Methodist Movement


Methodist church, Devonport (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

The Methodist Movement originated with John Wesley in England in the mid-eighteenth century and was characterised by evangelism and the methodical pursuit of holiness. The first Methodist sermon in Tasmania was preached in Hobart in 1820 by Benjamin Carvosso, who returned from Sydney to become from 1825 till 1830 the first minister of Wesley Church Hobart, with a long-lasting saintly influence. A 'society' was formed in Launceston in 1826, and by 1840 there were fourteen chapels around the two towns and in the midlands.

Methodism's lay preachers, itinerant ministry and emphasis on evangelism were well adapted to pioneer conditions, and the church grew rapidly from around 3 percent of the population in the 1840s to a plateau of between 15 and 18 percent from the 1890s to the 1950s. Methodism spread to the north-west in the 1850s, to the north-east in the 1870s, and to the mining towns of the west coast in the 1880s. Methodism found the east coast 'uncongenial'. However, there were few places in Tasmania that never experienced a Methodist meeting of some sort.

The Primitive Methodists began in Launceston in 1857 and were strongest in the north. Their camp meetings were well adapted to the working classes, and they sometimes did not feel well-accepted by the Wesleyans, who comprised about 80 percent of Methodists. Some towns had churches from both 'connexions'. The United Free Methodists had only a few churches.

Something of a revival in the north-west in the 1860s contributed to a doubling of adherents in the 1870s mirroring developments in Victoria and South Australia. Many lay preachers walked long distances in rough conditions and all weathers to isolated settlements and Sunday School halls in order to spread the gospel. By 1920 there were 157 churches and 70 other preaching places. The church was organised in circuits, with a central church plus several smaller churches in the same district. It was a foreign mission station of the British Wesleyan Conference until 1855, and then part of the Victoria/Tasmania conference. In 1902 there was union between all three Methodist groups. In 1977 Methodists joined the Congregational Church and most Presbyterians to form the Uniting Church.

Home missions were important, as were active women's guilds for overseas and home missions. Methodists were prominent in the temperance movement, and Christian Endeavour societies for young people were popular. More than 1000 Tasmanian Methodists went to the First World War. Methodists ran the influential Horton College for boys at Ross, 185593, and established the Methodist Ladies' College (now part of Scotch Oakburn) in Launceston in 1882. They were involved in the establishment of the women's college, Jane Franklin Hall, at the University in 1950. In aged care they established Aldersgate Home in Launceston, Strathaven in Berriedale, and Glenrowan in Perth. Turner's Beach Youth Camp was established in the 1950s, and also Bridport Conference Centre. Publications included the Tasmanian Methodist (incorporating earlier papers) 18931966, and the Spectator 193844, 197477.

Notable Methodists include Sergeant Waddy, a guard at Macquarie Harbour; GA Robinson the Aboriginal protector; Henry Reed, businessman and philanthropist; William Hart MLC; AE Solomon, Attorney-General and Premier; headmaster GG Pullen and Jonathan Best, MHAs.

Further reading: W Barns, A history of the Primitive Methodist connexion in Tasmania 18571902, [c 1965], AOT; C Dugan, A century of Tasmanian Methodism, 18201920, Hobart, 1920; M Stansall et al, Tasmanian Methodism 18201975, Launceston, 1975.

Elisabeth Wilson