 was repeated as part of the celebrations. The verse from that text “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead and Christ shall give you light” (Ephesians 5:14) has become the church’s unofficial mission statement.

While ministers no longer visit people by horseback or deliver food by the crateful, Hobart Wesley still seeks to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged through its daily two-course lunch program, which operates from Monday to Friday.

The No Bucks Café menu prides itself on being all homemade, piping hot and served with a smile.

For some, the meal is their only decent feed for the day, while for others the human contact on offer is just as important as the tasty food.

From Monday to Thursday about 30 people will wander in during the two hours the cafe is open, but Friday’s barbecue can attract close to twice that number of people.

Also located on the Wesley site is the Wesley Heritage Museum, which houses one of the most significant collections of early Methodism in the Southern Hemisphere.

The collection is regarded by the National Library of Australia, Arts Tasmania and a small but knowledgeable Tasmanian museum community – as well as Methodist movement historians in England – as being of immense importance and significance.

There are large prints, photographs, bound copies of the Methodist Magazine (which are older than the founding of Hobart, colonial furniture, Staffordshire crockery and pottery and honour boards dotted throughout two downstairs rooms and a choir vestry above.

Even two original letters penned by John Wesley hang on a wall.

Supporting overseas mission work has been a passion for the congregants since the turn of the 20th century.

Between 1908 and the 1960s, The Ladies of Wesley created 11 editions of the Hobart Cookery Book, which was the most prominent cook book of its time. Recipes and home remedies – including the inhaling of turpentine for asthma and how to cook a kangaroo – were included.

Proceeds of the sale of the cookbooks went to the Methodist Overseas Missions Fund.

The Wesley Chapel’s 175th anniversary will be celebrated on Sunday 25 October commencing at 2pm. In keeping with tradition, Wesley will host a hymn fest featuring the Hobart Orpheus Choir, Tasmanian Chorale and Tasmanian Song Company. A Tongan soloist will also perform along with a Fijian group to honour Wesley’s South Pacific ties.  

Share Button



Comments are closed.