The population growth of Western Australia was initially very slow, and only grew significantly in the 1890s with the discovery of gold. In 1880 the population was about 29,500. Twenty years later it was nearly 180,000. The population of Perth more than tripled from 1890 to 1900—8447 to 27, 553. Given the late development of Western Australia compared with the rest of the country, it is not surprising that the growth in the number of believers in the Gospel of the Kingdom was also later.

Early brethren

The Christadelphian, in August 1887, mentions that Brother Richard Thomas left Western Australia for Adelaide in 1887. He had been baptised earlier, in 1883, in Llanelli, Wales. He had travelled to Fremantle in 1886, arriving early in 1887. Being in isolation, he evidently left soon after.

From 1890 a number of individual brethren moved to Perth, Western Australia from other states:

1890 – Frantz Frederick Hulsten (from Melbourne)

1892 – Henry Markley (from Melbourne), G. Kenney (from Ballarat)

1893 – Samuel Jewett (from Sydney)

As in other states, such moves were generally for employment, which was quite insecure. Brethren coming to Perth or the goldfields did not always stay in the state. In 1892, brethren were warned not to come to Western Australia to farm:

“We advised him not, as this colony is no good for agriculturists. New South Wales and South Australia are the only colonies worth coming to for work in the farming line. This we say, for a warning to intending emigrants. – F. F. Hulsten and H. Markley.”

The Christadelphian, September 1892, page 358

At this time these two brethren were the only ones in Perth. On 2 May 1894, in Perth, Brother Henry Gordon wrote:

“The want of water is preventing men from going out prospecting, and there are thousands of men camped about Fremantle, Perth, Northam, Southern Cross, and Coolgardie; those getting work who can in the meanwhile keep down the expenses, which are heavy anywhere in this colony. Many are going back to the Eastern Colonies again, and the boat I came by took back a heavy passenger list… One thing I would advise, however, and that is, don’t come without sufficient money to take you back in case you get stranded in this barren place… Meanwhile unless any one is prepared to prospect or go in for some other enterprise on the field, then my opinion is it is a risky undertaking if not a mistake to come.”

Bible Shield and Reflector, June 1894, page 308

Interestingly, Brother Henry Gordon (junior) was the son of a black brother from Dominica in the Caribbean. Brother Gordon senior was baptised by Brother C. C. Walker in Melbourne in 1881. Henry junior moved from Bendigo to Western Australia in about 1893 and remained there about four years, moving first to Adelaide and then to Melbourne.

By the end of 1894, there were eight brethren and sisters in Western Australia, half of them in the goldfields:

“White Feather (West Australia). – The brethren in other parts may be interested to know there is a little “salt” in this part of the earth. Brother and sister Bates at Freemantle, sister Jewett at Perth, brother Jewett at Southern Cross, brother Kenney at Coolgardie, brother Hulsten (who left the fields a week ago, and will probably return to Perth), and brother McConnell and the writer at White Feather (White Feather is Kanowna near Kalgoorlie). These, to the best of my knowledge, are all of like precious faith in W. Australia. – H. Gordon.”

The Christadelphian, March 1895, page 119

The gold mines

The gold rush to Coolgardie occurred in 1892, and to Kalgoorlie the following year. From 1894-6 several brethren moved to the goldfields near Kalgoorlie, about 600km east of Perth.

White Feather mine – J.P. McConnell, Henry Gordon (from Melbourne)

Coolgardie – G. Kenney

Bardoe mines – Samuel Cochran (baptised here in 1895), Henry Gordon, J.P. McConnell

Kalgoorlie – G.C. Barlow, John Carr, Frederick Munnerley, John Dillon (all from Melbourne)

The first baptisms

The first baptism in Western Australia was of Samuel Cochran in 1895 in the goldfields:

“BARDOE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA. – After a satisfactory confession of the faith, SAMUEL COCHRAN, of White Feather, formerly Salvation Army, was immersed on September 8th, in true primitive style in a small lake, by brother Gordon. We pray that our new brother may hold fast to the end. He is at present in isolation. Brother Gordon is at present here at Bardoe on a prospecting visit. – J. P. MCCONNELL.”

The Christadelphian, January 1896, page 38

Perhaps the Perth brethren were unaware of this, for in 1897 it was thought that the baptisms of the Flint siblings were the first:

“Perth (Western Australia). – The ecclesia at this place has been enlarged by the addition of four members, due to the arrival of myself and sister Webb from Melbourne, and the immersion on December 26th, 1897, of Mr. J.H.J. Flint (24), and Miss Annie A. Flint (19), the son and daughter of brother and sister Flint, formerly of Bendigo, Victoria. This brings our number up to about twenty members. The immersion is the first and only one that has taken place in this vast country, several times larger than England. The ecclesia is the only one existing in Western Australia, and labours under various disadvantages, the chief being the inability of the brethren to conduct public efforts for the enlightenment of perishing mortals. This and other defects we hope to overcome in due course. In the meantime, we meet for the breaking of bread every Sunday afternoon at 3:15, in the Victoria Hall, Rokeby Road, Subiaco, which is a suburb of Perth, about three miles distant. The brethren here have had occasionally an isolated lecture, by one or two brethren who have passed through on their way to the goldfields, some 300 miles from here. Apart from this, nothing in the shape of any sustained spiritual effort has been done – although indications of approaching improvement are now becoming apparent. – A. J. Webb.”

The Christadelphian, May 1898, page 223

Brother and Sister Webb left Melbourne for Western Australia soon after at the end of 1897 but only stayed for a year, returning to Melbourne. They moved to Cairns in 1902.

The first ecclesia

With this movement of brethren around Australia it is not surprising that it took some time for an ecclesia to be established.  In Perth this was achieved in 1896:

“Perth, Western Australia. – It is with great pleasure I write to inform you of the Christadelphians who gathered together here from the different ecclesias believe in the one Faith, and take the Birmingham constitution as their basis of fellowship. These are the names of all who meet together here: – Brother F.F. Hulsten, from Melbourne; brother F. Bates and sister Bates, of Nottingham, England; brethren C. Tucker, Melbourne; J. Watling, Albert Hall, Sydney; S. Jewitt, formerly a member of the Temperance Hall, Sydney; sister Hannah Gee; sisters M. Scott and B. Scott, and brother Tyson, all of Melbourne; brother J.W. Burke, Albert Hall, Sydney. When we numbered ten, we thought it wise to form ourselves into an ecclesia, and on January 26th we met and did so, and ever since have been working together in the unity of spirit and in the bond of peace, and as far as I can tell we are doing our utmost endeavours to serve the living and true God. – J. W. Burke, Sec., Moore Street, off Hutt Street, Perth, W.A.”

The Christadelphian, August 1896, page 317

By the end of the year there were 14 members. From at least 12 December 1896 newspaper advertisements were published.

In 1896 the ecclesia relocated from the Oddfellows’ Hall, Hutt Street, Perth, to Victoria Hall, Rokeby Road, Subiaco. By the end of 1897, the ecclesia numbered 20. Later, in 1898, the ecclesia moved to the City Hall, William Street, Perth.

Sisters Roberts’ visit

Although Brother Robert Roberts never visited Perth, his wife Sister Jane Roberts and daughter Sister Sarah Jane did briefly stop at Fremantle on their return to England, following the death of Brother Roberts in 1898. Brother Birk and sisters Bates and Matthews did go out to the ship to meet them, and on landing Jane and Sarah Jane met Sisters Mignot, Scott and Hansen. Sarah Jane said in her diary:

“In the West there seems to be a very fluctuating population, such a going to and fro that one is never sure how long any particular state of things will last.”

Diary of a Return Journey, page 7

Fremantle ecclesia

Today most capital cities have a number of suburban ecclesias, largely due to the increased number of brothers and sisters and the desirability of having lightstands throughout the urban areas. However, in the early days when there were still relatively few members, the slowness of travel over what were then considered long distances made it desirable to have more than one ecclesia. In 1906, such was the case in the West:

“East Fremantle (W.A.)

It gives me very much pleasure in writing, or rather reporting, certain matters in connection with the W. A. Ecclesia. On July 8th, we divided by mutual consent, one portion going to Perth the other remaining in Fremantle. This was brought about owing to a number of brethren and sisters living some twenty miles from our meeting place. Since the above date we have been meeting together in the Fremantle Town Hall. Our number was very small – only seven, three brethren (Brethren Gee, Buttsworth, and Burke), Sisters Gee, Buttsworth, Burke, and Davidson. We have formed ourselves into an ecclesia, which we intend publishing as the Fremantle Ecclesia. – J.W. Burke.”

The Shield, November 1906, page 220

However, the viability of the two ecclesias was in doubt.

“Fremantle (W.A.). Speaking of the truth here I cannot report any additions, except in the case of an isolated visitor or traveller; then in most cases we soon lose them again. The ecclesias – one in Fremantle and one in Perth – are very small and no lectures are delivered. Nevertheless, there is harmony; still, I feel afraid sometimes that we are all too lukewarm and that our work is only wood and stubble. I trust and hope my feelings are all too pessimistic, but that we may all be approved by our Lord, to be endowed with that nature for which we so ardently desire – immortality. With love in the truth to all. – J. Cooke.”

The Shield, September 1908, page 180

In 1911 the two ecclesias joined together again.

Eastern Goldfields ecclesia

Although there had been a few brethren living in the eastern goldfields in and around Kalgoorlie since the 1890s, it was not until 1932 that an ecclesia was established:

“BOULDER (W.A.) – Although separated from our parent ecclesia, it is very comforting indeed to be able to establish a small meeting in the Eastern Goldfields District of Western Australia. Our first assembly was on the 5th June, and we now look forward to our regular weekly meeting for the breaking of bread and exhortation. At present our members are Sister Potts, Brother and Sister W. Meiklejohn (Kalgoorlie) and Brother and Sister M. Harwood (Boulder). We have also commenced a Sunday-school Class for our scholars, Rona Harwood and Walter Meiklejohn, under the tuition of Brother Harwood. – M. HARWOOD.”

The Shield, August 1932, page 177