Roger McKinnon – the Anderson Years

Extending the church

A new organ (and stained glass windows)

The congregation

Ministry to children

The Sunday School hall

In September 1878 Roger McKinnon and his family arrived at the Manse from Tumut; the Committee voted them £25 towards the move. The McKinnons, Roger, Eugenie and their three children – Anne 12, Robert 9 and six-year-old Blanche – would have found the Manse was in good order, having been refurbished for Rev Robertson not so long before. The cesspit had been baled out, earth closets installed, and a tank holding 400 gallons (1800 litres) put up to provide drinking water. Washing water, we assume, came from the well (perhaps the combination of well and cesspit accounted for some of the ill-health of previous ministers).

Born in Carlisle, Roger McKinnon had served in the army, and during his service married a French wife. While stationed in Malta, he had become drawn to the ministry; the couple migrated to Sydney, and in 1864 Roger McKinnon, appointed as a Catechist by the Synod of Eastern Australia, began working for that section of the Presbyterian church at Penrith and St. Mary’s.

With the union of the churches in 1865, he transferred his allegiance to the mainstream Presbyterian Church of NSW, and was licensed to preach in 1868 by the Presbytery of the Hawksbury, as a candidate for the ministry. In July of that year, he was ordained and inducted as Minister at Wollongong, where he stayed for four years, rebuilding the church there which had been left in some disarray by Cunningham Atchison.

In 1872, he accepted a call to Hill End; in 1876 he moved to Tumut and Adelong. Wherever McKinnon had been, he had built up enthusiastic congregations. Now it was the turn of St Peter’s, who had attempted to call him back in 1872 but got Duncan Ross instead. Their hopes were not misplaced. By April 1879, the increase in the congregation had put such pressure on Henry Allan and W. A. Dixon, the only Elders at this time, that they advised Rev McKinnon to expand the Kirk Session. Four men were nominated, the congregation voted. All four received some votes, but the overwhelming number went to James Anderson, then secretary of the Committee of Management.

The son of Robert Anderson, who had been Treasurer of the Presbyterian Church of NSW and one of the prime movers in establishing St Andrew’s College at the University, James Anderson had married Isabella Thomson, the daughter of Rev Adam Thomson who moved from the Phillip Street church to become first Principal of St Andrew’s. James later became the College Treasurer as well as Treasurer of the Church in succession to his father. At this time he described himself as an insurance agent; later he became Manager of the Eastern General Insurance Co.

James was the youngest of Robert Anderson’s three children who were active at St Peter’s. All of them were musical – James and later his brother Robert conducted the choir, Frances (Fanny) for many years played the organ – but James was early to become involved also with the Committee of Management, to which he was elected in 1874, and later with the Kirk Session. The James Andersons lived in Alfred Street with their pack of children; Fanny lived with them. Robert was at various addresses; Jeannie, his first wife, died in childbirth in 1880, leaving two sons, Walter and Robert junior; with Emma, whom he married two years later, he had two more sons and a daughter. By then they were in Whaling Road, just round the corner from James. Robert became a member of the Committee in 1888, Robert junior, one of the sons of his first marriage, joined him there in 1908; by then James’s elder son, Adam Thomson Anderson, was Session Clerk.

In church matters, James Anderson moved with the times. In 1876 he had been one of those responsible for suggesting hymns should be introduced into the services at St Peter’s – not without opposition:

In accordance with notice previously given to the Session (on 31st ulto.), Mr James Anderson moved:—“That this congregation now resolves, that in addition to the Psalms and Paraphrases hitherto used, the Hymns contained in the book sanctioned by the General Assembly of our Church be in future sung in its services” – seconded by Mr James Thomson.
Mr Munro pointed out the motion was not in order inasmuch as notice had not been given from the pulpit of the introduction of this business.
Mr Anderson, though maintaining that the motion was quite in order, the rules having been complied with, was disposed to consent to a postponement of the matter as the Session had omitted to make intimation from the pulpit. He accordingly moved, that this meeting adjourn till Monday 28th inst. for further consideration of the introduction of Hymns, and that proper intimation be given of the matter to be discussed, on the two succeeding Sabbaths, from the pulpit. (Annual Congregational Meeting Minutes, 14-2-1876)

The older style of worship had metrical psalms only, the singing led by a precentor without accompaniment. St Peter’s had for some time been accustomed to have its psalms accompanied on the harmonium – certainly since 1872, perhaps as far back as Cunningham Atchison’s time, as it seems that accommodating the habits of the congregation in this way had caused Rev Stuart to fall out of favour with the Free Church. As splinter groups often do, that church became more extreme the more isolated it was, believing that anything such as music which engaged the emotions was an unseemly distraction from the worship of God.

At a congregational meeting a fortnight later, the introduction of hymns was overwhelmingly approved:

The further consideration of Mr Anderson’s motion anent introduction of Hymns was proceeded with.
It was moved by Mr Atchison and seconded by Mr Dixon – “That the question of the introduction of Hymns into our Church Psalmody be postponed for a period of six months”. The amendment on being put was lost by a large majority. Mr Anderson’s motion was then put to the meeting and carried, the numbers being 23 for and 2 against. (Congregational Meeting Minutes, 28-2-1876)

Mr Dixon, who had been one of the chief objectors, was apparently won over. Two years later he himself proposed the innovation of standing to sing. By that time there was a regular choir in place and an improved instrument for it to perform to:

The Choir, early in the year, considered that the time had come to replace the Harmonium hitherto in use by one of more modern style. Mr Allan having purchased the old instrument for £25 a very fine American Cabinet Organ, by Geo. Woods, was purchased at a cost of £50 – the balance of £25 has been made by a series of entertainments given by the Choir, and a lecture by Mr Robertson, all of which were highly successful; and the Committee consider that the thanks of the Congregation are due to the Choir for their continued and valuable services, and especially to Miss Munro, who has presided so long at the Harmonium gratuitously. (Committee of Management Annual Report, January 1878)

James Anderson’s energy fitted well with Roger McKinnon’s. Within a year of the new Minister’s arrival came a proposal for outreach which appealed to both of them. First mooted to and approved by the Session, it was laid before the Committee of Management in November 1879:

Mr McKinnon reported that Mr Talbot had offered him the use of a vacant piece of ground in Fitzroy Street, Milson’s Point rent free for some years whereon to build a Sabbath School and also an old building which might be removed to this ground if thought desirable. A Sub-committee consisting of the Revd R. McKinnon, Messrs Eaton and Anderson were appointed to confer with Mr Talbot and obtain from him a definite proposal, also to enquire into the cost &c of the building and if they considered it advisable to call a Congregational Meeting to take the matter up. Mr Eaton stated that if the matter was proceeded with he would be willing to lay the foundations free of cost. (Committee of Management Minutes, 25-11-1879)

Mr Talbot lived at Milson’s Point, not far from the ferry wharf; it seems the new Sunday school was particularly a project of his wife’s, for it was she who at first financed their annual picnic:

The Mission School at St. Leonards held their annual picnic at Chowder on Friday last. There was a good attendance of children and visitors. The day was beautifully fine. The usual pastimes were engaged in, the children enjoying themselves very much. Ample provision in the way of eatables, &c. was made for the youngsters. No contretemps happened to mar the pleasures of the day, and at about 7 p.m. all were safely landed at Milson’s Point, the children giving three hearty cheers for their kind hostess, Mrs. P. Talbot, of Milson’s Point. (SMH, 13-2-1882)

Mrs Talbot was a member of the St Peter’s congregation; Paul Talbot, like many men connected with the church, even those with long associations, was not – probably simply an adherent. Amongst communicants, women outnumbered men almost 2 to 1.

The planned building, on a site somewhere near the comer of Jeffrey and Fitzroy Streets, Milson’s Point, an area now covered by Bradfield Park and the Harbour Bridge approaches, was to cost £105 ($21,500). The project was put to a congregational meeting in December, and approved, though not without opposition:

Mr Anderson moved that Mr Talbot’s offer be accepted and the thanks of the Congregation be tendered to him for his generous offer. That a special effort through Lady Collectors be made to raise the necessary funds and also that the Committee of Management be authorized to incur the necessary expenditure; this was seconded by Mr Eaton.
Mr James Thomson moved as an amendment that the matter be postponed till after the Annual Meeting when the Congregation will be placed in possession of the Financial Statement. Mr Davey seconded the amendment.
After considerable discussion in the course of which information was furnished to the meeting of the financial position of the Congregation the amendment was put (4) four persons voting for it. The resolution was then put and eleven (11) voted for it. Mr Anderson’s motion was declared to be carried. (Congregational Meeting Minutes, 10- 12-1879)

By January, James Anderson was able to report that the lady collectors had already raised £80; by March the sum had grown to £92.9/3. In April 1880 the new Sabbath School was opened, Rev McKinnon and James Anderson taking prominent roles:

An interesting meeting was held, at Milson’s Point, North Shore, on Wednesday evening, in the new Mission Church, recently built in that locality by the Presbyterians, under the ministrations of the Rev. R. M‘Kinnon. The object of the meeting was formally to open the building; the site for which was kindly granted by Mr. Talbot. The proceedings commenced by the singing of an appropriate hymn, and offering of prayer: after which the Rev. R. M‘Kinnon administered the sacrament of baptism. The choir, under the direction of Mr. J. Anderson, who has taken an active part in the erection of the church, sung several sacred pieces. Mr. Joseph Paxton, with taste and expression, gave two sacred solos, which met with great acceptance from the people assembled; and the Revs. A. Gardiner and R. M‘Kinnon delivered addresses on topics suited to the occasion. Major Robinson has generously presented an American organ for the use of the church. (SMH, 3-4-1880)

By this time the Milson’s Point Presbyterians were asking for services as well as a Sunday School: a choir was being organised, a Sunday School Superintendent was appointed, Anderson and others were looking for an organist – the church’s territory and activity was expanding. At the same time, back at St Peter’s, the need for physical expansion was becoming urgent – demand for sittings exceeded the accommodation available:

It was decided that those persons who paid for sittings without using them should be written to with a view to ascertain if their seats might be let to others who wanted to obtain them. (Committee of Management Minutes, 21-4-1880)

 

Extending the church

Already the Committee of Management had decided in principle to establish a church enlargement fund ‘and start a scheme when they considered the time was ripe for it’. By July of 1880 a sub-committee reported that:

in view of the rapidly increasing population of St. Leonards, and having in mind the fact that the present sitting accommodation of St. Peter’s Church is not only fully occupied, but is already inadequate to supply the demands of applicants for pews; further accommodation to the extent of say 120 sittings should be provided with as little delay as possible. (Committee of Management Minutes, 15-7-1880)

The financial situation was not entirely propitious for the project: at the same meeting the Treasurer reported that the expenditure for the past half year exceeded that of the corresponding period the year before by £48.14.8; Sunday collections had dropped by about £30 a year; and the church had promised to find £50 to support evening services at Milson’s Point. In preparation, a fund-raiser had been held to provide backs for the seats, benches being good enough for Sunday School children:

A MUSICAL and literary entertainment took place in the Mission Hall, Milson’s Point, on Tuesday evening last, the Rev. R. M‘Kinnon in the chair. A debt having recently been incurred in connection with the seating of the building, the members of the Milson’s Point Literary Association, whose meetings are held in the hall, determined to clear it off, and judging by the number of tickets disposed of and the large attendance on the occasion, their efforts must have been crowned with success. Mr. James Anderson, who had charge of the musical part of the programme, succeeded in securing the services of several well-known lady and gentlemen amateurs, and the pleasure they afforded was manifested in the applause bestowed on them by the audience. The literary part was creditably sustained by members of the association. (SMH, 10-9-1880)

Perhaps fortunately, nothing happened about the services for the time being, because the church extension was going ahead as soon as funds could be found.

In March 1881, two plans came before the Committee of Management:

No 1 Showing an extension to the South from the side wall of the present building giving accommodation in all for 342 persons (new & old) estimated cost £1250
No 2 Showing an extension across the Western end of the present building after removing 7 feet therefrom (to obtain symmetry) giving accommodation in all for 342 persons (new & old) estimated cost £1210. (Committee of Management Minutes, 2-3-1881)

On the Committee, the second option was amended to remove the reference to shortening the existing building. Because of this, or for other reasons, the tenders when they arrived showed the southern extension as the cheaper option; it was adopted – perhaps just for the sake of saving £90, but the Church was not lacking for calls on its funds, having agreed, apart from anything else, to pay for supply once a month so that Rev McKinnon could hold services at Milson’s Point. This also involved buying hymn books. The congregation of St Peter’s were expected to buy their own, just as they paid for their own seats, but the point of Milson’s Point was to get in people who were not regular church attenders.

The Committee then decided ‘to lay a foundation stone with some little ceremonial so soon as progress sufficient has been made with the building’. To perform the ceremony, an invitation was extended to Henry Allan – a gracious gesture in view of everything that had occurred. In the same spirit, Mr Allan accepted:

The corner-stone of an enlargement of St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church, St. Leonards, was laid by Mr. Henry Allan, senior elder of the Kirk Session, on Saturday last. The Very Reverend H. Macready, Moderator of the General Assembly, Rev. Dr. Steel, Revs. A. Gardiner, J. M. Boss, Roger M‘Kinnon, pastor of the congregation, and Mr. J. Paxton, were present, and took part in the ceremony. After the stone was laid, the Rev. R. M‘Kinnon, in the name of the congregation, presented to Mr. Allan the mallet and silver trowel, accompanied by a beautifully illuminated address, expressive of the esteem in which he is held by his fellow-religionists, and their appreciation of his liberality to the church during a period of many years. (SMH, 22-3-1881)

Both building and fund-raising went ahead, though more slowly than might have been hoped. For services, the School of Arts was hired for 10/- a week. The architect reported problems with the existing masonry: the buttresses not properly bonded to the wall. William Eaton, who had been responsible for the first extension to the church, felt this was a fuss about nothing; Roger McKinnon suggested tie-rods to stabilise the roof – a suggestion later adopted in the Sunday School Hall, where the rods can be seen to this day. In the end, the buttresses were rebuilt. The Minister was sent to Shoalhaven in the hope of touching Alexander Berry – as a Presbyterian with property on the North Shore he might be willing to contribute. If anything came of this venture, it is not recorded. In the meanwhile, the Committee saved what money it could by deciding against having the new walls coloured to match the old: it would be enough if the existing masonry was made good.

Money was tight for the moment, but the increased congregation was bound to pay for the new building in due course. James Anderson was optimistic enough to feel the Church could find the money for a new organ:

Mr Anderson submitted a proposal to obtain a new Organ of sufficient power for the new building. He had the offer of one (valued per catalogue @ £105) for £80 from Mr Moss, which he was willing to sell at that price payable 12 months from the date of purchase, and in the event of the Committee not finding a suitable purchaser for the old one he was willing to offer it for sale in his shop at such price as might be put upon it by the Committee. Mr McKinnon considered that the liabilities of the congregation were at present too great to warrant them in enlarging them. The matter was then allowed to drop. (Committee of Management Minutes, 17-1-1882)

They did, however, acquire a new organist in time for the re-opening of the Church: Miss Munro, who had obliged at the harmonium for the past nine years, stepped down at the beginning of February; Miss Anderson became organist in her place.

On February 12, the Church was re-opened:

ST. PETER’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, ST. LEONARDS.
The RE-OPENING of the enlarged Church will take place on SUNDAY, 12th February, 1882.
The following SPECIAL SERVICES will be hold on the occasion:
Morning, 11 o’clock, at which the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper will be dispensed—
Rev. WM. GRANT, M.A., assisted by Rev. Roger M‘Kinnon.
Afternoon, 3 o’clock, a service especially for the young,
Evening, 7 o’clock—Rev. Dr. STEEL.
Collections will be taken at each service in aid of the Building Fund.
There will be no service in the evening at Milson’s Point. (SMH, 11-2-1882)

The ladies held a two-day sale of gifts to raise funds for the building; the choir gave concerts to raise funds for the organ. In December 1882 the Presbytery took over the cost of the Milson’s Point service, funding an afternoon mission service at North Sydney and a morning one at Mossman’s Bay as well.

In 1882 also, the Manse land was fully leased. Just above the stone schoolhouse was Beucher’s iron works, then a timberyard, on a lease that would run out in 1884. The remainder was let on a 50 year improving lease, an option made possible by the Presbyterian Church Property Management Act of 1881. Previously, only leases up to 28 years had been permitted, which discouraged lessees from putting much capital into their properties. Six terrace houses were soon built: the present Nos 201, 203, 205 and 207 Blues Point Road, and above them two buildings of one-storey plus basement: 209 and 211 Blues Point Road, since demolished. When the timberyard lease ran out, that part of the property was to be let for building as well.

By 1884, St Peter’s would give the appearance of a church that was both stable and prosperous, or so it seemed to the writer introducing a portfolio of North Shore views in The Australian Town and Country Journal:

The artist has depicted St. Peter’s church and manse adjoining, as seen from Miller-street, looking down Blue’s Point-road. The church was built in 1870, the manse in 1871; the former is a solid, substantial stone building, and is perhaps the best finished of all sacred edifices on the Shore. The spire is a prominent feature; the church contains about 350 sittings, and has during the last two years been increased to double its original size, this being a necessity, as during the present pastor’s administration, who has had charge for some six years, the congregation has increased in even more than the same proportion. The manse immediately adjoining the church is a comfortable stone dwelling, built entirely at the expense of one gentleman (Henry Allan, Esq.), who also contributed very largely to the erection of the church. Both buildings are substantial, time-defying looking edifices, without much pretence to architectural ornamentation, massiveness being the dominant feature in both. They have a worthy occupant in the Rev. R McKinnon, whose stalwart figure seems as sturdy as his manse. A handsome organ, costing about £400 is now on its way from England for this church; so that it will be understood no narrow-minded prejudices against the “kest o’ whustles” exist among the kindly Scots on the Shore. The point of vantage chosen by the artist shows very happily the commanding view obtained from the hill on which both church and manse are built. (11-10-1884)

St Peter’s in 1884. Nos 201-207 Blues Point Road remain substantially unchanged to the present day;
beyond them, the stone schoolhouse can be seen in the background

 

A new organ (and stained glass windows)

James Anderson’s efforts to replace the organ had borne fruit. Since 1883, the choir had been giving concerts to raise funds; in 1884 the trustees of the school land had a letter from Sutherland Sinclair, Superintendent of the Sunday School, asking for a harmonium to be bought. Wearing his school trustee hat, James Anderson explained, in reference to the application for a harmonium:

that the Committee of St. Peter’s Church might be willing, as the Church was raising funds for an organ, to sell to the Trust the harmonium now in use in the Church, hiring another instrument for their own requirements. Subject to the approval of a majority of the Trustees, it was decided that, should the Committee be willing to sell, the Church Harmonium should be purchased by the Trust for school purposes for the sum of £50. Agreed to pay £50 for the harmonium. (School Trust Minutes, 6-2-1884)

Back at the Committee of Management six days later:

It was moved by Mr J. Anderson & seconded by Mr McLean that the offer of the Trustees of the School Estate, to purchase the organ at present in use in the Church for the sum of £50 be accepted. Agreed. (Committee of Management Minutes, 12-2-1884)

A temporary replacement could be hired for the church in the meantime, but the space was clear now for a better organ as soon as funds were found. And funds were looking up. In mid-year the Treasurer reported:

Total collections from 27th March to 26th June £158.11.3. Balance on first mentioned date £54.2.11, making total of £212.14.2.
Total disbursements during same period £142.1.6, leaving balance of £70.12.8. This balance on first proximo will be reduced by the sum of £34.4.2 for Ministry Stipend for one month, and salary to Mr Chalk, and fee to boy for blowing organ, leaving net balance of £39.8.6 ($8,000). (Committee of Management Minutes, 26-6-1884)

Since 1883, music had played a larger part in the service. Frances Anderson now played a voluntary while the offertory was being taken up; her brothers James and Robert were keen for the Church to adopt the new book Church Praise, a larger collection of psalms and hymns which the Presbyterian Church of NSW had recently approved, and St Peter’s took a leading part in promoting its use:

The associated choirs of the Presbyterian Churches have been rehearsing a selection of music taken from the new Hymnal and Tune Book, entitled “Church Praise.” The first open rehearsal took place last Friday at St. Peter’s, North Shore. About a dozen selections were rendered, interspersed with sacred solos. The singing, on the whole, was excellent, reflecting great credit on the conductor, Mr. A. Bowen. The accompanists were Miss Anderson, Mr. Yarnton, and Mr. R. E. Phillips, organist and choirmaster of St. Stephen’s. This selection is to be given next month, in assembly week. (Australian Town and Country Journal, 16-2-1884)

The Committee of Management bought 36 copies of the book for the use of visitors and 6 more with music for the choir; as before, members of the congregation were expected to buy their own.

An organ was ordered from Messrs. Maley, Young and Oldknow, of London: the best that could reasonably be had. Some of the Committee felt it was time to consider paying the organist; others were more concerned with where the organ was going to be put. At the meeting on September 25,

A letter was received and read from Miss Anderson declining to receive any remuneration for her services...
It was moved by Mr Smith seconded by Mr Horniman and agreed that the Secretary write Miss Anderson expressing the high estimate the Committee have of the manner in which she received this proposal and their appreciation of her zealous and unselfish interest in the progress of the church.
Mr J. Anderson on behalf of the Organ Committee reported as follows.
Cash in Mercantile Bank £205:8:6, in Savings Bank £14, in hand £4:2:6, making total Cash £223:11:0. Unpaid Subscriptions £89:6:0.
Total fund to date £312:17:0.
Mr Anderson submitted a sketch shewing proposed position of Organ in gallery against the western gable of the Church. After some discussion the proposed position was agreed to. The erection of the gallery and organ was left in the hands of the Subcommittee. Cost of gallery not to exceed £100. (Committee of Management Minutes)

By November, more expansive thoughts prevailed – a new wing to be added to the southern extension built three years before. The original rectangular church aligned east-west would now have metamorphosed into a building of cruciform shape, aligned north-south. Preliminary quotes were higher than expected; a congregational meeting would be necessary. In December the congregation authorised the Committee to spend £500 (more than $102,000); with some trimming back of the work expected, Eaton & Sons agreed to do it for £598 (about $20,000 more).

Roger McKinnon did not preach at the opening ceremony for the new extension, as might have been expected – he was not there. In the week after celebrating communion on February 22 he had set sail for his native land with the blessing of the congregation, who voted him 6 months’ leave of absence on full pay (how many of the family went is not clear – Robert was still at Sydney Grammar). Rev McKinnon had also won the esteem of his fellows, being elected Moderator of the General Assembly for the coming year. In a profile speaking of his achievements since arriving on the North Shore, The Australian Town and Country Journal had this to say:

The charge at St. Leonards had good prospects, but possessed few immediate inducements. The church was small, but more than sufficient to hold the congregation. Since the present pastor entered on the work the building has been doubled in size, and is at present undergoing a second enlargement. These facts tell their own tale, and show how well Mr. McKinnon has earned the honour which the church has bestowed upon him. His varied experience gained in so many spheres of labour will be of great service to him in discharging the duties of his high office. In all his previous labours he has proved himself equal to the occasion, and may well be trusted with the dignity of the Moderator's chair. (28-2-1885)

By March, all was ready in the Church:

ST. PETER’S CHURCH, ST. LEONARDS.
The following Special Services will be held in connection with the opening of the enlargement, and the GRAND PIPE ORGAN now being erected.
On Sunday, 8th March.—Morning, at 11 o’clock, organist, Mr. Montagu Younger; afternoon, at 3 o’clock, Service of Song; Rev. Dr. Grant will preach in the morning; Rev. Dr. M‘Donald, of Victoria, in the evening at 7 o’clock.
On Monday, 9th March, a grand sacred concert at 8 o’clock. Selections will be given from the following oratorios: “The Messiah,” Handel; “Eli,” Costa; “Naaman,” Costa (first time in Sydney). (SMH, 7-3-1885)

The following Thursday, the Sydney Morning Herald carried a detailed technical description of the instrument, but also declared:

THE new organ, which has been built by Messrs. Maley, Young, and Oldknow, London, for St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church, North Shore, and which has recently been erected in that edifice by Mr. Charles Richardson, of Woolloomooloo, has proved to be an instrument perfect in tone and mechanism. A series of services in connection with the opening of the organ have been held, at which several of the leading organists of the city performed on the instrument, and all of them speak in the highest terms of its efficiency...
The front is of a handsome design, with pipes tastefully painted in colours and gold, the case being polished pitch pine. (12-3-1885)

To much enthusiasm, the Minister returned in November:

A conversazione to welcome home the Very Rev. R. M‘Kinnon was held in the Masonic Hall, Walker-street, St. Leonards, last evening. The gathering, which was arranged by the members of St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church, St. Leonards, was very successful, there being a good attendance. Amongst those present were the Very Rev. R. M‘Kinnon, Moderator of the General Assembly, Rev. James Cosh, Acting Moderator of the General Assembly, Rev. Principal Kinross, Revs. J. Miller Ross, Fullerton, Henderson, Scott, Wilson, Molyneux, and others of the same denomination. Ministers representing other churches were also in attendance. The former part of the evening was devoted to an inspection of the splendid collection of curiosities and articles of vertu, which was so tastefully displayed in different parts of the hall. These latter included Tabe’s arithometer, or calculating machine; specimens of type and printing apparatus, from the Government Printing Office; exhibits from the electrical department, trophies from Suakim (shown by Major Parrott), South Sea Island weapons, articles of wearing apparel, head dresses, heathen gods, shells, birds’ egg, some excellent drawings of the stately cathedrals at Strasburg, Rheims, Amiens and Rouen, specimens of cocoa and chocolate (shown by Mr. Nicholls, agent for Messrs. J. T. Fry and Sims, Bristol and London), and a large number of smaller exhibits. The hall was decorated in a pleasing manner with banners, clumps of foliage, and bouquets of flowers. Refreshments were served during the evening. After the visitors had thoroughly examined the different articles, the chair was taken by the Rev. James Cosh, who, in the course of a congratulatory address, extended a hearty welcome to the Very Rev. R. M‘Kinnon, who returned from England per R.S.S. Ballaarat last week. Mr. M‘Kinnon, who was very cordially received, tendered his thanks to those present for the reception that had been accorded to him. Other addresses of a congratulatory nature were also delivered. Mr. E. M. Sayers, a leading member of the congregation of St. Peter’s, who returned from the old country in the same steamer as Mr. M‘Kinnon, also received a hearty welcome. During the evening a presentation of a marble timepiece was made to the Rev. Principal Kinross, and a dessert service was given to the Rev. J. Miller Ross, both of whom have assisted in supplying the pulpit at St. Peter’s Church during Mr. M‘Kinnon’s absence. The general arrangements in connection with the conversazione were very good, and reflected much credit on Messrs. Alexander and Smith, secretaries. (SMH, 6-11-1885)

By the time St Peter’s reported to the Assembly in 1886, everything had been paid for – additions, organ, and all. In February of 1887:

Mr MacKinnon having expressed his desire to have the Church improvements completed by the fixing of Stained glass, hand painted windows and his willingness to get the necessary means to do so, Mr Doig moved and Mr J. Anderson seconded that the Committee leave the matter in his hands. (Committee of Management Minutes, 7-2-1887)

All the old glass in the body of the Church was to be replaced, except for the windows either side of the organ and the trefoil in the western gable. By June the new glass had been installed or was ready at least for installation: no doubt the windows were donated. The School Trust paid for two of them, at a cost of £16 (about $3,300). The old windows were sold to Mrs Fell, wife of H. W. Fell of the Gas Company (a long-time member of the Committee) at a valuation. Presumably she had a use for them. Two years later the Committee received

from Mr Anderson the sum of £20.18.0, being proceeds of concerts given with the view of raising funds for putting in two stained glass windows in the Choir of the Church...Mr Symonds moved and Mr Houston seconded that the thanks of the Committee be tendered to Mr Anderson and the Choir, and others who had so kindly assisted him, for their efforts in obtaining the funds necessary for the putting in of the windows and also for the pleasure they had afforded the Congregation by providing two such excellent concerts. (Committee of Management Minutes, 28-3-1889)

Selection of these last two windows was left to Rev McKinnon and James Anderson; their installation was the last alteration, addition or improvement to the Church while Roger McKinnon was Minister.

 

The congregation

In the years 1878 to 1895, the capacity of the church more or less doubled. So did the number of communicants, as the trend line on this graph shows:

From 1880 to 1892 a record of the numbers at each Communion has been kept in the minutes of the Kirk Session; for the years outside that range the numbers are estimates based on the fact that at each Communion typically about 40% of church members and about one in eight of adherents would turn up. Attendance reached a peak in 1888 and then fell away, probably for more than one reason: for one thing, new churches opened within the St Peter’s catchment area – Crows Nest in 1888 and Neutral Bay (then called East St Leonards) in 1889. The Session’s attitude to the first of these was lukewarm at best:

A discussion took place as to the request of the Revd Mr Hutchison for the Concurrence of the Session in his endeavour to establish a new congregation at the Crow’s Nest[;] it was eventually resolved “that the Session do not deem it necessary to express any opinion in the matter[.”]
Mr Anderson desired to have his dissent recorded as he was strongly of the opinion that it would be impolitic and against the best interests of the Presbyterian Cause to have another church established so near to St Peters. (Kirk Session Minutes, 5-3-1888)

The economic situation in North Sydney must also be borne in mind; the boom years of the latter 80s saw higher than average numbers in church, while after the crash of 1890 attendances fall away. In this connection it is interesting to look at the makeup of the congregation and see what they did for a living, information which in some years is recorded in the membership roll.

In 1882, for example, there were 116 communicant members of whom 40 were men and 76 were women. Of the 29 married women who attended, 15 had husbands who were also members; 14 did not. There were 18 widows, most with at least one daughter living with them who was also a member: unmarried grown women supporting elderly mothers. Of the 40 males, 11 had unspecified occupations; of the 76 females the figure is 70.

Of the 116, 33 worked for a living at specified occupations. Seven of these were in small business or skilled trades: a builder, an ironmonger, a mason, an upholsterer, a dressmaker and two sisters who kept a boarding house. The remainder – that is, more than three quarters of those in the congregation in paid employment – were white collar workers or small-time professionals. There are no doctors, no lawyers and no labourers either, but people most of all whose position in the middle class has been secured by their brains. Of the women in this group, two are schoolmistresses and one a governess.

 

Ministry to children

The educative role of the church was one with a strong appeal to this sort of congregation, and one which the church in Scotland had traditionally emphasized. On special occasions, as at the opening of the extended St Peter’s, services were held to draw moral lessons for the young from the occasion – and to draw them towards the church; missionaries too, or those involved with missions, would arrange talks or functions to arouse children’s interest and enthusiasm for the cause of evangelism:

AT the Presbyterian Church, St. Leonards, last night, the Rev. Dr. Steel redelivered his lecture on the New Hebrides. The Rev. R. M‘Kinnon occupied the chair, and a large audience, principally consisting of children, attended. The lecture, which was treated in Dr. Steel’s usually instructive and interesting manner, was descriptive of the discovery, magnitude, and general features of the islands and of the character and customs of the inhabitants. These were said to be savage and treacherous when first visited, and to have behaved cruelly to missionaries for some years, but had now, under Christian teaching, developed feelings of humanity likely to have beneficial results to themselves and those who resided with them. Views of scenery amongst the islands, and portraits of native men and women, were exhibited by means of a lantern under the direction of Mr. Wigram, the exhibition being accompanied by descriptive remarks from the lecturer. Several views of local scenery and buildings were also shown. Votes of thanks to Dr. Steel and the chairman were given, and a collection in aid of the New Hebrides Mission was made. (SMH, 22-7-1882)

But the church’s outreach to children was most of all through the Sunday School movement, common to all non-Catholic churches, though each of those might have its own curriculum. In 1880 we read of a joint North Shore celebration of the movement’s centenary – characteristically, with a mission flavour to it:

A novel, and pleasing service was held, in Christ Church, St. Leonards, on Sunday afternoon, in connection with the celebration of the Sunday school centenary. The body of the church was filled by the children of the schools attached respectively to St. Peter’s Presbyterian, the Wesleyan, Congregational, and Christ Church. The remaining space was crowded with spectators. At the close of the service, a collection was taken up on behalf of the Children’s Hospital. It amounted to upwards of £18. Most of the children carried bouquets of flowers; these were afterwards collected, filling three large baskets, to be presented to the Ladies’ Mission for the Infirmary. (SMH, 29-6-1880)

During Rev McKinnon’s ministry, Sunday School matters often came up at the Kirk Session; clearly it was a part of the church’s work he gave a lot of thought to, hosting a conference at the Church in 1883:

A meeting in connection with the Presbyterian Sabbath School Association was held last evening in St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church, St. Leonards, the meeting being the first of a series the second of which will be held next month in Balmain. The coldness of the weather, no doubt, kept many away, as the attendance was not very great. The chair was occupied by the minister of the church, the Rev. R. M‘Kinnon, who in opening the meeting, expressed his belief that the association in connection with which it was held was doing an admirable work, claiming the sympathy and support of all adherents of the Presbyterian Church. He read an apology from the Rev. Mr Gardiner, who was unable to be present. The Rev. R. Collie, of Newtown, read a paper on the “Qualifications Necessary to Successful Teaching.”...The paper was then discussed, and several very excellent suggestions for the better teaching of the young made. The Rev. Mr. Collie, in closing the discussion, dwelt upon the importance of teachers, whose work lay in these sceptical days, and days when public instruction reached a high standard, to obtain the best education they possibly could. Mr. Mackenvie then read a paper upon “Children's Books,” having reference especially to the class of books that should be circulated through Sunday school libraries... The paper was discussed with interest, and various opinions expressed as to the description of books of which the Sunday school libraries should be composed. During the evening several hymns were sung, and the choir, accompanied on the harmonium by Miss Anderson, gave sacred selections of music. The meeting was closed by the benediction being pronounced. (SMH, 5-6-1884)

In 1885, we read that Rev McKinnon acted as examiner for the church-wide Sunday School examinations:

About 70 essays were sent in on ‘Why I am a Presbyterian’ and the ‘Life of John the Baptist:’ and the thanks of the assembly are due to the Rev. Roger M‘Kinnon, who acted as adjudicator on the former, and Mr. James Anderson, sen., who adjudicated on the latter. (SMH, 7-3-1885)

While it would seem to have flourished earlier, during the ministry of Rev Ross the Sunday School seems to have been somewhat in the doldrums, so far as we can gather from this minute of the Committee of Management:

It having been reported to the Committee that Miss Loxton had last Sunday retired from her charge of the Sabbath School, it was unanimously resolved, that the cordial thanks of the Committee be conveyed to Miss Loxton for her patient, valuable, and self-denying services, during the many years that she and her sister have almost unaided conducted this important branch of the congregational work, and that Miss Loxton be assured that though her labors have been unacknowledged they have not failed to secure the gratitude and admiration of the congregation. (4-12-1876)

The Miss Loxton referred to here was Lucinda Jane Australia, eldest daughter of Thomas Loxton, a surveyor by profession and one of the trustees of the Church and Manse property. Anna Loxton was the other sister involved with the Sunday School, and they had had the help of their brother John as well. All in all, the Sunday School would seem to have been a Loxton family project at this time, though the family connection was with St Stephens in Phillip Street, not St Peter’s. Anna had remained a member of St Stephen’s all the time she was being a pillar of the St Peter’s Sunday School – she did not transfer from St Stephen’s until February of 1880. Mrs Loxton first appears on the St Peter’s communion roll in 1879. Either her husband remained with St Stephen’s or, like so many men, left church membership to his wife.

Lucinda was about to be married and would then be moving to Victoria. Her prospective husband was Boulton Merlin Molineaux, a branch manager for the Bank of NSW, who owed his romantic middle name to having been born on a ship named the Merlin, when halfway between South Africa and Australia. The wedding was celebrated on the 19th of December by the Minister of St Stephen’s, Dr Steel, at Claraville, the bride’s home overlooking Careening Cove. The house was named for Clara Loxton, who had died aged 9 months in 1863. The Loxtons, once Church of England, are said to have become Presbyterian after a dispute over whether a child who died in infancy unbaptised could be buried in consecrated ground – Clara Loxton may have been that child.

Molineaux senior was a woolbroker and lived on the corner of Berry and Alfred Streets (more or less opposite the James Andersons). Perhaps the Molineaux and Loxton families had been brought together when they had both campaigned back in 1870 for a public school at St Leonards. Three months almost to the day after the Loxtons’ eldest daughter married the Molineaux’ eldest son, a mirror-image ceremony joined the families again:

LOXTON-MOLINEAUX.—March 18, at the residence of the bride’s parents, by the Rev. J. G. Fraser, John Frederick eldest son of Thomas Loxton, Claraville, St Leonards, to Mary Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Bolton Molineaux, of Glenrock, St Leonards. (SMH, 25-3-1878)

The Molineaux family were Congregationalists; Rev Fraser was Congregational Minister at Woollahra; the convention was for the Minister of the bride’s family's church to officiate.

If Lucinda and Anna had managed the Sunday School for several years almost unaided, the school can hardly have been very large, yet back in 1865, the annual picnic would have to have included about 100 Sunday School children – there must have been quite a falling-away in the 1870s. When Rev McKinnon took charge, the school numbered just 40 children; as with the congregation, numbers then grew substantially, though the numbers reported in The Presbyterian at the 1880 Sunday School picnic must have included quite a few younger brothers and sisters and hangers-on (the cost of that outing, £9.17.3 – about $2,000 – was contributed by Henry Allan).

On Saturday afternoon, the annual picnic of the Sunday School connected with St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church, North Shore took place at Athol Gardens. Mr. Sinclair, the superintendent, was in charge, and the Rev. R McKinnon, the pastor, was also present. About 150 children, 12 teachers, and between 50 and 60 parents and friends were conveyed by the Prince of Wales steamer to the Gardens, where a very pleasant afternoon was passed. Not the least agreeable feature to the young folks was the distribution, in the Christmas-tree fashion of a number of toys. The youngsters regaled themselves subsequently the enjoyment being rather one-sided in most cases. (28-2-1880)

If the children’s direct contribution to the work of the church was the support the Sunday Schools gave to the church’s missions and outreach programs, their direct reward was this annual picnic – typically a ferry excursion to a site in Mosman or Middle Harbour where races and games were organised and food and drink plentifully provided. From 1882-1884 there was a joint picnic for the two Sunday Schools. Henry Allan was not the only willing benefactor:

A letter was received and read from Mr Nicholls resigning his position on Committee of Management, and asking to be informed when any Sabbath School Treat or Pic-Nic comes off, and he will be pleased to forward a supply of eating chocolate for the children. Resignation was accepted, and thanks to be conveyed for kind offer which will be gladly availed of when pic-nic takes place. (Committee of Management Minutes, 25-6-85)

Mr. Nicholls was of course the agent for Messrs. J. T. Fry and Sims, chocolate manufacturers of Bristol and London.

Church attendance doubled over these years, while the numbers at the Sunday School multiplied eight times (and the number of teachers rose from 6 in 1878 to 24 in 1895), but the ways in which the two sets of attendances varied within themselves and differed from one another tells its own interesting story:

Numbers were of course boosted by the Milson’s Point Mission School in the years 1880-1884, but the decline post-1884 is not due alone to the closure of that school – as the graph shows, by the time the Mission School was closed, the decline had already begun. Sutherland Sinclair, who had been an effective Superintendent of the Sunday School, resigned at the end of 1885 because he was leaving to travel overseas. Mr Salmond, his successor, struggled for two years with falling enrolments. At the end of 1887, he offered to resign:

A letter was read from Mr J. Salmond tendering his resignation on the ground that the attendance had fallen off during his term of office. The Session determined to communicate to the teachers their conviction that Mr Salmond was in no way responsible for the falling off in the attendance and that great success has attended his performance of the Superintendent’s duties. Also to request them if they agreed with the Session to endeavour to prevail upon Mr Salmond to continue to hold the office of Superintendent. (Kirk Session Minutes, 9-12-1887)

As it turned out, that was the low point – the Session were right. Mr Salmond was persuaded to stay on, which he did for another 18 months, by which time Sutherland Sinclair was back and ready to take over again. It is hard not to see the variation in enrolments not as a reflection on the effectiveness of Mr Salmond but rather as another effect of the economic climate: when people were comfortable they saw less point in sending their children to Sunday School. The effect is particularly marked in the case of boys’ enrolments.

 

The Sunday School hall

Whatever the fluctuations, the trend was undoubtedly upward, to the point where the Sunday School could no longer easily fit into the stone schoolhouse. At the beginning of 1890, the congregation were asked to do something about it:

A letter was received and read from the Secretary of the Sunday School pointing out the unsuitableness of the present Sunday School building for the purpose for which it is used, and asking the Committee to invite the Congregation at the next Annual Meeting to request and empower the School Trustees to erect a more suitable building of a permanent character. Plans were submitted of a building estimated to cost about £1900. (Committee of Management Minutes, 2- 1-1890)

A sub-committee looked into possibilities; it was decided to build on the Blues Point Road frontage; it was decided also to have something that could be built in stages, depending how fund-raising went. By the beginning of the next year the subcommittee reported that it had fixed on a design, a contractor – William Eaton & Sons, to no-one’s surprise, for they had done so much construction for the Church – and a plan for financing the building:

“The Committee have to report, that, according to their instructions, they have obtained modified tenders from Messrs Wm Eaton & Sons and J Williams which proved to be as follows: –
Mess Wm Eaton & Sons were the lowest Tenderers for the Hall only, but Mr J Williams was the lowest for the entire building. The schedule price was the same in each case for the plastering of the inside of the Hall.
As the amount subscribed indicated that it was probable that the Hall only would be proceeded with, the Committee considered Messrs Wm Eaton & Sons’ to be the most eligible tender; but in accordance with the desire of the Committee to have the option of proceeding with the entire building should their anticipation as to subscriptions be exceeded, they interviewed Mr Eaton and represented to him the state of the case as to the discrepancy between his tender and Mr Williams’.
Although he was unable to come down to Mr Williams’ figure for the entire building, he offered to meet them half way, which the Committee deemed to be satisfactory, in view of the high reputation of the tenderers for Excellence of Workmanship.
Your Committee accordingly recommend that the tender of Mess Wm Eaton & Sons be accepted for the Hall alone with the option of proceeding with the entire building within two months of the signing of the Contract.
Respecting funds, the position may be briefly stated as follows: –
The amount to be subscribed will be at least £500 perhaps £600.
There will therefore be £750, to £850 to raise by debentures, in order to build the Hall alone and furnish it. If a further £350 in subscriptions was provided, the full issue of debentures (£1250) would enable the complete building to be proceeded with.
It may be mentioned that Mr Eaton offered to do what he can to facilitate the undertaking of the larger Contract, by giving some time for the final payments, so that if Subscribers could see their way to increase their subscriptions by a second, payable even twelve months hence, it might be possible to proceed with the entire building, which would certainly add greatly to the success of the undertaking, by rendering the structure much more imposing and visible to the residents in the neighbourhood.” (Committee of Management Minutes, 28-1-1891)

By construction of the ‘hall alone’, the sub-committee meant the hall without two side annexes planned to provide additional seating, and without the stage that was to be added at the eastern end – the present small stage is constructed within the body of the hall. Projecting courses of brickwork on the outside of the present building show where these additional structures would have been. In any case, by April most of the money had been raised, and the whole contract was proceeded with. In June the Committee was buying furniture: 250 chairs at 4/3 each for the hall and 50 chairs of a superior type at 7/- for the ‘large room’, which would probably be the room upstairs (the prices translate to about $40 and $65 respectively, to the nearest $5; some of the cheaper chairs are still in use in the hall).

The new building was opened in September. On ground level (the lower hall) was a kitchen, a storeroom, and accommodation for the Sunday School; on the middle level, up steps from Blues Point Road, was the hall, much as it is today, with a cloakroom on the left of the entrance and a library room on the right; on the highest level was a meeting room. There the Committee of Management met for the first time on the evening of the 28th of September 1891.

The new space was soon in use – by the Sunday School downstairs, and upstairs in the main hall by a variety of Church and charitable causes and functions. Not all activities were equally encouraged:

Special meeting of Committee to reconsider and decide for what purposes the School Hall shall be available
...
A considerable amount of discussion followed relative to Dances being held within the School Hall Building, after which it was resolved That the Hall letting Committee do not approve of the Hall being let for Dancing, and consequently are instructed not to let the Hall for such purposes. (Committee of Management Minutes, 16-5-1892)

Advertisements show a variety of less dubious activities:

SPRING FAIR, NORTH SYDNEY, in ST. PETER’S NEW SCHOOL HALL, BLUE’S POINT ROAD, to be OPENED by Hon. Alex. Dodds, M.L.C. on TUESDAY, the 20th instant, at 3 p.m. in aid of St Peter’s Relief Society and Furnishing Fund. (SMH, 17-10-1891)

YOUNG WOMEN’S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION and ZENANA MISSION.
A COMBINED SALE OF WORK in aid of the above will be held in St. Peter’s Presbyterian School Hall, Blue’s Point-road, North Sydney, on THURSDAY, JANUARY 28. Doors open at 3 and 7. Concert in the evening. Admission, 1s. (SMH, 23-1-1892)

PRESBYTERIAN Sabbath School Union.—Conference of teachers in St. Peter’s new school hall, Blue’s Point-rd., N. Sydney, Tuesday evening, 7.45, hear address Rev. J.D. Landels, New Hebrides. S. Sinclair, hon. sec. (SMH, 23-2-1892)

Sunday School functions could offer attractions both upstairs and down:

CHRISTMAS FAIR AT NORTH SYDNEY.
A Christmas Fair was opened yesterday by Mr. Dugald Thomson, M.L.A., in St. Peter’s Presbyterian schoolroom, Blue’s Point-road, North Sydney, in aid of the funds of the Sunday-School. The Rev. Roger Mackinnon (minister) having introduced Mr. Thomson, the latter, in a short speech, recounted his experience of the growth of the Sunday-school connected with St. Peter’s. Mr. Thomson said it gave him great pleasure to be there for the purpose of opening their fair, which he hoped would be a success. He then declared the fair open. There was a good attendance during the evening, and tableaux vivants, which were displayed in the lower school hall, met with a considerable share of patronage. The stalls and attendants were as follows:—Sweetmeat stall, Miss Oag, Miss Graham, and Miss Williams; the “Manse” stall, devoted to the sale of miscellaneous articles, Mrs. Mackinnon, Miss Blanche Mackinnon, and Miss Ada Cann; toy stall, the Misses Agnes Thompson, Flora Smith, Ettie Oag, Selma Cann, and Florrie Rodick; refreshment-room, the Misses Thompson, McKay, and Miss Anderson. (SMH, 8-12-1894)

The record Sunday School enrolments that St Peter’s was able to report in 1895 must have given Sutherland Sinclair, the Superintendent, great satisfaction. On the other hand, those same numbers were a symptom of the fact that the country was now four years into a deep recession, and recessions are not kind to institutions that depend on people’s generosity. As early as April 1893, the Committee of Management felt that the congregation ought to be warned that times were going to be difficult. At their next meeting, however,

The Secretary intimated that he did not call the special meeting of Committee for 19th April as directed at last meeting, in consequence of, after discussing the matter with Mr James Anderson Session Clerk he was informed by that gentleman that the session had already arranged for such a meeting with the Congregation. (Committee of Management Minutes, 3-7-1893)

The Session, however, did nothing. A year later:

It was arranged that the Treasurer call and see Revd R. McKinnon with the view of his laying before the Congregation its financial position. (Committee of Management Minutes, 2-7-1894)

At the next meeting, the Committee reversed that decision. On April 1, 1895:

It was decided to hold a meeting of the Committee early in May for the purpose of considering the financial position of the church, and the Secretary & Treasurer were authorized to draw up an intimation to be read from the pulpit on the next two Sundays requesting prompt payment of all arrears now due. (Committee of Management Minutes)

James Anderson, who had been an advocate of delay in confronting Church finances, was not at the meeting when this decision was taken – he had been unwell since February. On May 14 he died, at the age of 48. He had been a leader in the Church for more than 20 years, in the choir, the Committee of Management and the Session; he had helped with the Sunday School. Now he would be there no longer. The good times were over.