Last month we traced the life-story of John Coleman, the Father of Methodism in Kentish who in 1873 moved from Upper Barrington into Sheffield where his family had a 32-year connection with the Sheffield Post Office and greatly impacted the early township. 

This month we tell about John’s more ambitious, younger brother Charles Coleman & Ellen Coleman who also came from Barrington to Sheffield and had an even greater impact on early Sheffield.  

Chas Coleman (21) married Ellen Robertson (17) in the Wesleyan chapel, Westbury on 8 May 1862 and arrived in Barrington with two infant boys Wm (2) and Alfred (1). Charles built his hut on his 77acres block on the opposite side of the Barrington Road to his brother. They were the first two families in a contingent of Wesleyan settlers who spent their first five years holding Methodist meetings in John’s house. It was in John’s house in May 1869 that Charles Coleman with the help of Miss Annie Smith commenced the first Sunday school which continued until their first Methodist church opened in Dec 1870. Charles was very involved in planning for the first schoolhouse which he permitted to be built on his property opposite the church. Over the next ten years Charles and Ellen had 10 more children:  Ernest b1866, Charles Jrn b1867, Alexander & Ann (twins) b1869, Minnie & Linda (twins) b1871, Edward b1872, Norman & Oswald (twins) b1873 and Newell b1875. Not only did Charles & Ellen supply many pupils, it appears Charles was regular assistant at  the half-day school.

 1876 Charles takes over Sheffield School

When Sheffield’s school teacher Tom Pullen was transferred to the larger school at Sassafras at the beginning of 1873, a replacement teacher couldn’t be found, and Sheffield school forced to close for over two years. Eventually Charles Coleman offered to come to Sheffield and open it as a half-day school. Following a trial run towards the end of 1875, in Jan 1876 Coleman was officially appointed teacher and Charles & Ellen with their 12 children moved into Sheffield. At the end of the year, the school inspector reported that although Chas Coleman was not a qualified teacher, he had given general satisfaction and recommended he be retained for a further year. Because of the large increase in attendance at Sheffield, it became a fulltime school with Chas’ wife Ellen Coleman employed to help him. In May 1877 the Education Dept in Hobart requested a local Board of School Advice be established to oversee local matters regarding all schools in the Kentish district.  Those appointed were John Duff, John Hope, Edmund Lord, John McFarlane, Robert Manley, and Alexander Turnbull.

In Feb 1878 Hobart advised that they now had a proper qualified teacher available for Sheffield and Chas and Ellen Coleman were given six-week’s notice to finish up. This upset the Kentish Board of Advice and local parents who sent a signed petition requesting that the Colemans be allowed to stay. But the education department didn’t back down and in May 1878 Thomas Alexander (25) from Bothwell, replaced Chas Coleman as main teacher at Sheffield. However Alexander immediately applied for Mrs Ellen Coleman to become his female assistant, which she did for the next two years. 

1878 He Kick-starts the Town’s Development 

Sometime earlier, while still school teaching, Charles was made the local correspondent for the Examiner newspaper. So, on Boxing Day 1877, two weeks earlier alluvial gold had been found in the Minnow River he visited the site near Lower Beulah. Coleman’s glowing report entitled The Sheffield Gold Fields printed in the Examiner, described how 50 men had already arrived at ‘the diggings.’ This sensational news had its predictable response. Apart from scores of ‘hopefuls’ rushing to the Minnow River, it ignited a prospecting and mining boom across our back country and kick-started the first real developments within Sheffield township itself. 


Charles had already sold his farm in Barrington to his younger brother George Coleman and bought a 5-acre block next to the future school block on the corner of Main St. In Sep/Oct 1878 he purchased the two remaining blocks which meant Coleman now owned all the land on the northern side of Main St between the school block and Spring St, all blocks extending back to Albert St. Later still, he bought a further 3½ acre block along Spring St, now the site of the Jehovah Witness’ Kingdom Hall. Subdividing these large blocks into smaller house allotments, Charles built several houses, including own home at 101 Main St (opposite the Baptist church), plus a cooper’s shop and a butchers shop eventually sold to Ted Rees. 

As mentioned last month, it was during this same period (Nov 1878) that Isabella Coleman, wife of his older brother John tragically died of cancer aged 41, leaving behind 10 children. Their eldest daughter, Clara Coleman (17) had to replace her mother in the home and Sheffield PO. In the 1880s the two brothers John & Charles Coleman began to get significant road contract work throughout Kentish district. While John was the more reserved of the two, Charles had a more outgoing spontaneous personality and catching up to John as a public speaker. In July1882 Charles Coleman was one of the main temperance speakers when 300 locals turned out in Sheffield to one of the largest Band of Hope meetings on the NW Coast.

 With their ever-increasing family, Charles and Ellen Coleman were now influential members in town. Charles was a leading figure actively involved in the construction of the first Wesleyan Methodist church built in Sheffield opposite the Union Chapel/schoolhouse. When tenders were called, the plans were in the hands of Charles Coleman.  However, a rather stinging rebuke published in May 1882 read: ‘Our new Wesleyan church is progressing slowly, as a great delay has been caused through Charles Coleman making some mistake in the supply of shingles.’

Just five weeks before the official opening of the new Methodist church at Sheffield, Charles’ wife Ellen went into labour with her fourth set of twins, being the 14th & 15th babies born to her within 19 years. But this time, it was too much for the 38-year-old mother and on 22 Oct 1882 Ellen died just hours after giving birth to twins girls. So within four years, both brothers, John & Charles Coleman, each with very large families, tragically suffered a similar fate with their young wives  A great out-pouring of grief for Charles and large motherless family occurred at the largest funeral Kentish had ever seen, when Ellen was buried in the original pioneer cemetery in High St. That same week, their eldest son William Coleman (19) working behind horse in Barrington, received a very severe kick to his face dislodging five front teeth which it was feared would leave the young man disfigured for life.  

In the months that followed, the rift in the relationships between Charles and his beloved Wesleyan Methodist church at Sheffield widened and he left to join with the new enthusiastic Salvation Army group just starting in town. 

1887  Coleman Builds Roland Hall  

In Dec 1886 following the resignation of John Duff, Charles Coleman was elected to the Kentish Plains Road Trust. Because of the pressing need in Sheffield for a public hall to hold concerts and other entertainment, in Nov 1887 Chas Coleman contracted with local builder Gideon Robson to construct Coleman’s ‘town hall’ at 103 Main St, next to his own house. It was a two-storey 67ft x 25ft weatherboard building with a 12ft stage. Behind the stage on the first floor were two dressing rooms and above them, on the top floor, a large meeting room. The hall also had two galleries, one on each side. Coleman named it Roland Hall after Mt Roland. It was opened on Easter Monday night 2 April 1888 with a concert and a ball.Six months later the new wooden floor was used for the first time as a roller-skating rink. It filled a real need for over 20 years,

With the town developing at a fast pace, Gideon Robson seized the opportunity to purchase Coleman’s vacant block next door to the Roland Hall, and over the summer of 1888 erected  a  two-storey weatherboard ‘coffee palace’ (non-alcoholic guesthouse) with 15 bedrooms and a front balcony overlooking the street. Unfortunately, Robson went broke and it eventually became Albert Bradshaw’s general store with an upstairs boarding house. In 1888 & 1889 Charles dabbled in selling real estate, became vice-president of the newly formed Sheffield Mutual Benefit Society, Sec/treasurer of the local Anti-Vaccination Society and the first of 7 trustees for the Sheffield Recreation Ground. He wrote frequent letter to the newspaper and in line with the current trend, he planted out 8 acres of orchard, mainly apple trees, behind his houses in Main St. 

1890 Mammoth Machinery Haul back to Gold Mine

Several new gold strikes along the Five Mile Rise between Lorinna and the Middlesex Plains caused a great sensation and in Feb 1889 Charles was one of many locals who purchased shares in the Campbell’s Reward Gold mining Co. When the nearby Great Caledonian Gold Minning Co ordered some heavy machinery for their mine at the top of the Five Mile Rise, it was Charles Coleman who won the contract for hauling a 25hp stationery steam engine, a 15-head battery and  a huge10-ton boiler from the Railton railway station  up over Mt Claude back to Lorinna, across the unbridged Forth River, and up the top of the Five Mile Rise for  £7 per ton. It required 36 bullocks in teams of six bullocks, each pulling 1½ tons for much of the way, but to haul over Mt Claude and up ‘the Rise’ required all 36 bullocks pulling together each individual load.  It took just seven months from the time they left Railton until they reached the Great Caledonian mining site at Middlesex. A team of road men proceeded the bullock and wagons to clear the track. They left Railton on May 12, passed through Sheffield on May 16, reached the Dasher River May 17, the top of Mt Claude May 28, crossed ‘Machinery Creek’ May 30, and arrived at the Forth River (later Lorinna) on Jun13. School children had been told to stay home and watch this once in a life-time event as it pass their homesteads. There was a four-month delay at the Forth River waiting for it to drop and heavy mooring ropes from Melbourne to help the bullock by also winching the wagons up the ‘Rise.’ The installed machinery hardly had steam up when the Bank of VDL crashed in Aug 1891 being most mining ventures to a standstill. That same year Chas joined his brother on the Sheffield Town Board. During the years of the old century, Charles Coleman had a tri-weekly mail run from Sheffield-Barrington, Nook and Lwr Barrinton and a similiar one from Sheffield to West Kentish. 

Marriage Rivalry 

When Charles Coleman’s wife Ellen died, their oldest daughter Ann Coleman was only 13 with six older brothers and nine younger siblings. As she grew older the responsibility of raising her younger brothers and sisters fell increasingly on her. When she was well into her ‘twenties’, Annie had been courted for a long time by Frederick Davis, eldest son of Sheffield’s Dr Robert Davis, but there was no way she could be freed of her ‘family responsibilities’ to marry.  Then surprising on 25 Jan 1897, after 15 years of being a widower, her father Charles (49) married Isabella Hemingway (26) of Ulverstone and moved into the house next door to Ann and her younger siblings. This was a bit much for Ann. Less than three weeks later, Ann (27) and Fred Davis (25) eloped on horseback to Westbury where Ann still dressed in her riding habit, wed Fred in her uncle Albert Coleman’s living room. When they returned to Sheffield the marriage was kept secret for some months, but eventually Fred Davis moved into Ann’s house, where he assumed responsibility of running Coleman’s Roland Hall. Charles’ 2nd marriage produced three more Coleman children: Greta, Daisy and Edward.

In the new century, Charles Coleman continued his high-profile activities as President of the Sheffield Horticultural Soc, the Sheffield Town Board, the Board of Health. For the last decade Charles had the tri-weekly mail contracts to both Barrington and the Promise Land, and in 1906 surprised everyone when he undercut Walter Butler coaches to win the mail contract between Sheffield and Railton,

Destructive Fire and Death

Just 4 years after his elder brother John died, Charles suffered a stroke in April 1912. Five months later, on 12 Sept 1912 a disastrous fire starting at 4am totally destroyed his Roland Hall and his house on it west side and Albert Bradshaw’s general store and upstairs boarding house on its east side. A second house owned by Coleman on west side was only saved by helpers who had quickly gathered. Wm Betts received a nasty blow from the back of an axe and boarders got blisters escaping over the e balcony of the upstairs boarding house. On 16 July 1913 Charles was out on the street talking when he felt unwell.  He returned inside his house to lay down and almost immediately expired aged 73.  Charles left 8 sons and 6 daughters, many on them moving to the mainland. 

Remarkably, both brothers wives Isabella & Ellen are buried in the Pioneers cemetery, while John and Charles Coleman are buried in the Sheffield General Cemetery, all of them are in unmarked graves.