BRISBANE'S HISTORIC CHURCHES.—V.
Wharf street Congregational Church, built on a slight eminence to that the eye instinctively lifts heavenward after viewing its proportions, is the present day embodiment of the first effort of Congrega- tionalism in Brisbane. The building is not only the outcome of the first Congrega- lional church, but part of it is actually the old church and there are members of the congregation who still cling to seats in that older section where they first worshipped nearly half-a-century ago. It has been rendered sacred to them by all the sweet memories of childhood, of youth, and of nuptial days; the passing of parents the baptism of babes, and by the incidents of their own ripening years. To such as these the more modern portions of the building are a pleasant and satisfy-
ing proof of progress, but it is only within the mellower walls that they can live the old days over again.
EARLY UNITED CHURCHES.
It may be said that Congregationalism as a principle of Church life and govern-
ment existed in Brisbane long before it did so in name. On the 21st January, 1849, the good ship Fortitude anchored at the Yule roads, Moreton Bay, being the first of three ships of free immigrants sent to this district by the Rev. J. D. Lang,
D.D. The good doctor's parting advice to the immigrants was to combine for
united fellowship and worship rather than erect several " sentry- boxes" for the dif- ferent persuasions to which they belonged in the old country. In March following their arrival a meeting of those of the passengers who were interested in the movement resulted in the formation of a church, which was designated the "United Evangelical Church" (consisting of Inde- pendents Baptists, and Presbyterians, who repudiated State aid to religion), with the Rev. Charles Stewart, who had acted as
chaplain on board the Fortitude, as pas-
tor Mr. J. G. Cribb, of Milton, was one
of the passengers referred to, and to him we are indebted for much assistance. At first the congregation worshipped in the
old courthouse on the site now occupied by Messrs. Watson Ferguson and Co. and neighbouring buildings ; but the people, led by their minister, were soon astir to secure a home of then own. As a first step they bought at the Govern- ment land sale a block of land fronting both William and George streets, not- withstanding the opposition of the Bishop of Newcastle, and erected thereon a com- modious brick church, measuring 60ft. by 40ft., which in after years became the first Government Telegraph Office, then the residence of the Government Printer,
and was recently demolished to make way for the new Lands Office. The Rev. Mr. Stewart, through increasing ill health, re- signed at the close of 1854 his earnest and capable ministry, and after in interreg- num of supplies (including some months of the Rev. W. Ridley), the Rev. Thos. Bell took charge. During his ministry some of the Baptist friends, desiring a building of their own wished for a divi- sion of the property. This was ulti- mately accomplished by the sale of the building and site for £1500. The pro- ceeds were ultimately divided between the Independents, Baptists, and United Presbyterians, and the money formed the nucleus of three new churches, which were subsequently erected—namely, the Wharf- street Congregational, the Wharf-street Baptist, and the Creek-street Presbyterian Churches. The two last named buildings have both disappeared, but we hope to give some particulars of their history, before this series closes. It was not until 1859 that the distinct Congregational fellowship was established in Brisbane, however, and it is only fair to the recently incorporated city of Ipswich to state here that the first purely Congregational Church in Queens- land was there established. In 1851 a United Congregational Church was formed under the pastorate of the Rev. Thos. Deacon. In 1855 this church was con- verted into a Congregational fellowship under the ministry of the Rev. T. Griffith, who was thus the first pastor of a purely Congregational flock in Queensland, some four years before the Brisbane Congrega- tionalists became a distinctive entity.
REV. GEORGE WIGHT ARRIVES.
On Sunday, 16th May, 1858, the Rev. George Wight, from Edinburgh, arrived at Brisbane in the steamer Yarra Yarra. A meeting, called by advertisement was held on the next Sunday afternoon to consider the establishments of a Congregational Church in name as well as fact. Mr.
Wight preached in the National School and afterwords in the School of Arts commenc- ing there the first Sunday in August. Mr. Wight came to Brisbane, under instruc- tions from the London Colonial Missionary Society, to establish a Congregational Church. The work was placed in excellent hands. Mr. Wight being a man of con- siderable energy and attainments. He sub- sequently published a book which deals with the introduction of Congregational- ism into Queensland, and to which we are indebted for many of our facts. Referring to his arrival at Brisbane, Mr. Wight has written the follow- ing :—" One of the difficulties that met us at the threshold was the impossibility of procuring, on any terms whatever, a proper place for holding meetings. There was only one place in the town (the hall of the School of Arts) where a hundred people could be comfortably accommodated and that was occupied by the Presbyterian congregation under the charge of the Rev.
C. Ogg. We were therefore, fain to occupy a rickety loft—Mr. Binney called it face- tiously an ' upper room' —reached by a rickety trap ladder, and used on week days as a schoolroom. The dilapidated wood building overhung a dark, sluggish creek, which meandered through the centre of the town, and after tropical
showers the approach to it was almost im- passable. The site afterwards became one of great commercial value, situated towards the north end of Queen- street." The Mr. Binney referred to was the Rev. Thos. Binney, of London, then on a heath visit to Australia, and who did much for the young congregation.
FIRST WHARF STREET CHURCH.
The church members were not satisfied to worship long in that old " national schoolroom," however, for in 1859 the Rev. T. Bell, pastor of the United Presbyterian Church, died, and the building he had occupied was rented for a time. Mean- while funds were being collected and to these was added the amount of about £500 secured from the sale of the United Church property in William-street. The first com- mittee meeting was held 29th July, 1858, and the Church was formed 9th July, 1859. The first anniversary was held Sunday,
15th May, 1859, followed by a tea and public meeting on the Tuesday of the ensuing week. With the money in hand, the new church then secured, through the good offices of Mr.
Robert Bourne, two allotments at the corner of Wharf and Adelaide streets, whereon was erected a brick church, which forms the north-west portion of the pre- sent structure, and which was opened 10th June, 1860. The amount paid for the land is understood to have been £260, and with the cost of the building added, the expenses reached £1498 3s 7d. Of this large sum there had been £1429 12s. 2d. promised, and the bulk of it paid, before the church was opened. Mr. Tiffin, Colonial Architect in those days, was architect for the build- ing which though small, was regarded as quite an imposing structure. The builder was Mr. Joshua J. Jeays, who built the second Methodist Church in Al- bert-street and other important structures. The style of architecture adopted was on simple early English lines. The first morning service in the new church was conducted by Mr. Wight himself, but the first evening service was conducted by the Rev. W. Curnow, then of Ipswich, and afterwards editor of the " Sydney Morning Herald." Owing to Mr. Wight's capa- bility, industry, and tact, the church in- creased and the Sunday school, together with the young men's and young women's classes prospered, until, quite unexpected- Iy, he resigned, having for urgent family reasons to return to Scotland. The good pastor had, however, kept three ob- jects in view—the erection of a commodious chapel clear of debt, the gathering together of a congregation strong enough to be self- supporting and the furtherance of religious educational liberty. He accomplished all this before laying down his charge. In later years Mr. Wight returned to Queens- land and devoted himself to journalism, being part owner of the " Queensland Guardian" with Mr. Wm. Fairfax. Mr. Wight subsequently entered the Govern- ment service, and he died in Melbourne within the last few years. There are still men in Brisbane who knew and loved
the first pastor at Wharf-street, and Mrs. D. L. Brown is his daughter.
ARRIVAL OF THE REV. E.
On the 30th. September, 1860, the pastor-
ate of the Rev E. Griffith began. This term was destined to be a record one in many respects, extending over thirty years of happiness and progress for the church. This gentleman was the father of the Right Hon. Sir Samuel Walker Griffith, the present Chief Justice of Aus- tralia. Father and children have all left
THE PRESENT CHURCH.
their mark on the history of the capital
and of the State. The Rev. E. Griffith was
born in Bath (Eng.) on the 13th February, 1819. The family was of Welsh extraction, and, having decided to devote himself to the Church, the young man accepted the pastorate of the Independent Chapel at Merthyr Tydvil (Wales) in 1842. In 1853 he accepted an invitation from the Colonial Missionary Society to labour in Queens- land, and he arrived at Ipswich in Feb- ruary, 1854, with his wife and five children ; there he took charge of the first Congre- gational Church in Queensland. The rev. gentleman subsequently filled the pulpits at the Pitt-street Church (Sydney) and at West Maitland (N.S.W.). Much good work was done particularly in the latter place, until 1860, when a call was accepted to re- turn to Queensland and fill the place at Wharf-street Brisbane, rendered vacant by the resignation of Mr. Wight. When he arrived Mr. Griffith found a membership of forty-eight. His ministry lasted with little intermission until 22nd September,
1891, when he passed away, beloved and regretted by ail who had known him through that long career of Christian Service. One old parishioner says : " As a Christian, pastor, and earnest public man his influence was unobtrusively and constantly exerted for the general good. Our educational system and social legislation bear the impress of his sagacious and far-seeing mind. The public testimony to his worth, and the loss sustained by the
community in his decease, was voiced by
men of all classes, from the Governor downwards. He powerfully influenced for good two generations of men." During Mr. Griffith's term over 700 persons were
received into the fellowship of the Church, and branch churches were established at South Brisbane, Goodna, Oxley, Kent- street (Valley), Redcliffe, Welsh Church, Brisbane, Bowen Hills, O'Connell Town, and Milton.
THE CHURCH ENLARGED.
In 1872, after twelve years' existence, it was found necessary to enlarge the church to about double its capacity. Mr. J. Petrie was architect and builder of the additions which brought the church to its present size. with a seating capacity of 400 persons. In 1883 further improvements were made. These included the erection of a new schoolroom, the provision of better seating accommodation, the embellishment of the building by the introduction of
THE FIRST CHURCH.—1860.
handsome choir railings, and the laying of
an asphalt floor instead of the wooden one which had previously existed. The object of this latter was to combat the white ants which had made their appearance, but it has also served to make the building wonderfully cool in summer. In 1890 a new and excellent pipe organ was secured and
erected in place of the small instrument which up to that time had helped to beautify the services.
It should be mentioned that failing health caused the Rev. E. Griffith to re- sign his charge in February, 1889, when his place was taken by the Rev. Wm.
REV. GEO. WIGHT,
First Pastor, 1858-60.
Scott. This latter gentleman came from England. During a comparatively short pastorate Mr. Scott became very popular with his flock, but health considerations compelled his removal to Sydney, where he took charge of the Pitt-street Church. He subsequently returned to England, where he is at present residing. It was on his departure that Mr. Griffith resumed duty
temporarily. From the time of the latter
gentleman's death there was a considerable interregnum, until the 19th March, 1893, when the Rev. John Routledge Wolsten- holme, M.A., began his pastorate. Mr. Wolstenholme came from Bolton, York- shire, and his service gave promise of being very fruitful. On the 25th May, however, he expired, and was buried at Toowong, beside the grave of the Rev. E. Griffith. It is said of this gentleman, that he was a man of varied and thorough scholarship, great public spirit, fearless in expressing his convictions, devout in spirit ; his ser- vice, though brief, made a deep and lasting impression. His widow and children re- turned to Yorkshire, where they still re- side. A further interregnum followed until the 26th May, 1895, when the pastorate of the Rev. Hugh Jones, M.A., began. This
INTERIOR OF PRESENT CHURCH.
gentleman came from Victoria, and he re- mained for eight years in charge. Mr. Jones proved a power in the Church, and his utterances won attention far beyond the limits of his own congregation. He took a lively interest in public affairs, was a man of liberal mind, and a particular favourite with the young people. In April of last year Mr Jones had to resign from health considerations and return to Vic- toria, where he at present has charge of a church at Wallan. During an interregnum which followed, the jubilee of Queensland Congregationalism was celebrated on the 12th-22nd June, 1903, and on the 1st May
the ministry of the Rev. Loyal Lincoln Wirt, B.D., the present pastor, was com-
menced. In the intervals which have been mentioned a number of gifted men have served the Wharf-street Church. Of these the Rev. Dr. Bevan, of Melbourne, is worthy of prominent mention. During the all too brief period that he assisted it was
found necessary to secure a public building, the church being all too small for the many who came to hear. Others who as- sisted include the Revs. Professor Gosman, Dr. Frazer, Dr. Roseby, W. R. Fletcher, J. Hill, A. J. Griffith, M.A., Joseph Parker, J. H. Toms, and many Brisbane friends and helpers. Of the lay workers for the church whose names can be rescued after the lapse of half-a-century we may mention Messrs. Diggles, Turner, Henry Jordan, Mr. (afterwards the Hon.
John) Foote, of Ipswich, and Robert Cribb. The first deacons were Dr. Hobbs and Messrs. R. Bourne and H. Keid.
REV. L. L. WIRT, B.D.
Wharf-street has been fortunate in securing the services of the present pastor,
whose strong personality and energy has already made itself felt for good. The Rev. L. L. Wirt was born in Michigan, U.S.A. in 1863, of English-American
parents, his father being a Congregational
minister before him. he was educated at the Jamestown College, and the Pacific Theological Seminary, receiving his degree of Bachelor of Divinity in 1890. Mr. Wirt vvas ordained in 1891, and was shortly afterwards married to Harriet Elliott Ben- ton, niece of his college president, and a lineal descendant of John Elliott, the first
" Apostle to the Indians," who emigrated from England to America ten years after the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers. Mr. Wirt saw eight years service in California, laboured for nearly three years as superin- tendent of the Alaska Home Mission in the
" Land of the Midnight Sun," and was appointed by the United Slates Govern- ment as Superintendent of Education in Alaska. The work of Mr. and Mrs. Wirt in that land would fill a volume, but rest and change at last became essential to both. Seven months were accordingly de- voted to travelling and studying the native races of Borneo, Hawaii, the Philippines, Japan, China and Malaysia. From the scenes of Boxer violence in China, Mr. Wirt had intended to return to America by way of Siberia and England, but he
was prevented from landing at either Port Arthur or Vladivostock by the Russians, who took him for a spy. And so he turned
to Australia, and shortly, after arrival he
was induced to bring his wanderings to an end by the good people of the Brown- street Congregational Church, Newcastle (New South Wales.). In less than three years there he doubled the membership, transformed the church in almost every particular, the embellishments of stained windows, carpets, the painting of the build- ing, the construction of a new pipe organ, extinction of a mortgage of £500, and the conversion of nine district churches into one United Congregational Church of Newcastle being accomplished. Since his arrival at Brisbane the Wharf- street congregations have increased, there have been over fifty accessions to the church membership, bringing the total to 325. Mr. Wirt started a campaign, immediately after ar-
rival, against the church debt, and this has already been brought down from £1250 to £275. This remaining lia- bility is expected to disappear be- fore the end of the financial year. Of those who are closely associated with the work to-day mention must be made of Mr. J. G. Cribb, Miss Griffith (daughter of the late beloved pastor), Al- derman W. Thorne (convenor),H. J Oxley (treasurer), A. R. McNaught (secretary), A. E. Cornell (financial secretary), T. G. Searle (choirmaster), H. T. Reeve (organ- ist). The deaconesses are Mesdames A. J. Goldsmith, Reading, and Miss Griffith, and others who fill positions as deacons, &c., are Messrs. H. H. Carvosso, C. H. Harley, G. F. Scott, B.A., A. F. Cox, C. B. Letham, Dr. E. W. Kerr-Scott, and Mr. G. Ashton (churchkeeper). The Christian work of Miss Griffith is worthy of more space than can be devoted to it here, and we can only acknowledge indebtedness to her recollec- tions and records for assistance in this com- pilation.