In addition to the Christadelphian magazines published in the 19th and 20th centuries in Australia and Britain, the histories of the Adelaide and Goolwa/Victor Harbor ecclesias have been published. The Ecclesial Family Tree in SA by Brother Reuben Thomas is also a valuable resource. The challenge of this article is therefore to distil this wealth of information, rather than search for any additional sources.

Sister Henrietta Jerdan (nee Kennett), who died in 1951, gave her memory of the first contact with the Gospel of the Kingdom in South Australia:

“In the early part of 1878, Brother Murray from New Zealand, who was a retired school teacher, was advised to take a sea voyage for health reasons. His ship came to Australia and called at Port Elliot, where he disembarked and obtained residence at a boarding house conducted by a Mr Hussey. After settling in, he engaged the proprietor in discussion on some aspects of the Bible. Although supposedly a good Methodist, Mr Hussey soon found the subject raised too deep for him, so he suggested to Brother Murray that he would be pleased to introduce him to his friend a Mr [William Richard] Kennett of Goolwa, about eight miles from Port Elliot, who was always studying the Bible and would probably be interested to discuss it with him. Brother Murray agreed to that and was brought to our home on a Sunday afternoon and introduced to my father and mother. My father was the Mr Kennett referred to. He was made most welcome at our home, and, when he found father so interested in what he had to say, he enquired if he could obtain accommodation at Goolwa, which father soon located for him. From then on, he came to our home morning, noon, and night presenting the glorious truths of God’s Holy Word. Father also introduced him to other members of the Methodist church to which he belonged. It was their custom among some of them to demonstrate their piety by supplementing the common greetings of ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good day’ with ‘… and how is your immortal soul?’ When Brother Murray was greeted in like manner, he quietly replied, ‘I haven’t got one’. That had the effect of inciting discussion, since the doctrine of the immortal soul is a strong point of the Methodist dogma. So Brother Murray offered to donate £20 to any local charity they cared to nominate if they could provide scriptural proof of that doctrine. Though they failed in their search, it was a turning point in the lives of some of them whose search in due time led them to an understanding of the Truth.

“After a fortnight’s stay at Goolwa, Brother Murray was due to return to New Zealand. He left a number of booklets, as well as the Twelve Lectures [later Christendom Astray] by Brother Roberts, with my father, and supplied him the names of others, recommending that my father send to Birmingham for them, which he promptly did. Then Brother Murray bade us farewell and when he passed through Sydney he procured Phanerosis, by Brother Thomas, and forwarded it to my father, in which the following appears in my father’s handwriting, ‘This is a splendid book by Dr Thomas, a present sent to me by Brother Murray from Sydney in 1878’.

“My father studied the Bible earnestly with the help of these books, and continually prayed for understanding. It was not long before he submitted to the first act of obedience, being immersed into the sin-covering name of Christ [1880], soon to be followed by my mother [Maria Ann] and then by a close family friend, Gilbert Jerden, and also by myself. Thus, we four met as Christadelphians in our home each Sunday to partake of the Lord’s supper. We continued to do so for about two years [1880-2], proclaiming the good news at every opportunity.

“In due time [17 November 1882] three more answered the call and were immersed in the Glen Ford Baptistry about eight miles from Goolwa, Brother Jerden providing the transport for them. They were Brother Ed Smith, Sister Martha Smith and Brother James Mansfield. That evening the seven of us met at our home in memory of the Lord’s sacrifice.” (A brief account of the formation of the first Christadelphian Ecclesia at Goolwa in South Australia and on the Victor Harbor ecclesia, 1983, pages 2-4)

At the same time, Henry Parkinson was baptised in Birmingham, UK:

“BIRMINGHAM – During the month the following cases of obedience have occurred: – HENRY PARKINSON (64), storekeeper, formerly Wesleyan (a visitor from Goolwa, Australia). (This also was a case of special interest. Mr Parkinson for a number of years occupied a Methodist pulpit at Goolwa, some 50 miles or so from Adelaide, South Australia. Becoming acquainted with the truth from the reading of books, he began to preach it, but was met with an amount of opposition that led him quietly to resign. Having to come to England on business, he visited Birmingham, to obey the truth).” (The Christadelphian, July 1882, page 331)

The Goolwa ecclesia grew to over 30 members.

The Adelaide Ecclesia

Whilst there had been a few individual brethren living in Adelaide since at least 1883, it was not until 1886 that an ecclesia was established there:

“The people of Goolwa became very antagonistic towards those who had left their church and made it difficult for some to gain their livelihood. Towards the end of 1885 Brother and Sister Mansfield and family moved to Adelaide to make a fresh start, where together with two or three other brethren they continued their labours in the Master’s service until there was a sufficient number to form an ecclesia in Adelaide, of which they were among the foundation members.” (A brief account of the formation of the first Christadelphian Ecclesia at Goolwa in South Australia and on the Victor Harbor ecclesia, 1983, page 5)

The ecclesia was formed and first met on 5 December 1886:

“Adelaide – Brother Funnell writes to report the formation of an ecclesia at Adelaide. Several persons resident in the city and suburbs of Adelaide having become dissatisfied with the sects with which they had been identified, and believing that the teachings of the people known among men as Christadelphians or brethren of Christ to be in accordance with the Scriptures of truth, communicated with Brother James Mansfield, who with his wife were in fellowship with the ecclesia meeting at Goolwa, and with Brother Joseph Brown, who, with his wife, were in fellowship with the ecclesia meeting in the Protestant Hall, Melbourne, Victoria, but now resident in South Australia. The communication was with a view to the formation of a Christadelphian ecclesia to meet in the city or suburbs of Adelaide as may from time to time be determined for the worship of Almighty God, the observance of His Son Jesus Christ our Saviour, and for the mutual help, comfort, and edification in the Scriptures of themselves and all who may in the future join their fellowship.

“A preliminary meeting was held on Wednesday, Dec 1st, in response to an invitation by Brother Brown. The following friends met him and Sister Brown at their residence, Park Street, Hyde Park, viz. Brothers Mansfield, Funnell (late Wesleyan), Hopkins (late Primitive Methodist), who with Sister Hopkins were baptised by Mr Colbourne, of Park Street Chapel [Church of Christ – now the Hyde Park ecclesial hall] (he not endorsing their views of the kingdom and name of Jesus Christ); Brother W Parsons, of Bentham Street Chapel (Baptist), who stated that when baptised he was a believer in the kingdom and the name; and Mr J Ellis (Baptist), who desired reimmersion. After some time spent in conversation upon the truth, it was decided that Brothers Brown and Mansfield, who expressed their confidence in Mr J Ellis as a believer in the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, should meet him on Friday evening at the house of Brother Mansfield for baptism. This was accordingly done after the reading of the 6th of Romans.

“On the following Sunday evening, December 5th, the first meeting for the breaking of bread in remembrance of the Lord’s death and for the edification of the brethren, was held at the house of Brother and Sister Hopkins, there being present Sister Brown, Brothers Mansfield (presiding), Funnell, Parsons, and Ellis. At the close of the meeting it was decided to meet on Wednesday at the house of Brother Hopkins. (The Christadelphian, March 1887, page 141)

The following year the ecclesia numbered 25, and when Brother Robert Roberts visited in 1895 there were about 40. The small ecclesia met in the homes of the brethren until numbers dictated a move to a hired hall. These were, in succession:

  1. 55 Wakefield Street – the Christadelphian Synagogue (1887-1895)
  2. 14 Franklin Street – IOOF Hall (1895-1905)
  3. 47 Wakefield Street – Willard Hall (former Presbyterian church) (1905-1927)

In 1927 the ecclesia moved into its own hall – the Christadelphian Temple at 105 Halifax Street – where it still meets.

Growth

The early development of South Australia goes a long way to explaining the growth of ecclesias in South Australia. Culturally it was fertile ground for the teaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Many Christadelphians today can trace their roots to the Methodist church or the Churches of Christ.

Methodist: “By 1857 there were 192 Sunday schools in SA and about 300 churches and chapels. They offered accommodation for 50,000 persons, that is, just a little less than half the population of the province at one sitting.

“Adelaide was to be the new Jerusalem for Dissent, a ‘Paradise for Nonconformists’. “We appeal”, wrote George Fyfe Angus, “to the Dissenters more particularly” … Nonconformists, as men of independent minds, have often been successful in commerce – inventive and active. They have been busy round the roots of most British reforms.

“South Australia was the first part of the British Empire to sever the cosy link between government and Anglicanism … In the 1966 census 227,483 persons described themselves as Methodist … Adelaide was probably the most Methodist city in the world.” (Derek Whitelock, Adelaide, From Colony to Jubilee, a Sense of Difference, pages 189-191,194)

The term Methodist refers to the teachings of John Wesley (1703-1791) with particular reference to the methodical pursuit of biblical holiness. This included strong opposition to drinking alcohol and gambling.

Churches of Christ: “In the beginning, Churches of Christ in Australia (known as ‘Disciples’ until the 1860s) relied heavily on lay ministers who tended to preach in a dry and reasoning manner, maintained congregational autonomy under the governance of elders, strictly observed what they believed were New Testament patterns (especially weekly Lord’s Supper and baptism by immersion), and took a ‘common sense’ approach to reading the Bible.” (Kerrie Handasyde, ‘Transforming History: The Origins of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Victoria, Australia’, Stone-Campbell Journal, Vol 17, No 1 (2014) – from Wikipedia).

Some members of the Churches of Christ believed in the return of Christ and the non-immortality of the soul, which, together with their (and the Methodists’) conservative lifestyle, made conversion to the Truth comparatively easy.

Country ecclesias

In addition to Goolwa, several country ecclesias were soon formed. Many of these no longer exist due to the movement of members to Adelaide, improved transport infrastructure and speed of travel, and absorption of villages into the Adelaide metropolitan region. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, brothers and sisters existed in the following towns, sometimes formally establishing an ecclesia:

  • Summertown – 1892 (Cobbledick)
  • Aldgate – 1893 (Probert, Lund – became Mylor)
  • Kadina – 1895 (Kennett)
  • Inman Valley – 1895 (Adey)
  • Mylor – 1896
  • Pooraka – 1897 (Wilson)
  • Mt Barker – 1899 (Weller)
  • McLaren Vale – 1901 (Giddons)
  • Lipson (Eyre Peninsula) – 1904 (Wigzell).

Brothers and sisters in the 1920s and 30s lived in the following towns, some forming ecclesias – Wattle Flat, Port Adelaide, Mallee (Pinnaroo and towns in Victoria), Glenlock (Waikerie), Moonta, Penola and Naracoorte.

Suburban ecclesias

Suburban ecclesias were formed in the post-World War 2 period as the city population grew and ecclesial numbers increased:

  • Woodville – 1949
  • Cumberland – 1952
  • Enfield – 1957
  • Elizabeth – 1967
  • Blackwood – 1969 (now Aberfoyle Park)

and many more since, so that there are now 30 ecclesias in South Australia, with 2901 members according to the 2016 census.