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

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