Category Archives: KBC History

A bit more about our 160yo community of faith!

160 Years of KBC (Pt. 4)

Women Missionaries

irisThe Rev James Blaikie passionately supported overseas missions and encouraged Iris Seymour to go to Mymensingh in Bangladesh in 1888. It was part of a revolution in missionary activity.

In 1854 Elizabeth Sale, the wife of a Baptist Missionary in India was invited to a Zenana, the closed women’s quarters of a Hindu household. This opened a whole field of mission work that was closed to men. In 1867 the Baptist Missionary Society in London set up a Zenana mission and in 1872 Hanna Martin, the wife of the minister at Collins St established a Victorian auxiliary of the Zenana mission. This auxiliary supported two Indian Zenana Missionaries, one in Calcutta, the other in Delhi.

In 1882 Ellen Arnold and Marie Gilbert from South Australia had begun mission work in Bengal. Arnold and Gilbert built a house in Faridpur and in Jan 1884 they moved in. But Arnold’s health failed and she had to be repatriated. The sea voyage worked wonders and she arrived home well enough to tour the country publicising the mission.

In 1885 she returned to Bengal (Bangladesh) with four other women: Alice Pippin from South Australia, Ruth Wilkin and Marion Fuller from Victoria and Martha Plested from Queensland. These women were dubbed the ‘Five Barley Loaves’, when they were commissioned in South Australia.

In 1888 Iris Seymour joined them. This was the same year that Fuller and Wilkin opened a school, the Victoria Mission Girls School for Hindu girls in Mymensingh. Iris worked as a Zenana missionary until 1899 when she was appointed the head mistress of the school. She held this position for 24 years and won the respect of all, including government and educational authorities. The school had a hostel for 30 girls and is still functioning today.

Iris returned to Kew in 1919 and was an active member until her death in 1937, aged 76. She had been a member of the church for over 50 years.

Amy Moore was an OMF missionary who was equally significant. She began services for the newly arrived Vietnamese boat people in Richmond in 1978. Merryl Smith took over in 1980 and in 1981 the Rev Nguhen Huu Tin was appointed as an assistant pastor at Kew Baptist to lead them. This congregation is now led by Pastor Khoi Doan and is a significant part of our church.

Yet it all began with Amy chatting up Vietnamese tram conductors on her way to town!

John Sampson

160 Years of KBC (Pt. 3)

[pictured above: the KBC Choir from the 1890s]


When Joseph Foy died in 1879 there were no locally trained ministers so the church recruited a man with a tremendous reputation from Mansfield Nottinghamshire, Rev Henry Marsden. He was man of action, a graduate of Spurgeon’s college who in his six years at Mansfield had grown the congregation from 40 to 200. But there was a downside. He applied to join the Baptist Annuity Fund in 1879 but was rejected on medical grounds and advised to move to healthier climes. So he left for Melbourne three weeks later. In May 1880 he was snapped up by Kew and set about building a new church on Cotham Rd and attracting a much larger congregation. But his health failed and he died 18 months later, in 1882, aged 30, before the new church was completed.

The deacons, of whom Courtney Walrond was now the oldest serving member, then appointed James Blaikie, another outstanding preacher from Spurgeon’s college. Blaikie moved into Marsden’s new church and while here founded the Christian Endeavour Society that was so significant for the next 70 years. In 1892, the Rev J B Gillison succeeded him, but like Marsden he was in poor health and had to resign in a little over a year. These three men shaped the pattern of worship for the next 100 years.

The focus was on preaching as reflected in the design of the present auditorium with the pulpit up front and central, the communion table and the baptistry underneath, and the choir and pipe organ on the side. With universal education everyone could read, so hymnbooks could be used.

But by the end of the century things had begun to change. The pulpit was abandoned in the late 1990s when Ruth Sampson could not get up the stairs to preach. The hymnbooks were supplemented with an overhead projector in the 1990s and were removed from the pews around 2010. The choir was disbanded around 2012.

So we are exploring new territory as we build a new auditorium to provide a space for worship. Will we have a media booth with a sound system and overhead screens? Will we refurbish the baptistry and make it a feature at the entrance to new space? Will the pipe organ and the pews be removed?  I look forward to seeing how it all turns out.

Worship is the heart of Kew Baptist.

John Sampson

160 Years of KBC (Pt. 2)

Karana and the Res

When the Rev Arthur Wilkins came to Kew in 1953 it was a large church of around 400 and blessed with strong leaders. These included the Rev J H Newnham, Dr F W Boreham and Rev J H Kitchen. Newnham had been pastor of the church from 1926-1941 and Boreham from 1941-1944 and both had retained their membership at Kew. Newnham left to be the Superintendent of the Home Mission Department of the BUV. Dr F W Boreham was a world famous Baptist writer. In addition the Rev J H Kitchen had retired from the China Inland Mission in 1951 and he also lived here, providing a home for the children of missionaries.

This strength was seen in the 1956 Centenary celebrations where the Rev Oscar Johnson of St Louis preached and Dr E (Pearly) Gates the song leader from Mississippi attracted large crowds.

The church marked the centenary first by renovating the Cotham Rd church then building Karana, a nursing home in Walpole St on properties bequeathed by Miss Ruth Wilkin to the BUV. Karana was initially managed by a committee made up of equal numbers of representatives of Kew Baptist and the BUV but over the years it has been extended and redeveloped so that it is now a very large complex managed by Baptcare. The church supports it through regular visits and the supply of preachers for Sunday services.

The other major development was that of a Youth Hostel. This was based on the radical concept of a co-ed residential institution for youth. It began in Moore Potter House in Canterbury Rd when the Baptist Training Institute for training deaconesses and missionaries closed. The Hostel initially catered for paid workers and students but the two groups proved incompatible so it now only accepts students.

It was moved to Mary St in 1965 so that it could be near the church and have strong links to it. Consequently it has been a major influence in attracting young leaders to the church and shaping the form of the evening service. It is now known as ‘the Res’ and is a very significant part of the church’s outreach to the community. Most students come from the towns and farms of country Victoria to start a tertiary education in the city. Our challenge now is to provide good facilities for these ministries.

John Sampson

160 Years of KBC (Pt. 1)

Kew Baptist in Colonial Victoria: A church full of migrants

Australia was first settled at least 40,000 years ago and has had unknown numbers of people move here over the millennia since then. The Europeans arrived in 1788 and reached the rich grazing lands of Victoria by 1843. After much agitation the district was separated from New South Wales and on 1 July 1851, La Trobe was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the new colony and Victoria was open for business.

The marquees were still being put away when on 7 July gold was found at Clunes. The new colony was swamped with so many people that one ‘tent city’ was established in South Melbourne and another in Elizabeth St to provide accommodation for them.

John Denbigh was an early arrival and lived on the corner of Wimba Ave and Cotham Rd. He scored a job as a clerk in the new Victorian Civil Service and was soon transferred to the Gold Commissioners Office. In 1852 he was attending the church led by Rev W P Scott in the Mechanics Institute in Collins St when Joseph Foy came to preach. They became friends and I believe John invited Joseph to Kew.

Joseph had arrived from England in 1851 and built his house in Kew in 1853 in ‘the primeval forest, with bush tracks leading to widely separated habitations’. Other newcomers were living in tents under the large shady trees. Nearby there was an aboriginal camp.

In April 1853 Joseph began holding regular worship services in his house. The first attracted 3 visitors, John Denbigh, Courtney Walrond and Thomas Merritt. Thomas brought along a tuning fork to lead the singing. In September they opened a Sunday School, with John Denbigh as Superintendent, and Mrs Foy and Mr Hodgson as teachers. One student turned up on their first day. By Sept 1854 they had built a small weatherboard chapel on the corner of St John’s Parade and Cotham Rd and the Rev W P Scott was invited to open it. Joseph took up his position as pastor the following week and served for 27 years until he died in 1879.

In November 1856 the church was formally constituted as the Kew Baptist Church with John Denbigh the only deacon. He served the church until his death in 1875.

It was a church full of new arrivals.

John Sampson

The Ruth Wilkins’ Memorial Fund

Australian Baptist 2nd Aug 1949

‘Today (July 27th) a happy little function is taking place at the denominational headquarters, Albert St, Melbourne. The Officers of the Union and their wives are entertaining Miss (Ruth) Wilkins at afternoon tea & presenting her with a nicely bound copy of the New Testament and Psalms as a gesture of appreciation’

The reason for the jollity?

She had just arranged to give the Baptist Union of Victoria (BUV) a two storied brick house in Kew in exchange for a living of £3 per week for the rest of her life. The house had ten rooms and was located at 29 Barry St. It was on the corner of Molesworth St. The understanding was that the property be used for the possible development of a youth hostel.

The BUV Executive Council discussed this development at the half yearly BUV Assembly meeting in Kerang in August and set up a Hostel subcommittee to work on it. They also thanked Mr T E Shepherd of Collins St for negotiating the arrangement.

The subcommittee began by working with Canterbury Baptist and soon developed ‘Weller Lodge’ in a large house next door to the church. The contract of sale for the property was signed on 1 Dec 1949 and the Lodge began operating as a youth hostel in 1950.

Miss Ruth Wilkins was a spinster who lived in Walpole St Kew. She had been born in Adelaide in 1872 and after she had moved to Melbourne had joined Kew Baptist in 1930. In 1943 she moved her membership to Collins St while Dr F W Boreham was the Interim Minister at Kew. The Rev L J Gomm replaced him in 1944 and was the pastor at Kew at the time of the celebrations.

Ruth Wilkins died, on 7th Dec 1949 just twenty weeks after the celebrations. She was aged 77.

The Rev L J Gomm took the funeral service as he had been a regular visitor during her short illness and the Rev Arthur Lewis of Collins St was not available. The Union was represented at the service by the secretary Mr J C Thompson and Collins St was represented by Mrs T E Shepherd, even though it was a private funeral.

Then the bombshell!

In her will Miss Wilkins bequeathed the Union a further four substantial properties in Kew. ‘A magnificent gift’, as trumpeted by the ‘Australian Baptist’. In addition she had several large properties in Adelaide. It turned out that these had been sold before her death and the money used to buy some flats in Melbourne. These went to her sister.

As a result of the bequest the BUV became the proud owners of: 26 Barry St, 4 Fernhurst St, 27 Princess St and 55/59 Walpole St, Kew.

In November 1951 the Executive Council decided to sell all the properties and consolidate the funds into one investment account.

At this meeting they also agreed:

‘That the initial arrangement for the apportionment of funds be as follows:

  • as properties are sold the proceeds are to be retained in one capital fund.
  • Such a fund is to be increased each year by 30% of the net income from rental and / or interest earned.
  • The balance of 70% of net income is to be disbursed annually by a grant to bodies within the Union that meet Ruth Wilkins’ bequest wishes.
  • That the basis of the initial distribution of grants be as follows:

Kilvington 22%

Strathcona 22%

Strathalan Aged People’s Home 22%

Hostel committee (Union) 14%

Baptist Union (for administration) 20%

The properties were duly sold and the income generated was distributed as agreed.

The fund has survived and grown with the girls’ schools being among the major beneficiaries. From time to time adjustments have been made as circumstances changed. For example when the Hostel Committee was disbanded adjustments had to be made and when the ‘Pella’ Immigration Centre was included for a short time they were changed again. More recently this bequest has been consolidated with others to form the Advancement Fund. This fund not only disburses the interest from the bequests but also provides loans to worthy causes. Thus the girl’s schools and other suitable causes are still benefiting.

And so the legacy lives on.

So how did the property in Walpole St come to be used as the site for Karana, if all the properties were to be sold?

That is a tangled tale I will explore in a second article.

John Sampson