The old weather-beaten building at 83 Main St that became the original T’s Chinese Restaurant in 2002 is by far the oldest building in Sheffield and rich in local history. Erected back in 1866 as Sheffield’s first church/school room, it has been renewed and renovated several times over its chequered history. It was well-known clergyman Rev. Jesse Pullen of Westbury who, during visits to the newly settled district of Kentish Plains between 1863 and 1865, recognised the need for a place of worship and a public school in the infant township of Sheffield. He became the driving force behind erecting this wooden building known as ‘Union Chapel’ to serve all settlers, regardless of their religious denomination, and as a public school throughout the week. Rev. Jesse Pullen’s eldest son George Pullen, a Launceston bank accountant, had already purchased several surveyed blocks in the township as investments. On 18 Sep 1866, Rev. Jesse Pullen happily transferred the only block he bought on Main St to a group of respected local trustees – Edmund Lord, James Powlett, James Husband, William Morris and William Smith – for the purpose of erecting this chapel/school. Two weeks later, Edmund Lord wrote a letter to the Board of Education in Hobart seeking permission to commence a public school in the chapel.

Union Chapel/Day School
The Union Chapel held its first service on 16 Dec 1866, conducted by Rev. Walter Mathison who drove up in a horse and buggy from the Don township. Remarkably, even though the new building cost £60, Rev. Pullen announced it open debt-free after being given £30 by wealthy pastoralist William Gibson of Evandale, £10 from Henry Hopkins of Hobart and the final £20 raised by Kentish residents. The public school commenced in January 1867 with Rev. Jesse Pullen’s youngest son Thomas Pullen appointed headmaster on a salary of £50 per annum. Born and educated in Maitland, NSW, Thomas Pullen married Margaret Lock of Geelong and had four small children before following his parents to Tasmania. When his father suggested he apply to become the first teacher at Sheffield, Thomas did and his offer was accepted. So, Tom (32) and Margaret arrived in Sheffield with their small family and expecting their fifth child. Tom’s eldest brother, George Pullen, built them a house on a block he owned next door to the church/schoolroom, now the site of the RSL’s eastern car park. Tom became responsible for half-day schools at Sheffield and Kentishbury. In July, Margaret’s fifth child was born but lived just one hour.

At the chapel’s first anniversary service on Sun 15 Dec 1867, 120 settlers and 80 children were addressed by Rev. Andrew Inglis, Wesleyan minister of Torquay (East Devonport). The next day followed with their first annual tea meeting. The chapel’s interior was tastefully decorated with ferns and wildflowers, while trestle tables were profusely supplied with bread and butter, ham sandwiches, biscuits, scones, tarts filled with new strawberry jam, and sponge cakes. People came from different localities including Westbury, Deloraine, Torquay, Latrobe and all parts of Kentish in drays, dogcarts, on horseback and on foot.

At the end of 1871, John Powlett sold his Sheffield Inn, and the Kentishbury post office that operated across the counter of his bar was transferred to Tom Pullen’s house next door to the Union Chapel/School. An extra room was added to Tom’s house so his wife Margaret could become postmistress. A little over a year later, in 1873, when the Education Department transferred Tom Pullen to the larger Sassafras school, there was an immediate need for a new teacher and someone to operate the growing postal service. Probably at Tom & Margaret Pullen’s suggestion, their good church friends John & Isabella Coleman were persuaded to leave their Barrington farm and move into the Pullens’ house in Sheffield so Isabella Coleman could take over as postmistress.

The Sheffield school was not so fortunate. Because of a dire shortage of teachers, a replacement for Tom Pullen couldn’t be found and Sheffield school was forced into temporary closure for nearly two years. It was only reopened when John’s younger brother Charles Coleman, a farmer at Barrington, offered to fill the vacancy and open the half-day school towards the end of 1875. When the school inspector reported that Coleman had given general satisfaction, the school was opened fulltime and Chas’s wife Ellen Coleman was employed to help him. Their joint salaries were £72 per year plus house allowance. The Education Dept also requested a local Board of School Advice be established to oversee all local matters pertaining to schools in Kentish. Those appointed in May 1877 were John Duff, John Hope, Edmund Lord, John McFarlane, Robert Manley and Alexander Turnbull. In Feb 1878, Hobart advised that they had at last found a qualified teacher for Sheffield. On 18 May 1878, Thomas Alexander (25) was transferred from Bothwell to Sheffield to replace Chas Coleman. Two years later, on 17 May 1880, Thos Alexander (27) m Hannah Best (30), daughter of Sheffield store-keeper John Best.

Wesleyan Methodists take over Union Chapel. When the Wesleyan Methodist Union (the fastest growing church denomination in Aus) first formed their Mersey circuit, embracing Don, Devonport, Latrobe and Kentish, the unaffiliated church fellowships meeting in Sheffield’s Union Chapel and in the Kentishbury chapel (along Shorey’s Rd) both chose to join this new Wesleyan Methodist circuit. By 1879, church attendance had increased so much that it was decided to create a separate circuit for the Kentishbury, Sheffield and Barrington Wesleyan churches. Rev. John Cowperthwaite was appointed as their first minister to reside in Sheffield. Soon, the Union Chapel became too small for the church and day school, so a larger Wesleyan Methodist church was constructed on a block of land directly across Main St from the Union chapel. It was officially opened on Sunday 3rd Dec 1882.

Government Builds New Public School. The government also needed to build their own larger school, but it was Oct 1883 before the local School Board of Advice finalised the new school site on the corner of Main and Henry Streets. By then, the old schoolroom was described as ‘a miserable dilapidated old shanty’, with 112 children on its roll but an average attendance of 80. Parents said they were afraid of it falling to pieces and burying their children, so they divided the risk by sending half the family at a time. Although J G Pierce of Devonport gained the contract to build this new school in June 1884, twelve months later, residents complained that while the 1884 foundation stone, 50,000 local bricks, and timber were on site, no construction work had commenced. It wasn’t until Nov 1886 that Thomas Alexander moved his school pupils out of the original chapel/schoolroom and into the ‘magnificent new brick school building’.

For the next decade, the old run-down chapel/schoolroom continued to be used for public meetings, like the one in Aug 1886 that called for a local doctor to set up in Sheffield. Also, Band of Hope meetings, Sheffield Flower Shows, the visiting Punch & Judy Puppet Show, and even hosted His Excellency the Governor from Hobart.

1897-1907 WCTU Hall. Early in 1897, the local branch of Women’s Christian Temperance Movement purchased this 30-year-old wooden structure, and chairwoman Christiana Davis (doctor’s wife) and secretary Mrs Freeman (Methodist minister’s wife) had the building extensively renovated by local builder Wm Jeffrey. The ladies then added their 1,200-book lending library and a piano for social gatherings.

1907-1913 The Citizens’ Hall. With Sheffield’s shortage of public halls, the WCTU ladies decided to sell their building to a new committee who would open it as a Citizens’ Hall, while still retaining the library and piano. The new citizens’ committee retained the WCTU ladies but added Messrs Henry, King, Matthews, Belton, Ridley, Rev. Bethune and Rev. Freeman. Each Saturday evening, the librarian Neil McLean was in attendance to exchange library books. But after six years, with plans for a big new Sheffield Town Hall well advanced, the committee decided to sell it.

1913-1916 Padman’s Hall. It was purchased in May 1913 by Vern Padman, eldest son of Sheffield’s original chemist. An entrepreneur, Padman dabbled in property and previously owned T J Clerke’s general store in Sheffield. Replacing the old kerosene lamps with new acetylene lights, he opened Padman’s Hall as a place for entertainment, including dances and fancy-dress balls. In Jan 1914, it had a narrow escape from destruction when during a picture exhibition the celluloid film caught alight. The audience was evacuated, and the fire was only extinguished after the building’s wooden walls were severely scorched. With the commencement of WWI, much gaiety came to an end and the hall was used three nights a week by the new Sheffield Gymnasium Club under instructor Martyn Clerke. In 1915, Padman opened it as an Auction Mart.

1916-1930 Billiard Salon & Barber’s shop. Before Dr Victor Ratten left Sheffield to take up the position of chief surgeon of the Royal Hobart Hospital, he purchased Padman’s Hall and relocated to it his two private billiard tables from his large house on the southeast corner of Main and Henry Sts. He added on a new front entrance and opened it as Sheffield’s newest billiard saloon & barber’s shop, with Jimmy Clarke in charge. Clarke lasted three years and in 1919 was replaced by Ted Crichton, an ex-miner from Tullah. Teddy and Ann Crichton supplemented his billiard earnings by turning the barber’s shop into a confectionery and tobacco shop. In April 1923, the Crichtons purchased the shop opposite (now Moo Choo Take Away) and transferred their confectionery businee across the street. Joe McCreghan became the next billiard saloon manager, but as the Great Depression began to bite, Dr Ratten closed the billiard salon about 1930 and sold it to Charlie Spillane (butcher) & Cyril George who had a bakery next door.

1930s-1940s Depression and War Years. During these years, the building was often vacant, but Jimmy Lee, a Chinaman, seems to have had a fruit/vegetable/confectionery shop in the front, while at the rear at different times Wm Mantach had a motor repair shop, Norm & Arthur Davies had a bicycle shop and Harold Whelan had a welding shop. In the early WW2 years, the Civil Defence Dept used the building as an air-raid and first-aid training centre. Post-war, Ed Keltie, another baker, used it as a storeroom for a few years. Later, Bruce Spillane inherited the building from his father.

1949 Alf Sellars’ Honey Depot. About 1949, the historic building was purchased by Alf Sellars as a shed to extract his honey. Born 1914 in Sheffield, Alf had spent his early life working for the local chemist and Slater’s Store. In 1937, he bought the house on the northeastern corner of Main and Henry Sts, married Dorothy Morphett in 1939 and had three children – Pat, Peter and Judy. Returned from the war, in Feb 1946 Alf built a small corner shop for his wife Dot to service school children. Later, he joined his wife in the shop and purchased the old hall to expand his beekeeping business. During Alf’s ownership, Mrs Pooley ran a confectionary shop in the front section. Always active in community affairs, Alf was a scout leader, Toc H member, Chief Officer of the Sheffield Fire Brigade for 40 years, promoted the Sheffield Memorial Library and served on the RCWA Board of Devonfield in Devonport. He died in 2002 aged 87.

1997 Charlotte King’s Little Weindorfers Homemade Icecream Parlour. The old honey shed was eventually purchased by Charlotte King, who had recently bought the ‘Black Stump’ restaurant at Gowrie Park and renamed it Weindorfers. In Sheffield, Charlotte wanted to do something similar, so she called it ‘Little Weindorfers’ and put partner Mike Hancock in charge of serving homemade ice-creams and delicious afternoon teas. Once more, the old premises were renovated to add new toilet facilities. Mural artist John Lendis painted an early school scene on one exterior wall and a Chinaman hawking his wares on the other.

2002 T’s Chinese Restaurant
Victor & Sonya Zhao purchased the premises in 2002, having recently come from Sydney with their three children Alex, Katrisha and Kaura, and bought 55 acres of Skirving’s farm along Cables Rd, near Sheffield. Having immigrated from NW China in 1985 with 3-month-old son Alex, they had always dreamed of owning their own farm, producing their own food and offering an authentic paddock-to-plate Chinese cuisine experience. They were grateful for the initial farming support provided by Peter and Bruce Skirving.

After all three children married, son Alex with wife Caithleen committed to staying with his parents, Victor and Sonya Zhoa, to produce the best stud animals for their beef, pork and lamb dishes. After a lot of experimenting, Alex finally chose to breed White Dorfer lambs, the most popular meat breed in North China and Mongolia, because this meat is marbled with intramuscular fat. Very soon, their Mongolian lamb became a favourite local dish. In a similar way, they have carefully selected their seven best sauces. In 2016, the Zhoas erected their new licensed Chinese restaurant next door to their old starting place. Some years ago, T’s Chinese Restaurant in Sheffield became one of only two Tasmanian restaurants listed in an international guide for fine dining. In Jan 2022, the Zhoas purchased the only automated robotic waiter on the NW coast. Named ‘Bella’, she can, if necessary, sing ‘Happy Birthday to you’.

Finally, we applaud Julian Bale’s two murals along the western side of the old building: The Birth of Melbourne 2016, depicting Kentish pioneers supplying timber for the massive Melbourne housing market after the 1850s gold rush, and Sense of Belonging 2021, depicting Mark McCormack & his Mountain Echoes.