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Jubilee History of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church of Carlton
Rev. W. Fraser and the Union of the Churches


Bereft of their pastor, the Congregation of St. Andrew's, although staggering under a heavy debt, manfully faced the situation, and resolved at once to call a suitable minister from the Old Land, Commissioners were appointed in Scotland with full power to select a minister, the stipend promised being 600 per annum, with a tree house. An effort to raise 200 for travelling expenses was successful, a little over that amount being collected. The stipend promised was guaranteed by some of the leading members for five years, and a call was got ready and signed by 316 members and adherents.

An effort to reduce the debt was also undertaken, and the sum of 477 14s. 3d. was raised by means of collecting cards for that purpose. Various defects in the construction of the building, however, led to extensive alterations and repairs, chiefly in connection with the ceiling and clock tower, so that the liabilities tended further to increase, notwithstanding strenuous efforts to diminish them. In July, 1856, the total liabilities amounted to 4,118 7s. 5d., 10,105 2s. 8d. up to that time having been expended upon the building. This was enough to discourage any congregation.

In addition to this unsatisfactory state of temporal affairs, the spiritual wants of the people were not properly supplied. After Dr. Mackay's departure, the pulpit was occupied with much acceptance by the Rev. Dugald Macalman, a licentiate recently out from Scotland, for three months, after which he accepted a call to Narracoorte. After some irregular supply, another young Free Church minister, the Rev. Angus MacDonald (afterwards the first minister at Hamilton) preached for a while; but after his departure there was great difficulty in keeping up the services. Not only was there no Gaelic preacher available, but no Free Churchman even could be got. The want of a sermon in their own language was a great hardship to many who understood English very imperfectly. The people also regretted exceedingly that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper had not been dispensed for a long time. They petitioned the Presbytery to help them, but little could be done, and they began to get very despondent when twelve months had gone by without a minister having been appointed. At last, in June, 1857, the joyful news came that the Commissioners at Home had appointed the Rev. William Fraser, of Kilbrandon, as pastor. Just previous to this the Committee were fortunate in securing the services of the Rev. William Jarrett, a U.P. minister without a charge, as a regular supply, and this gentleman occupied the pulpit until the arrival of Mr. Fraser in the colony, at the beginning of November, 1857.

The new minister was in his fifty-seventh year, having been born in January, 1801, in the Island of Gigha. His father, the Rev. William Fraser, was parish minister at Kilchrenan, Argyleshire. On his father's death he succeeded him in the charge, but at the Disruption had to leave for conscience' sake. He was afterwards called to the Free Church at Kilbrandon, Argyleshire, where he laboured with much acceptance until his appointment over the congregation which had been founded by his brother-in-law -, the Rev. D. W. Sinclair. Mr. Fraser was a good preacher, having cultivated a very careful style, modelled after that of Canon Melville, a very eloquent Church of England preacher in those days. He had also sat at the feet of Dr. Chalmers and the Rev. John Foster. He had all the earnestness and enthusiasm of a Knox, for the pulpit was always in danger of being "beat into blads," when lie had warmed up to his subject. His English sermons were somewhat ornate and rhetorical, his sentences being flowery and rotund. He was also well versed in the Gaelic tongue. In temperament he was very affable and genial, and in commending him to the Church in Victoria the Colonial Committee of the Free Church of Scotland spoke very highly of him.

Notwithstanding all these high qualities, Mr. Fraser's stay with his new congregation was destined to be a very brief and troubled one, and the lamentable strife and discord which the writer has now very reluctantly to relate placed the Congregation in a very low state for many years.

The whole trouble arose out of an event which had happened at Geelong a few months prior to Mr. Fraser's arrival in the colony. For some years previous a movement for union between the various Presbyterian bodies had met with some measure of success, Dr. Mackay, as already mentioned, taking a leading part in the negotiations. At the close of i855 a union between the Free Church Synod and the Synod of Victoria had been practically arranged, and there was every prospect of its early accomplishment; but, through the illness of Dr. Mackay and Mr. Hetherington, the leaders in the cause, and owing to other unforeseen difficulties, the matter dragged on during the following year. Delays are always dangerous, and while the matter was hanging fire some of the Free Church brethren thought they would not be true to their principles if they joined the proposed union, and so a split occurred in the Free Church camp. The anti-unionist ministers were in a minority, but they strenuously pushed their case. At length matters came to a head, and on 8th April, 1857, at the meeting of Synod at Geelong, the union majority passed a resolution expelling the dissentient minority of four ministers and three elders from the Synod, and declared them to be no longer members of the Free Church of Victoria. The Minority then constituted themselves an independent body, and thus there were two companies who each claimed to be the Free Church of Victoria.

This action of the Majority, which the Minority characterised as tyrannical, and which seemed, at any rate, a very harsh proceeding, produced, as was only to be expected, very warm feelings amongst the followers of each party. The two sections both asked the parent Church ]it Scotland to give a decision on the matter, and Dr. Mackay and the Rev. John Tait, of Geelong, were sent Home by the Majority to represent their views, the Minority representing their views in writing. The Home Church, however, refused to interfere.

Amongst the sympathisers with the Minority were the greater part of the congregation of St. Andrew's, and when their new minister arrived a difficulty was raised by the Committee of Management as to which Synod should induct. Some of the Committee threatened to leave the Church, if the Majority (with whom they believed Mr. Fraser to be in sympathy) were to perform the ceremony. It was eventually decided to petition both the Majority and the Minority to settle their differences, and then to both join together in the induction of Mr. Fraser. This desirable result, however, did not come about, and, after a delay of a month or two, Mr. Fraser was inducted by the Majority, Dr. Mackay coming specially over from Sydney to take part in the proceedings. The ceremony was not at all viewed favourably by the Committee, but no objections were raised at the time to the validity of the proceedings.

Mr. Fraser, who had been urged by his committee to remain neutral on the subject of union, was at first disposed to be against it, and for a while matters went on fairly well. A house was taken for the pastor in Grattan Street, opposite where the Women's Hospital now is, at a rental of 200 a year, and the project of building a manse was again revived. But it was found difficult to pay ordinary expenses, and the building debt, upon which the bank was receiving 10 per cent. interest, was pressing heavily, and so the building of a minister's house was again abandoned. In May, 1878, another house was taken for the minister in Rathdown Street, near the Church (the third house north from where the manse now is).

The congregation now began to dwindle away, the English services being moderately attended, whilst the average for those conducted in Gaelic was only forty. Evening services in English were instituted, and an advertisement to attract new people inserted in the newspapers, informing the public that the services were not all conducted in Gaelic, as a number of outside people erroneously supposed. Still things did not improve. In August, 1858, there were no funds available for current expenses, and the bank was very anxious to be paid the large sum which had been advanced, and it had been with great difficulty that Mr. Robertson and his friends at the beginning of the year had got their bills renewed for another twelve months by personally advancing the sum of 500 in reduction of the amount owing.

The question of the Union of the Churches now demands our attention.

In November, 1858, the Free Church Synod elected Mr. Fraser as Moderator for the ensuing year, and so the pastor of St. Andrew's became the official head of the Majority, which was so much disliked by most of his people. The absence in the minute book of any records of the meetings of the Committee held during the months of November and December, 1858, in itself, speaks eloquently of the lively meetings which must have taken place after that event. The proceedings of three meetings during January, 1859, are only partially recorded, and there is no official record of any meeting held during the following two years and eight months now extant.

At the meeting of the Committee held on 11th January, 1859, it was resolved that the Rev. William Miller, of John Knox Church (who was Moderator of the Minority Synod), be invited to attend the annual meeting of the congregation, to be held on the 19th, "in order that the congregation might have an opportunity afforded them of hearing his opinion on the question of union," and two members of the Committee were authorised to call upon, and invite him to attend. The minute says - "This motion was carried," the word "unanimously" originally inserted in the minute (which seems never to have been confirmed), being crossed out.

The minister, who was in the chair at this meeting, refused to allow Mr. Miller to address the congregational meeting, but invited, instead, the Revs. Dr. Cairns and John Tait, two of the leaders of the majority, to be present. The meeting was held, the financial statement and other reports for the past year were read, and a Committee of Management for the ensuing year elected. The minister then addressed the meeting, urging that the proposed union, which was then before Parliament, was desirable, and that the basis of union suggested in the Bill was worthy of acceptance, and advising the congregation to petition the Synod to take care that no ministers or preachers should be admitted into the United Church whose principles were not in accordance with those of the Free Church of Scotland. Dr. Cairns and Mr. Tait then addressed the meeting, after which a motion was carried by a majority of one that the congregation should not entertain the question of union until the divisions in the Free Church then existing were healed. At the close of this meeting, a number of the anti-unionists met and considered their attitude in the immediate future, forming a Committee of their own.

On the 24th, a majority of the Committee elected at the congregational meeting met, the minister presiding, and elected their office-bearers for the year. This duly-appointed Committee, however, never got the opportunity of carrying on their work, for revolution was in the air, and before the next month was out, another Committee had established themselves in their place.

On January 29th, the minister received a requisition, signed by 37 members of the congregation, asking for a congregational meeting to be called on the following Friday, for the purpose of hearing Mr. Miller and other clergymen on the subject. This request was refused, on the ground that such a meeting would only occasion strife. The pastor, however, said that he would call a meeting in due time to consider the Bill before Parliament. On the following Sabbath, Mr. Fraser mentioned the matter to the people, and expressed his determination to protect their rights and interests, and his hope that they were satisfied with his action, and would avoid contention. The benediction was then pronounced. Immediately thereafter the precentor mounted his desk, and read a notice convening the meeting to hear Mr. Miller and other representative "Minority" men, which the minister had refused to call.

The gauntlet was thus thrown down. Mr. Fraser endeavoured to prevent the meeting taking place; but the beadle refused to deliver over the keys of the building to him, and the interdicted meeting was held on 4th February. The Revs. William Miller, Allan MacVean and Alexander McIntyre spoke, and a resolution was carried by 250 votes against 6, expressing "adherence to the Free Presbyterian Synod, of which the Rev. W. Miller is Moderator."

The Bill before Parliament had by this time passed the Lower House. In a schedule thereto, the properties belonging to the congregations over which the "Minority" ministers were pastors, were exempted from its operation. The St. Andrew's congregation was not mentioned; but there was a general clause in the Bill, exempting congregations who did not join the Union. The congregation was thus in a peculiar position. A majority was against going into the Union; but the minister and a number of his supporters favoured it. It was therefore resolved to petition the Legislative Council against passing the Bill, unless the congregation's property were included in the schedule with the other exempted properties. Mr. Robertson and his co-guarantors also presented a petition, asking relief against the liabilities they had incurred in connection with the erection of the church. These petitions, however, were disregarded. An amendment, moved by Mr. Fellows, and seconded by Mr. J. P. Fawkner, was lost, and the Bill passed the Council in the same shape as when it left the Assembly.

The wording of the amendment referred to was as follows:-

"And, in order to ascertain, whether the congregation assembling in St. Andrew's Free Gaelic Church in Melbourne does or does not decline to join the said Presbyterian Church of Victoria, the minister of such congregation shall, within one week after the receipt of a requisition in writing, under the hand of seven members of such congregation (being respectively communicants of six months' standing or seatholders), convene a meeting of such congregation, for the purpose aforesaid, and in default of his so doing, the said members, or the major part of them, may themselves convene such meeting."

The Legislature having refused to sanction this clause, the dissentients then determined to take the law into their own hands, and hold another meeting, in spite of the wishes of their minister. They appointed a Committee to look after the property, and acting under their instructions, the precentor, after the service on Sabbath, 20th February, read a notice convening a congregational meeting for Tuesday evening, 22nd February, at 7.30 o'clock, and the meeting was duly advertised in the newspapers on the morning of the date of meeting.

At 7 o'clock on the Tuesday evening, a large concourse of people were assembled before the doors of the church, a number of policemen being also in attendance. The doors were locked, the keys could not be obtained, and it was reported that the locks had been changed. This report turned out afterwards to be correct, as Mr. Fraser publicly admitted that, acting on legal advice, he had changed the locks and kept the keys, in order to prevent an illegal meeting being held in the church. The assembled crowd was confronted with the following notice in large print, attached to the doors: "St. Andrew's Church. Notice is hereby given that the meeting of the congregation of St. Andrew's Church, of which intimation was given from the precentor's desk on Sabbath last, by the reading of a paper writing, bearing to be signed by five individuals, and also by an advertisement in to-day's newspaper, cannot be permitted to be held within the church, the same having been illegally and incompetently called, without the sanction of the minister, the trustees, or the managers of the church. And notice is hereby further given, that no meeting consequent on such intimations can anywhere be legally held, and that no effect, civil or ecclesiastical, can be given to any resolutions that may be passed at a meeting, so improperly attempted to be convened. William Fraser, minister; G. G. Cameron, trustee; W. Melville, manager. February 22nd, 1859."

The crowd waited for an hour, and no keys being forth coming, the doors were then burst open. The bell was rung and the church lit up. Some 400 persons were present, including a number of ladies. The leaders of the Minority Synod were also to be observed, and Mr. W. M. Bell, the leading layman in the body, was called to the chair. The meeting was opened by prayer by the Rev. W. Miller, and a number of warm speeches were then delivered, both in English and Gaelic.

The dominant party in the congregation then proposed the following series of resolutions, viz. "This congregation, the Rev. W. Fraser being in the chair, having upon the 19th of January last resolved by a majority not to enter into any union until a reconciliation was effected between the minority and majority of the Synod, which met in Geelong in April, 1857, and again this congregation . . . having by about 250 against 6 resolved to give in their adherence to the Synod of which the Rev. W. Miller is at present Moderator-which resolution was transmitted to the Rev. W. Fraser hereby resolves

"1. That they adhere to these resolutions.

"2. That they consequently do decline to join the proposed Presbyterian Church of Victoria.

"3. That according to the third clause of the Synod of Victoria Bill, the property of this congregation shall be in no way affected by that Act.

"4. That the Rev. W. Fraser, the former minister of this congregation, having joined another denomination, has, ipso facto, ceased to be the minister of this congregation.

"5. That a copy of these resolutions be transmitted to him, to the Rev. William Miller, Moderator of the Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church of Victoria, and to the Moderator of the Synod to which the Rev. W. Fraser belongs."

An amendment to these resolutions, to the effect that the meeting be adjourned until it be known whether the majority of the congregation were in favour of union or not, was proposed, but only got six votes, the resolutions in the motion being adopted by an overwhelming majority. A new Committee of Management, consisting of fifteen persons, was then appointed, "for the present, to take all necessary steps for the protection of the property and otherwise to preserve the interests of the congregation." There were only four dissentients to the appointment of this Committee.

The Committee thus chosen " for the protection of the property" set to work in real earnest, in carrying out the duties entrusted to them that very night. Their Highland blood was up, and they determined to stay in the church, both night and day, and hold the fort against the adverse party. Their meals were brought to them by their friends, and so the situation lasted for the rest of the week. In the Saturday's papers, Mr. Fraser advertised that he would hold the usual Sabbath services in the church, in the forenoon at eleven in English, and in the afternoon at two o'clock in Gaelic. The other side announced that no services would be held. On the Sabbath, Mr. Fraser was denied admission to the building, and had to content himself with preaching to his supporters in the open air. Simultaneously, a Gaelic service was held inside the church by the Rev. Allan MacVean, of Brunswick.

On 2nd March, an application was made to Mr. Justice Barry, on behalf of Mr. George Gordon Cameron, the only trustee of the church who sided with the minister, asking for an injunction against the other trustees, Mr. W. M. Bell, the Rev. William Miller, the beadle of the church, and the members of the revolutionary committee (who had been made defendants to a bill in equity), to restrain them from interfering with Mr, Fraser in the performance of his duties as minister, and from keeping possession of the church or using it otherwise than for the legitimate purposes of the congregation. The plaintiff alleged in his bill that the defendants had barred up the church, had prevented the celebration of divine services on the Sunday previous, and occupied the church with men who ate, drank and slept there. The learned judge granted the injunction asked for, and, in obedience to the arm of the law, the defenders had thus to give up their citadel, and the minister returned to the possession of his pulpit.

Services were held by him the following Sabbath, and thereafter during the month of March.

The next event was the consummation of the Union, and the formation of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, in the Scots' Church, Collins Street, on 7th April, 1859, when Mr. Fraser, as the oldest minister present, and former Moderator of the Free Church Synod, opened the proceedings. On the following day (the second anniversary of the meeting at Geelong, which had given rise to the whole trouble), a large deputation from the congregation of St. Andrew's appeared before the Minority Synod, now the only Free Church Synod, and asked to be allowed to give in their adherence to that body. They laid on the table the resolutions passed at the several meetings held, and asked the Synod to assume jurisdiction over the congregation. The request was, of course, cordially granted, and a Committee of advice to the congregation was appointed to look after their interests.

Mr. Fraser, however, still continued to occupy the pulpit, so the congregation determined on steps to get him out of it. A meeting was called by advertisement for Tuesday, 19th April, at 7.30 p.m. At the appointed time, about 150 people assembled, and found the doors again locked. There was no attempt on this occasion to burst open the doors, and the meeting was accordingly held in the open air, the chairman being accommodated with a seat under a shed. The Committee gave a report of their movements, and stated that in defiance of their and the congregation's wishes, the Rev. William Fraser continued to officiate in the church. It was thereupon resolved to instruct the Committee to take such steps as might be necessary to secure the full possession of the property of the congregation. It was also resolved to ask the Synod to help the congregation to obtain a settled minister, who could preach both Gaelic and English. Several of those present then amused themselves by delivering harangues on the situation, both in Gaelic and English.

Under these circumstances, Mr. Fraser took the only step open to him, and sent in his resignation to the Presbytery of Melbourne of the United Church, and lie preached for the last time on 7th May. The Presbytery agreed to meet at the church on the 11th, to consider the resignation ; but when they arrived at the church, they found the doors locked, the congregation being now in possession, and the beadle refused to deliver up the keys. On the motion of the Rev. James Ballantyne, the Presbytery then adjourned to the Erskine Church, Lonsdale Street, where the Presbytery was constituted under the chairmanship of the Moderator, the Rev. George Divorty. Among the audience were about loo members of the St. Andrew's congregation. The Moderator, in opening the business, disclaimed any wish on the part of the Presbytery to interfere either with the views of the congregation in respect to the Union, or with respect to the church property. The question was, Did the congregation adhere to the Union? If they did, they would be heard on the question of their minister's resignation; if not, then the resignation would be treated as that of an individual member of the Presbytery. They did not, however, wish in any way to control the congregation. The Presbytery Clerk then read the congregational members' roll, asking those in favour of union to signify their assent, as their names were called. One solitary voice of those present replied in the affirmative. Mr. Fraser's resignation was then accepted, and several of the brethren spoke as to his personal worth, Dr. Cairns stating that it was the opinion of the Presbytery that Mr. Fraser was to be regarded as one of the most efficient, zealous, and worthy ministers in the body.

Thus ended Mr. Fraser's brief and troubled pastorate. In the following September, he received and accepted a call from Bulla, where he laboured for many years, greatly beloved by his people. The breach with his old congregation was so far healed that, some years later, he actually took part in the proceedings for inducting his successor into the charge. The writer has attempted to state impartially the facts of the case, and it will be seen that the congregation apparently took up its attitude more from a sense of sympathy with those whom they had considered ill-treated, than from any distinct aversion to union. The matters complained of had happened before Mr. Fraser came to the colony, and he was therefore not to blame for them, and in his desire to enter the Union, on the true merits of the case, and endeavour to persuade his congregation to do so, he was only following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Mr. Sinclair and Dr. Mackay, who were both firm believers in union. Mr. Fraser was at length called to his rest, in December, 1872, and the Presbytery passed the following memorial minute:-" It was agreed to record the esteem in which their venerable father and brother was held by them as a man and as a minister of Jesus Christ. He had commended himself to the confidence and affection of all who knew him, by patience of disposition, unassuming demeanour, simplicity, and transparency of character and blamelessness of life. His ministry had, in the providence of God, been a lengthy one, and had been eminently characterised by consistency and earnestness and unvarying assiduity." (See Hamilton's Jubilee History, p. 315). Mr. Fraser was in 1833 married to Margaret Livingston, who died on the 23rd September, 1903, at the advanced age of 8g. They had fourteen children, several of whom reside in the suburbs of Melbourne. Mr. and Mrs. Fraser are buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery, close to the grave of Mrs. Sinclair (Mr. Fraser's sister).


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