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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Parkwood Chapel

Thomas and Eliza Southwell and their two small children (Thomas and Mary Ann) arrived in Australia in 1838 from Robertsbridge, Sussex, and they first settled at Cobbitty near Camden. In 1840 they established themselves on the Ginninderra Creek and their first residence was shown as Palmerville. Thomas and Eliza were Wesleyans and brought their religion into this area. Bible readings and family prayers were held in the home twice a day and Thomas began reading sermons in his home. It was not long before neighbours, often walking long distances, came to hear these sermons and gather on the Sabbath. By 1848 regular services were being held at "Southwells". Local preachers travelled long distances to conduct services. On 20 May 1852 Thomas' wife Eliza died after the birth of their 9th child. In April 1853 Thomas married a widow Mary Croxton and brought her, and her two small daughters, into his home at Ginninderra Creek.

In 1854 Thomas purchased the 987 acres of land which he named Parkwood after the wood near his home village of Robertsbridge in Sussex. He built a home higher up from the creek and soon regular services were being held in the Parkwood home. Initially the minister conducted services once a month and by 1861 services were held each Sunday at 11 o'clock. In 1863 Thomas himself built the present Parkwood home and, as the homestead had become too small for the increasing congregation, he gave a 99 year lease of 20 perches of land for a church site near the homestead. On this site Thomas built a lined wooden slab church with a boarded floor and bark roof using voluntary labour which included family, neighbours and friends. The church was ready for occupation by June 1863.

To cope with the ever-increasing congregation of this flourishing district, this first wooden church had to be enlarged. In 1861, as part of the Robertson Land Act, holdings became available in the parishes of Ginninderra, Weetangera and Wallaroo, with the result that the eldest sons and their families, who had remained near the old home, selected land for themselves and gradually moved away. With the removal from Parkwood of so many families, the congregations were naturally depleted. As the wooden church was showing signs of deterioration, Thomas decided to build a new church. The slab church was demolished and the new stone building erected on the same site. The proportions were smaller than the previous building. A fine substantial stone structure with shingle roof, which Thomas had built at his own expense, is what still stands today.

The foundation stone was laid with some ceremony, though it carried no inscription, the stonemason carefully cleaned and polished his tradesman's trowel on this auspicious occasion. Mrs. Mary Southwell, very suitably attired for the notable day in black silk taffeta, gently tapped the stone into place on the right hand corner of the building and declared it "well and truly laid to the Glory of God".

Thomas Southwell was regarded as the founder of Methodism in the district. By 1880 his health was beginning to cause his family much anxiety. When the church was completed, Thomas, who had suffered a paralytic stroke, performed the opening ceremony from a wheelchair. On 31 May 1881 Thomas Southwell died after a long and painful illness, at the age of 68 years. He was laid to rest in the Weetangera Methodist Cemetery. The final church service was held in the Parkwood Church in 1906, however a number of weddings have been held in the chapel since then.

Since 1906 the Southwell family has gathered at Parkwood on a number of occasions. On 23 and 24 January 1938 hundreds of Southwells came to Parkwood to celebrate the centenary of Thomas and Eliza's arrival in Australia. The centenary of the building of the chapel was celebrated with a large outdoor church service in November 1980. On 2 April 1994 a service was held there by the Southwell Society to celebrate the 1993 restoration of the chapel. An Open Day was held in November 2010 when over 90 family members took the opportunity to inspect the latest restoration.


At some time before 1938 the shingle roof was replaced by corrugated iron. The chapel has also been restored twice for its preservation. In 1993 the chapel was restored with the aid of a $15,000 Grant from the Commonwealth Government National Estates Grants Program on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of NSW. The work was done at a cost of $18,827, the balance of the cost being donated by family members and the Southwell Society. A licensed builder carried out the work under the direction of a Restoration Architect.

The weathered original window frames were replaced. Cement was placed into the cracks in the walls, the finials were replaced and the chapel painted. In 2010 the chapel was again restored. Southwell Family Society volunteers spent 300 hours and $2,291 in materials on the work. The chapel was built with no foundations and the drought had caused large cracks to appear in the building both inside and out. The Society received a Heritage Grant from the Yass Valley Council of $3,655 to help defray the costs. This allowed the Society to also construct a compostable toilet near the chapel in 2012. The two back corners and back wall were underpinned. Inside and outside cracks were filled with a mix of mortar and cement. The interior walls were painted as were the windows (inside and outside) and the door. Decking oil was painted onto the floorboards. The finials were re-attached to the top fascia boards and a new cement slab added at the foot of the steps. Some damaged timber was repaired on the window frames and the front door step. The door frame had some weathered timber replaced. A professional painter was employed to paint the high fascia boards.

In 1989 the chapel, the 1863 homestead and surrounds were placed on the Register of the National Estate and they are on several other heritage registers as well. The chapel stands on privately owned land and is maintained by the Southwell Family Society with the owner's consent.

Parkwood: Laying the Foundation Stone of a New Wesleyan Church

"On Thursday afternoon the interesting ceremony of laying the chief cornerstone of a new Wesleyan Church, at Parkwood, Ginninderra, was conducted in the presence of a goodly number of persons. The structure is being erected at the sole expense of Thos. Southwell, Esq., J.P., who may be regarded as the father and founder of the congregation. The plans were prepared by Mr Thomas Jordan of Queanbeyan, and the contractor is Mr Sanders Helman, of this town. The building, though small, is of dimensions quite equal to the requirements of the locality. It is plain, but neat in style, with a porch entrance, surmounted by a small spire. The material employed in the construction of its walls is hard granite. The site is that of the old wooden church, which since the year 1863 has accommodated the congregation; and forms a portion of the Parkwood Estate, near the homestead, on the slopes of the Ginninderra Creek, and the building, with its surroundings of dwelling house, outhouses, gardens, and extensive cultivated lands, facing the lofty mountains of the Upper Murrumbidgee, forms a scene charming for the picturesqueness of its effects.

The proceedings commenced about 4 p.m., were invested with special interest. Conspicuous amongst the little group, was Mr Thomas Southwell himself, who, we were glad to note, had considerably rallied from his recent alarming attacks of illness. By his side was his amiable wife, and gathered around him were his children and children's children, with a few others not connected with the family. Standing on its end, ready to be deposited in its place, was the corner stone, which was about to be laid with befitting religious ceremony. In a cavity beneath lay a glass bottle containing the papers and records referred to elsewhere in this notice. On the stone lay a great well-worn Bible, and a copy of Wesley's Hymns. The Rev. R.W. Orton took up this hymn book and gave out from its pages C. Wesley's version of the 100th Psalm, which was sung by the gathered congregation with well-trained voices and in excellent harmony. Then the minister prayed for the blessing of the Great Architect of the universe on the undertaking thus inaugurated.

After reading an appropriate Psalm he read from the Wesleyan Advocate of the 2nd October, a lengthy and well-written notice of the proposed structure, which also reviewed the history of the Church at Parkwood for the past 35 years. Mr John Gale, at Mr Orton's request, then read the following copy of the document deposited in the stone, viz.:- In the year 1863, a slab chapel was erected by Mr Thomas Southwell, at Parkwood – size, 30 feet x 12 feet (afterwards lengthened) on half an acre of land dedicated by Mr Southwell to the Wesleyan Methodist Church on a lease for 99 years, to be held in trust by the following members of the Wesleyan Church and congregation at Parkwood, and their successors, for the purposes and in accordance with the terms of the Model Deed of the said Wesleyan Church viz., Alfred Bembrick, John Boyd, John Cooke, Thos. Hutton, Wm. E. Percy, Edward Smith, John Southwell sen., Mark Southwell, William Southwell, Samson Southwell, Samuel Southwell, and Philip Williams.

The above-named slab building having become in course of years unfit for use, has been removed, and is now to be replaced on the same site with a substantial building of stone, to be erected by Thomas Southwell, Esq., Justice of the Peace, in grateful acknowledgement of a gracious Providence to him and his family during the many years residence here, and recognising for himself and family, and society, the importance of maintaining throughout these lands the public worship of Almighty God, 'for righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.' The building is being erected as a place in which to worship God, and for the public preaching of his glorious gospel of love to all men, as revealed in the Bible, and according to the standards of the Wesleyan Methodist Church and under the directions and rules of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference. This paper, with a copy of the Wesleyan Advocate of October 2, 1880, containing a brief history of Methodism at Parkwood, and a copy of the Queanbeyan Age newspaper of the 8th instant, and a copy of the Circuit Plan, to be carefully enclosed in a bottle, and therein deposited in the cavity of a stone in the west corner of the foundation; the said corner stone being to be duly laid by Mary, wife of Thomas Southwell, Esq., aforesaid, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, on this 9th day of December, 1880, in the 43rd year of the reign of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, His Excellency Lord Loftus being Governor of New South Wales; Rev. W. Kelynack, D.D., President of NSW and Queensland Conference; Rev. Fras. Tait, Chairman of the Goulburn District; Rev. R. W. Orton, Superintendent Minister of the Queanbeyan Circuit; Messrs Samuel Taylor and Samson Southwell, Circuit Stewards; contractor for the works, Mr Saunders Helman, of Queanbeyan. (Signed) R.W. Orton Thomas Southwell Witness John Gale, Ed. Q. Age. Parkwood, Queanbeyan Circuit, Thursday, 9th Dec. 1880.

The Rev. Mr Orton at this stage of the proceedings, called upon Mrs Southwell, wife of Mr Thomas Southwell, J.P., to formally lay the stone in its appointed place. Mrs Southwell, having been handed a suitable trowel, spread the mortar, and with the assistance of a workman lowered the stone upon the cavity, bedded it in its place, and in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, declared the stone well and truly laid. Mr Orton then addressed the congregation in language well adapted to the occasion. He spoke of the piety and liberality of Mr Southwell in providing both the ground and the church at his own private cost, and how in a small way he had thus followed the example of David and Solomon on the building of the Great Temple at Jerusalem; and expressed a hope that, as the old building had been the birthplace of souls, and a place of spiritual comfort and edification to many for years past, so he trusted the new church would excel the glory and grace of the former in these respects.

Referring to the liberality of Mr Southwell, he said there was no need for money to be laid on the stone to carry on to completion the building about to be erected. But he would take the opportunity of reminding them that the circuit was in debt, and that the stipend fund was not equal to the demands made upon it from quarter to quarter. It was now drawing to the close of the year and it was very desirable that the accounts should be balanced. One or two gentlemen had liberally contributed to this object, and he appealed to those present as well as to the church in the whole circuit, to make an effort, which they could well do in a prosperous season like the present, and clear off the debt.

Mr Gale was then asked to say a few words. He complied. It was late, and as some of them had to go long distances, he would not detain them long. Six-and-twenty years ago that month he first visited them. Some of those present were not then born; others of them, then ruddy boys and tiny girls, were now heads of families. Their venerable friend Mr Southwell, was then in his prime; he (the speaker) but a young man. Time had wrought great changes. A large population and a large congregation, as well as the old church, had come and gone in the mean time. He was glad to say that so far, death had but little to do in dispersing the people. They had gone further away to make homes for themselves, and carry with them the germs of that piety which had been inculcated in them here. He trusted, notwithstanding his recent severe illness, that Mr Southwell would be spared to see the completion of the new church, and to fullness of years beyond, and that the church for generations to come might prove a blessing to the neighbourhood. After a few words from Mr Southwell, the Doxology and Benediction terminated the proceedings."

[Queanbeyan Age, 11 December 1880, p.2]

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