Forum 83 - Dec 2012

(see below for some excerpts)

Milestone for Archives - and others

December 2012 is a milestone for the Archives-30 years since work began on organising the historical records of the Baptist Union. Read all about it in the article beginning page 2. There is plenty of work to be done yet as we move more completely into the digital age. (Two more important digital resources have been added recently and more are planned.) We can always use the help of good volunteers! (See our Secretary’s 28th Annual Report p 8; Archivist’s Report is also available-on request.) There have been many other milestones this year as well. Lindum church closed down, as did Carey; Geebung and Sandgate merged to form a new church and opened a new building at Deagon; Gympie celebrated 125 years. Toowong opened a new extension to their building and were very proud to celebrate their heritage in the process-their main building is the oldest Baptist church in Queensland still in use. Minden has celebrated 130 years, while Rockhampton marked their 150th. Stanley River (Woodford) expanded to include another church in its circuit at Kilcoy. Silkstone has reached its centenary.

So there is plenty happening and Baptist Heritage Qld has had involvement with some of these, and the Archives has received some publications and materials as well. BHQ marked the Rockhampton event with the publication of its largest book yet-on the history of Baptist work in Central Queensland. There are still copies of this book, Something more than Gold, available (and the bundled special-with the Queensland 150th history, Pressing on with the Gospel). We also ventured into e-book publishing with versions of the CQ history!

Our next publishing venture will be a long awaited update of the popular Baptists in Queensland. We have updated also the National Guide to Australian Baptist Resources and Services which will be ready soon. Check our website for the on-line version. We also hope to tackle Baptists in the Darling Downs soon, and we will be announcing the winner of 2012 Essay competition as well.

We need more people to join in with us and help us complete our big slate of 2013 projects!

Baptist Church Archives Turns 30!

The Archives is Born

The end of 2012 marks 30 years since work began on organising the historical records of the Baptist Union of Queensland. Rev Dr David Parker had worked with these records originally in 1979 in the course of his doctoral research and found them to be in a good state, but completely unorganised and only accessible by special arrangement with the Baptist Union office. So in December 1982, he volunteered his services to put them in order. On his initial contact, the records were in a cupboard in the ceiling of the BUQ offices which were then located in rented premises in The Wool Exchange Building, 69 Eagle St, Brisbane (now the site of Riparian Plaza and 111 Eagle St). In 1982, the BUQ had just moved to its own building at 225 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley; the records were in a strong room in the basement (primarily used as the printing workshop).

The most important items in the collection were the BUQ Minute books comprising the Executive, Council and Assemblies from the establishment of the Baptist Union (then Association) in 1877, and the key committees and departments; there were also the denominational Yearbooks from 1907 when they first appeared and sundry bundles of correspondence and other records. These were all more or less complete, and much of it was professionally bound into strong volumes. However the denominational newspaper, The Queensland Baptist (from 1881-88 known as The Queensland Freeman) had a 25 year gap up to 1951 (and it was not published 1913-22). Another significant gap was in the Minutes of the Home Mission around World War I. One other serious gap was The Australian Baptist, the national newspaper published since 1913, of which there were only odd issues. (Efforts in the late 1980s to obtain a full run from its office in NSW were unsuccessful, as did the hope of getting a microfilm version when it was done by the State Library of NSW-on account of the high cost involved.)

There was a good collection of photographs, many loose but some in attractive albums; a lot were unidentified. There were also many 35 mm colour slides of churches, people and events which had mostly come from the collections of the Home Mission Superintendents and the BUQ General Secretary.

There were some records of local churches but the churches themselves held the bulk of their own records, especially the first churches to be formed in Queensland - City Tabernacle (originally known as Wharf St), Ipswich and Jireh (in Fortitude Valley). The oldest items in the BUQ Archives were, however, documents from early days of Wharf Street. There were no records relating to the first two Baptist ministers in Brisbane, Rev Charles Stewart and Rev Charles Smith, although there were some relating to the third minister, Rev BG Wilson. However, extensive research on these three pastors in later years discovered documents and information in other locations sufficient to record their stories in some detail.

Archives space and access was always a problem with the basement location, and there was no office equipment such as photocopiers, phones or working facilities available. However, Dr Parker with the occasional assistance of members of the Baptist Historical Society of Queensland (established in 1984), listed the contents and began developing the operation of the Archives according to standard (albeit simplified) archival procedures.

A set of rules for accessioning, indexing and use of the Archives was developed. However, on-going efforts to get the Baptist Union to set up a proper system of archiving its recent and new records were unsuccessful. Membership in the locally based Church Archivists’ Society and access to its expertise and publications greatly assisted in the development of the Archives. There were gradual additions to the collection, and modest use by BUQ personnel, students, church and family history researchers. Dr Parker’s position as Honorary Archivist was made official in 1987 when it was became part of the Annual BUQ appointments.

Tracking our First Minister’s Family - Thanks to the Internet!

Rev Charles Stewart was the first Baptist minister to serve in Queensland (or Moreton Bay as it was known at the time). He arrived in 1849 as the chaplain on Dr John Dunmore Lang’s first immigrant ship, the Fortitude. On landing in Brisbane he soon began church services for all protestant denominations, especially for the Baptists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists who came on that vessel and the other two organised by Dr Lang, the Chaseley and the Lima, which arrived later in the year. These services developed into the United Evangelical Church (UEC) which Stewart led until the end of 1854 when he had to leave Brisbane in ill health. He returned to England and then visited the continent in search of a cure. Following this, his sister Elizabeth who was married to Archibald Hall, a military officer stationed in Bermuda, took him to her home where he died on 2 March 1858, at the age of 38. He was buried the next day in the Wesleyan Cemetery with Presbyterian rites by the chaplain of his brother-in-law’s unit, the 26th Regiment of Foot.

When we researched and published the story of Charles Stewart and the UEC at the time of the 150th anniversary in 1999, much new information was discovered about Stewart’s remarkable ministry in Brisbane, and in particular what befell him after his departure. However there was still not much known about his family - his siblings and his parents. Now we have found out quite a lot more-thanks the Internet giving access to documents.

When Stewart arrived in Brisbane, we knew from his letters that he was accompanied by his older sister who acted as his housekeeper. However, the arrangement did not work out - she became very authoritarian, or as Charles put it, a “Dictratrix”; he believed “no man of any spirit at could even brook to be a cipher in his own house” (let alone a minister!). So, Stewart brought the matter to a head, and as he reported to his counterpart in Sydney, Rev John Ham, his sister left in “high dudgeon” on 15 April 1849, and headed south. Later, Charles was anxious to track her down, and sought the help of Ham in doing so. He found that the last that was known of her was that she had been in Sydney but was now thought to be in a town further south hoping to set up a school. Although Charles sent money to her, she was determined not to have contact with him or receive any pastoral help from Ham or others in the church.

No name was given to this sister, and it was not clear if she was the same sister who later cared for him in Bermuda; in fact, we did not even know how many sisters there were. There was only one source of possible help - a passenger list from the Fortitude, but the original document had been destroyed and the only ones available were reconstructed years later. The various lists offered such names as Anne and Caroline, but judging by other claims in these lists which were highly speculative, no reliance could be placed on them.

The first degree of certainty arose when, during the research, information was gained about the death of Charles’ brother, Rev Robert Stewart, a Presbyterian minister in Scotland, which was reported in the Moreton Bay Courier at the time. He died on 2 June 1851 at Tranent, near Edinburgh where he was the parish minister. The words on the plaque erected in his memory in the church grounds referred to the sorrow of his “brother and sisters” which at least allowed for the possibility that the sister who came to Moreton Bay was not the same as the one, Elizabeth, who cared for him in his last days. Given the friction between Charles and his sister in 1849, it would be surprising if they were one and the same. Elizabeth was the executor of Charles’ will which had to be processed in Brisbane because he had property here (she did also). This took place quite a few years after his death, in 1873. (The legal trail was discovered when the original research was taking place, and indeed, it led to the discovery that Charles’ last place of living was Bermuda.) There was no reference to any other family members in Charles’ will except Elizabeth.