No. 76 - The First Baptist Church at Perth - Built on a Sheep's Back

In 1862 the first Baptist church was opened at Perth. It was the gift of William Gibson who was also to fund the striking octagonal Tabernacle that stands nearby. Ministers were brought across from Victoria to conduct its first services. In 1869 Reverend Grant (of Reverend C.H. Spurgeon's Pastors' College London) was invited from England and served as pastor until 1872. The Baptist community quickly outgrew Gibson’s church and in 1889 a new Tabernacle was built to replace it. (Blog post 17 February 2018) The old building continued to be used as a hall and Sunday school after the opening of the new Tabernacle.

The Gibson’s of Perth and the Baptist Movement in Tasmania

William Gibson and his wife Mary Gibson played an important role in the development of the Baptist Church in Tasmania. Mary (nee Blackner) was from a Church of England background. She arrived in Van Dieman’s Land on 6 Sept 1832 and underwent 'believer's baptism' being baptised by her uncle, the Rev Henry Dowling soon after his arrival in 1834.

In 1843, Mary married William the fourth son of David Gibson, a former convict who became a successful agriculturalist and pastoralist. William Gibson became a successful breeder of merino sheep and exported about £20 000 worth of fine wool a year to merchants in other colonies. His success was based on his creation of the Scone Merino which was known throughout Australasia. Constantly he would experiment with his flocks to improve not only the quality of the wool, but also the quantity gained from each animal. Such was his success that he won prizes in many exhibitions in the colonies and in England and America.

In 1850 the Gibson’s opened a small public chapel on their property Eskdale, at Powranna. In 1853 they purchased the estate of Native Point outside Perth, near Launceston. For some years they attended the Perth Church of England but once a month, they attended Dowling's chapel, the York Street ‘Particular Baptist’ chapel in Launceston. Mary was also greatly influenced by the Reverend Charles Spurgeon and she distributed his printed sermons to residents at Native Point.

The Gibson’s built at their own cost a Baptist chapel at Perth which was opened in 1862. William Gibson was the first person baptised there. In 1869 the Rev A. W. Grant formerly of Spurgeon's College, began a ministry at Perth. On 2 January 1870 the church was opened.

It was not until the end of the 1870's that Baptist work in Tasmania began to make progress. The Baptist denomination made little progress in other parts of the colony [apart from Launceston] until Mr Thomas Spurgeon, son of the eminent London preacher, visited the colony. The Spurgeon visit in 1878 gave impetus to the Baptist cause as Spurgeon and the Gibson’s resolved to bring to the colony a number of men from Spurgeon's College to work in centres outside Perth. Gibson paid the costs of bringing the first two ministers out to Tasmania. Support for the 'Particular Baptist' work begun by Dowling in 1835 began to wain in the latter half of the 19th century. The decline of the 'Particular's' was related to the growth of the General Baptist movement which was financially backed by the Gibson’s. It is estimated that the Gibson’s and their son William Gibson Junior, spent approximately £40 000 on supporting Baptist churches, Sunday schools, dwellings, the provision of ministers and various funds and trusts.

In 1879 new Baptist work began at Deloraine. The following year buildings were opened at Bracknell and Longford. In 1883 a new church was began at Hobart. At Launceston in 1884 Gibson paid £6000 for the erection of a tabernacle capable of seating 850 people. (Blog post 15 January 2018) He had previously contributed generously for the erection of tabernacles at Deloraine and Longford as he, Mary and their son William Junior would for buildings in Hobart, Perth, Sheffield, Promised Land, Latrobe, and Devonport. On 27 May 1884, at the new Launceston Tabernacle,  the Baptist Union of Tasmania was formed with a membership of seven churches.

Source: http://webjournals.ac.edu.au/ojs/index.php/ADEB/article/view/1168/1165


Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

William Gibson: Tasmanian Parliament House of Assembly Long Room Picture: 48


Sources:

Daily Telegraph Thursday 9 august 1888
Colonist Saturday 11 August 1888
Laurence Frederick Rowston - William Gibson entry in Australian of Evangelical Biography (2004) 
http://webjournals.ac.edu.au/ojs/index.php/ADEB/article/view/1168/1165

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