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North Fitzroy Church, c. 1970.

Photo courtesy of South Pacific Division Heritage Centre.

North Fitzroy Church, Melbourne, Australia

By Milton Hook

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Milton Hook, Ed.D. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, the United States). Hook retired in 1997 as a minister in the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia. An Australian by birth Hook has served the Church as a teacher at the elementary, academy and college levels, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and as a local church pastor. In retirement he is a conjoint senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education. He has authored Flames Over Battle Creek, Avondale: Experiment on the Dora, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist, the Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series, and many magazine articles. He is married to Noeleen and has two sons and three grandchildren.

First Published: January 29, 2020

The North Fitzroy Adventist Church, arising from a Sabbath School and organized in January 1886, was the first Seventh-day Adventist church organized in the Southern Hemisphere.

Origins of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia

The year 1885 saw the beginnings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australasia. From a base in Melbourne, the mission expanded to all the colonies and eventually to the South Pacific islands. The first group of American Seventh-day Adventist missionaries comprised Elder Stephen Haskell, Elder Mendel Israel and family, Elder John Corliss and family, printer Henry Scott, and book salesman William Arnold.1

Sabbath School Established

After first staying in temporary accommodation, most of the missionary group moved into a rented home called “Sumarlide” at 46 Highett Street (now 64), suburban Richmond.2 Here, on July 4, 1885, they conducted their first Sabbath School. Haskell presided over affairs. Scott was elected to be superintendent, and Israel’s eldest daughter, Jessie, served as secretary. A month later, on August 8, John Stockton and his two children, Mindora, or “Minnie,” and Henry, or “Harry,” attended for the first time. His wife, Ann, waited until September before she began to attend regularly,3 the school then being held at two o’clock on Sabbath afternoons.4 By the end of the year, the Sabbath School membership had risen to 47. The leadership team expected members to be present every week. If for some good reason one could not attend, they addressed an absentee note to the superintendent. Some of those scraps of paper are extant.5

Melbourne Church Organized

On the Sabbath of January 2, 1886, a special meeting was held in Temperance Hall, Rae Street, North Fitzroy, after which Israel conducted the first baptism.6 William Wainman is reported to be the very first candidate. He was a plasterer and bricklayer by trade but found it difficult to get employment with Sabbath exemptions, so Arnold tutored him in book salesmanship. The first woman to be baptized was Elizabeth Romero. Others baptized that day included John and Ann Stockton and Emma Hellier.7

A week after the baptism, on Sunday, January 10, Haskell and Corliss invited the Sabbath School group to organize themselves into a church. Twenty-seven, including one junior, responded. Israel was elected as their elder, and Stockton, their deacon. Walter Miller served as church clerk, and Jane Fraser, as church treasurer. It was the first Seventh-day Adventist church to be organized in the Southern Hemisphere. The following month, they began regular Sabbath services in the Temperance Hall, Russell Street, inner-city Melbourne. Their membership list blossomed to approximately one hundred, so they were forced to rent the larger Assembly Hall in Collins Street.8 In July they held an anniversary Sabbath School to commemorate their first meeting in 1885.9

The church members continued to rent the Assembly Hall until late in 1888, when they moved to the Albert Hall on Heidelberg Road, Clifton Hill.10 Scott remained the Sabbath School superintendent.11 They were quick to form a tract and missionary society that included distributing church literature to the sailors in port.12 Youth meetings, under the banner of the Rivulet Missionary Society, were organized for the youngsters to fold and package church magazines under supervision in preparation for mailing.13 The church also initiated a health and temperance society.14 One member attempted his own tent crusade in nearby Cheltenham.15

North Fitzroy

The missionaries had established their own printing business, the Echo Publishing House, on Best Street, North Fitzroy. The upstairs section of the building was reserved for public meetings, and beginning on July 28, 1889, the Melbourne Church group took advantage of the facility for their Sabbath services. It was named Federal Hall.16 It was the first worship premises owned by the denomination in Australia, preceding by a few months the opening of the Bismarck church (renamed Collinsvale) in Tasmania.17

Even though the group met in North Fitzroy and a second group had formed in suburban Prahran, the original group retained the name Melbourne church for some years. This was partly because they had to vacate Federal Hall in 1892 and move from North Fitzroy because the Echo Publishing Company needed to expand into the upstairs section. Once again, the Melbourne church hired Albert Hall on Heidelberg Road, beginning in April 1892. A further move was made in August 1893 to Temperance Hall in North Fitzroy, followed by yet another to Carlton Hall in North Carlton in March 1896.18

The frequent moves to eight venues during their first decade prompted plans to erect their own church building. When they were meeting in Carlton Hall, they found a suitable place in the same suburb, but negotiations were discontinued when irregularities in the title deed were discovered. A further search located a plot for sale at 27 Alfred Crescent, North Fitzroy. They paid a little over £300 for it. At the time, the allotment fronted a swamp in the process of being filled and converted to what became Edinburgh Gardens. Having chosen to settle in North Fitzroy, the group from that time onward was known as the North Fitzroy church.19

James Shannan, who had recently completed building “Sunnyside” for Ellen White, was hired to take charge of construction. J. Cooper and Harry Mitchell were employed as bricklayers. The church clerk, C. W. Giovanetti, who was a glazier and sign writer, assisted with the windows and painted a distinctive crest above the rostrum that read: “The Lord Is In His Holy Temple.”20 All building materials, furniture, and labor costs totaled less than £1,000. Australian church headquarters had donated £200, and the remainder was borrowed money that was gradually paid off by the church members.21 On Sunday afternoon, September 13, 1896, a dedication service was held by Elder Eugene Farnsworth.22

In 1935 the front doors of the church were removed during refurbishments, and a brick porch was erected to provide a better entrance during inclement weather. A central heating system was installed in 2008 that improved the comfort level for church members. The building, still used for regular services today, remains as one of a small number bearing a 19th-century ambiance, with wooden ceiling and hardwood pews, tucked away among modern residential homes and in close proximity to the Melbourne central business district.23

Sources

B., E. J. “The Colonies.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, November 1887.

“Bro. D. Sheppard has opened meetings. . . .” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, June 1886.

Corliss, Julia A. “The Journal of J. A. Corliss: 1883–1891.” James White Library Archives, Andrews University, Michigan. https://adventistdigitallibrary.org/adl-22252758/journal-j-corliss-years-1883-1891.

“Dedication at North Fitzroy.” Bible Echo, September 21, 1896.

“Federal Hall, in the upper part of our office. . . .” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, August 15, 1889.

Israel, M. C. “Melbourne T. and M. Society.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, November 1887.

Jones, Laurence, ed. Beginnings. Nunawading, Victoria: Jones Printing Service, 1985.

North Fitzroy Church. Avondale College of Higher Education Archives, Cooranbong, New South Wales. Box: 709. Document: “Sabbath School Record and Register: 1885–1888.”

North Fitzroy Church. Avondale College of Higher Education Archives, Cooranbong, New South Wales. Box: 709. Folder: “Sabbath School Excuse Letters: 1887–1888.”

“North Fitzroy SDA Church.” Victorian Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. https://northfitzroyadventist.com/history/.

“Place and Address of Meetings.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, December 1888.

Prismall, W. J. W. J. Prismall to Melbourne Sabbath School, March 30, 1888. Avondale College of Higher Education Archives, Cooranbong, New South Wales. Box: 709.

“Public Services.” Bible Echo, August 1, 1893.

“Public Services.” Bible Echo, March 9, 1896.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1888.

“The first annual reunion of the Melbourne. . . .” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, August 1886.

“The following letter was received. . . .” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, January 15, 1890.

“The services of the Melbourne church. . . .” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, April 15, 1892.

Notes

  1. “Australian Mission, Including New Zealand and Other Pacific Islands,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1888), 131–133.

  2. Laurence Jones, ed., Beginnings (Nunawading, Victoria: Jones Printing Service, 1985), 9.

  3. North Fitzroy Church, Avondale College of Higher Education Archives, Cooranbong, NSW. Box: 709. Document: “Sabbath School Record and Register: 1885–1888.”

  4. Julia A. Corliss, “The Journal of J. A. Corliss: 1883–1891,” James White Library Archives, Andrews University, Michigan, accessed April 11, 2018, https://adventistdigitallibrary.org/adl-22252758/journal-j-corliss-1883-1891.

  5. North Fitzroy Church, Avondale College of Higher Education Archives, Cooranbong, New South Wales, Box: 709, Folder: “Sabbath School Excuse Letters: 1887–1888.”

  6. Corliss, “Journal of J. A. Corliss.”

  7. Jones, Beginnings, 40.

  8. Corliss, “Journal of J. A. Corliss.”

  9. “The first annual reunion of the Melbourne . . . ,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, August 1886, 128.

  10. “Place and Address of Meetings,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, December 1888, 192.

  11. W. J. Prismall to Melbourne Sabbath School, March 30, 1888, Avondale College of Higher Education Archives, Cooranbong, NSW, Box: 709.

  12. E.g., M. C. Israel, “Melbourne T. and M. Society,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, November 1887, 171.

  13. Jones, Beginnings, 18.

  14. E.g., E. J. B., “The Colonies,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, November 1887, 171.

  15. “Bro. D. Sheppard has opened meetings . . . ,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, June 1886, 96.

  16. “Federal Hall, in the upper part of our office . . . ,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, August 15, 1889, 256.

  17. “The following letter was received . . . ,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, January 15, 1890, 32.

  18. Jones, Beginnings, 17.

  19. Ibid.

  20. Ibid.

  21. Ibid., 60–61.

  22. “Dedication at North Fitzroy,” Bible Echo, September 21, 1896, 296.

  23. “North Fitzroy SDA Church,” Victorian Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, accessed May 2, 2018, https://northfitzroyadventist.com/history/.

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Hook, Milton. "North Fitzroy Church, Melbourne, Australia." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Accessed June 13, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=381I.

Hook, Milton. "North Fitzroy Church, Melbourne, Australia." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Date of access June 13, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=381I.

Hook, Milton (2020, January 29). North Fitzroy Church, Melbourne, Australia. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 13, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=381I.