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Places of Worship in Fremantle, 1829 to 1900

Steve Errington

Fremantle: Empire, Faith and Conflict since 1829, Studies in Western Australian History, no. 31, ed. Deborah Gare & Shane Burke: 145-158. Republished here by gracious permission of the author and copyright-holder.


With one modest exception, the building of places for worship was not a high priority in the early Swan River colony. When the first private settlers arrived on the Calista in August 1829, they came ashore at Fremantle's South Bay into a swampy wilderness, devoid of streets, shops, inns, schools and churches. More than a decade passed before there was a resident clergyman of any denomination in Fremantle (the Rev. George King, an Anglican) or a church building (the Wesleyan chapel on Cantonment Street). Arrival of convicts and pensioner guards in 1850 and the building in the town of a large convict depot shortly after brought major changes to the material signature of religious life in the colony's seaport. This paper describes the development of the religious denominations in Fremantle during the colonial period from 1829 to 1900 and the gradual evolution of church buildings and properties associated with their growth.

There should have been a clergyman present in August 1829: the Parmelia, which had anchored off Garden Island on 2 June carrying the advance party of Lieutenant Governor James Stirling, his officials and tradespeople and their families, was supposed to have had a Colonial Chaplain aboard. The Rev. John Wittenoom had been appointed to Swan River with a government salary of £250 per annum, but he accepted the position on 19 January 1829 and was therefore too late to depart with his fellow officials. 1 This meant there was no clergyman in the Swan River colony's early weeks to perform baptisms, burials and marriages. 2

Wittenoom was, naturally, of the Church of England, the 'Established' church still strongly enmeshed in the governance of Britain and its colonies. Most of the pioneers were adherents of that church, but it was not to be the established church of Western Australia. Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for the Colonies, had simply instructed Stirling that 'on all Locations of Territory, a due proportion must be reserved ... for the maintenance of the Clergy, support of Establishments for the purposes of religion, and the education of youth'. 3

1 J.B. Wittenoom, letter to R.W. Hay, 19 January 1829, Swan River Papers, vol. 5, p. 1.

2 This upset the mother of a sickly child born in the temporary town on Garden Island. Fearing, correctly, that her child would not survive, she persuaded harbourmaster Mark Currie to perform a baptism. See Jane Currie, Diary, 1829-32, copy of original manuscript. J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History (SLWA), Acc 329A.

3 Sir George Murray, letter to Captain Stirling, 30 December 1828, published in Historical Records of Australia: Series III, Despatches and Papers Relating to the Settlement of the States, vol. 6, Melbourne, 1923, p. 601. (Hereafter, HRA).


The first clergyman at Swan River arrived by accident in November 1829. The Rev. Thomas Hobbes Scott, formerly the Archdeacon of New South Wales, was returning to England on Stirling's former ship HMS Success when it ran aground off Carnac Island. On Sunday 20 December, he conducted a morning service for about 90 people in Fremantle.4 In Perth, the colony's capital, he oversaw the building of a temporary church (the 'rush' church, named because of the bulrushes used in its construction) that was sufficiently advanced to host a Christmas Day service that year. Scott remained in the colony until August 1830.

Wittenoom was not even the second clergyman to arrive, for the Rev. Thomas Sharpe disembarked from the Eagle on 25 January 1830, three days before Wittenoom and the Rev. Richard Davies arrived on the Wanstead. Wittenoom immediately left for Perth but Davies, who was bound for Van Diemen's Land where he was later Archdeacon of Hobart, was keen that the passengers should continue to meet for Sunday services. The venue selected was 'A kind of barn, or shed, at the entrance of the town of Freemantle [sic] ... but it was so small, close, and disagreeable, that it was abandoned in the hope of procuring something better'. 5

The Wesleyan Methodists who arrived on the Tranby on 3 February 1830 created something better. On the following Sunday, 7 February, their leader Joseph Hardey conducted a service on the beach at South Bay. 6 The Tranby people swiftly erected a timber building in Fremantle with a large room for their prayer meetings. The building, which became known as 'Tranby House', was made available to Church of England adherents on Sunday 7 March for a morning service conducted by Davies. The Wanstead passenger Jane Roberts was among those who attended, returning at night to a crowded room for the Wesleyans' service. 7 8 Sharpe, who performed baptisms and a burial during his short stay, preached in the same venue a week later before departing for Sydney on the Gilmore.

By 1840, the British population of the Swan River had reached only 2,300 people, and the erection of churches in Fremantle relied on state support—made possible by the passing in July that year of the Churches and Chapels Act. During its debate in the Legislative Council, Governor John Hutt described it as 'A Bill to promote the building of Churches and Chapels, and to contribute towards the maintenance of Ministers'. 9 Private contributions could be matched by the colonial government up to the value of £500. The Wesleyans were the first to take advantage of the Act's provisions in Fremantle.

4 Alfred Burton, Church Beginnings in the West, Perth, 1941, Appendix I.

5 Jane Roberts, Two Years at Sea, London, 1834, p. 81.

6 Ruth Johnston, The Tranby Hartleys, Serpentine (WA), 1988, p. 13. The commemorative plaque placed near the Round House above Bathers Beach in February 1980 would appear to be wrongly located.

7 Roberts, pp. 80-3.

8 Burton, pp. 18-19.

9 Perth Gazette, 20 June 1840, p. 3.


The first chapel

The Wesleyans acquired their first ordained minister in June 1840 with the arrival of the Rev. John Smithies on the Prima Donna. Although based in Perth, the Wesleyan missionary wrote back to London on 22 June that:

I have already been down to Fremantle, a small but growing seaport at the mouth of the Swan River. ... I have arranged that the Courthouse (Fremantle) is at liberty for services to be performed to the wishes of the Wesleyan Conference.

Fremantle's first courthouse, photographed by Stephen Stout c. 1864 to the left of the Round House, was a temporary home to a number of early Christian denominations.

The Wesleyan chapel, built in 1842, photographed here with classrooms added in 1896.

He had not finished. The day after his courthouse service on 12 July, he held a meeting at which £170 was donated towards the building of a chapel. 11 The government provided land in Cantonment Street, and on 16 September 1840, a crowd of over 300 people assembled to celebrate a milestone for the town of Fremantle. The crowd gathered at the end of High Street by the entrance to the whalers' tunnel. Looming above them was the gaol and courthouse. At noon, Governor John Hutt joined the congregation and they set off in double-file to Cantonment Street, where Hutt laid the foundation stone of Fremantle's first purpose-built house of worship.

The chapel—costing £625—opened on 24 May 1842, Queen Victoria's birthday and a public holiday. 12 By then the Treasury had paid £200 of a promised £300, but the balance remained unpaid until 1848. In July 1847, a petition requesting payment was rejected on the casting vote of Governor Frederick Irwin—a staunch Anglican—following a revealing debate in the Legislative Council.13 Judge William Mackie thought that public funds could be disposed of in no better way than by building places of public worship, but Advocate-General George Fletcher Moore felt that the Fremantle chapel had been built on speculation of getting a congregation by proselytising. He thought that the Wesleyans had gone against the spirit of the Act by seeking funds from outside their own followers. Irwin did not consider the £100 a government debt, adding that the Rev. George King (by then minister of the new St John's Anglican Church) had told him that the chapel

10 John Smithies, letter to the Wesleyan Missions. London (typed copy). 22 June 1840. Uniting Church Archives, Perth.

11 Perth Gazette, 18 July 1840, pp. 2-3; Bert Forrest, Wesley Church Fremantle, 1889-1994: A short history 1829-1945, reprinted 1994, Fremantle Wesley Mission.

12 Perth Gazette, 28 May 1842, p. 2.

13 Inquirer, 14 July 1847.


had been closed for some time since his arrival. 14 Fremantle's first chapel, therefore, had a chequered history, including long intervals of closure in its first 40 years. The 1848 census reveals that only five Fremantle residents claimed to be of the Wesleyan Methodist faith (see Table 1).

St John's Church

St John's Church opened in King's Square in 1843

The building of St John's Church for the town's Anglican congregation was also a protracted process. Thomas Bannister, the Government Resident in Fremantle from May 1830 until November 1831, had ordered plans for a church to be drawn up, 15 and the town plan published in March 1833 showed a church site in King's Square exactly where St John's would be constructed ten years later. However, in an editorial published in December 1838, the Perth Gazette noted that:

It is now nearly four years since divine service has been performed by a clergyman at Fremantle, and had not the Government Resident obligingly officiated, about 400 souls would have been left without one public ordinance for so long a period. This is indeed too bad! 16

14 ibid.

15 J.L. Burton Jackson, Frowning Fortunes: The story of Thomas Bannister and the Williams River district, Carlisle, 1993, p. 23.

16 Perth Gazette, 1 December 1838, p. 2. An ordinance was an established rite or ceremony.


Wittenoom appears to have been reluctant to travel to the port except for baptisms and marriages, 17 events—when they occurred—possibly performed in the various Fremantle courthouse buildings, starting with the temporary arrangement in the harbourmaster's office. In 1839, the new Fremantle Government Resident Richard Brown asked for permission to erect a church in King's Square—a request backed by a petition from residents. 18 The following year the residents guaranteed an annual clergyman's salary of £75 and Governor Hutt offered £100 from the public purse. 19 As a result, Fremantle Anglicans acquired their first resident minister with the arrival of King on the Ganges in October 1841. An Irishman, King had been sent with his wife Jane by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. 20

The energetic King immediately commenced services in the courthouse. In addition, a public meeting held on 30 October resolved to call for designs and tenders for the erection of a church. 21 King was able to hold the first service in the church of St John the Evangelist on Friday 4 August 1843 (one day short of fourteen years since the Calista arrived), and the church officially opened in September.22 In Perth, Wittenoom was still nearly two years away from opening his St Georges church.

The Catholic parish

Roman Catholics were the next religious community to establish a presence in Fremantle. Irish-born secular priest John Brady arrived on the Water Witch on 8 December 1843 as vicar-general of Western Australia. The following day, local Catholics approached Brown for permission to use the courthouse as a chapel. Brown forwarded the request to Hutt, who readily agreed. 23 After a recruiting trip to Europe, Brady returned as Bishop of Perth on the Elizabeth in January 1846. He brought six Sisters of Mercy and the Benedictine monks Rosendo Salvado and Joseph Serra with him.

In October 1847, Brady acquired lots 66 and 67 in Henry Street, with 'a nice little house' for the Sisters of Mercy, who were to open a convent and school. 24 It was barren ground: Sister Anne Xavier observed that everyone in Fremantle was Protestant with the exception of two families. 25 The family of Patrick and Charlotte Marmion, who had found beds for the Sisters when they arrived the previous year, was one. However, census data from October 1848 indicates that 29 people in Fremantle were Roman Catholics, 6.8 per cent of the town's population of 426 people. Catholics attended mass in a room

17 The record shows that he performed 118 baptisms in Fremantle between 1831 and 1841, often five in one day. See St John's registers on microfilm reel 2467A/1 BL.

18 C.L.M. Hawtrey. The Availing Struggle: A record of the planting and development of the Church of England in Western Australia, 1829-1947, Perth, 1949, p. 28.

19 ibid.

20 Bob Reece, 'The Revd George King', in Bob Reece (ed.). The Irish in Western Australia: Studies in Western Australian History, vol. 20, 2000, pp. 35-48.

21 Perth Gazette, 6 November 1841.

22 Rev. John Wollaston recorded an insider's view of the opening. See, John Wollaston, The Wollaston Journals, Volume 2, 1842-44, edited by Geoffrey Bolton, Nedlands, 1992, pp. 163-6.

23 Richard Brown, letter dated 11 December 1843 to the Colonial Secretary, endorsed in the margin by Governor John Hutt, State Records Office of Western Australia (SROWA), Acc 36/120/237.

24 Geraldine Byrne, Valiant Women: Letters from the Foundation Sisters of Mercy in Western Australia, 1845-1849, Melbourne, 1981, p. 68.

25 ibid., p. 69.


in the convent, 26 but the impulsive Brady closed the convent and school in May 1849. In February 1848, Brady sent Serra to Europe on a very successful fundraising and recruiting mission. While away, Serra was promoted to bishop 26 27 and in December 1849, he returned on the Spanish warship Ferrolana as Brady's coadjutor-bishop. Included in his large party of recruits was the Catalonian secular priest Fr Martin Griver, who would eventually succeed Brady as Bishop of Perth. 28

Fremantle began a rapid transformation in June 1850 when the Scindian arrived, carrying the first group of 75 convicts and 54 pensioner guards and their families. 29 Fremantle was chosen as the location of the Convict Establishment, a very large depot for receiving convicts built on a limestone ridge overlooking the town, officially renamed Fremantle Prison in 1867. 30 Rev. J. R. Postlethwaite was appointed Anglican chaplain to the Convict Establishment, 31 and an Anglican chapel, built in 1856-57, was incorporated in the depot's main cell-block. The arrival of the convicts and their guards—many of whom were from Ireland—noticeably boosted the number of Catholics in the Fremantle community. 32 By December 1859, the proportion of Fremantle residents nominating the Church of Rome as their religious affiliation had risen to nearly 22 per cent and it peaked at 30 per cent by the time of the 1870 census. Fr Timothy Donovan, ordained by Brady in January 1849, was appointed as the Catholic chaplain to the Convict Establishment, and in 1862, a Catholic chapel was created in the cell-block from within an existing dormitory ward. 33

St Patrick's Church, Adelaide Street, 1894.

A timber structure erected by the Catholic community in Henry Street was the third purpose-built church in Fremantle. In August 1851, Bishop Serra chaired a meeting at their 'temporary place of worship' (presumably the cottage on the lot when purchased) to commence fund-raising for the structure. 34 The building on lot 66 received no further newspaper publicity, but was probably the scene of the infamous confrontation on Christmas Day 1851 between Fr Griver and Bishop Brady that saw Brady's largely Irish followers celebrate mass for some weeks in Patrick Marmion's nearby Emerald Isle Hotel. 35 A visit by Archbishop Polding from New South Wales resolved the bitter split between the two bishops, with Brady ordered from the colony in October 1852.

26 Martin Newbold, cited in D.F. Bourke, The History of the Catholic Church in Western Australia, Perth, 1979, p. 56.

27 Serra was the Bishop of Daulia, an extinct See. Martin Griver, Brady's successor as Bishop of Perth, could not be confirmed until Brady died in France in 1871.

28 Odhran O'Brien, Martin Griver Unearthed, Strathfield (NSW), 2015.

29 Perth Gazette, 7 June 1850, p. 2.

30 See Western Australian Government Gazette, 22 January 1867.

31 Western Australian Government Gazette, 18 June 1850.

32 Sandra Taylor, 'Who were the Convicts?', in C.T. Stannage (ed.), Convictism in Western Australia: Studies in Western Australian History, 1981, vol. 4, pp. 19-45. See Table 12.

33 Michal Bosworth. Convict Fremantle: A place of promise and punishment, Nedlands, 2004, p. 56.

34 Perth Gazette 29 August 1851, p. 1.

35 Lucille Quinlan, The Life and Times of Joseph T. Reilly, Melbourne, 1980, pp. 57-9. Reilly places the confrontation in 'the Fremantle church in Henry street' (p. 58).


The timber church in Henry Street has left little historical trace. Apparently dedicated to St Patrick, it was described as 'a miserable room' and seems to have been abandoned by 1856. 36

In 1856, under the direction of master-mason Brother Joseph Asdone, the Benedictines started construction on the present site of the Roman Catholic basilica in Adelaide Street. Erection of a presbytery was followed by the construction of a new St Patrick's church, the limestone for both having come from nearby Quarry Street. Members of other denominations contributed to the church's building fund. 37 Fr Griver, who was Administrator of the Diocese in Bishop Serra's absence, opened it on Sunday 5 August 1860.

Presbyterians and Congregationalists

The Presbyterians would not open their first church in Fremantle until 1890, but there was, briefly in 1853, a resident Presbyterian minister. Most of the colonists from Scotland were Presbyterians, as were some members of the 20th Company Royal Sappers and Miners who landed on the Anna Robertson in December 1851 to oversee the building of the Convict Establishment and other public works. In February 1853, the sappers and miners successfully petitioned Governor Charles Fitzgerald for use of the government schoolhouse for the 'celebration of Divine Worship'. 38 This was said to be 'in connection with the Church of Scotland', but in Western Australia, little distinction was made between the Church of Scotland and the 'Free Church of Scotland' that had formed in Scotland following a major schism in 1843. 39 The Presbyterian minister was the Rev. Daniel Boyd who was then conducting a boys' school in Perth. He moved to the port in July 1853, where he preached in the old courthouse on Arthur Head, but left the colony in November.

By the 1850s, the Independents or Congregationalists were also becoming established. They were known for their total opposition to state aid for religion and education. Pioneer Fremantle historian, J.K. Hitchcock, recorded the genesis of the Independent church in his town:

It was in the year 1852 that about half a dozen persons met in a private house in Fremantle for the purpose of discussing ways and means of establishing the Independent form of Divine worship in this town. A resolution was passed that it was desirable that an Independent Chapel should be built as soon as possible and the small sum of £5 was subscribed towards this project It was further decided that application be made to the Colonial Missionary Society for a minister and that the

36 Bourke, p. 56; Geraldine Byrne, A Basilica in the Making: The Centenary of St Patrick's, Fremantle, Fremantle, 2000, p. 11.

37 Inquirer, 7 March 1860, p. 2.

38 Perth Gazette, 18 February and 20 May 1853.

39 Leigh Straw, A Semblance of Scotland: Scottish Identity in Colonial Western Australia, Glasgow, 2006, chapter 5 'Religious Identity'; Stuart Bonnington, 'Like a Mustard Seed*: A History of the Presbyterian Church in Western Australia from 1829 to 1901, Vermont (Vic), 2004; J.G. Paterson (ed.). Stones of Scots Church Fremantle, Western Australia, Fremantle, 1982.


Rev. Jas. Leonard, B.A., and Mr H. Trigg, of Perth, be requested to communicate with the society on the subject. 40

Congregational minister Rev. Joseph Johnston (1814-92) arrived on the Sabrina in June 1853, 41 having been appointed by the Colonial Missionary Society. 42 He rented a four-roomed cottage for his family and held divine service there on 17 July. Johnston would remain in office for 33 years but when he arrived and found the Independent chapel unfinished and no congregation ready to receive him, he had to be persuaded not to move to Adelaide. 43

Working together

An early feature of religious practice in Fremantle was the positive spirit of cooperation between the clergy, particularly amongst the non-conformists. In his diary entry for 25 September 1853, Johnston recorded that he preached 'morning and evening at my own house, and in the afternoon for Mr Boyd the Presbyterian minister'. 44 On 2 October, he preached 'morning and evening in the Wesleyan chapel'. The following Sunday he preached 'morning and evening at the Court House for Mr Boyd ... who is unwell'. By 27 November, Boyd had left the colony and the old courthouse was allocated to the Congregationalists. By now, Johnston's congregation had increased to about 40 people.

Early in 1854, Johnston was invited to occupy the pulpit of the Wesley Chapel. He preached at the courthouse on Sunday mornings and at Wesley in the evenings, until the new Congregational chapel in Adelaide Street was opened for divine service on Sunday 4 June 1854. He was able to move his family into a new parsonage in 1862. With the congregation now about 80, but drawn from various religious denominations with different views concerning church government, Johnston found it impractical at first to formally constitute a church on the Congregational model. He was not able to do this until 2 April 1869. George Bland Humble, headmaster of Fremantle Boys' School, was then chosen as the first deacon. 45

Though the Wesleyans had been the first to erect a church, its use was intermittent. It was abandoned again after the Congregational chapel opened in 1854, and it became an eyesore over the next decade, slowly swallowed by sand hills and slipping into decay

The Congregational chapel and parsonage on Adelaide Street 1860s.

40 Fremantle Times, 4 February 1921.

41 Helen Creagh, The Journey of Joseph Johnston, Perth, 2004.

42 Now incorporated in the Council for World Mission, the Colonial Missionary Society was formed in May 1836 to promote Congregational forms of Christianity among British or other European settlers' rather than indigenous peoples.

43 A 'History of the First Independent or Congregational Church in Fremantle, 1869', dated 28 May 1869, occupies the first ten pages of the minutes book for church meetings, commenced after the church was voted into existence in April 1869. The author is possibly George Bland Humble, the first deacon and secretary. See Congregational Union of Western Australia, Records, 1866-1985. SLWA MN 257/1565A/1.

44 Creagh, p. 177.

45 'History of the First Independent or Congregational Church in Fremantle, 1869', p. 9.


and ruin. 46 However, in October 1864, it re-emerged following repairs as a neat chapel partly enclosed by a stone wall. On Wednesday 26 October, the Rev. Thomas Bond reopened the chapel with divine service. A lay preacher continued the Wednesday night services for some time but this proved to be another false start: apart from Sunday services conducted by a visiting minister in June 1866, 47 there is no record of its further use until 1880-81 when it was rented for use as a boys' school.

In 1881, a resident minister was appointed and the chapel renovated again and re-opened in September of that year. Rev. James Mouland officiated, assisted by Joseph Johnston. 48 In 1882-83, the building had to be enlarged. Reference to Table 1 reveals a tenfold increase in followers in the decade after Mouland's appointment (the Presbyterians enjoyed a similar boost after their minister arrived in 1886), and within a few years, a new chapel was needed. On 7 March 1888 George Shenton, Mayor of Perth and pillar of the Wesleyan Church, explained that 'the time had arrived when Methodism in Fremantle should be represented by a more suitable building. Mrs Shenton laid the foundation stone of the present church followed by the placing of traditional contributions on the stone while the choir sang 'Bringing in the Sheaves'. The church opened with an afternoon service on 4 December 1889. In 1893, a two-storey manse was built in Cantonment Street, next to the 1842 chapel.

By then the Anglicans also had a larger church. In October 1875, the Rev. Daniel Watkins was appointed Rector of St John's and chaplain for Fremantle at an annual salary of £250. One of his first tasks was to build a new church. By January 1879, all was hustle and bustle in King's Square: seventy men were at work, laying the foundations for the new church and fund-raising was under way with 'musical entertainments' and bazaars. Bishop Henry Parry laid the present foundation stone of St John's on 28 January 1879, and consecrated the new church on 4 July 1882. 49


The Congregationalisms rejection of government aid for building churches and ministers' wages was part of a mindset called 'voluntaryism', which the Macquarie Dictionary defines as 'the principle or system of supporting churches, schools, etc., by voluntary contributions or aid, independently of the state'. Joseph Johnston was its chief proponent in nineteenth-century Fremantle. He made it a matter of public debate in 1868 when, on 30 July, Wesleyan lay preacher John Wall Hardey gave notice in the Legislative Council that he intended to move that:

the sum placed on the Estimates for Ecclesiastical purposes be equally divided amongst Ministers of all denominations or that the sum raised by any congregation for the support of a Minister shall be supplemented by a like sum from the public chest. 50

46 Perth Gazette, 4 November 1864, p. 2.

47 Inquirer, 27 June 1866, p. 3.

48 Herald, 24 September 1881.

49 A.E. Williams, West Anglican Way: the growth of the Anglican Church in Western Australia from its early beginnings, Perth 1989, Chapter 26.

50 Perth Gazette and West Australian Times, 31 July 1868, p. 2.


The Johnston Memorial Congregational Church in Adelaide Street, closed in 1968. It was replaced by an apartment building mistakenly called 'Johnson Court'.

Johnston immediately wrote a letter of protest to the Fremantle Herald because he believed that 'pure and undefiled religion will always be maintained by the zeal and liberality of its votaries'. 51 Another contributor responded to the newspaper with twelve arguments. 52 This prompted Johnston to pen a pamphlet called Reasons for not Accepting Pecuniary Aid from the State for Support of Religion. In South Australia, state aid for religion had been abolished in 1851, 53 but in Western Australia grants continued until the Ecclesiastical Grant Abolition Act was passed in September 1895. 54

Johnston was a very popular preacher and soon his chapel was too small to hold his congregation. The foundation stone of a new church called the Johnston Memorial Church was laid on the same site of the original church in Adelaide Street on Christmas Day 1875. Construction was delayed when the western wall collapsed during wet weather in July 1876, but it was completed and officially opened in July 1877. The much-loved Johnston remained as pastor of the Adelaide Street chapel until November 1886 when, after 33 years, Sydney's Rev. A.G. Fry succeeded him. When Johnston died in February 1892, there was an outpouring of grief. All Fremantle businesses closed on the afternoon of his funeral, and a public meeting later raised funds to erect a large memorial stone on his grave at the Skinner Street cemetery. 55

Presbyterianism was finally established in the colony in 1879 when the Established and Free Churches of Scotland sent the Rev. David Shearer to Western Australia. By 1882, he had built a church in Perth. Then, in 1886, the Free Church of Scotland sent the newly ordained minister Robert Hanlin to work in Fremantle. He arrived with his family in September, with his first service on 10 October in the Oddfellows Hall in William Street He later recorded that:

my first piece of Christian work was to sweep it out on a Saturday afternoon. No table was available and an impromptu pulpit was provided by a packing case which had contained a contribution of hymn books from the English Presbyterian Church. The case was covered by my travelling rug. 56

The following Sunday he took the morning and evening services. The congregation grew, and in February 1888, they moved into the supper room of the new Town Hall, but councillors initially had reservations about the Sunday School children using the space. When the need for a new building became obvious. Shearer secured a block of

51 Herald, 8 August 1868.

52 Herald, 22 August 1868.

53 Arthur Robin, Mathew Blagden Hale: The life of an Australian pioneer bishop, Melbourne, 1976, p. 60.

54 West Australian, 11 September 1895, p. 6. See also Marian Aveling, 'Western Australian Society: The religious aspect, 1829-1895', in CT. Stannage (ed.), A New History of Western Australia, Nedlands, 1981, pp. 595-8.

55 With the opening of the Carrington Street cemetery in 1898 Johnston's remains and headstone were transferred to the new cemetery and are No. 19 on the Heritage Walk Trail.

56 Bonnington, p. 56.


land in South Terrace. Hanlin went on a fund-raising tour of the eastern colonies, and the Colonial Committee of the Free Church sent a loan of £500. Architect Talbot Hobbs was commissioned to design the church and John Forrest MLC, Commissioner of Crown Lands, laid the foundation stone on 26 March 1890 for Scots church. The Reverends Bird (Wesleyan), Johnston (Congregational) and Matthew (Church of England) were among the guests. The church formally opened on 26 November 1890 and an election of elders was held in December. Hanlin remained at his post until 1920 when he was made Moderator of the Church in Western Australia.

The gold boom

In 1890, the population of Western Australia was 46,290. After the discovery of gold in Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, a massive increase in immigration saw it rise to 101,143 by 1895 and to 179,708 by 1900.57 This increased numbers for Fremantle's existing religious denominations and saw the introduction of two new denominations.

Fremantle already had a large population of Jewish people. In August 1887, they had formed a congregation when High Street shopkeeper Benjamin Solomon convened a meeting in a room above his store. 58 59 Future Fremantle Mayor Lawrence Alexander was elected its president. A year later, their numbers were still increasing and they began raising funds to build a synagogue. 59 In April 1891, they formally constituted the Western Australian Hebrew Congregation and in August they were granted lot 1366, a half-acre behind Scots Church, on which to build a synagogue. Unfortunately, this block intruded into Fremantle Oval—pinching in the north-west corner—after the creation of the oval from the old Barrack Field. In September 1895, trustees Michael Samson and Elias Solomon negotiated a land swap that gained the Hebrew Congregation the block on the corner of Norfolk Street and South Terrace. This included the old pensioner barracks guardhouse, and this structure became the Fremantle synagogue. 60

It was used rarely, however. When the Jewish man Jacob Lion arrived from London to open an 'eating, boarding and lodging house' in High Street, he was disappointed at what he found. Addressing a meeting at the synagogue in February 1897, Lion deplored the state of the congregation and exhorted them to 'attend their place of worship more regularly' and to 'eat meat killed according to Jewish law, keep their burial ground in repair and attend synagogue on the anniversary of the death of their parents'—comments suggesting that these attributes of Jewish custom were not then commonly being adhered to in Fremantle. 61 In April 1897, Fremantle's Jewish population hosted a visit from Rabbi David Freedman from the larger Perth congregation, and in June, Lion conducted a service to celebrate Queen Victoria's record reign (with 'God Save the Queen' sung in both Hebrew and English). Two years later Lion and his family left

57 J.S. Battye, History of Western Australia, Oxford, 1924, Appendix IV.

58 J.S. Battye (ed.). The Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol. 2, Adelaide, 1913, p. 103.

59 Inquirer, 18 July 1888, p. 5.

60 West Australian, 8 February 1897, p. 5; West Australian, 17 June 1897, p. 5.

61 West Australian, 8 February 1897, p. 5.


the colony after he was fined one shilling by magistrate Robert Fairbairn for selling a packet of cigarettes on a Sunday. 62

Relations between the three non-conformist churches—the Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Wesleyans—were always very friendly. One measure of their cordiality was the conduct of the Fremantle Spring Fete, run each year from 1893 until 1898. Initiated by the Congregationalists, the popular fete was run by and benefited each church in turn. At the opening of the fourth annual fete in September 1896, the Rev. W.F. Turton of the Johnston Memorial Church said:

Although in many places the churches did not work in unison, in Fremantle he was happy to say, a kindly spirit towards each other prevailed. The present fete was being held for the benefit of the Congregational Church. Next year it would be in the hands of the Primitive Methodists, and so on right round the list. 63

In 1897, the Wesleyan Methodists actually ran the spring fete. In the fete's official opening, the Rev. William Potts again highlighted the friendly relationship between the non-episcopal congregations in the town.

Two other protestant congregations then met regularly in Fremantle, though neither had erected a place of worship. These were followers of the Baptist Church and Church of Christ, both of which differed from other Christian faiths in their practise of adult baptism by immersion. The Church of Christ had established a presence in Fremantle in 1892 after Brother Sam Thomson arrived in June. Thomson, later Mayor of East Fremantle, 'set up the Lord's Table' at a boarding house in Cliff Street. On 8 September a deputation (that included some Baptists 64) to preacher Thomas Bates and deacons of the newly-formed Church of Christ in Perth requested that a church be 'planted' in Fremantle. Bates preached in the Protestant Hall (formerly Henry Briggs' school) in High Street on 25 September. On 9 October, he conducted three services, including an afternoon baptism service on South Beach. Services then continued in the hall with Brother Henry Ford. In 1895, the Baptists withdrew to form their own church, and the present Church of Christ chapel opened in High Street on 6 March 1898.

In August 1895, Pastor James Cole of the Perth Baptist Church was given access to the Fremantle Town Hall supper room, commencing services on 22 September. 65 Baptists living in the Fremantle district who wanted to become foundation members met the pastor at the Town Hall for a preliminary meeting on 3 October and the church

The Baptist church on South Terrace, opposite Grey Street, was replaced by an apartment building in the 1960s.

62 West Australian, 28 January 1899, p. 10; West Australian, 7 April 1899, p. 4.

63 Inquirer and Commercial News, 2 October 1896, p. 2.

64 Don A. Jackson, 'A History of the Churches of Christ in Western Australia', thesis, Graylands Teachers College, 1959. SLWA.

65 Daily News, 21 September 1895, p. 4.


was officially formed on Sunday 6 October with 23 foundation members. 66 After meeting in the Town Hall and, from April 1899, at the new Literary Institute Hall in South Terrace, the Baptists began building a chapel in South Terrace (opposite Grey Street) in May 1899. The foundation tablet was affixed in July 1900 with the Congregational and Wesleyan Ministers taking part, and the Reverend George Rowe, president of the Wesleyan Conference, preached the afternoon the chapel opened on 26 August 1900. 67 Seven days later a rival Baptist church formed after a service was held at the Fremantle Literary Institute. The original congregation favoured 'open' membership while the new group favoured 'close' membership, admitting only those who had been baptised as adults by immersion. The two groups re-united in 1902 and subsequently adopted close membership. 68

By the nineteenth century's last decade the 1860-built St Patrick's was proving inadequate for the Roman Catholics. Bishop of Perth, Matthew Gibney, aware of the need for more priests, had his wishes answered by the arrival in July 1894 of the first of the Oblate Fathers (Oblates of Mary Immaculate) who were to take charge of the Fremantle parish. With their help, Gibney laid the foundation stone of the present St Patrick's Basilica on St Patrick's Day in 1898. It opened on Sunday, 3 June 1900, with prominent non-Catholic guests including Sir John Forrest, Sir George Shenton and Elias Solomon. 69


When the British colonised the Swan River in 1829, they brought with them a number of Christian and non-Christian faiths. However, the building of places of worship to honour their religions was of low priority in Fremantle and the colony generally. The construction of the first places of worship in Fremantle occurred in the 1840s after the arrival of two energetic churchmen. Smithies and King. Both were financially assisted by the colonial government, but the slow establishment of places of worship in Fremantle reflects the colony's small population and sluggish economic development. Placing the Convict Establishment at the port in 1850 after the introduction of transportation grew the population in size, and increased the numbers of those who attended church, resulting in the construction of two more churches by 1854, thanks to the efforts of Serra and Johnston. The decades that followed saw followers of other denominations also established in Fremantle in an atmosphere that was usually mutually supportive.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the citizens of Fremantle had seven churches or chapels and a synagogue in which to worship: the Johnston Memorial Church in Adelaide Street (opened 1877), St John's in Kings Square (1882), Wesley Church in Cantonment Street (1889), Scots Church in South Terrace (1890), the Church of Christ in High Street (1898), St Patrick's in Adelaide Street and the Baptist Church in South Terrace (both 1900), and the synagogue in South Terrace (1895).

66 West Australian, 28 September 1895, p. 4; Richard K. Moore (ed.). Baptists of Western Australia: The First Ninety Years, Perth, 1991, p. 29.

67 West Australian, 27 August 1900.

68 Richard K. Moore, 'All Western Australia is my parish': A Centenary history of the Baptist denomination in Western Australia, 1895-1995, Perth, 1996. See chapter 4, "Schism! 1906-1902", and p. 255.

69 Byrne, Basilica in the Making, pp. 47-55. St Patrick's Church was elevated to St Patrick's Basilica by the Vatican in August 1994. See ibid., pp. 165-6.



Presently, five Christian churches and two chapels from the nineteenth century continue to function in Fremantle. The Baptist church closed in August 1961 70 while the Johnston Memorial Church held its last service in March 1966. Blocks of apartments replaced both. In 1902, Fremantle's Jewish community built a new synagogue that was sold to the Defence Department in 1916, though the building—with its distinct Star of David above its gable—survives on the comer of South Terrace and Parry Street. Wesley became part of the Uniting Church of Australia in June 1977 when the Congregationalists, Methodists and Presbyterians united, though Scots Church remained outside the union. The two prison chapels now occasionally host wedding ceremonies, while the Church of Christ, Scots, St John's, St Patrick's and Wesley churches continue to offer spiritual guidance to what is otherwise an increasingly secular community.

Garry Gillard | New: 9 February, 2021 | Now: 21 October, 2023