Where We've Come From
Where We've Come From
The first Baptists came into being in Europe as part of the Reformation.
The first Baptist service of worship in Australia was held in Sydney on 24 April 1831, more than four decades after the British penal colony had begun in 1788. The first preacher was Rev John McKaeg who conducted the first baptisms in Woolloomooloo Bay in 1832. Under the subsequent leadership of Rev John Saunders, a chapel was built in Bathurst Street and a church formed in 1836. A Baptist Association was formed in 1868, known as the Baptist Union from 1870.
The first Australian Baptist church was actually been formed in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania from 1853). Rev Henry Dowling, a strict Calvinist, had led a small group to form a church in Hobart Town in 1835. The work begun under Dowling was later to be strengthened by the generosity of William and Mary Ann Gibson who built fifteen chapels, many manses and brought out young men from Spurgeon's Pastors' College. The Baptist Union of Tasmania was formed in 1884.
In South Australia, church services were held from 1837 but the coming of Rev Silas Mead in 1861 marked a new and enlarged identity for Baptists in Adelaide. He established the Flinders Street church, which was a model for many others and numerous suburban churches were commenced by his people. The Baptist Union in this state was formed in 1863.
The first Baptist services in Melbourne (in what was to become Victoria after its independence from New South Wales in 1851) were in 1837. With the coming of Rev John Ham in 1843 and the formation of the Collins Street Church the work in Victoria assumed a more stable identity. The discovery of gold in Victoria during the 1850s brought a boom growth to Victoria. Baptists shared in this growth, forming a Baptist Union in 1862.
Baptists are known to have been present in Queensland since 1849 and active in a 'United Evangelical Church' until the first Baptist church was formed in 1855. The pioneering leader here was Rev B G Wilson who from 1858 until 1878 led what later became known as the City Tabernacle Church and was influential in the public life of the colony. A Baptist Union was established in 1877.
Although Western Australia had been settled since 1826 the first Baptist church was not commenced until 1895 under the leadership of Rev J H Cole. The fledgling WA Union was established in 1896. A notable pioneer was Rev William Kennedy who helped found many rural churches.
The new century saw Baptists envisioning a federal character to their work but it was not until 1926 that the Baptist Union of Australia was formed by representatives of the individual State Unions. Each state body remains an independent authority and the national body has an advisory function. It has coordinated work in Christian education and publication, home missions and various evangelistic movements. It is largely dependant upon the states for finance and leadership. It also helped commence Baptist work in the national capital Canberra in 1927. A national paper The Australian Baptist functioned from 1913 until 1991 but has been replaced by various state monthly publications.
At the last census (2011) Baptists were 1.64% of the population although the census figure of 352,499 has to be compared with the official denominational membership figures (2012) of 63,392 and attendance figures (2012) 142,020 with 959 church communities. Baptists also have numerous 'ethnic' churches, which reflect the multicultural nature of modern Australia.