Early in 1865, several Wesleyan Methodist families moved from Westbury to become pioneer settlers in the parish of Barrington. After the young husbands had built their primitive slab huts, the first two pioneering couples to arrive were John (29) & Isabella Coleman and John’s younger brother Charles (24) & Ellen Coleman. The sites the Coleman brothers selected would, in time, become the township of Upper Barrington. Soon afterwards, they were joined by fellow Wesleyan families of Alex G. Smith, John Harman, Benjamin Green, John Reeves, Chas Packett and Wm Smith.

Interestingly, back in 1839, when the Coleman brothers’ pioneering parents William & Jane Coleman were embarking as bounty passengers from London to Sydney, three-year-old John Coleman had a rather unique experience. Visiting the wharves that same day, the Duke of Wellington picked up young John, talked to him about his voyage and gave him a sovereign to invest in his new country. After a year in Sydney, Wm & Jane Coleman, with young John and his sister Clara, moved to VDL, where at Carrick they had three more sons: Charles b1841, Alfred b1844 and George b1846. In 1849, the children’s father William Coleman was enticed to join others to sail on the first of several ships that left Launceston for the Californian goldrush. Although William eventually returned to Sydney, he drowned crossing a NSW river enroute to Tasmania. Widow Jane with Clara and her four sons moved to Osmaston, near Exton, in 1855, where she and oldest sons John (19) and Charles (14) became tenant farmers on part of a large estate. There the Coleman children came under the influence of the state-wide Wesleyan Methodist revival and became active in the Westbury Wesleyan circuit. Jane remarried another tenant farmer, Wm Phillips, and eventually moved to Melbourne, leaving behind her five young adult children.

John Coleman married Isabella Smith in the Wesleyan Chapel, Westbury, in Jan 1861. They arrived with two small daughters, Clara (4) and Amelia (2), on their 100-acre block, where in the NE corner the Upper Barrington shop was later built. On 26 Sept 1865, Isabella gave birth to the first baby born in Barrington, whom they named John Barrington Coleman, with Rev. Andrew Inglis of Torquay (now East D’port) journeying up to Barrington to baptise him. The following year, in Nov 1866, the four Coleman brothers received the tragic news that their only sister Clara (25) was one of three lady passengers and two crew who drowned in the coastal cutter Glympse when it overturned in a violent gale off Penguin while sailing between Table Cape and the Tamar River. Clara Coleman had just become engaged to Alexander Shekleton of Table Cape and was planning on becoming a schoolteacher there. We will now continue with John & Isabella Coleman’s story, and next month give his more exuberant brother Charles Coleman’s story.

Barrington Beginnings
Before leaving Westbury, John Coleman was appointed spiritual leader of Upper Barrington, with the responsibility of caring for these young Wesleyan families in their new pioneering environment. John took his spiritual responsibility seriously. As soon as his house was completed, he opened it twice on Sundays for Wesleyan services and once throughout the week for a prayer meeting. John’s loyal co-worker in these spiritual endeavours was his young brother-in-law Alex G. Smith, who reminded John: “On the same day in 1860, we both joined the army of King Jesus under the ministry of Rev W Lowe of Westbury.”

After five years of meetings in John’s house, first Wesleyan Methodist church at Upper Barrington was opened on Sunday 18 Dec 1870, with John named the first trustee of the property. Thus began John’s lifetime of local preaching around all Methodist churches of Kentish.

1873 The Colemans Take Over Sheffield Post Office
At the beginning of 1873, John & Isabella Coleman moved from their Upper Barrington farm into Sheffield to take over the local post office from Tom & Margaret Pullen. The Pullens lived next door to the Union Chapel/schoolroom where Tom Pullen was the first schoolteacher and Margaret attended the Sheffield Post Office, known for its first 20 years as the ‘Kentishbury Post Office’. Their house had been built by Tom’s brother George Pullen, a property investor from Launceston. Towards the end of 1872, Tom Pullen was informed that he was being transferred to the larger school at Sassafras for the following year. It is highly likely that Tom & Margaret Pullen persuaded their good Wesleyan friends John & Isabella Coleman to take over the Kentishbury Post Office at Sheffield, a part-time task Isabella may have already been doing in Upper Barrington. When Isabella Coleman became postmistress in early 1873, she commenced a Coleman connection to the Sheffield Post Office that lasted 32 years. In 1877, John Coleman gained the twice-weekly mail contract between Sheffield and Latrobe, travelling via Barrington and Nook, for £80 a year, and Isabella reported 8,774 letters had passed through her post office.

As for the Sheffield School, it was impossible to find a replacement teacher for Thomas Pullen, and the school was forced to close until the end of 1875 when John’s brother Charles and Ellen Coleman’s offer to open the school was accepted. Charles Coleman’s family also moved from Upper Barrington into Sheffield, where they purchased most of the land on the northern side of Main St between Henry and Spring Sts. By contrast, John purchased nothing. Rather, John chose to lease all 12 acres of George Pullen’s investment blocks along with another 12 acres owned by Surveyor James Dooley within the township. During very hot weather in February 1878, John killed no less than 17 snakes in one week around the water well used by his PO, house and the school next door. John and Isabella had three more children at Sheffield; their last one only lived six weeks. Then, tragically, Isabella became unwell and died on 21 Nov 1878, aged 41, of cancer of the womb. She was buried in the Cemetery Reserve in High St. Of her 10 children, two sons and six girls survived: Clara (17), Amelia (15), John Barrington (13), Janet (11), Ellen (10), Grace (9), Mary (5) and Arthur (3). After Isabella’s death, the post office was taken over by her oldest daughter, Clara. Surprisingly, just 18 months later, on 24 May 1880, widower John Coleman (42) married dressmaker widow Emily Mainwaring (30) at her parents George & Minnie Slater’s home in Deloraine. They had one child: Harold Coleman b1884.

With brother Charles Coleman now in Sheffield, both John and Charles became active in the independent Union Chapel, where they decided to join the Mersey circuit of Wesleyan churches. When their congregation outgrew the Union Chapel, the Coleman brothers actively supported having Gideon Robson build a new Methodist church, which was opened on 3 Dec 1882 across Main St from Union Chapel. From this time, John & Chas Coleman joined together to do road construction work. They won a contract to complete the construction and metalling of the Barrington Rd from Sheffield to Nook Junction at Sth Spreyton, which took them 18 months. Afterwards they won contracts to do similar work from Sheffield up through the Promised Land to Staverton. In Oct 1887, John Coleman chaired the meeting in Sheffield that formed the Black Diamond Cricket Club. Both John and Charles enjoyed a game of cricket.

Post Office on the Move
Intense interest arose in the township in Feb 1881 when John Coleman received notice from Geo Pullen that he and the postal service needed to vacate the house he had been renting as the local post office for the last 10 years. Coleman was forced to relocate his post office 350 metres eastward to 118 Main St (later the railway station master’s house), where people vented their displeasure because it had been moved away from the town centre. Other changes occurring at this time include the opening of a telegraph line to Sheffield on 13 July 1881, the original Kentishbury PO being formerly renamed the Sheffield PO on 1 Jan 1882, and John’s oldest daughter Clara J Coleman being officially appointed postmistress at Sheffield on 1 June 1883.

About 1885/86, Clara Coleman moved the Sheffield PO and her abode back up the street to 95 Main St (next to Century Cottage) into a house owned by her uncle, Charles Coleman. By now, Clara was sorting between 150-200 letters on most inward mails, without pigeonholes or shelves, and her need for a purpose-built government-owned post office became so apparent that planning commenced.

So just 10 years after vacating the house next to the Union Chapel/schoolroom, in Oct 1891 George Levy of Devonport completed building a new post office and telegraphic exchange with a residence behind for £750. Located on the SE corner of the large new school block on Main St, the building was constructed of bricks from the local Sheffield Brickworks and had a galvanised roof. There was a large post & telegraph office along the front and a substantial three-bedroom residence behind it. 1891 was a great year for this section of Sheffield. The Baptist Tabernacle opened in May, the Anglican church in June and our Post Office & Telegraphic Exchange on 1 Oct 1891.

Miss Clara Coleman’s new opening hours caused some consternation. They were 9-9.45am, 10.15am-1pm, 2-4.30pm, 4.45-5pm, & 7pm-8pm. But most complaints concerned the large, deep table drain, which ran down Main St in front of the post office until a bridge was built across it. There was trouble, too, with the new telephone lines linking Railton, Sheffield, Barrington and Nook. Following storms and gales, there were frequent outages for periods of up to a fortnight or three weeks. On one occasion, the mailman’s horse became so entangled and cut by fallen wires that it couldn’t work for some time afterwards.

After 14 years as postmistress, on 8 Nov 1897 Clara Coleman married local man Terence Wyatt, and her younger sister, 19-year-old Grace Coleman, was appointed postmistress in her place. In 1906, coach passengers asked for a clock to be placed outside of the PO to give them the correct time, as peering through the post office window was no longer helpful because the inside clock had stopped.

Elected to the Sheffield Town Board.
On 19 Aug 1889, Sheffield was declared a town under the recent Towns Board Act and became entitled to its own governing trustees. 12 candidates stood for the five vacancies on Sheffield’s first town board. Of those elected, John Coleman was the third highest scorer and was elected secretary of the new Sheffield Town Board and rate collector.

By now, the mining boom in the backcountry was in full swing, and the Coleman brothers were undertaking some big contracts. After brother Charles’s monumental effort to haul a 10-ton boiler from Railton to the Great Caledonian mine (next month’s story), John was contracted to build a bridge across the 125ft-wide Forth River at what would become Lorinna. It replaced the previous method of crossing the river in a cage on a wire rope. Throughout 1891, John had 15-20 men camped at Lorinna pile-driving and bridge-building. In 1893-1896, he built smaller bridges over Watchhouse Creek, Sheffield and the Don River whilst also working for the Town Board and as a Methodist lay preacher.

1900/1901 Wounded at the Boar War
When the Boar War broke out, John’s oldest, athletically built son John Barrington Coleman (36) was one of 17 young men at Sheffield to join the first mounted contingent, The Tasmanian Bushmen, and sail for South Africa on March 5, 1900. Upon arrival, they were assigned to escort a convoy of wagons full of provisions heading north to break the siege of Mafeking, but at Elands River, John and his horse were both hit by Boar bullets, two wounding him in the shoulder and arm. On 16 Aug 1900, a telegram from the Minister of Defence addressed to John’s father was received by his sister Grace at the Sheffield Post Office. It read, ‘Regret exceedingly to inform you that your son Trooper John B Coleman was severely wounded at Elands River on or about Aug 5.’ After some months in hospital, he was invalided home on 10 Jan 1901.

Demise and Departure
After turning 70 in 1906, John Coleman relinquished his preaching work because of failing health. He had been a local Methodist preacher for 41 long years, and his valuable service was recognised at a public function in Sheffield Methodist Church in May 1906 attended by most country churches and several local clergy. Because he had formed the first group of Wesleyan Methodists in Upper Barrington in 1865, John Coleman was the father of Methodism in Kentish. One month later, his daughter Miss Grace Coleman (37) was similarly farewelled after serving nine years as Sheffield postmistress, including registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages. Grace was being transferred to the New Norfolk PO, thus ending a remarkable 32-year association of John Coleman’s family with the Sheffield Post Office.

Having acted as secretary of the Sheffield Town Board since its inception 18 years prior, John Coleman’s final public task was to be appointed ‘acting council clerk’ for one month from 1 Jan 1908 as the old Road Trusts transitioned into the new Kentish Municipal Council. Just three months later, on 24 April 1908, John Coleman died aged 72. His funeral was one of the largest ever seen in the district. Following the benediction in the Methodist church, the congregation remained standing whilst very talented local organist Cecil Morris played Chopin’s stately ‘Funeral March.’ John Coleman was buried in the Sheffield General Cemetery. He left his second wife Emily, three sons and six daughters to mourn his loss.

Next time: John’s younger brother Charles Coleman