No. 68 - The Perth Baptist Tabernacle - Mary Gibson: The Weaver of Tabernacles

This most striking building is the product of the generosity of it benefactor William Gibson, who was instrumental in founding Baptist Tabernacles in Hobart and Launceston and other towns across Tasmania. Gibson had in fact funded an earlier Baptist church in Perth, which the congregation had outgrown, necessitating the opening of the new Tabernacle in 1889. [Gibson’s role is discussed will covered in another blog entry about the earlier church] William Gibson lived at Scone (now Eskleigh) having purchased the property Native Point in 1867. In 1870, Gibson built a new home at Native Point for which he harnessed the waterpower provided from an old millrace to run a generator. The electric light for the house and the outbuildings is believed to be the first private dwelling in the Southern Hemisphere to be electrically lit. The same spirit of innovation is evident in the new Perth Tabernacle.
The Daily Telegraph described the plans for the new building in some detail:

“The church is built partly on the style of the Hobart Tabernacle, but is a decided improvement, and it looks unique, more so because the style is new to Tasmania. It is an octagonal building, surmounted with a dome, which gives the edifice a very imposing appearance. The main building, of octagonal form, is 50ft by 50ft, the foundation 3ft 6in wide, with a depth of 5ft, being built of bluestone on a concrete bottom. The walls rise to a height of 35ft from the foundation, and are built of brick… The sitting accommodation has been specially studied, and the seats are to be placed so that every visitor directly faces the platform ….The church will comfortably seat 400 persons and as ventilation, light, and acoustic properties have been especially studied, the building will be a most comfortable one, and will be an honour to the donor and to the denomination”.(1)


The honour of laying the foundation stone in August 1888 was given to Gibson’s wife, Mary Gibson. While William Gibson had provided the cash for the Baptist cause, Mrs Gibson was clearly the driving force behind the Baptist cause. The Telegraph noted that:

“Mrs Gibson had laid the foundation stone of every Baptist Church in Tasmania to which 
Pastors had been appointed from the Baptist College [in] London. To her, in a large sense, the church owed its revival in Tasmania. She had alike exerted her influence over her son and husband. The generic meaning of the word wife was one who weaves and he thought she had woven her son's life in a fair pattern. When, many years ago, she landed in the colony it could have been but little thought what good she would do and how far her influence would extend”.(2)

Speaking at the ceremony, Pastor Blackie noted that he had seen in an English newspaper that Perth was described “as the most Godly, cleanest, and healthiest place in Tasmania”.(3)  At the conclusion of the foundation stone laying ceremony:

“A bottle containing copies of the Launceston Daily Telegraph and Examiner of August 8, 1888 [and] coins of the realm, and the following dedication address (read by Pastor Walton), were placed in a cavity in the brickwork beneath the memorial stone: — 'On Wednesday, the 8th day of August, in… [the] 51st year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, this stone was laid as the foundation stone of a building to be devoted to the purpose of religious worship… through the medium of the denomination of Baptists, who hold and practise the immersion of believers, and the doctrines as set forth in the rules of the Associated Baptist Churches of Tasmania, a copy of which is enclosed herewith”.(4)

At the opening of the Tabernacle in the following year, “long before the hour for opening the doors, a large number had gathered, many driving from Longford and surrounding district as far distant as Bracknell…” (5) In the ceremony, the role of the Gibson’s were once again honoured. Paster Walton had:

“…the pleasing duty of presenting fruit urn and napkin rings to Mr and Mrs Gibson… from the Baptist churches of Tasmania, and an address signed by representatives of the churches, a duty which he performed with great pleasure. Pastor McCullough, in feeling terms, alluded to the sterling worth and Christian character of the recipients, and in the name of the Baptist Churches said ‘we love Mr and Mrs Gibson’, a sentiment which from long personal friendship he fully endorsed. Mr Gibson in a few short, weighty, and touching terms returned thanks, and speaking of the Lord's continued goodness to himself, besought God's blessing on all present, and that the building of which he be to God's glory”.(6)

The Baptist Tabernacle still serves the people of Perth, and stands as an enduring legacy to the Gibson family.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018
Date unknown: State Library of Victoria Image H82.43/25

William Gibson's home originally called Scone at Native Point. Now called Eskleigh. source: LINC Tasmania AB713-1-5694 date c.1970


Sources:
(1) (2) Daily Telegraph Thursday 9 August 1888
(3) (4) Colonist Saturday 11 August 1888
(5) Daily Telegraph Wednesday 11 December 1889
(6) Colonist Saturday 14 December 1889
Daily Telegraph Wednesday 28 August 1889


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