Mary Ann Denison died 3rd October 1879 Age 14 years. Also has been known as: New Forth Methodist, Wesleyan Forth
The following was published in the press many years ago and is a copy of a paper read to the Forth Methodist C. E. Society by the late Mr. C. H. Wellard. This is probably the only record of early Methodist history and numerous requests have been made that it again be published.
In trying to give any account of early Methodism, in what is now the Forth and Ulverstone circuit, one cannot help going outside the present boundaries of this circuit, as for many years in the early days this district had its head quarters part time at Mersey (now Devonport) and part of Latrobe, though from the beginning Forth gave proof of its importance as a Methodist centre.
The first religious services held on the North West Coast were conducted by Congregationalists, who commenced in 1844, and continued irregularly until the appointment of Rev. E. P. Adams in 1857 and gradually spread to other parts.
The first Wesleyan Methodist service is believed to have been conducted by a Mr. Brown, a local preacher from England, whose son, Rev. Robert Brown, was afterwards in the Methodist Ministry and spent a term in the old Mersey circuit. Mr. Brown Sen., was connected with the coalmines at Don, and began his work in 1853. The Rev. Ed. McClare was the next prominent figure in the Methodist circuit. In 1853 he came to the Mersey, being brought there for religious work by Messrs. David Cocker and C. Dean.
The first Methodist minister to be appointed to the Mersey circuit was Rev. Lough, who came in 1857 and took charge of the work for a few months. From the time Mr. Brown Sen. Arrived in 1853 regular Methodist services were conducted at Don Coal mines, Tarleton, Forth Beach and Don Saw Mills, by Messrs. John Denney, Robert Locke and I Cartledge. These three laymen are lovingly remembered by old friends for their earnest and faithful work, especially when they supplied the various places with religious services for some time without a resident minister. Frequently they walked 30 miles on the Sunday to fill their appointments. On one occasion Mr. Denney had a narrow escape for his life by slipping off a log which bridged a stream which he had to cross. He was carried down by the current, but was saved by clutching the branch of an overhanging tree.
Mr. Denny was a man of remarkable gift, a good preacher, true to his appointments under all changes of weather and was loved by all who knew him. He had also a very good knowledge of medicine and surgery and was ever ready to do his best in all cases of sickness. Mr. Locke was a fine type of preacher and a man of many gifts. Mr. Cartledge is remembered as an educated man, quiet and earnest in his work and highly esteemed by all who knew him. These men are worthy of special remembrance, as they stuck to their work amid exceptional difficulties arising from absence of roads, distances to travel and being left to work the circuit without a ministerial head.
Another name that comes from the early days is that of Mr. Von Bibra. His name appears in the list of those attending the second quarterly meeting of which there is any record. It is a privilege to have had his acquaintance. He was a Methodist of the good old type and kept his light shining everywhere he went. As to what is now the Forth and Ulverstone circuit, the first service on record was held in the house of Mr. James Brown, of Forth Beach, the father of Revs. Ralph and J. J. Brown. The service was to have been taken by Mr. Locke, but he missed the track. In his absence a sermon was read by Mr. Mulligan. This Mr. Mulligan was the first choir leader at Forth and leader of the singing, striking the tune on his tuning fork. These circumstances happened in 1856.
There were four other places supplied with occasional week-night services during the Rev. R. O. Cooke's time in 1860 -61. They were Leven, Gawler, Kindred and West Forth and eventually they got regular Sunday services, the latter place being the head of the Forth circuit.
During the Rev. R. O. Cooke's time the late Mr. Thomas Trebilcock was send down to Penguin to report on the advisability of commencing services there. In the morning he preached in a cottage, in the afternoon in a hut, at the back of Mr. Russell's and in the evening at Mr. Kidd's house. From 1864 regular services were held in a dwelling house close to the silver mines led to the discontinuance of the services.
The Leven services were first held in a dwelling at Gravel Hill (about one mile and a half from the present town of Ulverstone) occupied by Mr. D. Lines. Afterwards the old Primitive Methodist Church stood on the opposite side of the road. Then the services were held in a rough building, which, for this sake of convenience had the partition knocked out. This was the much talked of "Rats Castle." The next place for services was at Mr. Stratton's residence, where regular services were held until a weatherboard building was erected. Some years later it was blown down and the present substantial building was put up on the same site.
Services at Gawler (now Castra Road) were first held in the house of Mr. Henry Burt and afterwards in that of Mr. Stephen Crawford, who was a good friend to the church. The seats of this place were made of wood blocks on end, with boards on them. These services were commenced in 1866 and continued until the erection of the church on land purchased from Mr. D. McGuire. The first building was enlarged and is now a comfortable building, with an iron roof.
The services at Kindred were commenced by Rev. R. O. Cooke about 1860, Mr. John Arnold's residence being the home of the congregation, until a church was erected in 1865, on land given by the Arnold family, but through an unfortunate oversight of the lawyer it had to be bought dearly afterwards for about 30 pounds. Like other places in the circuit, the building became too small for the congregations and had to be enlarged until in Rev. May's time a new church was erected.
There were some notable men at Kindred in the early days. The Arnold family were all remarkable for the interest they took in church life and work. The six sons were all active workers in the church, either class leaders, prayer leaders of local preachers. There was another Arnold, Harry, whose equal was rarely met with, full of fire, bold as a lion, with a ready word for his Master on all occasions. There was dear old "Father Riggs," as he was lovingly called and his wife, "Aunt Ann," together with many others too numerous to mention.
The first services at West Forth were held at Mr. Bonnar's house and afterwards at Mr. Hipper's, now occupied by Mr. Thomas Oliver. When Mr. Bonnar's new coffee palace was erected the services were held there and continued there for upwards of seven years. In the year 1875 a church was built. The opening service was conducted by Revs. R. Philp, C. Saunders and J. White. In a few years the church had to be enlarged. Reference should be made to the two revivals, of which Forth Beach may be regarded as the starting point and center, though its influence extended far beyond the borders of the circuit. The first revival was in Rev. Cooke's time in 1860-61, and the second in Rev. T. G. Heywood's time in 1865-66 Those were very stirring times and it has been specially noted that in what was called Cooke's revival, almost the entire number of those converted continued steadfast in the faith to the end of their life's journey.
It may be interesting to give a list of the ministers who worked the circuit, although the list may not be quite complete. They were: