Baptist Beginnings in Van Diemen’s Land
The history of the Baptist church in Hobart goes back over 180 years.
Sun 14 June 1835
The first Baptist church in the Australian colonies was formed in a small dwelling in Elizabeth Street in Hobart Town.
Sun 21 March 1841
A chapel on Harrington Street opened which was both a Strict and Particular (Calvinist) Baptist church where the Lord’s Table was closed to those who had not been baptised as believers.
In time the work petered out. A number of the Harrington Street congregation became part of the new “Open” church on Elizabeth Street, the “Hobart Baptist Tabernacle”, which is the Hobart Baptist Church of today. Some who transferred to the “Tab” became key leaders in the church for many years. The chapel building in Harrington Street was used from time to time by the “Tab” as it was now theirs to use. However, it was eventually sold and the money used to construct a new Baptist church in Moonah.
A New Baptist Work in Hobart
William Gibson Senior and his wife Mary Ann were graziers who had settled in Perth near Launceston, Tasmania. The Gibson’s staggering wealth was gained from their highly sought after, world famous Scone Merino stock, and they became the prime financial benefactors to a Baptist new beginning in Tasmania, including the work in Hobart.
The Gibson’s religious devotion and commitment to the London Baptist preacher, the Rev. Charles Spurgeon, was instrumental in the decision to pay for the passages of the Baptist pastors from Spurgeon’s College, who had accepted the offer to minister in the colony. In 1869 the first Spurgeon man arrived. Over the coming decade, the Gibsons built Baptist tabernacles at Deloraine and Longford, with others to follow at Launceston, Sheffield, Promised Land, Latrobe and Devonport.
Irish born preacher Rev. Robert McCullough, arrived in Tasmania and spent several years at the Longford Tabernacle. This man would be Hobart Baptist Church’s pioneer pastor.
Rev McCullough commenced in Hobart supported by the Gibson’s financial commitment. His preaching was a clear, straight-forward atonement theology. The Gibson’s son, William Junior, committed to matching pound for pound the giving of his father. To begin with, the Gibsons Senior and their son each gave £450 ($180,000 today) towards a schoolroom after they had purchased the land in Elizabeth Street for £950 ($400,000).
The first building on the site was a temporary structure built of rough timber, ragged tarpaulins and corrugated iron. Its floor was of sawdust floor and was lit by candles.
The schoolroom was completed and currently stands behind and adjoining the stately Tabernacle.
The Hobart Tabernacle
Once the schoolroom was completed, Gibson Senior determined it was now time to erect a large church in the state’s capital. Plans of the Stockport Baptist Church in Manchester, England, were obtained and submitted to architect George Fagg to ascertain if they could be adapted to the site. It was one of the newer class of Baptist Church building in England and Gibson’s approval of the plans included a cheque for £1000 ($400,000). The letter accompanying the cheque read in part, “The money would not build a palace, but it would build something better than a barn!”
Gibson Junior also forwarded his cheque for £1000 ($400,000) in keeping with his earlier promise to match funds given by his father. In all, the Gibsons gave £3,500 ($1,400,000) towards the work in Hobart. The contract to erect the structure was awarded to the contractors, Stabb Brothers.
Wed 5 October 1887
The foundation stone was laid in the presence of about 300 people. A bottle was placed underneath the stone containing a copy of the “Day Star“, “The Mercury“ and “Tasmanian News“, and a parchment scroll.
Mary Ann Gibson, now 85 years of age, performed the ceremony saying,
“I pronounce this memorial stone of the Hobart Tabernacle well and truly laid. We raise the building for the worship of our God, for the preaching of the everlasting Gospel, for the conversion of sinners, and the building up of the Lord’s people. We may raise the edifice, but God alone can build the Church.”
Sun 20 January 1889
The Tabernacle was opened for worship with Rev. McCullough still the pastor of the church. It was the third church building on the site.
McCullough was followed by the Rev. Morrison Cumming from Bury St. Edmunds in England but he remained only six months. He was followed by Scotsman, the Rev. James Blaikie. The church had now grown to a membership of 167. The finances were in a sound and healthy condition, the Sunday school was well attended and the Christian Endeavour Society had a membership of 100. The church’s third branch church was at Constitution Hill.
Rev. F.W. Boreham was the next Pastor and was one of the most outstanding preachers the church has ever seen. He put the church on the map as it were, not only in Tasmania but in Australia. Although he came to a church with deep divisions, his preaching captivated the congregation and the church saw itself in a new light. It was the wording and the creativity of his messages, rather than his theology, that made the difference. During his time the membership nearly doubled, from 180 to 320. He had been plucked from relative obscurity in a small town in New Zealand. He made Hobart Baptist church and Hobart Baptist church made him!
After a decade Boreham left, during WWI, and the Rev. E. Herbert Hobday was inducted into the pastorate. He sought to inspire members and adherents to strive to bring all society, as well as the individual, into conformity with the teachings of Jesus. His message was that man rarely sins against God alone. Reconciliation of man with God cannot exist outside the reconciliation of man with man.
The Rev. Donavan F. Mitchell, B.A., was welcomed. He was the first non-Spurgeon College man and his ministry lasted only four years.
The Rev. Harold Hackworthy was the church’s first Australian-born pastor. His work among the young men of the church was particularly successful. He was a shining example of someone who was intensely interested in discipling young men, Ron Soundy, Laurie Gluskie and Max Daglish being among them.
Australia was again at war and the Rev. Edward Roberts Thomson was in his first year at the church. With preaching being his primary gift, again the church heard powerful and thoroughly evangelical addresses. Roberts Thomson was also strongly ecumenical and long discussions took place with the Church of Christ in Hobart with the idea of forming a single church, but this did not eventuate.
The church was in a more prosperous stage of its life and gradually the dreams of improving and beautifying the buildings came to fruition. These included the sound-proofing of the entrance, the re-arranging the layout of the seating and aisles, and carpeting of aisles.
Sun 13 November 1960
The newly replaced pipe organ was formally dedicated to the glory of God. Some of the original pipes had been reconditioned and included to make a total of 1,728 pipes. It was built at a cost of approximately £15,000, including new choir seating and certain necessary structural alterations.
The church was near the peak of its influence in Hobart. It again had a dynamic Pastor in its midst, this time in the Rev Merlyn Holly, BA, son of a coal miner from Wales, U.K. Holly as a child had experienced first-hand the social unrest in his home country. Australia too was seeing the continued change in its social values. While the first couple of years at Hobart were disappointing to Holly, the church remembers him as the one who left a record unequalled in the history of the church.
Holly was followed by the Rev. Ron Rogers who left in early 1965 to become Principal of Morling College, Sydney.
Pastors – post-1965
|1966 – 1972||Rev. Peter Stockman with Rev. D Griffiths (Associate)|
|1974-1980||Rev. Rex Glasby|
|1979-1981||Rev. Peter McLean|
|1983-1990||Rev. Dr Frank Rees|
|1990 – 1998||Rev. Ken Godfrey|
|1999-2004||Rev. Douglas Duncan|
|2005-2010||Rev. Stephen Chapman|
|2010-||Ps Stephen Baxter|
|2012-2014||Rev. Mathew Burns (Assoc.)|
|2015-||Ps Nathan Lattimore (Youth & Young Adults)|
|2016-||Rev. Dr Joel Ortiz (Assoc.)|
By Laurence F. Rowston (MA)