Exploring Baptist Brisbane
A tour of important sites in Baptist witness around Brisbane
by David Parker
© 2016, 2021
Most of the important places associated with early Baptist life are located close to the central business district of Brisbane. So it is easy to visit them and to remember that they serve as reminders of God’s grace and the zeal of our founders. Here is a suggested car tour of these sites requiring only a short time to complete. It includes some optional extras for those with more time. (Use your GPS for more assistance)
A convenient place to start is Alice Street, near the City Botanic Gardens. At the corner of George and Alice Streets, diagonally opposite the Gardens, the first Baptist minister in Brisbane Rev. Charles Stewart owned land which later became the site of the famous Bellevue Hotel (demolished in controversial circumstances in 1979). Drive along Alice Street and turn right just before the river into William St. As you pass the Commissariat Stores, look to right and notice Stephens Lane, named after Thomas B. Stephens, a prominent early Baptist who operated a leather business here. At the other end of the lane, on the corner of Charlotte Street, stood the Moreton Bay Courier office owned by another leading Baptist, James Swan.
On the left hand side of the lane stands the old Land Administration Building, now the Treasury Hotel. This is the location of the United Evangelical Church, which was erected in April 1851 (the plaque was unveiled exactly 150 years later!) as the place of worship for Baptist, Presbyterian and Congregational migrants who settled in Moreton Bay colony under a scheme organised by Rev. Dr John Dunmore Lang, with Charles Stewart as minister. They arrived in 1849 on the ships Fortitude, Chaseley and Lima and formed the church immediately under the leadership of the pastor, Rev. Charles Stewart; he served until the end of 1854. The building was sold in 1857 and later used as the Electric Telegraph Office; it was demolished in 1899 to make way for the Land Administration Building, also used as the Executive Building and now a Hotel.
Turn right into Elizabeth Street, and as you drive along beyond George Street (if you want to park, walk over to the Queen Street Mall) note that one block over to the left in Queen St., on the far side of the present mall stood the old Prisoners’ Barracks, which later were used for the Court House. Here the united services and also the first Baptist services were held. The first Baptist fellowship commenced in early 1855, led by Rev. Charles Smith, formerly of Parramatta, NSW.
Proceed down Elizabeth Street as far as the intersection with Eagle Street. On the far side of the big fig tree in the middle of the street at 69 Eagle Street (currently Riparian Plaza) stood a building that housed the Baptist Union offices 1973-82. Turn left up Wharf Street notice the corner of Adelaide Street (StudentOne) (Queen Street side) where the first Baptist chapel in Brisbane, known as Wharf Street Baptist Church, used to stand. It was erected in 1859 by the builder, John Petrie, for £2050. The block of ground, which seemed almost too far from the town in those days, was sold to the church for £100 by T.B. Stephens, a foundation member and later also the owner of the Moreton Bay Courier and successful politician. Rev. Benjamin G. Wilson, who had commenced his vigorous ministry in 1858, served until ill health caused his retirement and death in 1878. He established many outstations and encouraged the formation of churches in other areas like Ipswich and Maryborough. The chapel was extended and used until 1890, when it was sold for £165 and the site for £16,000.
Go one more block and turn left into Ann Street and just around the corner, notice 345, opposite All Saints’ Church - the site of the first permanent Baptist Union headquarters, 1960 to 1972. Continue along Ann Street past the front of the Central Railway Station. A church which broke away from Wharf Street was located in Edward Street where the Mincom Building stands, from 1866-68 (although the building itself remained there much longer).
Continue to George Street, and then turn right and then right again into Turbot Street. As you cross the overpass past the court building, look down to the left on Roma Street where the first baptisms took place on 31 May 1857 in the stream running from town reservoir. They were conducted by Rev. James Voller, then of Bathurst Street church in Sydney, who was visiting Brisbane to assist the church after its first minister had left. The candidates were two young men, James and George Grimes, members of a prominent Baptist family.
Turn left into Edward Street and crossing Wickham Terrace notice the City Tabernacle Baptist Church, listed with the National Trust. This imposing building, designed by the important Baptist architect and member of the church, Richard Gailey, was erected in 1890 at a total cost of £20,799, to replace the old Wharf Street building. The pastor was Rev. William Whale (1885-1903), a graduate of Spurgeon’s Pastors’ College, London and the most outstanding churchman in Brisbane at the time. The church was a landmark for Brisbane until high-rise buildings began to obscure it.
For one hundred and thirty years it has served the needs of a large city congregation. But for most of that time, it was also the hub of Baptist denominational life as well. For many years, it was the site of the annual Assemblies and many other Baptist Union functions. Its striking tower was the birthplace of the Baptist Theological College and its home for a lengthy period. The Ministers’ Fraternal also used it for its meetings. A ‘time capsule’ hidden in the base at the time of erection contains interesting documentation of life in the 1890s (but its exact whereabouts in the structure are unknown). The plaque on the right of the front doors also records the close connection between the church and the Christian Endeavour movement. Near the Upper Edward Street door, see a commemoration of a school conducted on the premises which became Sommerville House, and at the back of building, note Willara House which was the original manse.
Proceed along Upper Edward Street and Leichhardt Street into Fortescue Street. On the right, near the corner stood the Fortescue Street church (a continuation of the Edward Street church) from 1876 (another Richard Gailey building). The fellowship disbanded in 1889 and the building was moved to Chapel Street, Nundah where it was used by the Baptist Church there; it has been used in by various groups, including a church for some time). Follow Fortescue Street across Boundary Street and to Gregory Terrace. The minister of Wharf Street church, Rev. Benjamin G. Wilson, lived in this fashionable area just to the right of the junction.
Follow Gregory Terrace to the left right through to College Road, go through the Five-Ways and turn left into Hale Street, observing the old Petrie Terrace Church on the left, opposite Lang Park, now in private hands and converted into an attractive residential building. The fellowship was established in 1870 as an outreach from the Edward Street church, consolidating Sunday School and Band of Hope work commenced earlier. The ground was given by pioneer Baptist and first pastor, Rev. W. Moore. The first building was erected in 1869 and this one in 1895. Lang Park (named after the famous Presbyterian minister whose work assisted Baptists in Queensland as well as many other groups, Rev Dr John Dunmore Lang, for many years now the site of a major sporting stadium, was the site of the Brisbane Burial grounds, the Paddington Cemeteries, from 1844 to 1865. The Baptist section was located near Moreton and Charlotte Streets, north of Caxton Street.
For a short extension of this tour, go to Milton Road and follow it through to Croydon Street. At the intersection of Jephson Street and Sylvan Road, notice Toowong Baptist Church, the home of a Chinese congregation. The main part of this building was erected in 1881 (and enlarged in 1884 and vestries added) by the long-time founder-pastor, William Richer, making it the oldest existing church building still in use by a Baptist church. Richer was responsible for many other buildings including Albion and Petrie Terrace Baptist Churches. Retrace your route to Milton Road and turning to the left, follow it to the Toowong Cemetery (established in 1875 to replace the old Paddington Cemeteries). Here such people as Revs. B.G. Wilson, J. Kingsford (Jireh), W. Whale, James Voller and first missionary, Miss Martha Plested were buried.
If you have more time, continue along the Western Freeway and turn left onto Moggill Road. Rev. William Moore lived on the present site of the Indooroopilly State School in his retirement, giving time to the establishment of the school. He is buried in the Chapel Hill Uniting cemetery on Moggill Road. (The district of Moore Park – and the Baptist church adjacent of the same name – was probably named after his son.) Drive out through Kenmore to Gold Creek Road and see Brookfield Baptist aged care centre, opened 1972, and beyond that the Queensland Camps and Convention Centre’s latest site, the former Queensland Baptist College of Ministries (the college was relocated from Gray Road, West End and opened in 1974; it moved to Prospect Road Gaythorne in 2005 and renamed Malyon Theological College). These facilities are on land originally selected by Dr J.L. Dart in recognition of the contribution made by the Dart family to the Brookfield area and Baptist witness in Queensland. Several family members are buried in the local cemetery.
Return back to the city by Milton Road or Coronation Drive and crossing William Jolly Bridge drive along Grey Street, South Brisbane. As you cross the bridge, look forward to the left towards the Library and Museum – Rev. Charles Stewart resided in this area for some time. Further down Grey Street beyond Melbourne Street lies the South Brisbane Railway Station. The main building stands on the site of a Presbyterian Church where Rev. John Kingsford, founding pastor of the Jireh Church, had earlier exercised a valuable preaching ministry.
Turn right into Peel Street and right again into Merivale St, and taking a left turn, enter Montague Road, following it to Gray Road, Hill End. Observing at Number 55 the first residential home of the Baptist Theological College in a building given by Mr and Mrs E. Humphrey in 1939. Additional buildings were erected and the site used until 1973 when the move was made to the Brookfield site. The Yumba Hostel now occupies the Gray Road site.
Return along Montague Road to Vulture Street, and travel through West End to the junction with Stephens Road, noticing Sommerville House ahead on the right. The boarding section of this school was the family home of T.B. Stephens, benefactor of the Wharf Street church. The school had its origins at the City Tabernacle Baptist Church, Upper Edward Street. Stephens was also active in local government representing South Brisbane and was mayor of Brisbane. Continue along Vulture Street and at city side of Christie Lane, note the former site of South Brisbane Church. This church was founded in 1872 on land bought by T.B. Stephens, and became an influential force on the south side of the city. It was not one of the original members of the Baptist Union formed in 1877, but joined very soon after. Two of its pastors, Rev. William Bell (1921-40) and Rev. Thos. C. Warriner (1941-66), served as principals of the College. In 2013 it relocated to 859 Stanley Street as Church@TheGabba.
Continue along Vulture Street, turning left at Main Street, cross the Story Bridge and come to Gipps Street, Fortitude Valley. The former Jireh Baptist Church stood on the right in the area between the two parts of the backpackers property marked ‘Swim’. It was formed as a Particular Baptist Church with members from Wharf Street in 1861, and in turn fostered numerous churches, including Windsor Road (1876), Albion (1882) and Nundah (1886) – which in turn formed several other daughter churches. The building was erected in 1862, being designed by the eminent local architect, Benjamin Backhouse. It was classified by the National Trust in 1970. The fellowship ceased operation in 1978, and its name was transferred to the Centenary Jireh church at Middle Park. The old building was destroyed by fire in 1987 although it was not in use as a church at the time.
Unless you decide to take the supplement mentioned next, this brief tour can end by travelling back to the Queen Street mall, near where United Evangelical and then Baptist services were first held; as you sip your coffee, remember also that the Kingsford Drapery stood near the site of Queens Plaza. R.A. Kingsford was a foundation member of Wharf Street, and an interim lay pastor. He was also later a mayor of Brisbane and a member of Parliament. His brother John was the first pastor of Jireh and served in that position for 37 years.
However, for an interesting extension to this tour, proceed to Boundary Street and turn right along Gregory Terrace. Looking down to the left overlooking the Inner City Bypass, notice that it was along this hollow that the first of Lang’s immigrants were forced to set up their camp in 1849 when the government refused to provide them with the anticipated assistance. Continue on Gregory Terrace and find your way to Sandgate Road and Toombul Shopping Town. Go through to the back and drive along Walker’s Way to Hedley Avenue. This is the ‘Zion’s Hill’ area where the Gossner Missionaries from Germany settled in 1838. Even before the colony was opened to free settlement, they were beginning their work among the local aborigines. Their Christian connections are reflected in names like Zion’s Hill and near-by Kedron Brook named by them in honour of biblical places. When the missionary work failed, these pioneers turned to other pursuits, and associated themselves actively with various churches, including the Baptist. Several are buried in the Nundah Historical Cemetery on Hedley Avenue.
Return to Sandgate Road and heading out of town, take the fork through ‘Nundah Village’ and in the shopping area, turn left at Chapel Street (one way). Stop by the park and observe the old Fortescue Street church next to the new North-East Baptist Church, opened in 2003 to replace the Nundah War Memorial Church (erected 1923). Follow around the front of the church into Bage Street and then turn right down Boyd Street to turn left back into Sandgate Road. Turn left at the roundabout at the end of the shops into a parking area and observe in the park a dignified granite memorial to the first free settlers from Zion’s Hill area, listing their names, some of which are commemorated in local street names like Rode Road, Gerler Road and Franz Road.
Follow Sandgate Road through to Virginia and turn left into Zillmere Road, noticing the watercourse in this area – Zillman’s Waterholes. This is an area where many German families settled and formed a church on the site of the Church of Christ, further along Zillmere Road. Many of them moved from here to the fertile areas out beyond Ipswich to take up farming in the Rosewood, Mt Walker and Fassifern areas where they established thriving churches, some of which are still in existence.
Return to Sandgate Road, and on the return journey, detour to the left from Sandgate Road at Railway Parade to Alexandra Road and the Clayfield Baptist Church, originally known as Hendra Baptist Church. The chapel which had been used at Zion’s Hill since 1855 was re-erected at the back of this property in about 1874 and remained in use until 1966, when the present church was erected as a Christian Education block. Another attractive church building had been used as the church from 1890 to 1986. The site itself had been donated by one of the Gossner missionaries, F.T. Franz, for this purpose. Further along at 61-63 Alexandra Road used to stand Clifford House, the Baptist Aged Persons’ Home, now sold and refurbished. This work commenced at the stately Farrington House in David Street, Alderley in 1949 which was used until its sale in 1956 and the move to more suitable premises at Ascot. New premises in Jimbour St, Wooloowin were opened in 1991.
Return to Sandgate Road and take the Albion Railway overpass; turn into McLennan Street and see the Albion Baptist Church. This church was established as an outreach of Jireh in the early 1880s; the building was erected in 1883 and in 1890, Rev. William Higlett began a long and effective ministry. He was a highly prominent and capable minister who served prominently in both Queensland and later NSW. Across the Brisbane River, Jireh church was also involved with the Bulimba Church, which was on land given by the Johnson family, who had been Lang immigrants on the Lima.
As you travel back to the city, pause to thank God for ‘the great cloud of witness’ who have laboured before us, and dedicate yourself again to follow ‘Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’ in our own day. (Hebrews 12:1, 2)