Why were they here, and who came?
In 1884 the newly organised Seventh-day Adventist church in the USA decided to send a group of pioneer missionaries to Australia. From a careful study of Bible prophecies they were convinced that the return of Jesus was imminent and wanted to present this Biblical truth in Australia as well as to the world.
This initial group was made up of seven adults and four children. They arrived in Melbourne on 9th June 1885. By 17th June however they had rented a home at 64 Highett St Richmond which they used as their headquarters Their first Sabbath School meetings were conducted there on July 4.
Presenting the message of the Return of Jesus was important to them.
They wasted no time presenting the message they had come to give and on July 21 after much visiting and the distribution of papers they had brought with them they conducted the first public mission in the Temperance Hall in Richmond with reasonable success. The cost of renting facilities was considerable so it was decided to purchase a tent 65′ x 40′ (20m x 12m) with chairs for 220 people to reduce costs. This tent was first pitched in Mc Kean St Nth Fitzroy in October 1885 on the south side of the Edinburgh gardens.
Their success was phenomenal. The series for the meetings was lengthened by several weeks to Dec 6 to accommodate those who wanted to hear more. Many people came from other suburbs and in less than a year they had a membership of 95 persons and were establishing church groups in other suburbs. On December 8 1885 the tent was moved a short distance to the corner of Brunswick and Scotchmere streets and a new series ran from Dec 13 to Jan 10 1886.
During 1886 meetings were also conducted in South Melbourne, South Yarra, Prahran, Cheltenham Ballarat, Daylesford, Trentham, and Castlemaine. In 1887 another tent was purchased allowing an extension of the work already being accomplished. As the interest grew so did the need for more tracts and papers on the subject of the Return of Christ.
The missionary group had brought a small printing machine with them to produce the necessary publications, tracts and papers for circulation. This soon proved to be inadequate for their needs. They also brought a supply of books to be sold door to door. Publishing became their work and the basis of their growth. The printing of a regular paper, “The Bible Echo and Signs of the Times” commenced in Jan 1886 in rented premises at the corner of Rae and Scotchmere streets North Fitzroy.
Within the first 3 years, William Arnold the colporteur, sold 2,168 copies of the book “Thoughts on Daniel and Revelation” which highlighted the prophecies relating to the imminent return of Christ. In addition there were other books sold by him. He personally purchased the Wharfdale Cylinder Press which was then used by the Bible Echo Publishing Co.
With the increased need for books and papers in 1886, they moved to a large 2 storey shop then known as ‘Burnham House’ which was used for accommodation and administrative work. Their printing press was set up in the stable.
At this time discussion also centred on the need to expand the publishing work and the land at 14-16 Best St was purchased and a 3 storey building erected leaving the floor of the 3rd storey out so the 2nd storey could be used for worship services. This building was completed and dedicated on 28th July 1889. Much of the publishing work had been moved to this site before the completion of the building using a tin shed on the property. By 1892 additional space was needed for printing and the 3rd floor was built and the area previously retained for worship services was taken over for production.
Because the printing methods used were based on the latest developed in USA their results set a high standard and there was a great demand for their work. In 1896 the company had been appointed publishers to Lord Brassey, the Governor of Victoria. In 1898 a second 3 storey building was erected behind the first to meet the growing demands of the publishing work, thus bringing the total space to 12000sq.ft.
All commercial printing work was dropped.
In 1889 the need for magazines and the monthly paper was so great that it was changed to a fortnightly paper and in 1894 it became a weekly production. This large need for religious publications encouraged the leadership to consider dropping the local commercial work they were caring for and concentrating on the work they had come to Australia to do, that is, presenting the imminent return of Jesus. In 1903 the name of the publication was changed from “Bible Echo and Signs of the Times” to “Australasian Signs of the Times”
In 1905 the decision was made to purchase land at Warburton and a publishing house was built there. The majority of the staff moved from North Fitzroy to Warburton in February-March and the first issue of the “Signs of the Times” went out from Warburton dated April 9, 1906. The name change from the “Bible Echo” to “Signs of the Times” took effect with this move, and the company name was changed to “Signs Publishing Company.”
Some staff not needed in the Warburton factory took over the commercial work left by the company and at least one of these is still operating today after almost 100 years.
Thus ended the printing work for the church in the North Fitzroy area. Although publishing greatly supported the presenting of the message on the return of Jesus, the publishing work was not the only type of work with which this group were involved in the area of Nth Fitzroy.
Growth of the church membership in the North Fitzroy area
History records that the growth in membership was quite phenomenal in the early period as it reached 95 by May 1886 and was growing very fast. At the same time the work was also spreading in the country areas of Geelong, Ballarat, Castlemaine, Kyneton, Daylesford, and into the suburbs of Melbourne – Brighton, Coburg, Moreland, Prahran, Hawthorn. It was also well established in other states and New Zealand. Over the first twelve years approx.100 missionaries with their wives and children, came from the USA to assist this work in Australia.
Decisions on Administration
In 30th August 1888 the work had developed in most states and the Australian Conference was formed to direct the overall program and the Australian Tract Society was organised. At the Brighton camp meeting on 4th January 1894 the Australian Conference was joined with the New Zealand Conference to form the Australasian Union Conference with Willie White as the first president.
The need for a suitable location for a church facility
During the first 10 years as the church membership was growing, worship services were held in various places between the Assembly Hall in the city and Clifton Hill. In 1892 after being denied the worship room in the Bible Echo building the members decided to look for land on which they could build a suitable church for worship. At that time the congregation living in the area was considerable.
When the Edinburgh gardens area was still a swamp being filled, the site in 27 Alfred Cr. was chosen. In the light of the beauty of these gardens today, this was a very fortunate choice for the present membership. Today Alfred Cr is a much sought after location. The church was erected for a total cost of £1309.1.9 and was dedicated at a special service on 13th September 1896 just 11 years after the arrival of the first missionaries. Though other Seventh-day Adventist churches had already been built in other states the church at North Fitzroy was the first Seventh-day Adventist church organised in the southern hemisphere, and it was one of the first six church buildings constructed in Australia.
The spread of the work into Australasia and the Pacific Islands.
From this area of North Fitzroy the work of the church has been carried forward to the other states and the Pacific Islands where the total Sabbath School members in December 2007 is recorded at 489,751. The message to the world is still centred on the imminence of the return of Jesus and thousands throughout Australia and the Pacific Islands have accepted the message of the soon return of Jesus as outlined in God’s Word..
The Church Today
Except for the addition of a porch in 1935, the church building is still the same as it was when built in 1896. Although a fire destroyed the school rooms at the back of the building in 1995 that section was rebuilt to the same standard as the original. The scroll painted over the rostrum, “The Lord is in His Holy Temple” still reminds the congregation that God is present when we come to worship Him.
In our 2008 refurbishing plan we installed a central heating system and fitted some electronic equipment, In addition one of the school rooms has been adapted to remind us of the heritage of this church and its building as it relates to the North Fitzroy community and to the work of the Seventh-day Adventist church throughout Australia and the Pacific islands.
We invite you to come and worship with us and to study God’s Word which assures us that Jesus is coming again to receive His people. John 14:1-3. You will also enjoy getting to know the history of the Adventist church in Australia and how the preaching of the return of Christ has caused such growth throughout this South Pacific area.
Ellen White & North Fitzroy
Mrs Ellen White spoke to North Fitzroy church for the first time in the Federal Hall on December 19, 1891. She usually visited the North Fitzroy church during her stay in Melbourne, and preached there several times in 1892 – 1900.