Its Early History  - by the Rev. W. Gray

Extract from the Chronicle Adelaide, SA - Saturday 2 March 1929

The first religious service held in Mount Barker was conducted by a Presbyterian minister — the Rev. Robert Haining — who arrived in South Australia by the Orissa on November 20th 1841.  The service was held under a large gum tree on the bank of the creek that comes down from Littlehampton, and just below the house of Mr. Duncan McFarlane.  That must have been in 1842.  How Mr. Haining travelled from Adelaide we do not know, probably on horseback.  Gigs were few, and buggies had not been invented.  Mr. Haining came at the request of Mr. Duncan McFarlane, and ministered to this pioneer and his employes.

Scotch Settlers

There were other Scotch settlers here then, like Messrs. Walter Paterson, Lachlan McFarlane, Thomas Lambert, John Frame, and Jobbling.  The town was surveyed in 1840, and the triangle between the Littlehampton and Mount Barker Creeks was laid out for a market reserve.  The children's playground on the Adelaide road was the cemetery.  Two blocks in the centre of the town were reserved, one where the police station and post office are, for Government purposes.  The post office, until 1851, was kept where Miss Lucas has her boardinghouse.  It was then the residence of Mr. J. B. Shepherdson, stipendiary magistrate.  The other block, west of the post office, was reserved for the church.  It contained five quarter-acre allotments.  Half of the block was claimed by the Presbyterians, the other half by the Church of England.  But a deed for this property for the Presbyterians was not obtained till August 16, 1851.  The original holders were Messrs. William Hampden Dutton (who died in 1840), and Duncan McFarlane (who died in Adelaide October 27, 1856), and Captain John Finnis (who died in North Adelaide. August 13, 1872).  Two and a half allotments had been set apart as a site for a Presbyterian Church, school house, and a residence for a minister.  The land then embraced the frontage to Gawler street where the bank, the institute, and shops now stand.  This land appears to have been leased on September 24, 1840, to Messrs. Richard Francis Newland, and Edward Castres Gwynne, upon certain trusts referred to in the conveyance, probably an undertaking to erect a church.  The land was conveyed to Messrs. Lachlan McFarlane, Walter Paterson. and John James Bonnar as trustees.  The conveyance, executed in 1851, states that "a church had lately been built upon the said hereditaments."

A movement was on foot as early as 1846 to obtain a Presbyterian minister and build a church hall.  We know that this church was built not later than 1847, but was unfinished in 1851.  The builder was Mr. William Rogers, then living at Nairne.  He did the mason work of Dunn's flour mill in 1844.  The red gum roof principals in the church were hand sawn by Mr. Alexander McDonald (the father of Mr. Robert S. McDonald, of Monarto), and Mr. Edwin Mills, of Wistow.  The slates with which the church was first roofed were carted from Willunga by Mr. W F Hughes, who was then a boy bullock driver.  In 1847 Mr. John James Bonnar, afterwards a solicitor, conducted a school in the building which was without windows or floor.  Up to this time what there was of a Presbyterian religious fellowship was under the oversight of the Church of Scotland.

In response to a memorial from South Australia, the Colonial committee of the Free Church of Scotland sent the Rev. John Gardner to Adelaide in 1849.  Mr. Gardner arrived in 1850, and founded Chalmers Church.  Other Free Church ministers followed.  The Rev. John Anderson was settled at Strathalbyn, and the Rev. James Strachan Moir at Smithfield.  The Free Church in this State was then in the ascendancy for its number of ministers.  The Rev. Ebenezer Miller, a Free Church missionary at Chinsurah, Calcutta, India, who had come to South Australia for his health, was invited by the people to settle at Mount Barker.  Mr. Miller died at sea on his way back to South Australia in 1857.

Promise of a Minister

In the meantime services were conducted once a fortnight, or oftener by the ministers, who took the services by turns, and the church was let for a bulk and grain store to Messrs. Hooper and Brackenridge.  At the meeting of the Presbytery, at which the death of Mr. Miller was reported, it was also reported that a letter had been received from Dr. Bonnar, convener of the Colonial Committee, Edinburgh, containing the promise of a minister being sent soon.  On November 3, 1857, a Presbytery minute records that the Rev. James Don (the first minister sent to Mount Gambier) was expected and it was suggested that he be settled at Mount Barker.  Mr. Gardner meanwhile had reported that the lease of the church as a store had run out.  Mr. Mercer, an addition to the Free Church ministerial ranks, reported that he had presided at a meeting of the congregation on December 22, 1857, when a petition for a settlement was signed.  On May 11, 1858. Mr. Don was formally inducted at a Presbytery meeting, held in Chalmers Church, to the Mount Barker congregation.

The Pew Rent Book

I have the treasurer's pew rent book, bound in vellum.  It starts with July 13, 1858 (71, years ago).  This probably, coincides with the settlement of the first minister, the Rev. James Gordon, father of Sir John Gordon, judge of the Supreme Court.  This book down to March, 1868, contains the names of the seat holders, with the number of seats taken.  There were 35 pews, each intended to hold six people.  They were in the earlier years let at 5/- per quarter, except a few reserved for the minister's family.  Mr. Gordon must have been settled between May 11 and August 17, 1858.  After a pastorate of four years, Mr. Gordon received a call from Smithfield and Gawler, and was transferred to that charge on May 6, 1362.  The congregation was then without a pastor for some time, and the pulpit was badly supplied.  On February 11, 1863, a meeting was held, and the congregation decided to withdraw from the Free Church and apply to be received by the United Presbyterian Church, as the old Gouger street (now Flinders street) church was called.  The Rev. Alexander Law was inducted to the pastorate on March 24, 1863.  The Rev. William Davidson preached, the Rev. Ralph. Drummond narrated the steps, inducted and addressed the minister, and the Rev. James Lyall addressed the congregation.  Mr. Law resigned from Mount Barker after 14 years' services on March 24, 1877, when Monarto was separated from Mount Barker and became a separate charge with Mr. Law as its minister.

The Minister's Manse

When Mr. Gordon came to Mount Barker there was no residence for the minister.  The Gordons lived in a house in Gawler street for a time, in the house where Whitford's refreshment room is.  Having got a minister, the people set about providing a house for him.  In the list of seat holders will be found the name of Dr. John Walker.  He is described as a surgeon.  He built the manse on the suburban block No. 175, containing 4 acres 2 roods and 15 perches, with its shingle roof, but he never lived in it.  Being appointed Protector of Aborigines at this time probably accounted for his not living in the house he had built.  His wife was a Strathalbyn Rankine.  I have a copy of a conveyance of this property by Mr. John Walker to Mr. Lachlan McFarlane.  Dr. Andrew Chalmers, Mr. Adam Walter Richardson, Mr. Allan Bell, and Mr. Alexander Paterson, as trustees to hold the property and house to be used as a manse or residence for the minister for the time being.  The property was bought for £700 by subscription. 

The list of subscribers is interesting.  They are; — Thomas Elder (afterwards Sir Thomas), George Elder (brother of Sir Thomas), Robert Barr Smith, Allan Bell, J. J. Bonnar, John Clezy, John Hall, Robert Hutton, Thomas Lambert. Archibald Little, Alexander Low, A. McFarlane (father of the Wellington Mc Farlanes), A. W. Richardson, R. M Steele (banker at Nairne), Donald Bain, John Dick, J. Johnston, A. Lorimer, J. G. Ramsay, John Waddell, sen., John Waddell jun., George Young (city merchant), Thomas Anderson, William Bain, J. Collon, D. Forrest, Andrew Gourlay, Matthew Hutton, Thomas Hall, Miss Fickling, A. McDonald (father of Mr. R. S. McDonald of Monarto), Andrew Eglington, Miss Ramsay, William MacAllan, George Paterson, A. B. Murray (pastoralist), Miss McLatchie, John Ramsay (brother of J. G. Ramsay), John Rowe, James L. Turnbull (city merchant), James Bryson, Alfred Bonnin (city lawyer), Alexander Paterson, Emily Simpson, Mrs. Wallace, John Wallace, Henry Palmer, J. Johnston, Robert Walker, Thomas Lambert, Thomas McFarlane, Robert Milne, Jane Eglington, Ann Eglington, Samuel Cook, George Marston, John Dunn sen., Jabez Dodd, A. Wilson, A. Moulton, Jos. Rundle, R. Bright, Arthur Allan, Jas. Ferries, James Hunt, T. Paltridge, A. Brackenridge, J. Rundle, E. Cobb, James Burnet, John Morgan, William Blight, and Thomas Williams — 76 subscribers in all.