Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Hunter Street Church

Newcastle 1863

In 1859 the Presbytery of Maitland in connection with the Presbyterian Synod of Eastern Australia applied to Scotland for ministers to work in the Hunter district. Rev. William Bain was the first of the ministers to accept. He arrived in Sydney with his wife Emma Catherine in June 1860 on the ship Centurion having departed the Downs on 25 February 1860.[1]

Rev. Bain was inducted and ordained at Newcastle on 20th June 1861, being the first minister of this congregation. During his tenure at Newcastle five congregations were established in the district. No less than three churches were constructed and another three partly so under his ministry; the first of these being a long forgotten house of worship in Hunter Street Newcastle.

Rev. Bain devoted his life to the church. He took an active part in the progress of the church as well as of the city for a period of over thirty-five years.

The Hunter Street Church

The earliest church services before the Hunter-street church was built were conducted in the Courthouse in Hunter Street and then at the Oddfellow's Hall at the corner of Darby and Laman streets. [2]

Rev. Bain soon began collections to fund the building of a church and raised almost £300. A grant of land was secured, and a building committee established comprising the Rev. Bain, Captain David Tait Allan, Captain Mearns, Captain Clark, Thomas Williamson, Alexander Brown, G. McKenzie, J. B. Hogg, Irving Keddie, Hamilton Anderson and Alexander Shedden. The contract for the building was given to Laing and McLauchlin and was to cost £800. [3]

Foundation Stone

Almost two years later, at 5p.m. on 2nd March 1863 a ceremony for the laying of the Foundation Stone of the Hunter-street church took place. Among those present were James Hannell, David Tyerman Bishop, Mayor of Newcastle; The Revds. Dean, Gainford, and Coutts and Captain Allan with their families. The past week had been one of almost incessant rain and frequent violent thunderstorms. In Newcomen-street sand came down in tons, covering the lower portion of the street and part of Hunter street to a depth of several feet. The rush of water washed away the kerb stones and buried them beneath the sand. The weather still hadn't abated on 2nd March and the afternoon was wet and the ground muddy; although many were compelled to remain some distance away, the ceremony proceeded. Prayers were offered followed by a reading by Rev. Bain of the Memorial Document which was placed underneath the memorial stone:

Memorial Document

This Memorial Document was sealed up and laid in the Foundation Stone of this Church, together with a few of the leading newspapers of the same date, and some of the small current coins of the realm, and of this present reign.

The Foundation Stone of this church, being in connexion with the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia, was laid by David Dickson, Esquire, of Bolwarra, Maitland, officiating for, and acting in the name of the Congregation, Church Building Committee, Kirk Session, and Minister, worshipping in this city in connexion with the aforesaid church, and holding the principles distively known as those maintained and upheld by the Free Church of Scotland, on the 2nd day of March, A. D. 1863. being the 26th year of the reign of Alexandrina Victoria 1., Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and its dependencies; and the Governor-in-Chief of the Colony being Sir John Young, Bart., K.C.B., Governor-in-Chief of New South Wales and its dependencies.

This edifice was dedicated by prayer to, and founded in, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only head of the Church, and King in Zion. The Moderator of the Synod of Eastern Australia, for the current year, being the Rev. William Grant, minister at Shoalhaven ; the clerk of Synod being the Rev. Arthur McEwan Sheriff, minister at Dungog and Clarence Town; the Moderator of the Presbytery of Maitland, being the Rev. William Bain, Minister at Newcastle, the Rev. James McCulloch being clerk of the said Presbytery, the Moderator of the Kirk Session, at Newcastle being the Rev. William Bain, Messrs. Hamilton Anderson, and Alexander Brown, being the elders of the said Kirk Session.

The following are the names of the gentlemen constituting the Church Building Committee of the congregation, viz. : Messrs. Thomas Williamson, Secretary; Captain David T. Allan, Treasurer; Hamilton Anderson, Alexander Brown, Captain Charles Clark, James B. Hogg, Irvine Keddie, Andrew Sneddon, junior, George McKenzie, Captain Alexander Mearns, and the Rev. William Bain, Chairman.

The contractors for this building are Messrs. Laing and McLaughlin, house, and ship joiners, of Newcastle, N. S. W. 'Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.' (Luke II. 14) ,' Newcastle, New South Wales, March 2nd, 1863.'

The stone having been conveyed into its place, Mr. Dickson said, ' I have now laid the foundation stone of this house for the worship of God, in connection with the Free Presbyterian Church.'

"The pulpit was occupied by the Rev. Bain almost continuously, and, in the early days, when there were no churches at the Glebe or Borehole (Hamilton), the people used to come in to this church on large trollies covered in with canvas as a shelter from the sun or rain. Two of the companies at that time engaged in the coal trade - the A. A. Company and the Coal and Copper Company - used to provide these teams free of charge each Sunday, and the consequence was that large congregations were gathered. These early congregations have practically passed out of existence in the forty years that have elapsed. There are a few notable exceptions, among them being Mr. John Hay of Stockton, now one of the church trustees and Mr. Thomas Scott, another trustee. These two were not members of the first Kirk session but they came in soon after. Among those who sat in the first sessions were the following:

Mr. Archibald Rodgers (father of Mr. James Rodgers), who was superintendent of the Sunday School and representative elder on the Assembly for many years

Mr. Alexander Brown, the manager of the coal and copper Company

Mr. Hamilton Anderson , store keeper

Mr. George Wardell, locomotive engineer for the Coal and Copper Company

Mr. Thomas Nicholl of Stockton, shipowner

Captain Allan, who was treasurer for many years

Mr. James Gillan, shipbuilder and ship owner with John Hay & Co.

Hunter Street Church
In this undated photograph above from the Norm Barney Photograph Collection of an original glass negative taken by Ralph Snowball, held by Cultural Collections, of the Lasker Bros. store, the Hunter-street church can be seen on the far right

Fire 1866

The church was considerably damaged by fire in 1866. The fire broke out about 4pm in the workshop belonging to Archibald Hay which adjoined the church and was the proposed site of the future Newcastle School of Arts. Later at the inquest it was found the fire was started by some young lads playing with matches near the workshop. When they couldn't extinguish the fire they had started they ran for assistance to the nearby Australian Hotel. No time was lost in giving alarm and the fire bell of the brigade station in Newcomen street was set ringing and also several other bells including ship's bells followed; within about twenty minutes an immense number of people had congregated in front and at the rear of the burning buildings. The fire engine was stationed on the market wharf and the hose was taken across the G. N. Railway to the rear of the Presbyterian Church however all efforts to extinguish flames on Hay's shed were futile and very soon attention was turned to saving the Presbyterian Church, the roof and western windows of which had, in the meantime caught fire. It was thought the entire building would be lost however under direction of Fire Chief Henry Webb, the firemen did their utmost. Finding that it was impossible to do much good from the outside the hose was taken inside the church and the jet directed to such portions of the windows and roof that could be reached. A little after five o'clock the wind which had been blowing strong, fell and changed direction and fortunately the church was eventually saved. The church was insured by the Imperial Fire Insurance Company for about £800. The repairs were estimated to cost from £100 to £200. The furniture sustained some damage but had been removed by some of the many citizens who rushed to the scene to help. The disaster was the scene of some extraordinary bravery by both fire fighters and ordinary folk. Of the 1200 to 1500 people who gathered to watch about 100 assisted in the work of saving and removing merchandise and furniture of several businesses in the surrounds. [6] Services were held in the court-house while the church was being repaired.

Church enlarged

In 1879 the church was considerably enlarged, according to Newcastle historian W. J. Goold, an unwise move for a few year later members of the congregation were advocating the removal to a new site. The noise from the trains at the rear of the church was proving a nuisance. [7]

Wallsend - Carrington - Stockton

"Rev. Bain held occasional services at outlying centres. There is a record of him holding services in the workshop of a Pit of the Newcastle Coal company at Wallsend between 1862 and 1867. He also cared for Carrington, Smedmore (Maryville) and Stockton. Presbyterians from Carrington also attended the Hunter Street Church and Rev. Bain managed to obtain a government grant of Land (this Carrington Church was sold in 1918). Rev. Bain held regular Church meetings in Smedmore at the Smedmore Mechanics Institute. He also conducted cottage meetings in Stockton. This further helped to build up the Hunter Street congregation. It is recorded that in the early days some members of the Hunter Street congregation went to Church by rowing pulling boats across the harbour from Stockton. [8]

Because of ill-health Rev. Bain resigned in May 1895 and the charge of the Hunter-street Presbyterian Church devolved to the Rev. John Downey, M. A., B. D., he being inducted in November 1895. He remained for about seven years, when he was transferred to the charge of Warragal in Victoria. The Rev. Thomas Simpson Crawford M. A., was inducted to the charge in February 1903 and resigned in 1907. [9]

Hunter Street Church 1904
The above image from The Sydney Mail was taken at the laying of the Foundation Stone of the Newcastle School of Arts Extension in November 1904. [10]

The little church can be seen centre of the photograph in what must surely be its last days.

By the time the David Cohen warehouse (seen behind the church in the above photo) burned down in January 1908 the Hunter Street church had long disappeared.


The decision was made to build a new church to replace the Hunter-street church, partly because it was believed the church was hidden among many buildings in the heart of what had become a commercial district but also in the hope of attracting more people to the congregation.

December 7 1904 must have been a poignant day for the Bain family as on that day a farewell tea and public meeting was held in the Hunter-street church. It was to be the last held in the building that they had, as a family, worked diligently and faithfully in for so many years and which was to be pulled down in the following days.

Hunter-street church farewell
The Mayor Mr. John Gilbert gave a speech. He could remember the church when he was a lad going to school and occasionally on special occasions, he also attended the church in those days. He offered congratulations and hoped they would continue to be an influence for good and that there would be a large increase in membership.

The chairman Rev. Thomas S. Crawford then addressed the gathering followed by Rev. Bain who was 78 years of age and was grateful to God that he had been spared to be present at the meeting. He regretted the amount of Sabbath desecration in Newcastle and called on parents to commit to the religious instruction of the children. He uttered a warning against turning the church into a concert hall. Music, he considered was beautiful and good; but they must beware lest outward forms took the place of true worship.

Mr. Robert Morison, president of the Newcastle auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society scarcely knew whether to sympathise with them or to congratulate them. The younger members would be looking forward with anticipation to the new church and school but the older members would look back in memory upon the building where they had worshipped for so many years.

A building of pleasing architectural design would be an addition to the city and would show that their church was alive and they felt that the future held even brighter things than the past had yielded. There were at the time 83 members of the church and although some of the old members had passed away, there was a solid body of parishioners that attended Sunday after Sunday. They hoped that in the new church to draw more people to the congregation.

Mr. John Hay one of the oldest members of the church thanked the speakers and singers. He regretted leaving the old church but thought all would do their best to their new surroundings. [11]


The old church which was sold to Albert Augustus Dangar in February 1904 was demolished as soon as the legal formalities of the sale of the site were completed. Until about 1892-94 the railway came up to the church's fence, and the cutting off of some portion of the original grant for the purpose of making a continuation of Scott street for tramway purposes caused legal delays in the sale of the property. Architect Frederick Menkens had been engaged to design the new building for A. A. Dangar and he was calling for tenders for the erection of a block of business premises on the site of the church in March 1904. [12]

The proposed demolition was to take place in November 1904. [13] An auction of building materials after the demolition was to be held later that month[14].

It would be interesting to know if they unearthed the old Memorial Document that had been placed there so many years before.

New Building on the old Site

By March 1905 the Newcastle Morning Herald could report that a number of bricklayers were engaged in the work of extending Messrs David Cohen and Co's store in Scott street, on the site of the old Hunter street Presbyterian Church. The building was to be four storeys high and the walls very thick. The contractor was Mr. G. W. Brewer. Including the hydraulic appliances the extension would add to an outlay for A. A. Dangar of about £10,000.[15]

St. Phillip's Church

The Rev. Thomas S. Crawford M. A., who was inducted to the charge of the Hunter Street church in November 1902 presided over the move to the new church, St. Phillips in Watt Street.

The site in Watt-street opposite the Council Chambers had a frontage of 66ft by a depth of 157ft (20m x 48m) and approval by the Presbytery for a handsome brick church to cost about £4000 had been given. The trustees had sold the site of the old church in Hunter Street for £6000 however retained the property occupied by Messrs Lasker Bros which has re-leased for another 14 years. Between the demolition of the old and the building of the new church Rev. Crawford conducted divine services in the King's Hall each Sunday.

The Foundation Stone of St. Philips Church where the future congregation of the Hunter street Church would worship, was laid on Wednesday 5 April 1905 in the presence of a large gathering. Very near to the site occupied by the new edifice there stood many years before, the first Presbyterian Church in the district. Worshippers from that church later became active members at the Church of St. Andrews in Laman Street. [16]

Jubilee of the Ordination of Rev. William Bain 1911

In January 1911 on the Jubilee of the ordination of Rev. William Bain, the Newcastle Morning Herald published a congratulatory article:

The jubilee of the ordination of the Rev. William Bain, who has been intimately associated with religious work in Newcastle for the last 50 years, at first in connection with the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia, and later with the Presbyterian Church of Australia, after the union in 1890, will be celebrated shortly. Mr, Bain, who will be 85 years of age on the 9th of March, was, born at Lybster; Caithness, Scotland, and was educated at the parish school of Latheron. He entered the Edinburgh University in the year 1816, only three years after the disruption of the Church of Scotland. In 1843, from the University Hall curriculum, he entered the New College of the Free Church, Edinburgh, and completed a full course in theology of four years.

His first work was at Aberdour, Aberdeen shire, as home missionary. From there he went to Creeton, Kircudbrightshire, where a beautiful Free Church was built for him. He could have settled down there: but at the urgent invitation of the Free Church Foreign Mission, he left Creeton to go out to Nagpore, India; but it was realised that the Indian climate would not suit his health, so the colonial committee, who were selecting ministers for New South Wales, commissioned him, as the first of three, who were sent to the Presbytery of Maitland.

Mr. Bain was on his way to Australia when his destination was changed. When crossing the line he was informed of his appointment to the work in Newcastle by the Synod of Eastern Australia. Mrs. Bain came with him, and when they arrived here in 1860 to begin what proved to be their life-work, they found Newcastle a very poor-looking place. Compared with the cities of the old land, Newcastle was then only a dirty little village, with practically no harbour accommodation, and not even a wharf on which passengers might land. When Mr, and Mrs. Bain came up from Sydney by boat, they had to land on a heap of stones. Mr Bain began his work by renting the Oddfellows Hall, in Darby-street, where services were conducted for two years. But in one year the congregation had grown so well under Mr. Bain's ministration, that it was sanctioned as a full ministerial charge, and he was unanimously called, ordained, and inducted as the first settled minister of the congregation by the Presbytery of Maitland.

That was in June, 1861, and the Rev. James McCulloch, minister at Raymond Terrace preached the Induction sermon. The valuable site of land in Hunter-street, Newcastle, was obtained by the committee from the Government of New South Wales, through the very kindly influence of Mr. James Hannell, Mayor of Newcastle, and M.P, for the electorate. In the course of four months the first church was finished, and was opened by Drs. Grant, W. McIntyre, and other representatives of the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia.

In the year 1879 the church was enlarged by taking the northern side wall down, and building a wing to it. By this alteration the pulpit faced the east instead of the south, and the church then had seating accommodation for 300 persons. So it continued until a few years ago, when the site was sold and the building pulled down.

In 1860 there were no charges in the suburbs, and Hamilton was supplied by the Rev. Mr. Bain and the Rev. J. Coutts, St. Andrew's on alternate Sundays. The ministers of those days, in all the churches, had much pioneering work to do, and Mr. Bain developed Wallsend, Minmi, Lambton, and Belmont, building churches at the two last-named towns. Newcastle was then very little better off in the matter of streets and thorough fares than it was when
Mr. Henry Dangar laid it out in the 1820's. Three horses were needed to pull a ton of coal through the black sand of Hunter Street, and the scrub out towards Hamilton was so thick that one could scarcely drive through it.

When Mr. Bain went first to Wallsend there was no road only a good track. In the fifty years which have followed, Mr. Bain has witnessed the great development of the district, and he says he knows of no town in Australia where the change wrought in that time has been so marked. In the religious and social life of the community there has also been wonderful development.

In carrying out the work of his charge, Mr. Bain never spared himself. Three churches were built in his own charge, and three other churches, partly under the same, during his ministry in New castle and the Hunter district. On moonlight weeks in the month, cottage prayer meetings were held in country districts, where pastoral visitation was held during the day to invite the people, and on dark weeks in the month, the meetings for prayer were held in the town church. This method proved very helpful to the spiritual work of the charge.

In the year 1864, when the mission of the Synod of New South Wales and Eastern Australia was formed, and the general synod also, Mr. Bain was the Moderator for that period. Again, in 1887-8, Mr. Bain was unanimously elected the Moderator of the General Assembly of New South Wales by all the Presbyteries of the church. In the year 1894, Mr. Bain's health broke down, so much so that his medical advisor urged him immediately to rest. Acting on this advice, the General Assembly of May, 1895, accepted his resignation, and placed him on the fund of infirm ministers, with full standing as a member of Presbytery and G. Assembly, and minister emeritus of the church. It is all exceptional circumstance that a minister should reside for half a century in one city, and that 35 years of that time should be spent in strenuous missionary and settled Church work, but from 1865, up to the year 1902, Mr. Bain also acted as clerk of the Presbytery of the Hunter, a period of forty-two years.

In his work, Mr. Bain always had the loving assistance of his wife. Mr. and Mrs. Bain were married in Glasgow in 1860, and last year they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. In all the time spent so earnestly in the work of the church in Newcastle, Mr. Bain was always able to count upon the help of his wife, and no small share of the work of the church in Hunter street fell upon her. Their daughter was also an earnest worker in the church, and for ten years filled the office of organist.

During the last few days, Mr. Bain has received congratulations from a number of people upon the approaching Jubilee of his ordination.


Rev. Bain died at Newcastle on 9 March 1911, just two months after the Jubilee celebrations

Notes and Links

1). The minister in charge of old St. Andrew's in the early sixties was the Rev. James Nimmo. He left for Scotland some nine months after the Rev. Bain came to Newcastle. Old St. Andrew's stood in Watt street where Hamilton Hall was. The site, including the Grand Hotel block was sold to the late Mr. Henry Buchanan for £11,500 and this money was utilised towards the expenditure in building St. Andrews Church in Laman street. The Rev. James Coutts, M. A., succeeded the Rev. James Nimmo, and was for years a neighbour of Rev. Bain. Ten years later the Rev. T. A. Gordon was inducted colleague and successor. He remained at St. Andrews until after the building of the church in Laman street. [18]

2). Former St. Phillips Church

3). Emma Catherine, daughter of Rev. Bain married William Scott Fell - see Australian Dictionary of Biography

4). Some of the marriages performed by Rev. Bain

5).Rev. Wilton

6).Newcastle in 1870

7). Use the map of Newcastle below to find the locations of:
King's Hall
Oddfellow's Hall, corner of Darby and Laman Streets
The old Court-house in Hunter Street
Business premises built by A. A. Dangar on the site of the former church

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[1] Shipping News, p. 4, Empire 12 June 1860

[2] United we stand : (a history of St. Philip's & the Hunter Street Presbyterian Church, Newcastle) 1860-2005., p.4 Camden Theological Library

[3] Goold, W. J., The Hunter Street Church, Journal and Proceedings, Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society, Volume 1, 1947, p.55

[4] Laying the Foundation Stone - Newcastle Chronicle 4 March 1863

[5] Proposed Demolition, p.3, Newcastle Morning Herald 5 November 1904

[6] Destruction Fire in Hunter Street, p. 2, Newcastle Chronicle 19 September 1866

[7] Goold, W. J., The Hunter Street Church, Journal and Proceedings, Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society, Volume 1, 1947, p.55

[8] United we stand : (a history of St. Philip's & the Hunter Street Presbyterian Church, Newcastle) 1860-2005. p. 7 Camden Theological Library

[9] Centenary history of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales by James Cameron. Internet Archive

[10] Laying Foundation Stone of Newcastle School of Arts Extension. Sydney Mail 9 November 1904

[11] Farewell meeting Newcastle Morning Herald 8 December 1904

[12] Newcastle Building Trade, p. 6, Newcastle Morning Herald 11 March 1904

[13] Proposed Demolition, p.3, Newcastle Morning Herald 5 November 1904

[14] Advertising, p. 7, Newcastle Morning Herald 26 November 1904

[15] Newcastle Building Trade, p. 6, Newcastle Morning Herald 3 March 1905

[16] Foundation Ceremony, p. 5, Newcastle Morning Herald 6 April 1905

[17] Rev. William Bain, p. 4, Newcastle Morning Herald 27 January 1911

[18] Proposed Demolition, p.3, Newcastle Morning Herald 5 November 1904