The day history was saved

The United Welsh Church at Blackstone in Ipswich regularly goes under when it floods. In fact, in the 1893 floods, which remains the worst in Queensland history, the water went up to the top windows and destroyed the organ and all the early church records.

That’s why I got permission to metal detect around the church, because I wanted to find something that predates those floods and hopefully replace some of the lost history. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

The church has a fascinating story. The congregation was started in 1883 by the Welsh coal miners who came to town. They decided that their Welsh nationality was more important than minor sectarian differences, and so they formed a United Welsh Church in which the services were spoken in the Welsh language.

They quickly outgrew the borrowed building they were in. And so thanks to the donation of land and the financial support of the local coal king Lewis Thomas, a new church was built in 1886 and that’s the one that’s there today.

Lewis Thomas

Thomas himself was a sturdy Welshman and one of the richest men in Queensland. It was his nearby mansion ‘Brynhyfryd’ that became known as the Blackstone Castle. It was demolished in 1937 because all his coal mines around and underneath it made it unsafe.

There are pieces of Thomas’s house in the church today. Such as a pair of etched glass and cedar doors just inside the entry, and a cedar fireplace that was converted into a Welsh pioneers and war memorial.

But all the original records from the church’s beginning are lost because of the floods. That’s why I put my Minelab metal detector to work.

It was in the first twelve inches of flood soil that I found historic coins. There was a halfpenny, pennies and a shilling, from as early as 1914. 

But it was below that in the harder, older ground that I started to find the historical relics that I was after.

Blackstone history saved by metal detecting

One thing I found was a wick feed from a big kerosene lamp that was big enough to light up the whole church. That means it predated electricity. It’s round with a slit in it for the wick to pass through. The maker’s mark on these lamps is on the end of the little knob that you turn, so without that you can’t be absolutely certain of the age. But the piece appears to be consistent with a lamp from the 1890s.

Deeper still, about eighteen inches down, I recovered something that’s probably from the very beginning of the church. It was a brass clasp from a pulpit bible. I’ve found these before and this one’s almost certainly from the 1880s.

What I found was the brass corner and the clasp that holds the bible closed. These bibles are really big, and typically have beautifully illuminated illustrations inside. And they were expensive. Back in the day, they were often given by wealthy benefactors to celebrate the opening of a church.

So there’s every chance that what I found wasn’t only from the original congregation, and used on the day that the church was opened in 1886, but that it was actually given and first used by the legendary Ipswich coal miner Lewis Thomas himself.

It was probably deposited there and left in situ by the infamous 1893 floods. You never knew what you might find until you look for history out there.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD ON RADIO.

Photo credits:
United Welsh Church Blackstone built 1886 – Harold Peacock 2018
Coal king Lewis Thomas Ipswich 1890s – Picture Ipswich
United Welsh Church Blackstone history saved – Harold Peacock 2022

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