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Early Australia Baptists
By Thomas Armitage, 1890

Australia proper comprises New South Wales, Victoria, South and North Australia, Queensland and West Australia, covering about 3,000,000 square miles. Captain Cook discovered New South Wales in 1770, and slowly British subjects have settled the greater part of the continent, while the aboriginals have largely decreased. Rev. John Saunders may he regarded as the founder of Baptists in Australia. At the age of seventeen he became a member of a Baptist Church at Camberwell, in London, and renounced every opportunity to take a seat in Parliament, preferring labor for Christ. After establishing two Churches in London, his heart was set on planting a Christian colony in that stronghold of idolatry and other wickedness, Botany Bay. On reaching Sidney, in 1834, he commenced to preach in the most fervid and powerful manner in the Court-house, where crowds flocked to hear him. He soon formed the Bathhurst Street Church and remained its pastor till 1848, when his health broke. He then retired from the pastorate and died in 1859. The loss of so vigorous a leader dampened the courage of his Church, but it revived under the new leadership of Rev. James Voller, whose labors were greatly blessed, and an Association was formed, so that now the Baptist force is most earnest and vigorous in New South Wales. The number of Churches is 22, the number of members, 1,196.

Victoria -- The Baptist cause was planted there by Rev. William Ham, in 1845, when the first Church was formed. This pioneer labored under the greatest difficulties, but a church edifice was built in Collins Street, Melbourne, in which he labored
[p. 938]
for some years. Little progress was made, however, until 1856, when the Rev. James Taylor, of Glasgow, took the pastoral oversight. His scriptural and logical preaching, accompanied by a peculiar unction from above, soon drew large audiences, so that the congregation removed to the Grand Opera House, which seated 2,000 people, and yet was too small for the throng. Soon, a large and beautiful church edifice was built, which is now the rallying point for the annual gatherings of our Churches in the colony. Mr. Taylor is still preaching to an earnest Church at Richmond, a suburb of Melbourne. Two sons of Mr. Ham are amongst the most liberal supporters of the denomination in the colony; the eldest acted as chairman of the Victorian Baptist Association at its session a year ago. A second Church was organized in Melbourne, which was under the pastoral care of Rev. W. P. Scott till his death, in 1856; and when the great gold discovery demoralized the community, the Missionary Society in England, at the earnest request of the Church for a suitable pastor, sent the Rev. Isaac New to fill the vacancy. At that time, Melbourne was shaping itself into a magnificent city, with many social refinements and educational institutions; and the pulpits of all denominations were being filled with preachers of a high order. Mr. New's finished thought and fresh delivery attracted great congregations, and in 1859 the elegant chapel in Albert Street was erected for this Church. But in ten years, failing health compelled this great preacher to retire from his work, and in 1886 he fell asleep in Christ. There are 100 preaching places in Victoria and about 15,000 persons who enjoy the services of their ministers, the membership of the Churches being nearly 6,000, and the number of Sunday-school scholars about 9,000. Our Churches there are in a flourishing condition and number 39, with a membership of 4,235. Rev. S. Chapman, the present pastor of Collins Street, is a most successful minister, who has set his heart on raising $250,000 for home mission purposes with every indication of success. He proposes to establish an inter-Colonial College, to form a building fund for opening new fields and to aid struggling Churches in town and country.

South Australia -- Before Mr. Scott settled in Melbourne, he spent two years as pastor in this colony. The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Hinders Street Church, Adelaide, was held in September, 1886, at which it was reported that since its organization 1,581 members had been added to that Church, and its average fiscal income had been $10,000 per annum. Dr. Silas Mead has rendered great service to the denomination during a quarter of a century, but the Baptists are not strong in the colony. The denomination has lacked compact organization, many of its members preferring isolation to combined activity. For the present, many of the other denominations are in advance of the Baptists, because they have accepted State aid and the appropriations of large plots of land for ecclesiastical purposes, which offers Baptists have declined on principle. The number of Churches is 52, the membership of the Associated Baptist Churches in South Australia is 5,190, Sabbath-school scholars 5,191.
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Queensland -- There were no Baptists in this colony in the old convict days, when the incorrigible from Port Jackson, New South Wales, were sent to Moreton Bay. But immediately upon the settlement of free persons a Church was established. Mr. Stewart preached for some time in the Court-house, he being followed by Rev. B. G. Wilson, in 1856, when a substantial chapel was built in Wharf Street, but a much larger and more beautiful building is now in course of erection. The Churches number 13, and have all sprung from this one Church, the Baptist Church membership of the colony being 1,355, with Sunday-school scholars under their care to the number of about 2,000.

[From Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists, Volume II, 1890; rpt. 1988, pp. 937-939 -- jrd]

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