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Surprisingly, it was the Wesleyans who were the first across the finish line in the long race to build churches in Fremantle. They certainly arrived in the colony more prepared than their competitors for colonial conditions. A group of migrant Wesleyans arrived on 3 February 1830, landing on the beach at Fremantle from their chartered brig, Tranby. They included three lay preachers and brought with them a prefabricated house, which they erected as a chapel while they waited for some months in Fremantle to move to land further upriver. On 6 June 1840 the Reverend John Smithies arrived in Fremantle, having been sent by his Methodist Conference in Britain as a missionary to the Aborigines. While Smithies was resident in Perth, within a month of his arrival he initiated the raising of money for a chapel in Fremantle. A few weeks after that £300 had been subscribed for the purpose. By September the government had provided land for the purpose, and Governor Hutt laid the foundation stone. The new chapel, the first Christian church in Fremantle, was opened for worship in Cantonment Street, adjacent to the present church, on Queen s Birthday 1841. The Wesleyans were therefore the definite sprinters in the race for a substantial religious presence in the town, but they later fell behind when the church was closed in the early 1850s due to lack of numbers. It was finally reopened for services on 12 April 1882 with fifteen members. Strong 2012: 64-65.

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. 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. 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'. 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. Errington 2016: 146.

By 1855 the Wesleyan Trustees owned the piece of land comprising lots 229 and 230 on Bay Street (Beach Street/Elder Place) and lots 242 and 243 on Cantonment Street, for the purpose of the Wesleyan chapel which fronted onto the latter (from 1841), on a site adjacent to the present Wesley Church on the corner with Market Street.
Town lots 229 and 230 were first allotted to P.A. Latour c. 1829-1830 ("The first locally-grown wheat was ground into flour in Colonel Latour's horse flour mill, which was situated on the corner of Market Street and Bay Street, during 1831." Hitchcock: 22.) Lots 242 and 243 were orginally allotted to John L. Morely. The 'Lewis building', tenanted by Il Cibo, is now on lot 228.

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, pictured by Elizabeth Irwin in 1841 next to the Round House, was a temporary home to a number of early Christian denominations.
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. 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. 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. 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 had been closed for some time since his arrival. 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. Errington 2016: 147-8.

In 1887 the Wesleyans of Fremantle received permission from their District of Western Australia to build a new church costing £2,000 and a manse costing £800. Despite an annual income of just £65, with an annual expenditure of £64, building went ahead early in 1888. The foundation stone was laid on 7 March 1888 and the church was opened on the south side of the old chapel on 4 December 1889. It was not surprising that the new congregation was in debt to about four thousand pounds. But numbers were growing due to the new attractiveness of Western Australia in the 1890s following the discovery of gold, and a new gallery was added to the church in 1898 for a further £231/4/10. Strong 2012: 74-75.

Uniting Church schools include Methodist Ladies College, Penrhos College, Presbyterian Ladies College, Scotch College, Wesley College¡.

References and Links

Errington, Steve 2016, 'Places of worship in Fremantle, 1829 to 1900', Studies in Western Australian History, 31: 145-158.

Jenkins, Charles A. 1930, A Century in Methodism in Western Australia 1830-1930, Patersons Printing Press, Perth.

Strong, Rowan 2012, 'Religious lives in Fremantle', in Paul Arthur Longley & Geoffrey Bolton, Voices from the West End: Stories, People and Events that Shaped Fremantle, WA Museum: 64-85.

See also: pages for the Hardey family, and for the brig Tranby.

Garry Gillard | New: 8 March, 2018 | Now: 18 April, 2022