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Jubilee History of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church of Carlton
A Prosperous Decade

The minister on his return was warmly welcomed by the people. He set to work at once, but found that his strength would not permit his doing visitation work. The missionary had resigned, and it was decided not to appoint anyone in his place for a while, as the funds were in a low state. Mr. W. H. Scott, however, came forward very kindly, and relieved the minister of the visiting. Mr. Scott was at that time a theological student. He had previously held the position of missionary, and resumed the mission work again later on, also becoming a member of Session. He resigned these positions when he became a minister.

During Mr. McEachran's absence, the Session had been greatly weakened through the resignation of Messrs. John Tait and Samuel MacGregor, and the death of Mr. David Brunton, who had all been valued workers. The congregational funds had fallen off considerably, only 349 sittings were let, and there was not enough money to meet current expenses, and a large bank overdraft had been the result. The people, however, courageously faced the difficulty, and, at a congregational meeting held on 1st October, resolved to collect subscriptions towards wiping off this new debt. A hearty response was made, £229 being promised, of which £215 3s. were received before the end of the year. The minister was specially generous. Not only did he head the subscription list with £50, but he consented to his stipend being reduced by £100 for the next year, and undertook to pay for an assistant out of his own pocket. Other members also contributed liberally, the largest donors being Messrs. K. Gunn and P. McCracken, who donated £50 and £25 respectively.

Matters now began to improve gradually again, and at the close of the following year the annual reports of the Session and Board of Management were of an encouraging nature. The minister's health steadily improved, and from the middle of February, 1880, he was able to preach twice every Sabbath and conduct the prayer meeting and Bible Class during the week. The attendances at public worship increased, until they were again almost as large as before the pastor's illness. At the close of 1880 there were 298 communicants on the roll. The bank overdraft during the same year was reduced from £120 7s 9d. to £50 19s. 9d., whilst more than this latter sum had been expended in repairs to property during the year. There was an improvement in the ordinary collections, as well as in the number of sittings let, and £72 3s. 6d. were contributed to the Sustentation Fund, which had always been well supported by the congregation, while missions and other church schemes were not forgotten.

Under these encouraging circumstances, the stipend of the minister was raised to £700, as from 1st January, 1881. Things during the next twelve months still continued on the up-grade, and the next annual reports were full of rejoicing. The Communion roll had increased, this result having been to a large extent helped by special services conducted by the Rev. John McNeil, who had formerly been connected with the congregation. The debt had been reduced (£357 11s. 6d. being specially collected for the purpose, which enabled the bank overdraft to be eliminated, and the mortgage debt reduced to £1,200), whilst there had been a most gratifying increase in the ordinary revenue. The year had been one of general prosperity, a spirit of love and concord prevailed among the people, the attendance at church had steadily increased, and the power of the Holy Ghost had been manifest in the preaching of the Word, as well as in other means of grace. 

During the next few years, the congregation was again in a very prosperous condition. The pastor regained his strength, and there was no lack in earnest men to help him. In 1882 there were no less than 15 elders, the minister's Bible Class had an average attendance of 80, and the mission was again in full swing, under Mr. Hart (now Rev. M. G. Hart, St. John's, Ballarat). The finances were good, and, in addition to the ordinary revenue, £70 6s. were raised for the Sustentation Fund, and £51 15s. 6d. for heathen missions, irrespective of the amounts raised by the Sabbath School. A special effort to reduce the debt on the manse was also started, and during the year £100 was deposited in the Savings Bank as a nucleus towards attaining the desired object. An important change was also effected in the property by opening a window in the gable opposite the pulpit, to improve the acoustics of the church. Whilst the work was in progress, Mr. James Laurence, one of the contractors who built the church, who was at that time a member of the congregation, took a great interest in the proceedings, and when they were completed forwarded a cheque to the treasurer for the whole cost of the improvement (£38 18s. 6d.), for which he received a special vote of thanks from the congregation.

During the following year the operations of the mission were at a standstill, for a while, owing to the want of a suitable hall in which to conduct services. It was accordingly resolved to proceed with the erection of a Sabbath School Hall. A movement for the erection of such a building had been commenced by the teachers several years before, and a substantial sum was in hand for the purpose. It was determined to open the building if possible free from debt, and a bazaar was held in order to help the attainment of this desirable result. The net proceeds amounted to about £550. A similar means of raising money had been adopted in 1876, when the project was first mooted, between £500 and £600 being obtained on that occasion, and these amounts, together with subscriptions from the members of the congregation and generous friends, enabled the desired end to be accomplished. On the second Sunday in August, 1884, the new building was opened entirely free from debt, having cost £2,361 3s. 1d. The architects were Messrs. Terry and Oakden; the contractor, Mr. Maxwell.

This gratifying result was far beyond the expectations of the building committee. Many willing workers helped to bring it about, but it was "principally through the energy of Mr. William Howat" (to use the words of the Board of Management's report for the following year) that success was attained. Mr. Howat had, during several years previously, done excellent work as an elder and superintendent of the school, and he has always taken and still takes a great interest in the school, where for a time he laboured so earnestly and well. Mr. Howat helped largely to make the final effort a success. One of his predecessors in the office of superintendent, Mr. John Tait, had, however, laid the firm foundation at the beginning. Mr. Tait was an elder, and superintendent of the school for many years, and it was the "unprecedented" success attained by the senior scholars of the school in the annual examinations of the Sunday School Union for 1876 whilst he was superintendent which gave a great stimulus to the project of building, which was then started. He was, however, obliged to leave the district, for business reasons, in March, 1881, and was thus not on the spot to see the finishing touch nut to what he had so well commenced..

It should be recorded that the splendid success of the two bazaars above mentioned was obtained without the assistance of raffles. A strong section of the Board sought to have them in connection with the 1876 bazaar, but the opposition, led by Messrs. Tait, Howat, T. M. Smith, Hamilton, McGregor and others, won the day.

The hall having been erected, the congregation was again able to take up mission work. Through the generosity of the pastor, the missionary's salary of £100 a year was not a burden on the congregational funds, Mr. McEachran volunteering to continue to bear the expense himself. Mr. W. H. Cooper, who had been connected since his early years with the church, was appointed missionary, and for several years he did splendid work. Mr. Cooper has also served the church well as an elder and Sabbath School superintendent. He is now the pastor of the West Hawthorn Presbyterian Church.

An effort to reduce the debt to £500 was next taken in hand. The pastor gave £100 (portion of a legacy left to him), on the condition that the congregation should raise £350 by the time the mortgage should fall due. When that event happened in April, 1886, £600 were paid off, as for principal, and a fresh mortgage for the amount still owing, £600, was obtained, at a reduced rate of interest.

In May, 1885, a change was made in the congregational singing by the introduction of the collection of hymns known as "Church Praise," then recently published. A number wished about this time also to have a pipe organ erected, but the Session, in view of other pressing matters, could not see its way to grant the request. The time was also not ripe for such a project, as a fair number of the members still preferred the old style of worship. Another change agreed upon, at this time, was the closing of the financial year at the end of each September, instead of at the end of December, as had previously been the custom, since the formation of the congregation.

In November, 1885, the General Assembly recognised the value of Mr. McEachran's services in many ways to the Church at large, as a" Defender of the Faith" and otherwise, by appointing him Moderator for the ensuing twelve months. It will be remembered that this highest honour in the Church's gift was once before proposed, but could not be accepted at the time on account of ill-health. During Mr. McEachran's year of office a movement to celebrate the jubilee of Presbyterianism in Victoria, by raising a fund of £60,000 to aid weak congregations was started. The Moderator's previous services in connection with the Sustentation Fund and Home Mission Committees were not forgotten, and he was appointed Convener of the new movement. For the next two years he worked earnestly, and when the time of jubilee came, had the satisfaction of announcing that the desired result had been attained. Whilst engaged in travelling all over the colony in this cause, the Assembly paid for an assistant to help Mr. McEachran in his congregational work, and this position was ably filled in turn by the Revs. John McConnell, S. G. MacLaren, M.A., and A. S. C. James.

In March, 1887, the congregation lost, through his removal from the district, the services of one of the oldest and most valued members of the Session, Mr. David Hood Valantine, who, with the members of his family, had rendered good work in many ways. Mr. Valantine had been Session Clerk for seventeen years, and the Session in parting with him placed on record that he carried "with him their sincere esteem and affection, and they will rejoice to hear of his rendering to the congregation which he has joined even greater services than those which he rendered to our congregation, great as these were."

Many other valued workers were also, during the next year or two, lost, mainly through removals of families to distant suburbs, but the work still went on, and the congregation prospered. Its response to the General Assembly's appeal for the jubilee Fund was especially generous, over £3,400 being raised. Of this amount, £2,200 were given by Mr. Peter Mc Cracken, and £50o by the minister. The former gentleman at the same time did not forget the congregation itself, and in May, 1888, he much rejoiced the hearts of the members of the Board of Management by presenting the treasurer with a cheque for £1,000, to be used in wiping out the existing debt and renovating the property. Mr. McCracken had always been a good friend to the congregation during his long connection with it, and this further instance of his great liberality was very highly appreciated. For the first time in its history the congregation was at last able to say it was free from all burdens. Steps were at once taken to execute a number of very necessary repairs, and the interior of the church and school hall were nicely decorated. The mortgagee was also tendered the principal due, but as three years of the mortgage had yet to run, he refused to accept the same, unless the full amount of interest up to the end of the term were also paid. This the Board refused to do, and the money was placed at fixed deposit with three institutions, which were paying a higher rate of interest than the interest payable to the mortgagee. Fortunately for the congregation, the mortgage became due before the financial crash came, and so the mortgagee was paid off a few months before the institutions, in which the money had been deposited, collapsed. Mr. McCracken, besides his generous financial help, had also served the congregation some years previously as an elder, and was for some time representative elder in the Presbytery and General Assembly. His wife took an active interest in all his schemes of liberality. She was the daughter of Mr. Coiler Robertson, who, with his son James, had rendered the great services in years long before already narrated. Mrs. McCracken died in 1889, and her husband in 1892. One of Mr. McCracken's last acts was to donate £50 to the congregational funds, which were then not in a very satisfactory state.

The congregation, after its many vicissitudes of fortune, was now in a very prosperous condition, and remained so for the next year or two. Mr. McEachran was still very popular and well able to do his work. He stated, however, that while he felt still fit for his duties, yet old age would be coming on, and he desired- his people to give him a colleague and successor, generously offering to pay £500 out of his stipend for that purpose. The congregation, however, would not hear of any such proposal, and asked their beloved pastor to still minister alone to them while he was able. This he consented to do, and the matter was left in abeyance for a while. It was revived again in 1891, and after many meetings, and earnest discussion as to whether an assistant should be obtained, or a colleague called, it was decided to call a minister of standing from the Old Country as a colleague and successor. It was also arranged that the senior minister should receive £zoo a year, with the manse, the junior, upon whom the bulk of the work was to fall, being promised a stipend of £600 a year, without a house. The position was offered to the Rev. G. H. MacGregor, of Aberdeen, who declined the call. A Commission was then appointed in Scotland to look for another suitable man, and eventually, mainly on the recommendation of Rev. Dr. Gibson, of Perth, the Rev. Clarke Houston Irwin, M.A., of Bray, Ireland, was chosen and accepted by the congregation. Mr. Irwin arrived with his family in the colony to take up his pastoral duties in March, 1892.

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