Roger McKinnon – the Last Years

Music

Sutherland Sinclair

The Sunday Schools

The Boys’ Brigade

A breach with the Minister

What of the girls?

Decline – 1895-1903

On May 19, 1895, Rev Roger McKinnon conducted a memorial service for James Anderson:

An effective service was held in St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church, North Shore, on Sunday last in memory of the deceased gentleman, who had been a most zealous worker on behalf of that church, and leader of the choir for the past twenty years. The sanctuary was draped in mourning. A feeling sermon was delivered by the Rev. R. M‘Kinnon, pastor, to a large and sympathetic congregation, both morning and evening. (Australian Town and Country Journal, 25-5-1895)

The following Wednesday, the Committee of Management took formal notice of James Anderson’s death, recording in its Minutes:

its deep sense of the loss it has sustained in the death of Mr Anderson who assisted in its deliberations for so long a period of years during many of which he discharged the duties of Secretary. His death leaves a gap which will not easily be filled. His self-sacrificing zeal, his unswerving integrity & his unfailing courtesy won for him the respect & esteem of all with whom he was brought in contact. In him the Committee has lost a wise counsellor & a true friend: — one whose help and advice were always ready and who threw all his energies into every scheme calculated to promote the welfare either of this Congregation or of the Church at large. (Committee of Management Minutes, 22-5-1895)

Though he had not always seen eye to eye with James Anderson on financial matters, Roger McKinnon had now lost an assistant who could work with the Session, the Minister and the Committee: the effects of his death would be felt for the rest of McKinnon’s ministry. The first of them concerned music in the Church.

 

Music

James Anderson had been a mainstay of the choir; Frances, his sister, had been playing the organ since 1882. Perhaps it was no coincidence that, at the same meeting on May 22:

It was further resolved that Mr P. Grant and Mr R. Anderson and Mr Carment be appointed to wait upon the Revd. Mr McKinnon and suggest to him the desirability of the musical services of the Church being improved with the object of their being made if possible somewhat more attractive.

While his brother was still alive Robert Anderson may well have hesitated to join those wanting a change.

In due course, the Session reacted:

It was resolved to invite the choir to a conference as to the best methods of improving the Service of Praise. (Kirk Session Minutes, 15-7-1895)

The immediate result of this conference was great offence taken by the organist, the consequences playing out over a series of meetings:

Mr Sinclair reported that the conference with Choir was held on 30th July, and that a proposal was made to have a paid Choir leader and organist, Miss Anderson offering to resign in his favour. Other suggestions regarding minor matters were also made and discussed. Since that date a letter had been received from Miss Anderson resigning her position as organist from 31st August.
The Moderator made further explanations regarding the conference, that some misunderstanding had arisen which he had endeavoured to remove at an interview with Miss Anderson.
It was resolved:— 1. That Miss Anderson be requested to reconsider and if possible withdraw her resignation. 2. That the further consideration of conference proposal be postponed. 3. That Mr Robert Anderson be asked if he would accept the position of conductor should it be offered to him. (Kirk Session Minutes, 13-8-1895)

A further letter from Miss Anderson adhering to her resignation as Organist was read. (Kirk Session Minutes, 29-8-1895)

A letter was read from the Secretary of the Committee of Management saying “the Committee regrets that it is at present unable to find funds for the payment of an organist’s salary.”
It was resolved that a letter be written to Miss Anderson informing her of the above decision, but expressing the hope that she will continue to act until we can get someone to succeed her. (Kirk Session Minutes, 17-10-1895)

Not surprisingly, Miss Anderson did not respond to this overture. The church had to look elsewhere; meanwhile, a circular was put out inviting subscriptions, and the collection for the former organist raised a handsome sum – over $7000 in today’s money:

Mr Smith reported regarding the testimonial to Miss Anderson, late honorary organist, that £40:8:6 had been collected, £15 of which was handed to Miss Anderson in cash and the remainder used to purchase for her a gold watch and chain, the formal presentation of which was intended to take place at the ensuing annual meeting of the Congregation. (Committee of Management Minutes, 6-1-1896)

Mr McKinnon in a short speech expressed the estimation in which the Congregation held the honorary services of Miss Anderson as Organist for nearly 17 years, and handed her a souvenir consisting of a gold watch, guard, and purse of sovereigns. Mr Robert Anderson acknowledged the gift on behalf of his sister. (Congregational Meeting Minutes, 30-1-1896)

If Robert Anderson had been among those wanting a change, it had soon become clear to him and to the rest of the Committee that a change that involved spending money was out of the question. Nevertheless, the push to improve the musical side of things continued. A group in the congregation raised the money among themselves, and by the beginning of 1896 the Session had appointed a musical director:

Mr. William H. Wale, Mus. Bac. Oxon., an English musician of high standing, who came to Sydney last February, having finished his term as locum tenens at All Saints’ Church, Petersham, has accepted the position of organist and choirmaster at St Peter’s Presbyterian Church, Blue’s Point-road, North Sydney. (SMH, 4-1-1896)

The salary offered to Mr Wale was £40. By mid-year he was feeling underpaid:

The Secretary reported that Mr Wale had announced to him his intention of resigning the post of organist unless some increase of salary were offered him, but the Committee were of opinion that no Funds were available out of which he could be paid any larger amount; and the holding of one or more concerts was suggested as a means by which some money could possibly be raised towards this end. (Committee of Management Minutes, 6-7-1896)

By October, the Committee were looking for a replacement; a Mr Burnside was employed for 1897 on the same salary that Wale had received. Burnside’s way of coping with the deficiency of salary was to neglect his duties. In June the Session had to call his attention to the fact that he had been absent on Thursday nights (preparatory services were then held on Thursday when there was to be communion on the following Sunday). In December, the group who were putting up the money let the Session know they were dissatisfied with the results:

A letter from Mr D. Carment conveying a Resolution from the subscribers to the Organist’s Salary Fund was read and considered.
A letter was ordered to be sent in the following terms to Mr Burnside:—
Dear Sir,
       The Subscribers to the Organ Fund have requested the Session to take into consideration a feeling of dissatisfaction that has been growing up lately in regard to the management of the Choir, and we will be obliged if you could assist to remove this. There was a hope that the Choir by this time would have been larger and more powerful as one of the agencies of the Church. We think it will be necessary that you should pay more attention to training of the Choir: the Friday night practices should not be merely a rehearsal of the Hymns for the following Sunday, but should be made so useful and attractive that the members would take a pleasure in coming and others would be induced to join, and there is a general desire that anthems should form part of the music on Sunday evenings.
There is no criticism in this as to your abilities as “Organist” and we believe your playing is highly appreciated. (Kirk Session Minutes, 10-12-1897)

Burnside continued for another year, but whether dissatisfaction with his performance continued, or for other reasons, the supply of subscriptions dried up, and he was let go at the end of March 1899. By May, another candidate had been found: Mr P. P. Plummer, who was employed on the understanding that ‘the Salary be not greater than the Contributors to the Organ Fund have agreed to pay’ – presumably still £40.

Plummer seems to have had more enthusiasm for the job. He and his wife became members of the Church, and he continued as organist for a whole year before asking for more money. A circular was sent round the congregation inviting subscriptions.

In 1901, a service of music was started on the first Sunday evening of each month:

ST. PETERS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH. North Sydney. Minister, Rev. ROGER M‘KINNON. MONTHLY MUSICAL SERVICE on SUNDAY EVENING at 7.30, comprising Anthems “The Earth is Full” (Simper), Solo by Mrs. P. P. PLUMMER, “O Give Thanks” (Elvey). Recit. and Air, “But the Lord is Mindful” (Mendelssohn), by Mrs J. TRIMBLE, Organist and Choirmaster, Mr. P. PLANCHE PLUMMER. (SMH, 2-2-1901)

However long this may have continued as a regular part of the church program, the musical services that Plummer did direct became more ambitious:

ST. PETER’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NORTH SYDNEY.
A service of sacred song was held in this church last Sunday evening. The Rev. R. M‘Kinnon preached. The items rendered by the choir included a Sanctus (Elvey), “Magnificat” (Aldridge), anthems, “Rend your Heart, and not your Garments” (by Mr. W. B. Chinner, organist of Pine-street Wesleyan Church, Adelaide), “While the Earth remaineth” (Maunder). The Lord’s Prayer was chanted to a setting by Shaw, of York Minster, and the service concluded with the Vesper Hymn and a sevenfold Amen by Colin Campbell. The organist and choirmaster of the church, Mr. P. Planche Plummer, presided at the organ. (SMH, 28-5-1902)

Unfortunately, it was not to last. By the beginning of 1903:

The Treasurer of the Organist Fund intimated that no funds would be available for the payment of Organist after the 19th Feb.
The Clerk of Session was instructed to intimate to Mr Plummer that his engagement would terminate on that date.
Mr D. Smith was appointed Hon. Conductor and Mr S. D. Hume Hon. Organist. (Kirk Session Minutes, 7-1-1903)

Seven and a half years after saying goodbye to their honorary organist, the Church was to have one again, plus the debts left over from Mr Plummer’s tenure and an organ by now badly in need of repair (the Committee had been warned about that, but put it off for lack of funds):

It was arranged that the Secretary should write to the subscribers to the Organist Fund asking for subscriptions to clear off the present debit balance of that Fund amounting to £8:12:0 and to provide a further sum of about £13 for necessary repairs to the organ. (Committee of Management Minutes, 1-4-1903)

 

Sutherland Sinclair

In June 1895, Sutherland Sinclair took over as Session Clerk. The eldest son of a Glasgow minister of the same name, Sinclair was a man of wide interests and curiosity. At the age of 19 he had taken a break from business in Glasgow to travel to Florida, a trip he repeated a year later. In 1872, Sydney was one of the ports visited in the course of a prolonged ocean voyage that took him from Scotland to Osaka and back via New York: he liked what he saw. In 1879 he returned; in the meantime, at home in Glasgow, he had served as Superintendent of the Govan United Presbyterian Church Sabbath School.

In Sydney, Sutherland Sinclair first shared a house in Milson’s Point with his brother Thomas, a builder, who had come out with him. Later, perhaps already, Thomas’s business was located in Glebe, for though both brothers were communicant members of St Peter’s from 1879, in 1880 we find Sutherland Sinclair at the Glebe Presbyterian Church, working for the cause of temperance:

The Glebe Band of Courage met in the hall below the Presbyterian Church on Monday evening. There was a very crowded attendance. After the opening service the Rev. Andrew Gardiner, who occupied the chair, examined the children, on a portion of the Gospel according to Matthew. The answering was very good, and several names were placed on the prize list. Useful addresses were delivered by the Rev. James Paton, Mr. Sutherland Sinclair, and Mr. William M‘Kenzie. As many as twelve of the boys and girls rendered recitations, four of whom were awarded first prizes. Mr. Walter Hibble recited the touching piece “The Wreck of the Dunbar.” The chairman gave two readings– “A remarkable instance of presence of mind” and “Scotch Words,” by the late Robert Leighton. Several hymns were sung during the evening, in which the children were led by Mr. A. Parkinson. At the close of the meeting ten young persons remained to take the total abstinence pledge. (SMH, 5-5-1880)

At the same time he had already become a leading light in the newly-founded Milson’s Point Literary Association which met in the Mission Hall that St Peter’s built in Fitzroy Street. In July he chaired a good-humoured meeting to hear Mr Alfred Allen speak on ‘John Bright and Oratory’ which concluded with the speaker

giving samples of oratory common in Macquarie-street, in the pulpit, and in debating societies, which caused great merriment amongst the audience. (SMH, 5-7-1880)

At the August meeting he was seconded by James Anderson in moving the vote of thanks.

The Sunday Schools

In 1880 the two brothers were appointed as Superintendents of St Peter’s Sunday Schools, Thomas Sinclair to the Mission School at Milson’s Point and Sutherland to the main Sunday School at St Leonards. He held that position till 1885, when he left Sydney for a return visit to Scotland; he took it up again in 1888.

In Sydney as in Scotland, Sutherland Sinclair began in commerce, but in 1882 he found himself a job more agreeable to an enquiring mind – Secretary to the Australian Museum. There, interestingly enough, he was a colleague of John Brazier, grandson of John McMillan, still living in Windmill Street, Millers Point, and by now a distinguished scientist. Sinclair himself remained an amateur of the natural and human sciences, but used his travels to collect on behalf of the Museum (and also of the McLean Museum in his native Greenock, to which he made numerous donations). In 1883 he was elected to the Royal Society of NSW, in 1887 to the Linnean Society. In 1894 he brought back a collection of Melanesian artefacts to the Museum from a visit to Erromanga in the New Hebrides, where he was friends with the missionary, Rev Dr H. A. Robertson.

Sutherland Sinclair shared Roger McKinnon’s belief in the important influence of Sunday Schools: in 1882 he was elected to the first committee of the short-lived Presbyterian Sabbath School Association; in 1883 he became honorary secretary of the Young People’s Scripture Union of Australasia. But his enthusiasm for the moral and intellectual improvement of his fellows was not limited to Sunday Schools; from 1884 he was involved with the Sydney Industrial Blind Institution, which ran a workshop in Woolloomooloo to teach marketable skills to blind people of all ages, and in 1891 we find him involved in the presentation of an Art and Science Exhibition to raise funds for the YMCA building, an exhibition to celebrate the achievements of the day and to present items of every kind that a person of lively curiosity might be expected to be interested in:

Special pains had been taken to deck out the main hall with flags, bannerettes, shields, plaques, oils and water colours, &c., and these adornments had been so skilfully used, and so much artistic taste had been brought to bear in the blending of colours and the draping of bunting, that an exceedingly pretty effect was produced. On the floor space were ranged tables laden with a variety of curios, and fruits of inventive genius and mechanical skill, and many other things in the contemplation of which an appreciative interest was manifested by the visitors who thronged the building. Amongst the numerous exhibits were specimens of the finer work of pupils attending the carpenters, fitters, turners, modelling, applied mechanics, and other classes conducted in connection with the Sydney Technical College, numerous micro-scopes and powerful magnifying glasses, specimens of fretwork, maps and illuminated texts prepared by deaf and dumb children, one of Grova’s discs for showing how sound vibrations travel through the air, model of a Japanese country house, stalactites and stalagmites from Jenolan, mechanical models, metal monograms of artistic design beautifully fashioned out of wrought iron, models of a railway bridge, of a stump-jump plough, of compound vertical machinery, and of mining machinery, and in a distinctively ladies’ section were displayed specimens of plain and fancy needlework, confectionery, flowers, and many other articles, in the preparation of which much artistic taste had been exercised. One attractive exhibit, and which was viewed with wondering curiosity, was a flying machine—the creature of Mr. Lawrence Hargrave’s inventive genius, and known to members of the Royal Society as the No. 14 flying machine. (SMH, 9-9-1891)

As a fund-raiser, the exhibition was not as successful as had been hoped, but a week later the Herald reported:

THE Art and Science Exhibition in the Y. M. C. A. Hall was reopened yesterday at reduced prices, in order to dispose of surplus goods for sale. Owing to the inclemency of the weather, however, the attendance was only moderate. The exhibits, which have been fully noticed in these columns, appeared to have lost none of their attractions for the visitors. Mr. Russell, Government Astronomer, it may be mentioned, has replaced the photographs of the moon with a set showing the stars in various groups, but with this exception no change has been made. The tableaux vivants arranged by Mr. Sutherland Sinclair proved successful. In the evening several musical selections were played by Miss Amy Thompson on the organ, and Miss E. Kennedy rendered two vocal solos. The Exhibition will be opened to-day for the last time. (15-9-1891)

If Sutherland Sinclair had had a fault as Sunday School Superintendent, it was, as the description of the occasion at the YMCA might suggest, a tendency to think independently, and more expansively than the Session or Committee of Management were prepared to agree to. Early in his tenure,

Some conversational discussion took place upon the exercise of authority in connection with the two Sabbath School properties and finances, thereafter it was moved by Mr Fell seconded by Mr Dixon and carried unanimously
That the following resolution be transmitted to the Superintendents of the two Sabbath Schools: – That before any action affecting the School properties be taken or any expenditure or liability incurred, the consent of Mr McKinnon (the Minister) as representing the Committee be first obtained. And that statements of all receipts and expenditure in any way affecting the Sabbath Schools be submitted from time to time to the Committee. (Kirk Session Minutes, 10-2-1881)

In July of the same year, when Sinclair submitted a Constitution for the School to the Session for approval, the Session directed the Clerk:

to draw the attention of the Superintendent to the fact that they were merely “Rules” not a “Constitution” implying an institution independent of the Church. (Kirk Session Minutes, 3-7-1881)

At the same time, the Committee of Management was concerned to keep a limit on Sunday School expenditure:

The matter of the expenditure in connection with the Sabbath Schools was introduced, and it was resolved to pay to Mr S. Sinclair a sum of £2 deficiency caused by the pic nic, also to pay him the cost of the Tea Pots purchased by him. It appearing that accounts (from the two schools) had been rendered to the Treasurer £4:12:6 in excess (for this year) of the £10 authorised to be expended by the superintendent of the St Peter’s S. School, it was decided that the authority being given previous to the Milson’s Point School having been established, Mr S. Sinclair was justified in spending the sum on St Peter’s S. School only. Mr T. C. Sinclair Superintendent of the Milson’s Point S. School to be requested by the Treasurer to furnish a statement of his estimated annual expenditure, also to explain what the expenditure represented by an a/c of £2 from Fuller was for. (Committee of Management Minutes, 27-7-1881)

For the Sunday School was not cheap to run. In 1883 the School trustees allocated £42 (about $8600) to the Session for Sunday School purposes, from which the Session passed on £35 to Sutherland Sinclair ‘to defray Pic nic and other expenses in accordance with an estimate of Expenditure submitted’. At the end of that year,

Letters were read from the Superintendents of the Sunday Schools requesting a further grant for expenses and the Annual Pic nic.
It was decided to reserve £10 for Pic nic expenses and to grant the remainder (about £3) to Milson’s Point Sunday School for maintenance expenses and to inform the Superintendent of that School that the Session would do its best to provide funds for a united pic nic but could not sanction the expenditure of any of its funds if a separate pic nic should be held. (Kirk Session Minutes, 9-12-1883)

But despite, or because of, the enthusiasm Sutherland Sinclair had shown, the Session’s resolution indicates that he was much missed a year later when his departure for Scotland led him to resign:

Mr Sutherland Sinclair having signified his intention of shortly visiting Europe, the Session Clerk be instructed to convey to Mr Sinclair the high sense which the Session entertains of the valuable service rendered by him to the Church in the zealous and efficient discharge of his duties as Superintendent of the Sabbath School, and the hope of the Session that Mr Sinclair will be enabled to resume his labor of love on his return. (Kirk Session Minutes, 20-2-1885)

In May of 1889, on the recommendation of the teachers, with whom he seems always to have had a strong rapport, Sinclair was reappointed Superintendent. Within six months he was pressing for a new building, and once that had opened in 1891 it is hard not to see his hand behind the spring and Christmas fairs, Sunday school conventions and missionary fund-raisers that were held there.

Within the Church, Sinclair was increasingly well-connected. He had left Milson’s Point and was living now in Walker Street next door to W. S. Fell, whose family had a long standing connection with St Peter’s; his younger brother Russell Sinclair was in business partnership with John Wildridge, for many years a member of the Committee of Management and later one of the School trustees. Not surprisingly then, when it was decided in 1892 to ordain more elders, Sutherland Sinclair was one of those nominated, and his nomination was adopted without dissent.


James Anderson’s record of the nomination of Sutherland Sinclair to the Eldership

He accepted the position, but asked it to be recorded as a matter of conscience that in subscribing to the Westminster Confession of Faith,

he does so with the understanding that the Confession of Faith does not teach that the reprobation of men on account of their sins is the result of any positive decree on God’s part – the atonement of Christ being sufficient for all – but that it is alone the consequence of man’s determination to cling to his sins. (Kirk Session Minutes, 22-5-1892)

Though the language is rather obscure, it seems to suggest Sinclair was not committed Article vii of Chapter 3 of the Confession, which teaches that some are predestined to damnation – he held the Sunday school superintendent’s more optimistic view that there was no-one so unregenerate as to be beyond the reach of effective teaching.

When the position of Session Clerk fell vacant in 1895, Sutherland Sinclair, honorary secretary to so many committees and organizations, was a natural choice to replace James Anderson. At the same time, he retained his position at the Sunday School, and continued to be active in arranging events:

An entertainment consisting of tableaux vivants, vocal and instrumental music, and recitations was given on Friday at St Peter’s Hall, Blue’s Point-road, in aid of the North Sydney Congregational Sunday school. There was a very large attendance. The tableaux were arranged by Mr Sutherland Sinclair. Miss A. C. Robertson proved an efficient accompanist. (SMH, 2-11-1896)

At the invitation of the superintendent of the St. Peter’s Sunday School (Mr Sutherland Sinclair) a most successful re-union of the parents and friends of the scholars was held in St Peter’s Hall on Wednesday the 7th instant. The hall, which was tastefully decorated was comfortably filled. The Rev. R. M‘Kinnon spoke in high terms of the officers of the school and introduced Mr. E. K. Satchell, who delivered a highly interesting address on Sunday school work in America where he said, school-halls were designed for comfort and where many of the most capable men of the business world lent their experience and skill in organising and teaching. Mr. S. Sinclair expressed the satisfaction of the teachers at the interest manifested by the parents of the scholars who had responded to their invitation, and referred with pride to the progress of religious culture amongst the young. During the evening vocal and instrumental numbers were rendered by the Misses Thompson and M‘Kinnon, after which refreshments were served. (SMH, 13-7-1897)

Tableaux vivants, often noted as a feature of occasions arranged by Sutherland Sinclair, are scenes or themes depicted by actors in costume, who do not move, but present a ‘living picture’ to the audience. In the 1890s they were an immensely popular feature of entertainments staged by church groups and charities. The sort of thing they were appears in this description of a fund-raising evening for St Peter’s, Richmond – Blanche McKinnon had appeared in the earlier part of the program (‘this fascinating vocalist receiving vociferous applause, to which she was truly entitled’):

This item concluded the first portion of the programme, and the stage was cleared and preparations made for the Tableaux Vivants. The pictures were much admired by all. The stage scene and the good looks of those taking part made the pictures most realistic and attractive. They would, however, have been greatly improved by a more powerful limelight. Following are the titles of Tableaux Vivants shown : ‘The Slave Market’; ‘You Dirty Boy’; Scene from “Trilby”; ‘The First Kiss’; ‘Master of the Hounds’; ‘Summer’; ‘The Bicycle Belle’; ‘Night and Morning’; ‘Over the Garden Wall’ (two scenes). (Windsor and Richmond Gazette, 24-10-1896)

Sinclair’s efforts were directed not only to the local Church, but to the benefit of the wider Church as well:

A bazaar in aid of the Chinese Mission Church in Waterloo, in connection with St Peter’s Presbyterian Sunday School, the Rockvale Ministering Children’s League, and the Turramurra Band of Hope, was opened yesterday in St Peter’s Hall, Blue’s Point-road, by the Rev. J. Young Wai of the Foster-street Chinese Church, Sydney, in the presence of a large gathering. There were also on the platform the Revs. R. M‘Kinnon (St Peter’s), John Walker (convener of Foreign Missions), Mrs. Doig (president of St. Peter’s League), and Mr. Sutherland Sinclair (superintendent of St. Peter’s Sunday School.)
The Christian Chinese of Foster-street a year ago, promised upwards of £100 towards buying a site and erecting a church at Waterloo, and the Foreign Mission Committee gave authority to buy the proposed site and erect a church if the financing could be arranged. The Christian Chinese promised an additional £30, and two gentlemen signalled their willingness to guarantee the sum of £250 to build the church when the ground was paid for. The sale of work is being held as a means of providing assistance for so worthy an object. The hall, which was prettily decorated, contained six stalls, all tastefully arranged and replete with useful articles of every description. During the evening musical selections were successfully rendered, as also was the Maypole dance. The feature of the evening, however, was a march and sword-drill by the Boys’ Brigade, which was cordially received. Mr W. Donald gave an interesting lantern lecture entitled “A Chat on China,” which was attentively listened to. The following are the stalls and stallholders:—
League Stall.—Miss A. E. Thomson and members of St Peter’s Ministering Children’s League.
Rockvale Stall.—Miss Heron and members of the Rockvale Ministering Children’s League.
Flower Stall.—Members of St Peter’s Ministering Children’s League.
Refreshment Room.—Misses Sparkes and L. Oag, and teachers and scholars of St. Peter’s Sunday School.
Chinese Stall.—Misses Garland and Hartley.
Loan Exhibition of Objects of Interest.—Mr George Dixon. (SMH, 17-7-1897)

From time to time this activity caused some irritation to the School trustees, who had oversight of the new hall:

A note was read from Mr S. Sinclair regarding a proscenium which he had procured & erected in front of the platform in the School Hall & requesting that the Trustees should make arrangements to have it stored in the building. After discussion it was considered that its erection might cause danger to the building from fire and the Secretary was instructed to reply to Mr Sinclair and request him to have it removed. (School Trust Minutes, 20-1-1896)

 

The Boys’ Brigade

A major irritant, however, proved to be the Boys’ Brigade, which Sutherland Sinclair had established, at some time in 1896, as an offshoot of the Sunday School. The Boys’ Brigade had been founded in a mission Sunday school in Glasgow by William Alexander Smith in 1883; it was essentially a way of engaging boys who were bored by regular Sunday school, or thought themselves too old for it. The emphasis was on military drill and discipline to teach teamwork, and training in socially useful skills like first aid; only then, thought Smith, would boys come within the reach of organizations like the YMCA which relied on self-discipline and motivation. The Boy Scouts later incorporated many of these ideas (Baden-Powell had himself been involved with the development of the Boys’ Brigade).

Sinclair may have known Alexander Smith before he came to Australia; he would certainly have been interested in what was being done in Scottish Sunday schools when he visited in 1885; he may well have been in correspondence with Glasgow on the subject after his return, or heard news through other members of the Presbyterian Sunday School Union. There may have been a family connection – Alexander Smith’s wife, herself the daughter of a minister, had been called Sutherland. Wherever Sinclair picked up the idea, his Boys’ Brigade company at St Peter’s was the first to be established in Australia.

The history of the organization as a whole in this country has been obscured by the fact that there were a number of other entirely distinct bodies with the same name or similar names established in various Australian cities at about the same time. In Sydney, for example, there was a popular charity called the Boys’ Brigade, under the particular patronage of the Fairfax family, which had a clubroom in Sussex Street to provide amenities for newsboys and other street vendors. Through the 1890s and into the 20th century the balls and other fundraisers held in support of that charity were major society occasions, but while it was a body concerned with boys’ welfare, it had no religious affiliations, and the members did not wear the distinctive uniform and badge of Alexander Smith’s Boys’ Brigade.

The Register (Adelaide) in 1901 summed up the scope and history of the Brigade for its readers – and also, by the way, the distinguished company that Sutherland Sinclair was by then keeping:

“The Boys’ Brigade in Australia,” is the outcome of a movement which was started in the Mission Sunday-school of the Free College Church, Glasgow about 17 years ago. The secretary of the school — Mr. W. A. Smith — was a volunteer officer, and it occurred to him that military drill might be an effective means of binding the boys together. The experiment was made; it proved a great success; others repeated it, and now there is an extensive organization with 1,000 companies, 5,400 officers, and 70,000 boys. The movement has spread all over the world. It has already taken deep root in Canada and the United States, and is extending to the West Indies, to South Africa, to New Zealand, and even to India. The first company of “The Boys’ Brigade in Australia” was started in 1896 in connection with St. Peter’s Presbyterian Sunday-school, North Sydney, and the movement is gradually spreading in all the states. The term ‘brigade’ refers to the entire organization throughout the world; each section is a company, or battalion, and bears its own local designation accordingly. The brigade is inter-denominational. Mr. Sutherland Sinclair, of Sydney, is the hon. general secretary for Australia, the headquarters being at the Y.M.C.A. rooms, Pitt-street, Sydney. H.R.H. the Duke of Cornwall is patron, and the Earl of Hopetoun, who before leaving Scotland was president of the Edinburgh battalion, is president for Australia... Unfortunately there is a similarity of titles between this organization and the Boys’ Brigade, Adelaide, Incorporated (Mr. W. T. Patterson, secretary). The work of the latter is more among older lads, who are earning their own livelihood. A full uniform (naval) dress is worn by them, which is not allowed by the constitution of the Boys’ Brigade in Australia, whose members wear cap, belt, and haversack, and ordinary clothing. There is no overlapping of the two bodies, except in the similarity of the name, and the executive councils of both, try to work to mutual advantage. (9-7-1901)

It is easy to see that a group of boys being put through military drills and physical exercises in a church hall could cause a certain amount of damage. In 1897, when Sutherland Sinclair approached the School trustees about some repairs he thought necessary, they took the opportunity to reply in part:

that the Boys’ Brigade should be confined to the lower story of the building, except by special permission. (School Trust Minutes, 18-10-1897)

This was a continuing theme. The Brigade held a well-received display in June 1898 (the wording suggesting that members of the other Boys’ Brigade also took part):

The first Sydney Company of the Boys’ Brigade in connection with St. Peter’s Presbyterian Sunday-school, North Sydney, held an entertainment in aid of the brigade funds on the 21st instant in St. Peter’s Hall, Blue’s Point-road. An interesting programme of a varied nature consisting of vocal and instrumental items, recitations, physical drills, &c., helped to pass a most enjoyable evening. The members of the Sydney Boys’ Brigade were put through an instructive physical drill, and acquitted themselves creditably. The first company of the Boys’ Brigade (North Sydney) also were put through a parade, which they executed in a manner showing great attention had been bestowed upon their training by the commanding officers. Mr. Alfred F. Watchorn gave some capital recitations. Amongst the contributors were Miss Backhouse, Miss Wright, and Miss M‘Kinnon, Messrs. W. J. Phillips, J. Thompson Brown and D. Smith, besides the pupils of Miss C. M. Liggins, who rendered some interesting violin selections. Miss M‘Kinnon acted as accompanist. (SMH, 24-6-1898)

But the next month the trustees were again concerned to limit the scope of the Brigade’s activities:

Mr Carment submitted letter of 9th July from Mr S. Sinclair regarding the use of the various rooms in the School-Hall building for the purposes of the Boys’ Brigade, and it was agreed to have a gas lamp erected over the entrance door to the basement, also that proper fastenings should be fitted to one or two of the windows in the Infant Class-room, and that the caretaker should be asked to report on the necessity of a drain under the stand-pipe in the kitchen; further that the Main Hall & the Library room should not be allowed to be used for marching or drilling in, & that the Upper room should not be used at all by the Brigade. (School Trust Minutes, 20-7-1898)

Yet if the trustees had reservations, Rev McKinnon remained on side:

The second annual inspection of the above took place on Saturday afternoon in the grounds of St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church, North Sydney, before Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, of the Scottish Rifles. The company was present in full force under the command of Mr. S. Sinclair (captain), Lieutenant M‘Farlane, and hon. Drill-instructor Gibson. The lads were drawn up in the church grounds to receive the inspecting officer, and were put through drill under Mr. Gibson. Subsequently a meeting, which was well attended, was held in the school-hall, the Rev. R. Mackinnon presiding. Here the boys gave an exhibition of physical and ambulance drill. Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell then addressed the lads, and expressed approval of the efficiency they had shown in their military drill and also in their physical and ambulance displays. He referred to the good training they were now receiving, and trusted that when they grew older they would join the Scottish Rifles and be prepared to defend their country. (Applause.) The distribution of appointment and membership cards took place during the afternoon, and the chairman also addressed the boys. The proceedings closed with the benediction. (SMH, 22-11-1898)

Sutherland Sinclair was not a man to waste a contact: having had the Scottish Rifles review the Boys’ Brigade, he called on them again in support of the Sunday School:

A Scotch concert in celebration of St Andrew’s Day, was held on Wednesday evening at St. Peter’s Presbyterian school-hall, North Sydney. Piper Macdonald, of the Scottish Rifles, rendered bagpipe selections, which were encored. Exhibitions of dancing and bayonet exercises were given by other members of the regiment, and a number of ladies and gentlemen contributed to the musical portion of the programme. There was a crowded audience, and the proceeds are to be devoted to the funds of St. Peter’s Sunday School. (SMH, 2-12-1898)

1899 was promised to be an active year for the boys:

A busy session is expected with the various drills, sword exercises, ambulance classes, cricket club, swimming club, Bible class, and other agencies that have been planned. (SMH, 20-2-1899)

(there would have been football, too, for a winter sport – Sinclair had been a founder member of the Pirates Football Club, whose red and black colours are still worn by the Northern Suburbs Rugby Club and the North Sydney Bears).

For the Boys’ Brigade mid-year concert in 1899, the Blind Institution were called in to help as well:

The first Sydney company of the Boys’ Brigade in connection with St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church Sunday School, North Sydney, gave a most interesting entertainment on Wednesday evening in St. Peter’s Hall, Blue’s Point-road, in aid of the brigade funds. There was a good attendance, and the greatest interest was taken in the excellent programme, which comprised vocal and instrumental items, recitations, orchestral music, gymnastic displays, and exhibition drills. The band of the Sydney Industrial Blind Institution, under the conductorship of Bandmaster W. Trench, contributed several selections, and a string band, under the leadership of Miss C. M. Liggins, added greatly to the enjoyment of the evening. The members of St. Thomas’ Club gave an excellent gymnastic display, while the boys of the brigade gave an exhibition of drill. Bagpipe selections were admirably rendered by Piper M‘Donald , songs by Miss Gillies, Mr. G. Douglas, Herr D. Staedtgen, Mr. Donald Smith, and Mr. A. Allen and recitations by Mr Harry Leaton. The entertainment was most successful and much appreciated. (SMH, 8-7-1899)

 

A breach with the Minister

In August of the same year, however, a request by the Sunday School teachers for permission to hold a fete met with a response from the Session – that is, from the Minister – that showed a certain lack of sympathy. They had gone about things the wrong way, they should have asked sooner, perhaps instead of needing to raise money they ought to pull in their horns a bit:

A letter was received from the Secretary of the Sabbath School advising that it was proposed to hold a Bazaar to pay off deficiency in last picnic and meet other liabilities, and if any surplus to pay it to the School Debt Fund.
It was resolved to sanction the holding of the Bazaar, and to inform the Teachers that whilst concluding that the object in view is to the best interests of the school, the Session expresses a desire that they would conform in future to presbyterial order, 2 that retrenchments would be in some respects advantageous, and 3 that it would be preferable to eliminate the clause about the School Debt Fund letting all the proceeds be for the General School Funds, and perhaps drawing less from the Trustees next year.
Mr Sinclair entered his dissent from the clause about conforming to presbyterial order. (Kirk Session Minutes, 31-8-1899)

It rather seems Rev McKinnon was feeling that the Sunday School Superintendent was taking too much authority upon himself; perhaps he was not comfortable with Sutherland Sinclair’s all-singing all-dancing kind of function, which is exactly what the fete turned out to be:

SALE OF GIFTS AT NORTH SYDNEY.
Yesterday and to-day were set apart as market days at St. Peter’s Hall, Blue’s Point-road, North Sydney, for the sale of gifts in aid of the St Peter’s (Presbyterian) Church Sunday-school funds. The opening ceremony took place yesterday afternoon, and was performed by the Rev. W. M. Dill Macky, Moderator of the Presbyterian Assembly, who in a brief speech wished the function every success. There was a fair attendance, which, however, was greatly increased during the evening, when the spacious hall was well filled. The decorations were of a particularly attractive character, the hall and stalls being tastefully arranged and harmonious in colour. Palms and flags, bunting, huge fans, Chinese lanterns, and variously coloured crinkled paper predominated. The stalls were erected free of cost by Mr. J. W. Eaton, and were arranged round the hall, while the flower stall—a blaze of seasonable blooms—was located on the platform, and formed a prominent feature. In the centre of the hall was a maypole, which during the evening was a centre of attraction as the gathering watched the graceful dance executed by the children of the Sabbath school with much precision, under the direction of Miss J. Smith. In the lower hall Mr. Wyatt Burns gave an exhibition of conjuring, which was much appreciated. The other side shows included a post-office, which was largely patronised. A notable feature of the evening was the performance of the band of the Scottish Rifles, which played numerous inspiriting selections.
The whole arrangements were placed in the hands of a committee, consisting of Mesdames Dangar, Ford, D. Smith, Mackay, N. M. Thomson, Robertson, the Misses Oag, N. Long, and M. Cameron, Messrs. E. H. Hume, P. Plummer, J. Ford, and S. Sinclair (secretary). It is intended to keep the sale open to-day. The following are the stalls and stallholders:—Refreshments: Mrs. Dangar and assistants. Toys: Mrs Donald Smith and assistants. Flowers: Mrs. Robertson. Children’s stall: Mrs. Ford. General stall: Mrs. Mackinnon. Fancy stall: Mrs. Mackay. Produce stall: Miss Cameron. Sweetmeats: Mrs. N. M. Thomson. Post-office: Miss May Walker. Ice creams: Miss Wildridge. Snowball: Miss Green. (SMH, 4-11-1899)

The result was £65 for Sunday School funds (about $11,000) and the equivalent of about $7000 left over, but at the next meeting of Session Sutherland Sinclair was obliged to defend his handling of the fete (Roger McKinnon responded, but what he had to say is not recorded); when the Sunday School report was presented to the following Congregational Meeting the Minister opened a discussion on how the money should have been spent.

This Annual Congregation Meeting was the last occasion on which Sutherland Sinclair took the minutes: in May 1900 he resigned as Session Clerk. He was still an Elder, and a member of Session, but was no longer a regular attender while Rev McKinnon was Minister. In August he received another pro forma rebuke:

During the morning diet of worship the Revd. R. McKinnon intimated that a meeting of Session would be held at the close of the service. There were present:– Revd. R. McKinnon, Moderator, Dr A. H. Morson, Messrs Doig, Sinclair and Grant.
The Revd. R. McKinnon informed the Session that a Grand Concert in connection with the Boys Brigade would be held in the School Hall on Thursday 22nd August, but as the matter had not been placed before the Session he refused to intimate and called the meeting of Session. Mr Sinclair said that the concert had been held annually for several years, and therefore he did not think it necessary to ask the consent of the Session each year.
The Moderator moved that the Session grant permission for the holding of the concert, Mr Sinclair seconded and the motion was carried without dissent. (Kirk Session Minutes, 12-8-1900)

At the following meeting steps were taken to rein in any tendency to effusive reporting from the Sunday School:

The following motion was moved by the Moderator & seconded by Mr Doig:– “That in future all reports of the Sabbath School and other institutions (with the exception of the Committee of Management) be presented to the Session before printing in the Annual Report.” (Kirk Session Minutes, 30-8-1900)

The instruction apparently had little effect, for when the next annual report came to the Session:

The Clerk of Session was directed to inform the superintendent of School as follows:– That he be respectfully requested to condense the reports to occupy not more than two pages, exclusive of the balance sheets. It was further arranged that in the event of the superintendent being unable to comply with the request that the Moderator & the Clerk of Session condense the report, and also that of the Womens Missionary Association. (Kirk Session Minutes, 10-1-1901)

The following year no report was offered; the Minister and Session Clerk were obliged to produce one themselves.

In 1902, at a meeting of Session at which Sutherland Sinclair was not present:

A letter was received from Mr Sinclair, Superintendent of Sabbath School, asking permission to form an “Old Boys’ Union consisting of boys over the retiring age who have passed through the ranks of the Boys Brigade.” The letter continuing stated as follows:– Exactly what form the Union I cannot yet say as it is a development and will have to take definite shape gradually as we find by experience what is most suitable. The request was discussed at considerable length when the following motion was moved by Mr McKinnon seconded by Major Dodds and agreed to without dissent:– “That Mr Sinclair’s letter be received, and that the Session decline to sanction the proposal until a more definite statement of the end to be reached and the methods to be employed be given and approved of by the Session”
It was further moved by Dr Morson and seconded by Major Dodds:– “That Mr Anderson the caretaker be instructed not to allow the use of the School Premises for the purposes of entertainment without the order of the Session whose consent must come through the Moderator.” The motion was agreed to. (Kirk Session Minutes, 9-1-1902)

Sinclair appeared at the following meeting to argue his case, and though permission was granted it re-affirmed the Session’s determination to keep a close watch on entertainment:

On the motion of Mr C. A. Anderson it was agreed:– “ That the request be granted with the understanding that no socials entertainments, concerts, or theatrical performances take place in the School property without the consent of the Session.” (Kirk Session Minutes, 26-1-1902)

But if humorous recitations and tableaux vivants were not to be, there was still football:

On Saturday last a contingent of some 30 members of the different companies of the Boys’ Brigade in Sydney paid their comrades in Richmond a visit. Arriving by the afternoon train, they found their way to the park, where a football match was played with a scratch team of the local lads. Naturally enough the visitors, whose football record stands at 11 wins, 2 losses, and 1 draw, romped round their hosts, whose lack of practice, however, was largely atoned for by their infinite pluck. The result, 6 points to nil, scarcely indicates the actual play, as the ball was almost invariably to be found in the Richmond half; and the visitors gave a fine exhibition of good combination and unselfishness.
The game over, and the cheers given and returned, the whole of the lads adjourned to the Presbyterian Sunday school, where a thoroughly substantial repast awaited them, and which, naturally enough, they did ample justice to. Cheers, hearty and loud, were given for the ladies who had so kindly attended to their every want, and for the caterer (Mr. Cambridge).
The interval of an hour and a half before the departure of the evening train was very agreeably occupied with songs, speeches, &c. The singing of the “Nottingham Boys’ Brigade Hymn” (to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers”) fitly began the proceedings; and Dr. Cameron, in one of his admirable little utterances, cordially welcomed the Sydney representatives, and wished them “God-speed.” The health of the visitors was proposed in brief but felicitous terms by Mr. Frank Myers, the captain of the locals, and suitably responded to. Brief addresses were also given by Mr. Sinclair, of North Sydney (to whose indefatigable efforts the inauguration of this good work in New South Wales is largely due), and by the Rev. J. J. F. L. Fergusson and Mr. Gilder. For the music the company was indebted to Mrs. Benson, Miss Sullivan, Miss Myers (as accompanist), and Mr. J. G. Beazley, while Mr. Lawson delighted the ears and hearts of all with a choice and varied selection on the phonograph. An admirable exhibition of Indian club drill by two of the visitors (one of whom holds a gold medal for gymnastics) met with a hearty reception, and, all too soon, the time was up, and a hasty adjournment was made to the station, where, amid hearty cheers, the little band left. (Hawkesbury Herald, 25-7-1902)

The review of the Boys’ Brigade later that year was a serious-minded occasion:

The North Sydney Company and the 1st and 2nd Newtown companies of the Boys’ Brigade in Australia was inspected on Wednesday at the St. Peter’s Hall, Blue’s Point-road, North Sydney, by Major Roth. The local members, who were in charge of Captain Sinclair, who had with him Lieutenants M‘Farlane, Patterson and Birk (acting adjutant), were put through company and ambulance drill, and afterwards an ambulance competition between the North Sydney company and Nos. 1 and 2 Newtown took place. The successful competitors were the No. 1 Newtown company. (SMH, 31-10-1902)

By July of 1903, the Boys’ Brigade was allowed a concert again – to fund gymnastic equipment.

 

What of the girls?

The fact that girls usually outnumbered boys in Sunday Schools was one reason for the founding of the Boys’ Brigade. A similar girls’ organization – the Girls’ Guildry – was founded, again in Glasgow, in 1900. At the Annual Congregational Meeting in 1901 at which:

Mr S. Sinclair moved & Mr J. T. Anderson seconded the adoption of the S. School report including those of auxiliary associations (Minutes, 30-1-1901)

the ‘auxiliary associations’ probably included the Victoria Girls’ Guild, which seems to have been a completely local institution (and probably named after the Borough of Victoria, in which the Sunday School hall was situated), and the Ministering Children’s League, an organization of Irish origin directed to encouraging children to think of others less fortunate than themselves. The report of the concert in 1895, marking the first year for St Peter’s branch of the League, makes it clear it was largely a girls’ affair (though Sutherland Sinclair may have had a hand in the tableaux):

The annual meeting, sale of work, and concert of the St. Peter’s branch, North Sydney, was held in St Peter’s Hall last evening. The president, Mrs. John Thomson, presided. The Rev. R. Mackinnon made a few remarks applauding the objects of the Children’s League. Mr A. W. Meeks stated that he had been invited to make a few remarks on the subject of ministering leagues, and in doing so would like to mention that the Randwick league, of which Mrs Meeks was the president, had already done good work. No set of rules could be laid down for their guidance, but he trusted that every day would be crowned by some good work, and some object be kept in view, the accomplishment of which would be beneficial to the poor and needy.
The hon. secretary, Miss Kate Fell, read the first annual report, in which it was stated that the branch, which started with 12 members and 6 associates, now numbered 30 members and 6 associates.
The hon. treasurer, Miss Margaret Walker, announced that there was a credit balance of £1 7s 8d.
Hymns by the children, a song well rendered by Miss Thomson, and a violin solo by Miss Gladys Thomas were much appreciated.
The evening was brought to a conclusion with tableaux vivants. (SMH, 21-12-1895)

The Victoria Girls’ Guild is first mentioned by implication in 1901:

Permission was given to hold Scotch Concert in the School Hall in aid of Sabbath School Funds; also to hold sale of work to assist in re-building church at Erromanga. (Kirk Session Minutes, 26-11-1901)

When the sale was held, the following June, it was with the name of the Guild attached, while the mention of Erromanga, where his friend was in charge of the mission, suggests Sutherland Sinclair was involved:

A bazaar under the auspices of the Victoria Girls’ Guild connected with St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church, North Sydney, was opened yesterday at St. Peter’s Hall, Blue’s Point- road, in aid of the fund for rebuilding the mission church at Erromanga. (SMH, 7-6-1902)

The following year, a concert was proposed:

A communication was received from the Victoria Girls Guild requesting permission to hold a Concert and Tableaux sometime in Sept for the following objects:– 1st Funds of the Guild £1; 2nd Salary to Native Teacher on the Island of Malo £3; 4th North Syd. Benevolent Society any sum beyond. Permission granted on the motion of Mr Anderson seconded by Mr Doig. (Kirk Session Minutes, 4-6-1903)

Many churches at this time had organizations called Girls’ Guilds (and there was a Jewish Girls’ Guild in Sydney). Perhaps a contemporary Melbourne account tells us something of what the Victoria Girls Guild would have been like:

On Wednesday evening the Girls’ Guild of St. George’s Presbyterian Church held their annual display at the St. Kilda Town-hall... The objects of the guild, as stated in the rules, are “to enable girls to become fully acquainted with each other, to find out each other’s good qualities, to provide opportunities for exercises, games, singing, or other social objects decided on by the committee, with the consent of the members. All girls of 14 or over connected with any of the abovenamed churches or Sunday-schools are eligible as members. Other girls may be admitted, but are expected to identify themselves with the churches or Sunday-schools with a reasonable time.” There is a junior guild for girls under 14, and the guild night is held once a week. (The Argus, 21-11-1905)

 

Decline – 1895-1903

In 1891 David Carment had become Treasurer again, combining the job with that of Secretary to the Committee of Management. The growth of the congregation had stabilized by now at a level below the peak of 1888, and of those who remained, some, at least, were feeling economic pressure. The expenses of the church were more or less stable, and were covered by its income for now, but any decrease in that income could only be sustained for so long.

In 1892, revenue fell; in 1893 Carment could see it falling again, and warned the Committee of Management. James Anderson was for delay; the matter was to be referred to the Session, and then not; a donation of £50 from an unnamed source tided the church over. Perhaps James Anderson’s concern was not to worry Rev McKinnon, whose health may already have been failing: after 1890 the Minister only chaired the Committee of Management on two occasions, whereas previously he had always taken the chair, certifying the minutes at the following meeting with his indelible pencil.

By 1895 it was obvious to everyone that the church was in financial difficulties; the Secretary and Treasurer was asked to prepare a report with comparative figures for five years, while Blanche McKinnon offered to stage a series of concerts to raise money. The first, held in November, was a great success:

A concert in aid of the funds of St Peter’s Presbyterian Church, North Sydney, took place in the school-hall Blue’s Point-road, last night. There was a large audience present. Mr Donald Smith sang “The Mountebank” and Miss Nellie Young “My Dearest Heart” and “Old, Old Words,” both numbers being encored. “Oh Promise Me” was Miss Blanche M‘Kinnon’s selection, and “Rothesay Bay” was well sung by Mrs. Thebaud. Mons. Henri Stael was encored for a violin solo, and another selection for the violin was carefully played by Miss Maude Hogg. Miss Windeyer recited “Beautiful Snow” with considerable elocutionary ability. Miss Effie Lorraine gave a spirited rendering of Barham’s “Spanish Champion.” A piano selection by Miss Helen Anderson and comic songs by Mr. S. Cummings proved acceptable. The Misses Thompson and Helen Anderson acted as accompanists, and the concert, which was organised by Miss Blanche Mackinnon, was very enjoyable. (SMH, 9-11-1895)

The result was a contribution of £10:13/- to church funds (about $1900), but as the figures brought to the Committee at the beginning of 1896 were to show, the decline in the church income over the previous five years was about ten times that amount:

At the Annual Congregational Meeting on January 30, the Committee reported:

a considerable falling off in the general revenue of the Church during the past year; and though they venture to cherish the hope that the worst of the financial depression has already been experienced and that with returning general prosperity the Congregational Finances may again begin to improve, yet they deem it their duty to point out, as clearly as possible, that their estimate of the ordinary revenue for the current year falls short of the amount required to meet the necessary expenditure.
The ordinary Sabbath collections are greater by £11 0s 2d than those of 1894, but less by £7 5s 9d than those of 1893; and the amounts received on account of seat rents show a falling off to the extent of £18 18s when compared with the previous year.

In August Blanche McKinnon held another concert:

A concert in aid of St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church, North Sydney, was held in the St Peter’s Hall, Blue’s Point-road, last night. The hall, which had been tastefully decorated, was packed, the seating accommodation being quite inadequate for the number attending. An excellent programme of vocal and instrumental music was rendered in a manner that met with general appreciation. The following ladies and gentlemen contributed: Miss Nellie Young, song, “Damon” (Max Strange), for which she was recalled, and “Thoughts and Tears” (Hope Temple); Miss Thompson, “The Promise of Life” (Cowan); Miss B. Mackinnon, “Ask Me No More” (Tosti); Miss Ethel Windeyer, recitation, “The Elf Child” (Anon.); Miss Alma Neilson, recitation, “The Sisters” (Whittier); Mr. Ernest Nott, “The Yeoman’s Wedding” (Poniatowski), and “If Doughty Deeds” (Sullivan); Mr. Donald Smith, “Love’s Evening Song” (Wale); ’cello solo, Herr Vollmar; violin solo, Mons. Henri Staell; piano solo, Mr. W H. Wale; and mandoline septette, leader Signor Podenzana. The duties of accompanist were carried out by Mr. W. H. Wale, organist to St. Peter’s. (SMH, 6-8-1896)

The Treasurer was able to report an addition of £12:16:9 to church funds; the Committee voted that Miss McKinnon should be ‘thanked very heartily for her exertions’.

Yet the revenues kept falling. From 1891 to 1903 the credit balances reported at the April meeting of the Committee (the first regular meeting for the new year), declined at a very steady rate, averaging £13:8:4 less each year – about $2250. By mid-1897 this had put the finances into deficit:

The Treasurer’s Statement was read showing a debit balance of £28:12:6 in addition to which there were outstanding accounts to the extent of £14:10:5; and as a large amount of arrears of seat rents was disclosed it was decided that the Treasurer should post notices of arrears in cases where such a course seemed desirable. (Committee of Management Minutes, 5-4-1897)

Naming and shaming the defaulting seat-holders had little effect; neither did various pointless economies, such as the resolution of the school trustees:

That the gas brackets in the infant school-room should have two out of the three burners on each stopped up, so as to prevent waste & avoid endangering the wood-work. (School Trust Minutes, 18-10-1897)

In April and again in October of 1897, Rev McKinnon was granted a month’s leave of absence, presumably through illness; as the example of Rev Ross had shown, a minister who was not in the best of health had little hold over a congregation. The numbers of communicants declined from the high 80s to the low 70s. In January 1898, David Carment was placed in the ironical position of questioning whether the revenue from the Manse lands was properly considered part of the Church’s income – a position he had campaigned for, and which had led to his resignation, when he was first the Treasurer, 15 years before:

The Treasurer also reported regarding the amounts claimed from the Congregation as “Assembly Assessment” and “Federal Assembly Assessment” and it was decided that the Secretary should write to the Church Offices asking for some explanation of the principle on which the Assessment was based as far as regards the percentage claimed on the amount of “other Stipend moneys” arising from Rents of Manse Lands. (Committee of Management Minutes, 3-1-1898)

Every other expedient had been tried: the final source of economy that occurred to the Committee was the Minister’s stipend. A deputation was appointed to call on Rev McKinnon and broach the subject; they reported back on January 11, 1899:

The Minister assured the Deputation that while he had for some years past been subscribing to the Sustentation Fund he had decided to do so more largely and regularly after having been relieved of the expense of his rising family and offered to fall in with any arrangement the Managers proposed, assuring them that he only held the Committee responsible for the amount actually collected, and agreed to accept whatever they found practicable to pay, but would rather not agree to a formal reduction of stipend. He said he would be agreeable to take smaller payments on account in the early part of the year with the understanding that as much as possible would be paid later on in the year, if that course would relieve the committee of financial troubles, and also stated that the committee were virtually not responsible for the falling away in the funds of the Church. (Committee of Management Minutes)

It was now almost 21 years since Roger McKinnon had been inducted. Perhaps the Committee had too much on its mind – finding the money, for example, to replace the old fishtail burners in the Church with incandescent gaslights – but the movement for a celebration came from the congregation. The Committee, though somewhat peeved, were happy to be relieved of the responsibility:

Letter was submitted from Mr E. H. Hume, Secretary for the Committee for proposed Social & Testimonial to the Revd R. McKinnon, asking the sanction & co-operation of this Committee in the matter, and it was resolved to hear the views of the Committee for the Social, for which purpose Messrs J. Ford & G. Smith were admitted. After having stated their views these gentlemen were asked to retire and the following resolution was agreed to on the motion of Mr E. J. Smith seconded by Mr J. T. Anderson:—
This Committee, whilst expressing its regret that the question of a return social to the Minister & Members of Session along with a presentation to the Minister was not brought under their notice in a formal manner at an earlier stage so as to have given them the opportunity of initiating the movement, nevertheless now grants its concurrence & will give the movement its cordial support but will leave the whole arrangements in the hands of the Committee appointed for that purpose at the Meeting of Members of the Congregation. (Committee of Management Minutes, 4-9-1899)

Special services on September 17 drew large congregations morning and evening; the following night saw a gathering in the hall:

PRESENTATION TO THE REV. R. M‘KINNON.
A complimentary social evening was last night tendered to the Rev. R. M‘Kinnon, of St Peter’s Presbyterian Church, North Sydney, by the members of the congregation, to mark the twenty-first anniversary of his pastorate. The function was held in the school-hall, Blue’s Point-road, and was largely attended. Numerous musical items, vocal and instrumental, were rendered by the choir and members of the congregation, under the direction of Mr. P. P. Plummer, the church organist, consisting of glees, solos, and duets, vocal and instrumental. During the interval Mr. S. Sinclair, one of the eldest members of the church, congratulated Mr. M‘Kinnon on having celebrated the 21st anniversary of his pastorate. During the 20 years he had known him he had met with nothing but kindness and friendliness. He was a tried and trusted friend in all trials, and beloved of his congregation. He hoped he would be spared many years to occupy his present post of usefulness, and continue working in the cause of Christ and the salvation of man.
Dr. Cosh said he had long been associated with Mr. M‘Kinnon, and had the honour of presiding at his induction to the charge 21 years ago. He congratulated the congregation on having retained the services of their pastor for so long a time.
Mr Robert Anderson said than in Mr. M‘Kinnon they would find no truer friend and comforter, and in Mrs. M‘Kinnon they had a worthy helper in the welfare of the members of the congregation.
Mr Dugald Thomson, M.L.A. , said it was 22 or 23 years since he was first in St. Peter’s. It was then much smaller than now, but even then too large for the congregation. However with the advent of Mr. M‘Kinnon, the congregation and, of necessity, the church grew to their present dimensions. He paid a meed of praise to the late Mr James Anderson, as it was to his energy and judgment much of the success was due.
Mr. D. Carment also spoke, after which Mr. Donald Smith read an address which testified to the respect and esteem in which their pastor was held.
Mr. S. Sinclair then presented the address to Mr. M‘Kinnon, and, as a tangible proof of affection, a handsome morocco reading chair, to which were affixed a moveable book-rest and a revolving bookcase. To Mrs. M‘Kinnon was presented a silver tea and coffee service.
The Rev. R. M‘Kinnon, who was visibly affected, suitably thanked his parishioners for the expressions contained in the address and their handsome gifts. He was at a loss to know how he had merited their goodwill to the extent stated, but none the less he appreciated their motive in thus honouring him. It was not the first occasion upon which he had received a testimony of their affection and regard. He believed in growing up with his people mentally, morally, and spiritually, thus cementing friendships that would last through life. To him they had been always kind, and contributed to his spiritual joy. He again thanked them.
Refreshments were served, and more music brought a most enjoyable evening to a close. (SMH, 19-9-1899)

Early in 1900 came another financial demand – the Manse was to be connected to the sewer. With other repairs that were needed, the total would come to about £100. We have David Carment’s notes of the Committee meeting, jotted down on the back of a letter:

There is no record that any subscriptions were forthcoming. Most of the money – £88:5:8 – was raised by a bazaar held over three days in October:

The opening ceremony took place on Thursday, when Mrs. J. R. M. Robinson declared the bazaar open, and in a few words, expressed her good wishes for its success.
The Rev. M‘Kinnon congratulated the ladies of the committee on the excellence of the display, and said that no doubt during the three days the sale would remain open it would be widely patronised. The object was a good one, as their church stood in great need of repair. As the object had a sacred association, he was sure a liberal response would be made by the visitors. The hall was elaborately dressed with the bright flags of all nations, and the appearance of the stalls bore pleasing evidence of the care and taste of a strong contingent of ladies, who artfully pushed a thriving trade. The following are the stalls and stall-holders:—Work stall, Mrs. Davidson and Mrs. Ford; fancy stall, Mrs. M‘Kinnon and Mrs. R. Anderson; toy stall, Mrs. Donald Smith and Mrs. R. M‘Kay; fancy stall (No. 2), Mrs. Trimble and Mrs. J. T. Anderson; sweetmeats, the Misses Swain and Moss; provision stall, Mrs. E. J. Smith and Miss Capp; tea-room, Mrs. Sparke and Mrs. Dangar; flower stall, the Misses Rattery; post-office, Mr. N. Mackenzie; entertainments, Messrs. Donald Smith and R. Anderson. To add variety to the proceedings, cookery and miscellaneous competitions were held. Mrs J. Anderson securing the verdict of the judges for the best six scones, and Miss Wildridge for the best sponge sandwich and sponge cake. Mrs. R. M‘Kinnon was likewise rewarded for the best collection of six hen eggs.
Songs were rendered by Mrs. Trimble and Mrs. Donald Smith, and an overture by Mr. Bellett. Some clever conjuring tricks by Claude Aberton, and the phonograph by Mr. Ernest Moxham made up a pleasing evening. (North Shore and Manly Times, 27-10-1900)

At the same time, an appeal sent out for subscriptions to pay the organist attracted only six responses and a total of £2:1/-. Similarly, in mid-year, the Treasurer reported of a proposed memorial to James Anderson:

that £46:19/- had been raised by subscriptions of which, as £1:1/- was fixed as a maximum subscription by any one individual, £9:6/- had been returned to the contributors leaving a sum of £37:13/- which was expended thus:–
Tablet £36:10/-, Printing 10/6, Postage 12/6.
Also that more money could easily have been raised had it been required. (Committee of Management Minutes, 2-7-1900)

Clearly there was money around, but any invitation to make a direct contribution to the running expenses of the church raised little enthusiasm.

At the beginning of 1901, a deputation again waited on Rev McKinnon; the result was reported to the April meeting of the Committee:

The Treasurer then stated that Mr McKinnon had expressed to him his willingness to accept payments at the rate of £360 p.a. for the present year as from 1st Jan last, provided that in the event of funds being available the whole or any part of the difference between £360 and £400 be made up to him at the end of the year; and it was moved by Mr Carment and seconded by Mr Morland and carried unanimously that the Secretary be instructed to write to Mr McKinnon thanking him for the offer thus made and expressing the Committee’s willingness to accept the arrangement on the assumption that the revenue will be maintained as at present, and that in the event of not more than £360 being raised that amount should appear as the Stipend in the accounts for the current year, also that Mr McKinnon should be asked to state his concurrence in this arrangement. (Committee of Management Minutes, 3-4-1901)

In the same year, however, at Rev McKinnon’s suggestion, more than the £40 reduction in his stipend was easily raised for a testimonial to Robert Anderson, in recognition of his long service to the Church:

The Hon. Secretary reported regarding the testimonial to Mr Robert Anderson that the sum of £48:6/- had been subscribed of which 8/6d was spent for printing etc, £3:3/- for an illuminated address, 4/6 for a purse, and the remainder amounting to £44:10/- handed to him in gold at a social meeting held on the 17th Sept, at which the Revd R. McKinnon’s 23rd anniversary was also celebrated. (Committee of Management Minutes, 3-10-1901)

As early as the beginning of 1900, the Minister’s health had prompted a question to the Committee of whether it would make sense to appoint an assistant. The Committee had replied it was a matter for the Session, and there it had rested. By 1902 the Session had concluded that something ought to be done if only the Committee could find the money. At the same time, the bank was pressing the Church to find some guarantor for its growing overdraft. In October:

Mr McKinnon intimated that he had consulted two medical men, who said it was necessary he should have some rest & change. Mr McKinnon mentioned two Sundays but the other members of Session expressed the opinion that four Sundays might do more good than the shorter period. (Kirk Session Minutes, 26-10-1902)

While at the Committee:

Regarding the matter of the Bank overdraft, the Secretary reported that he had, as instructed at last meeting, written to the Bank to the effect that as efforts would shortly be made to reduce it the Committee hoped that the Bank would not insist on the execution of the Bond which they asked for. (Committee of Management Minutes, 2-10-1902)

Supply was arranged for the meanwhile, though not always to the liking of the Session:

The Clerk of the Session was instructed to inform the Revd Mr Carter who had been assisting in the pulpit for several Sundays that his services would not be required as the Session desired other preachers. (Kirk Session Minutes, 4-12-1902)

In February of 1903:

It was moved by Mr D. Smith & seconded by Mr S. Sinclair:– “That a special Congregational Meeting be called for the purpose of deliberating on the question of providing adequate assistance to Mr McKinnon.”
Mr Sinclair moved:– “That a petition be presented to the Presbytery for liberty to call, when necessary a colleague & successor to the Rev R. McKinnon [.”] (Kirk Session Minutes, 26-2-1903)

The Congregational Meeting was duly called; the Committee reported it would do its best to find the money. In October Rev McKinnon was ‘still too ill to resume duty’. In November the Australian Town and Country Journal reported:

The Rev. Roger M‘Kinnon, the minister of St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church, St. Leonards, North Sydney, died at the manse on November 11, after a long and painful illness, aged 68 years. He has been the minister of St. Peters for over a quarter of a century, and on this he entred when in the prime of his life and ministry. (18-11-1903)

At the grave the Revd Dr Cameron delivered an address in which from personal knowledge he spoke very highly of the energy & success of the deceased in his early work in this colony, of his kind heartedness & untiring zeal & faithfulness as a Minister of the Gospel and an office bearer in the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales. (Kirk Session Minutes, undated)

In the same month, the bank called a halt to the Church’s accumulating debt:

The Treasurer read a letter dated the 7th Inst from the Manager of the Commercial Bank of Australia Ltd in which he intimated that the church’s overdraft must be either satisfactorily secured or that the account must be for the future a credit one. The Treasurer reported that he had interviewed the Manager of the Bank and the latter had agreed to honour the church cheques provided the overdraft did not exceed £93.
It was resolved that the attention of the congregation be drawn to the state of the finances by an intimation from the pulpit on Sunday next the 29th Inst. (Committee of Management Minutes, 25-11-1903)

It was time for a new regime.