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Jubilee History of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church of Carlton
Times of Depression


The Congregation, for nearly ten years after the disturbances referred to in the last chapter, had a somewhat chequered career, and was for about seven years during that time without a pastor. Whilst the Committee of the victorious party was, with the help of the Free Church Synod, trying to get a minister, two of their number were plunged into litigation in connection with the debt owing to the Bank. The story of the discharge of this debt by Mr. James Robertson, is interesting, and deserves some attention.

It will be remembered that, while the church was being erected, Mr. Coiler Robertson and a number of other gentlemen agreed to guarantee a bank overdraft, in order that the building operations might be continued. This arrangement was necessitated, because at that time the congregation had not received a title to its property from the Crown, nor had any trustees been appointed, to whom a grant might be made, and the congregation therefore had no power to effect a mortgage, or give any security to the Bank over the land, which it had been permitted to occupy by the Government. The promissory notes given by the guarantors were renewed from time to time, but at the beginning of 1858, it was with difficulty that the Bank was again persuaded to renew them for another twelve months. They were given by eight individuals for varying amounts, the sum total of the guarantee being 4,200. Mr. Coiler Robertson's guarantee amounted to 1,000, and that of his son, Mr. James Robertson, to 600. Four other gentlemen gave their promissory notes for 500 each, and two others theirs for 400 and 200 respectively. The eight instruments were endorsed by Messrs. Coiler and James Robertson and another individual. While the Bill for Union was before Parliament, Mr. Coiler Robertson and his co-guarantors petitioned to be relieved from their liability.

The suggestion was thrown out by the supporters of the Bill that, if the congregation went into Union, steps would be taken to relieve the guarantors of their personal liability, and other provision made for securing the money owing to the Bank. The Congregation would not go into the union, as we have seen, and, on the promissory notes falling due, on 25th February, 1859, none of them were met. Some of the guarantors belonged to Mr. Fraser's party, whilst others, especially Messrs. Coiler and James Robertson, were at that time holding the church against the minister.

Under these circumstances, the Bank of Victoria determined to take legal proceedings, and, on 4th May, 18.59, eight Supreme Court writs were issued against Messrs. Coiler and James Robertson and the other gentleman who had endorsed the eight dishonoured notes, claiming the amounts due on each with interest. The cases, however, never reached the length of trial, as a settlement was arrived at on 10th June following. On that date, the Bank overdraft amounted to 3,694 6s 11d., and this liability was discharged by Mr. James Robertson, one of the defendants, who gave a cheque to the Bank's solicitor for 3,908 12s. 9d., as representing the amount of the overdraft, with interest and costs. The solicitor, after receiving this cheque from Mr. Robertson, paid the amount due to his client, amounting to 3,858 18s. 3d., into the Bank by his own cheque, and in consequence of these acts the proceedings in the courts went no further.

This account of the discharge of the congregation's in debtedness by Mr. Robertson does not agree with the popular story which has been current for the last 40 years and more, and which is believed by a large number of people, that the Bank refused to take payment from Mr. Robertson in any other way than by proper legal tender, in solid gold, and that he, with the assistance of a friend, brought the money in two bags, containing 2,000 sovereigns each, through the streets of Melbourne, and paid them over the counter. This story is proved by documentary evidence to be a myth. The popular story is also wrong in ascribing the payment to Mr. Coiler Robertson. This gentleman was ever a good friend to the church, and gave large sums to assist the work; but, in the great crisis, his son came forward and relieved his aged father from any responsibility in the matter. The congregation should never forget the names of this generous father and son. The esteem in which the elder gentleman was held is shown by a resolution passed by a meeting of the congregation held on 14th August, 1860, shortly after his death, when it was decided to forward a letter of condolence to his widow and family and to place on record an expression of the congregation's sincere and heartfelt regret and sorrow experienced by them for the irreparable loss they had recently sustained by the death of one who, by his zealous and indefatigable efforts to promote the welfare of the church, created feelings of high respect and esteem, which could never be effaced from the memory of the congregation.

The debt thus discharged by Mr. James Robertson was one for which he was personally liable. He had no legal claim against the congregation for recoupment; but the members always considered themselves under a moral obligation, and had great sympathy with him. Under the circumstances in which it was placed, the congregation was not able to do anything towards repayment for many years. Mr. Robertson, nevertheless, did not cease to take a generous interest in the church, and during the years of great depression and trouble that ensued, he was ever ready to support the cause out of his substance.

As was only to be expected, large numbers left the congregation on account of the disturbances, and the finances fell off considerably. On many occasions, during the next year or two, the Sabbath collections were under 1 and several times less than 10s. It was difficult to get ministers to fill the pulpit, and preachers from all denominations took occasional supply. The people had just to take what they could get, or, as one of the leading members expressed it, they had to content themselves with "straw out of every nest." The sermons were often very poor; but the people were critics, and, on one occasion, some of them took the preacher severely to task for the sermon he had preached. The offending divine admitted - "I would not preach that sermon in Scotland, but I thought it would please them here," and was glad to escape further reproof by promising to do better in the future.

These remarks apply only to the English services, for it was found impossible to get a minister to officiate regularly in Gaelic. Mesrs. Malcolm Ferguson, Malcolm MacQueen, and Duncan MacIntyre, however, stepped into the breach, and earned great reputation as Gaelic lay preachers, whilst the Rev. Alexander MacIntyre, minister of the Gaelic Church at Geelong, also helped occasionally. Highlanders who are still alive remember with gratitude the valuable services rendered by the three laymen mentioned. The two former are still alive; the other, Mr. Duncan MacIntyre, died, at an advanced age, two or three years ago.

In addition to these spiritual leaders in the congregation, there were also several who rendered noble service in temporal matters, among whom may be mentioned Messrs. Coiler and James Robertson, Kenneth Gunn and John Gordon.

The congregation had, however, thrown in its lot with the wrong Synod, as it learned in time. The Minority of 1857, which had become, after the Union, the only Free Church Synod, asked the Free Church of Scotland to recognise it as such. The Rev. W. Miller was sent as a deputy to Scotland to plead their cause. The Home Church, however, determined to recognise the Union, and thus the Victorian " Wee Frees" of those days were left out in the cold. They then began to quarrel among themselves, and split again into two Synods. At length, in 1867, the larger Synod came into the Union. The smaller Synod of those days still exists, but has a very small number of adherents.

The people at St. Andrew's had become wise long before the Union of 1867. This result came about through the Synod not being able to get the congregation a minister, and the decision of the Free Church of Scotland to recognise the Victorian Union. In December, 1861, a call was sent to the Rev. Dr. Walter McGillivray, of Aberdeen, but that leading Free Churchman declined to accept it. The billet, as Professor MacDonald informs the writer, then went begging all over Scotland, being offered to Professor MacDonald himself, amongst others, but no one would take it ; and thus the Congregation felt that it was going from bad to worse. At length, when its own Synod could not give it pulpit supply, it had to depend upon the services of the Rev. Andrew Begg, a minister of the Union Church, then without a charge, who occupied the pulpit for some time. The Free Church Synod could not stand such insubordination, and appointed the Rev. John Gardiner, who arrived from Scotland in March, 1862, to fill the pulpit. The Congregation, however, would not let him preach, and stood by Mr. Begg. This resulted in an altercation with the Synod, who refused to aid the Congregation any further iii calling a minister, unless they satisfactorily explained their conduct. The upshot of this was that St. Andrew's congregation determined to join the Union. Several meetings of the Committee and Congregation were held on the matter, and at length, on 7th April, 1863, Messrs. Kenneth Gunn, James Brown, John Gordon and Alexander MacLean appeared before the Presbytery of Melbourne, were warmly received, and the request of the congregation to be admitted into the Presbyterian Church of Victoria was cordially acceded to. The Rev. D. MacDonald, of Emerald Hill (afterwards Dr. MacDonald) was thereupon appointed Moderator of the vacant charge, and since that date till the present St. Andrew's has been one of the most loyal congregations belonging to the Presbyterian Church of Victoria.

The resolutions presented by the Commissioners appointed by the Congregation to the Presbytery were very lengthy, and had a very formal ring about them. They recited the resolutions arrived at during the turbulent times, when the Congregation was a law unto itself, their former connection with the Free Church Synod, the resolution of the Free Church of Scotland declining to recognise the Free Church Synod, and recognising the Presbyterian Church of Victoria as standing in the place of the former Free Church Synod. The Congregation then declared that it renounced the jurisdiction of the Free Church Synod, and placed itself under the jurisdiction of the Free Church of Scotland, and as a congregation of the Free Church of Scotland declared that it went into and united with the body formed on 7th April, 1859, and known as the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, and accordingly asked to be received into that body.

This was, in truth, a round about and very formal way of doing the business ; but the resolutions were arrived at after a great deal of thought, and discussion, and there is no doubt they were regarded as the "correct thing." Before ending this part of our story, it should be mentioned that, in December, 1859, the Union Church endeavoured to get control over the St. Andrew's Church property, and sole control over some other properties, in which a share was claimed by the Free Church. The matters in dispute were referred to the Commissioner of Lands (Mr. James Service), who gave a decision in favour of the Union Church as to the other properties, but decided in favour of the Free Church party with regard to St. Andrew's.

Full of spirit and hope for the future, the people at once considered the question of calling a minister. A number wished to have the Rev. A. Begg, who had preached for some months, permanently settled as pastor; but Mr. Begg could not speak Gaelic, which was considered a sine qua non by the majority of the congregation. Moreover, that gentleman had decided to return to Scotland, which he did about a week after the congregation joined the Union. In appreciation of his services, a farewell social was given, and an illuminated address and purse of sovereigns presented. The congregation then determined to call a minister from Home.

At the request of the Committee, Dr. MacDonald wrote to Mr. James Balfour, W.S., Edinburgh, the Agent for supply of ministers to the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, asking that gentleman to aid in selecting a minister, and to associate with him in his task the Revs. Dr. Mackay, Dr. Candlish, Dr. Bonar, and Thomas MacLachlan. The minister to be selected was to be one capable of preaching in Gaelic, as well as English, two sermons in English to be preached every Sabbath, with occasional Gaelic services, when required by the people. The letter further stated that the income of the congregation was (notwithstanding its chequered history - for some years) over 640 a year. It may also be stated that the congregation, at the date of the disturbances in 1859, also owed a large number of debts (other than that discharged by Mr. Robertson), and those liabilities had all been paid.

In December, 1863, a reply was received from Mr. Balfour, stating that, after careful enquiry, he could not secure the services of an ordained minister, and that he, and those associated with him, thought the best thing to do was to send out a promising probationer, who, if found suitable, could be called by the congregation, and ordained as their minister. The Rev. Angus MacGregor, ALA., a distinguished young student and preacher, was highly recommended.

Mr. MacGregor arrived in Victoria in April, 1864, and preached for the next few months. On 6th June, a congregational meeting was called. The Committee reported that the prospects of the congregation were very encouraging; there was an average of 250 to 300 persons at the services, close on 100 seats let, and the estimated income for the ensuing year was 450. It was thereupon agreed to take steps to call Mr. MacGregor, who had created a favourable impression, the stipend promised being - 350 a year, including a house, to be raised as soon as possible to 500. Accordingly, on 20th June, pursuant to the laws of the Church, the Rev. William Fraser, of Bulla, held a meeting for moderation in a call, and Mr. MacGregor was duly chosen. The call, which was signed by 201 persons, was sustained by the Presbytery, and the new pastor was ordained on 11th August, the ministers taking part in the ceremony being Revs. W. Fraser (the former pastor), D. MacDonald, J. Bagley, and D. McCrea. A week later, a welcome tea meeting was held, which passed off very successfully. A gown and cassock were presented by the ladies to the new minister, and votes of thanks passed to the Rev. D. MacDonald and Mr. Balfour for their valued services in bringing about the happy result. The ladies also presented a pulpit Bible (the one still used) and Psalm Book for the minister's use. It was also stated that they had furnished the vestry and suitably draped the pulpit.

The new minister, who was in his thirtieth year, was the son of an Aberfeldie farmer, whose four sons were all very talented. Angus was the youngest of the four. Two of his elder brothers were leading ministers in the Free Church at that time, and the sons of both these are, at present, preaching the gospel in leading Churches in the United Kingdom. The congregation took kindly to the young pastor, and for a while things went well. But subsequently affairs were not altogether satisfactory. The minister determined to resign. A large portion of the congregation were against him doing so. In August, 1867, however, he relinquished his charge, and shortly after left the colony for New Zealand. On the eve of his departure he was presented by the Committee of Management with the following address :

" St. Andrew's Church, 24th September, 1867.

"Reverend and Dear Sir, -

"We, the Committee of Management of St. Andrew's Church, beg, on the eve of your departure from amongst us, to record our sense of your efficiency and ability as a minister, of your frank and cordial disposition, of the kind interest you have taken in this Congregation, as a body and individually, and of the sound and practical advice you have ,given to this Committee, as its Chairman, at its various meetings; and we would remind you that you carry with you our sincere wishes for your well-being, spiritually and temporally, and that your success in any sphere to which you may be called is our earnest desire."

Mr. MacGregor left the ministry and took up secular work in New Zealand. He filled important positions in the Education Department there, first in Dunedin, and afterwards at Invercargill, for many years, and was subsequently Parliamentary Librarian at Wellington. He died not many years ago.

The Congregation was thus again left without a pastor, having during about half the time of its existence been in a similar plight. The attendance at worship again dwindled, as was only inevitable, and the Highland portion could not obtain an ordained minister to preach to them. Mr. MacQueen, however, came to the rescue again, and the ministrations of this earnest layman were much appreciated. He was now one of the elders of the congregation, having been selected with Messrs. John Manson and Donald Ross, by the Congregation, as the first members of Session, in April, 1866. Mr. Manson, who was the first Session Clerk, had also been Treasurer of the Church for some years, and Superintendent of the Sabbath School. Mr. Ross was also for many years a valued worker both as a member of the Board of Management and Session, and also as a. teacher in and Superintendent of the Sabbath School. There were also several splendid workers on the Board of Management, amongst whom may be mentioned Mr. Adam G. Melville, a very able Secretary, and Messrs. Kenneth Gunn, Patrick MacLean, Duncan MacIver and John Cordon. These men, with others associated with them, determined that an effort should be made to obtain a minister of tried experience and success, rather than an untried probationer. The congregation agreed with this view.

A Committee to choose a minister was at once appointed, and under the able guidance of the Rev. D. Mac Donald (who had again been appointed by the Presbytery Interim Moderator of the vacant charge), the Committee at once started on its work. It had a two-fold task - (1) to keep the pulpit well supplied with good preachers; and (2) to obtain a suitable pastor. It succeeded well in both these objects. A good pulpit supply was given by several ministers. The Rev. Alexander Morrison, who officiated for the longest period, was much appreciated. With respect to obtaining a pastor, the Committee went over the names of all the Presbyterian ministers in the Australian Colonies, but found there were few of such to whom, in their opinion, such an "important charge could be offered, and of the few to whom it could be offered, not one was likely to accept it." They therefore resolved to turn their attention to Scotland. One of their number, Mr. A. Holm, suggested the name of the Rev. D. S. McEachran, under whom he had sat at Cromarty, as most eligible for the position, and after fully considering the matter, the Committee came to the conclusion that the right person had been found, if only - he could be persuaded to accept.

On 6th April, 1868, the Congregation unanimously adopted the recommendation of its Committee, and resolved to offer their minister a stipend of 600 a year, to increase with the income to 800, and to raise 200 to defray the travelling expenses. 69 6s. for this object was thereupon subscribed at the meeting, and the balance was shortly after all collected, mainly through the exertions of Mr. John Gordon. On 20th April the call was moderated in, and on the motion of Mr. Kenneth Gunn, seconded by Mr. John Gordon, Mr. McEachran's name was inserted therein. The call was signed by 113 members and adherents, and was duly sustained by the Presbytery.

The Revs. J. Oswald Dykes (now Dr. Dykes) and George Divorty were commissioned to represent the congregation's interests before the Free Church Presbytery of Chananny. These two gentlemen had already been working in the interests of the congregation in Scotland. They were both well aware of its history. Dr. Dykes had just returned from a sojourn of about two years in Victoria, where he had done splendid work in many directions, particularly in inducing the majority of the Victorian Free Church to unite with their brethren of the larger Union in 1867, whilst the Rev. Mr. Divorty was the first minister of the South Yarra congregation (then known as Prahran), where he had laboured for several years. Mr. MacDonald, who had known Mr. McEachran many years before, when the former was a young Ross-shire probationer, and the latter a recently ordained minister, had also written to his old acquaintance, laying fully before him the full facts of the case, and urging him strongly to come. The call duly reached its destination. It was accepted, and on 21st November, 1868, the new minister, with his family, arrived in the Bay by the ship "Suffolk," and with his advent an entirely new epoch in the Church's history began.


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