Baptists in Australia






An outline history of the Baptist Union of Australia


© Baptist Union of Australia 1987

Reproduced from Baptised into One Body: a short history of the Baptist Union of Australia by Basil Brown


“Let us now Praise Famous Men”


by Basil Brown


The Baptist Union of Australia is far more than an organisation; it is people — men and women who in their devotion to their Lord and Saviour have toiled to fulfil its objectives, labouring to bring it into being, shaping its ministries, inspiring others to service and providing leadership in the work.

Brief sketches of a few representative people follow. Many others could be mentioned, for the Union has attracted the energies of many remarkable people over the years. Should the reader be disappointed that someone of his choice is not on the list, one would hope that the omission will provoke him to provide a more adequate Australian Baptist hagiography.


The Founding President - Joseph Hunter Goble

The First Union Secretary - George Percival Rees

Ambassador at Canberra - Arthur John Waldock

The Earliest Lay President - Quinton Stow Smith

Founder of the Women’s Board - Cecilia Downing

Home Mission Enthusiast - Henry James (“Harry”) Morton.

Presidential Evangelist - Wilfred Lemuel Jarvis

Missionary Statesman - Frank Arnold Marsh


The Founding President - Joseph Hunter Goble


Joseph Hunter Goble was born in 1863 at Port Fairy, Victoria. His mother brought him to Port Melbourne when small. They knew extreme poverty. She was Irish, and Goble inherited her keen wit and interest in contemporary issues. At the age of eleven he began work in a soap factory, later becoming a printer. As a youth he helped in a mission to seamen at Fishermen’s Bend, ultimately becoming the mission’s teacher and pastor. About 1884, while working at his trade as a compositor, Goble became student-pastor at the infant Footscray Baptist Church. Because a formal theological education was not open to him, he received tuition while he continued working. After two years, he resigned from pastoral duties on the advice of a friend, a decision he came to regret. However, the Church called him to full pastoral charge in 1895. He responded positively, recognising this as the call of God. In this year, his wife died, leaving him with the care of a son and daughter. The son, Stanley, was to follow him into the Baptist ministry. Goble never remarried.

His warm-hearted and encouraging ministry built up a strong church and a Sunday school which became the largest in the State. More than once, his church was enlarged to accommodate the increasing congregations. In earlier years he returned to his trade, donating his entire wages to help finance extensions. For three years the congregation met in the Federal Hall seating 1,200 people, but into which occasionally 1,800 squeezed.

Goble was a strong denominationalist. He served on major committees of the State Baptist Union, and became its President in 1908-9. From that time on, he became the unchallenged leader of Victorian Baptists, his advice being eagerly sought by those engaged in the Union’s business.

His name appears frequently in federal Baptist affairs from the 1911 Congress onwards. When the Interstate Board, which prepared for the formation of the Baptist Union of Australia, was set up, he became its chairman. He also was chairman of the Foreign Mission Board. It was fitting that Goble should be unanimously elected the first President of the Baptist Union of Australia. Its business was his vital concern for the remainder of his life.

A friend declared that Goble had “a passion for preaching and a heart big enough to hold the worries and troubles of his many friends and acquaintances both inside and outside his church, and warm enough to help and hearten all who sought his sympathy and help”. Though personally acquainted with leaders of his community and the State, he never lost the common touch. Although a diabetic, he gave himself and all he possessed to the people of Footscray, burning himself out in the cause of Christ.

When he died in January 1932, Baptists throughout the Commonwealth mourned the loss of a great leader. On the day of his funeral, thousands of citizens lined the streets of Footscray as the cortege passed en route to the burial ground, paying tribute to his memory. The local newspaper brought out a special edition in his honour, and citizens erected a life-sized marble statue of him set high on a pedestal in Geelong Road, not far from the substantial church he had erected in 1904 — a unique tribute to a remarkable Baptist minister.




The First Union Secretary George Percival Rees


Born in 1873, George Percival Rees was challenged to Christian commitment at the George Street Fitzroy Church, Melbourne, a step which later led him to enter the Baptist College of Victoria in 1894 to prepare for the Baptist ministry. After ordination, he ministered for three years at Orroroo, South Australia. In 1901 he returned to Victoria, to serve the churches at Bacchus Marsh, Port Melbourne, Essendon and Box Hill. The Victorian Union, recognising his gifts of leadership, called him to the presidential chair in 1921, while he was at Essendon. He resigned from Box Hill in 1928 to become General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Victoria, an office that combined secretary­ship of the Union with that of State Home and Foreign Mission committees.

Earlier, while he was Victorian President, the Third Australasian Baptist Congress was held in Melbourne in 1922. As leader of the host Union, he chaired the proceedings. From that time on, Rees became active in federal Baptist affairs. He became a member of the Interstate Board, eventually becoming Secretary, working closely with J.H. Goble. He acted as secretary of the final Congress in 1925 which prepared the way for the formation of the Baptist Union of Australia. When that Union was constituted in 1926, he was appointed its first secretary. He continued in office until 1929 when the Union’s Executive Committee was transferred, first to Adelaide and then to Sydney. On its return to Melbourne in 1935, Rees resumed secretarial duties, serving in that capacity until he was appointed President-General for the years 1947-50.

Rees was a deeply humble man, but he served with great ability. He combined strength of purpose with a generosity of spirit which brought encouragement to those to whom he ministered. His wise administration laid an excellent foundation for the Union’s development in the years that followed. He passed away at the age of 86 in May 1959.




Ambassador at Canberra Arthur John Waldock


Appointment as Assistant Pastor of the Bathurst Church, New South Wales in 1892 marked Arthur John Waldock’s entrance into the Baptist ministry. Tutors from the State Union’s Education Committee assisted him in gaining a theological education, for as yet the State had no Baptist college. Later he transferred to Hinton, and in 1897 was ordained. Two years afterwards he was called to the Auburn Church, Sydney. While at this church, he became honorary secretary of the State’s Home Mission Society and immediately began to see the growth of the work. He was elected President of the New South Wales Union in 1906, an office to which he was re-elected twelve years later. Recognising the effectiveness of his leadership, the churches appointed him the first full-time Superintendent of Home Missions in his home State in 1908. He travelled incessantly, visiting the churches and investigating possible openings for Baptist witness, bringing encouragement wherever he went. His keen wit and diplomacy when handling difficulties became legendary. He trusted the pastors under his care and, while well able to deal with recalcitrants, he was completely loyal to them. When he resigned in 1924 to become pastor of the Mosman Church, the Union’s membership had doubled during his time in office.

In the meantime, after attending the Second Australasian Baptist Congress in 1911, Waldock became increasingly involved in federal work. He gave leadership to preparatory operations in the sphere of home missions. In 1924 he visited Canberra and selected the site of the mother church in that city. His appointment as first Chairman of the Home Mission Board when it was constituted in 1926 was a natural consequence of this. With the goodwill of the Mosman people, he continued to busy himself in the development of Baptist work in the Australian Capital Territory, attending an early service, preparing for the erection of a suitable church property, and travelling throughout the Commonwealth to raise funds to begin the project. While he did not find it easy to leave his supportive congregation at Mosman, he was inducted as the first pastor of the Canberra Church on the day following the opening of the church building in February 1929. His ministry extended to May 1948.

Waldock proved to be an effective ambassador of Australian Baptists at Australia’s political heart. Governors-General, Prime Ministers, government officials and church leaders knew him personally. He was recognised as a Christian statesman, one of the leading citizens of Canberra in whose concerns he took a keen interest as he ministered impartially to both high and low. His Baptist witness was always strong and clear.

Elected President-General of the Union in 1941, Waldock brought to the office his gifts as a preacher and administrator. When he resigned from the pastorate in 1948, the Canberra Church was free of debt. After a brief interim ministry at Petersham, Sydney, he returned to Canberra to live in retirement. He was called Home in May, 1961.




The earliest Lay President Quinton Stow Smith


To the time of his death, Quinton Stow Smith’s life and that of his father, James, virtually spanned the history of South Australia. His father arrived in the colony in 1839. His pioneering colleagues had a deep influence upon Stow Smith as he was growing up.

Born at Karrayerta, Greenhill in 1864, he was named after Rev. T. Quinton Stow, an early Congregational minister of whose church James Smith had been an officer until, with the arrival of Rev. Silas Mead, the Flinders Street Baptist Church was established, which James then joined. At the age of fifteen, Stow Smith began business as a land and estate agent, later becoming director of a timber business.

Through the witness of his elder brother, Pirie, he became a Christian and was baptised by Rev. A.W. Webb at the North Adelaide Church in 1883. From this point onwards, Stow Smith began a Christian witness in sport, business, community life and the church which continued to the end of his life. After marriage, he joined the Flinders Street Church in 1891, which he served as an officer under all its ministers up to the time of his death. In his later years, he was made a Life Elder. He was rarely absent from worship. On his ninety-ninth birthday he was in his pew, as alert and devout as ever. Stow Smith was a man of prayer. His life had a spiritual richness that made him greatly loved.

He was deeply interested in people’s well-being. Following his father, he worked with the Adelaide Benevolent and Strangers’ Friend Society for 65 years. A block of flats for senior citizens bears his name: “Stow Smith Homes”. He had a long association with the Bible Society, and at his death was Australian Vice-President of the world body.

As a convinced Baptist, he served on many boards and committees of the South Australian Baptist Union which called him to the Presidential office in 1911, a year marked by remarkable growth. A friend of ministers, he took steps to set up the Ministers’ Provident Fund. Stow Smith was present at the First Australasian Baptist Congress in 1908, and thereafter was active in federal concerns. He was appointed Vice-President of the Interstate Board in 1912, and became a member of the Foreign Mission Board established on that occasion, serving as its Chairman for a few years from 1923. It was fitting that, because of his continued involvement in federal business, he should be elected President-General in 1929, the first layman called to this office.

Stow Smith was a member of the Executive Committee of the Baptist World Alliance from 1922-34, and Australian Vice-President of the Alliance in 1928-34, the first person nominated for this office by the Baptist Union of Australia.

Both he and his wife, who died in 1947, were generous in hospitality, and had the pleasure of entertaining many world Christian leaders such as Drs. F.B. Meyer, J.H. Rushbrook, Howard Taylor, Sadhu Sundah Singh, Toyohiko Kagawa and Miss Mildred Cable. Stow Smith entered the fellowship of the Church Triumphant on June 10, 1963, when he was in his one hundredth year.




Founder of the Women’s Board - Cecilia Downing


Cecilia Downing (nee Hopkins) was born in London and came to Australia as a child. Trained as a teacher, she married Rev. John Downing, a Spurgeon’s graduate, then minister of the Church at Williamstown, Victoria, where she lived. When his health failed, he was compelled to leave the pastoral ministry and become a banker. On their return to Melbourne from the country, they joined the Collins Street Church of which Mrs. Downing was a loyal member for 46 years, giving leadership in the Church’s women’s activities.

For more than 20 years Mrs. Downing was a member of Executive Council of the Baptist Union of Victoria. She was a foundation member of the Victorian Baptist Women’s Association, of which she was secretary from 1932-41. She had a keen mind and considerable administrative ability. Recognising the need to link together Baptist women’s work throughout Australia, she took steps that led to the formation of the Women’s Board of the Baptist Union of Australia in 1935, becoming its first President. She was honoured with life membership of the Board in 1938. Earlier, in 1928, she had been a delegate to the Baptist World Congress at Toronto, Canada, and subsequently worked for the formation of a Women’s Committee of the Alliance.

Mrs. Downing was a woman of wide interests, keenly interested in national and international affairs. She maintained that “the wider a woman’s interests, the more good she can do in the community”. She was a strong feminist but, as the mother of seven children, insisted that a woman’s first loyalty is to her own home. During her life she championed the cause of women and children. The broad scope of her involvement is seen in some of her activities: probation officer to the Children’s Courts; member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, of which she was Victorian President in 1914-18; member of the Women’s Inter-Church Council which she helped to establish; member of the Good Neighbour Council associated with the Immigration Department; member of the Pan Pacific Women’s Standing Committee.

Victorians still remember her as the President of the Housewives’ Association. From 1938 this outspoken Christian lady challenged with real effect evils and abuses in the community that threatened life in the home. The press recognised the strength of her influence: “a powerful woman, one to be reckoned with in the maelstrom of politics”. In 1940 she became Federal President of the Association. For this and much more, she was invested with the M.B.E. in February 1952. She died later that year at the age of 94. Both Baptists of Australia and the community at large are the poorer for the passing of this great soul.

One of her grandsons, Mr. Arthur Downing, was the Union’s Legal Adviser from 1959-80.




Home Mission Enthusiast - Henry James (“Harry”) Morton.


One of the most colourful personalities to serve the Baptist Union of Australia was Henry James (“Harry”) Morton. After school days, he became a master plumber, eventually taking over the business his father had founded.

Morton was converted and baptised at the Petersham Church, Sydney, where his father was a respected deacon. His whole Christian life was spent as a member of this Church which he too served diligently on its diaconate. He had a keen interest in young people which his fellow members recognised for, when the Petersham Church established a hostel for young men, they named it “Morton Lodge”.

Loyalty to Christ led him to bear strong witness to his faith in community life. For many years he was a councillor of the Municipality of Marrickville. On two separate occasions he was appointed Mayor. His work in community organisations was honoured when a park in the district was named after him.

At some time or other he was a member of every major committee or council of the Baptist Union of New South Wales, of which he became President in 1924-25. But his major interest was in the Home Mission Society which he long served as treasurer. Its churches appreciated his wise counsel and practical help.

He became involved in federal work in the twenties. For a time he was a member of the Foreign Mission Board. When the Federal Home Mission was constituted, he became its first treasurer, serving as such for 30 years. Then, at the age of 81, he was appointed chairman, an office he held until his death. The Board’s work was always close to his heart. A few weeks before he died, he visited the newest Aboriginal mission station in the Northern Territory at Hooker Creek. He made time for other activities as well. From 1942-49 he edited the Australian Baptist.

Morton was proud of the fact that he never missed one series of Assembly or Council meetings of the Baptist Union of Australia, a unique record. Small of stature, he thought in big terms and acted accordingly. He was known as a man who never spoke unless he had a meaningful contribution to make to a discussion or debate. He had a keen sense of humour which he could use to clarify obscure issues. At times his reports were masterpieces of wit, thereby gaining acceptance for otherwise unpalatable facts. It has been said of him: “He had a rare ability of preserving the wisdom of age and experience without any diminution of enthusiasm and adventurousness

He passed away at the age of 86 in June 1961.




Presidential Evangelist - Wilfred Lemuel Jarvis


Coming from a long line of clergymen, his father a Baptist minister, Wilfred Lemuel Jarvis was born in 1895 at Macclesfield, Chester, England. The family came to Australia in 1913 when Rev. A.C. Jarvis accepted the pastoral charge of Jireh Baptist Church, Brisbane. His son Wilfred entered business as a commercial artist. At the age of 18 he responded to a call to the ministry and was appointed to work among farmers and bullock drivers in the Blackall Ranges, west of Nambour. Theological training was interrupted when he enlisted in the military forces, but World War I ended before he could embark for overseas.

After marriage he set the course of his life’s ministry by engaging in evangelistic work. He was influenced by Herbert Booth, son of the founder of the Salvation Army, a notable freelance evangelist. From 1919 to 1933 he conducted missions in the eastern States of the Commonwealth. Dr. C.J. Tinsley gave inspiration and support, and Jarvis worked with him at Stanmore, Sydney, during 1931-33 as assistant pastor.

In January 1934 he accepted a call to the mother church of Australian Baptists, the Bathurst Street Church, Sydney, the depleted congregation of which immediately began to prosper. When it became necessary to relocate the church, Jarvis led the congregation to the present George Street site, opening the new building in 1937. His pastorate of 17 years was astounding. Particularly during the war years, the building was packed to overflowing every Sunday night and many, including local and overseas service personnel, were converted. Jarvis was an innovator. For example, he started a Christian Workers’ Training College which prepared scores of people for service, some of whom entered the Baptist ministry.

A few days after war broke out in 1939, he became President of the New South Wales Baptist Union. His leadership brought encouragement in those uncertain days. He was influential in the formation of the Baptist National Service Auxiliary of the State Union, through which the churches ministered to the needs of service men and women. He took part in the formation of the State’s Baptist Homes Trust and, active in inter-church matters, he served as President of the New South Wales Council of Churches.

Alarmed by moral decline and decreasing church attendances in the immediate post-war years, at the Australian Union’s Assembly in 1947 Jarvis called Baptists to a Christian Commonwealth Crusade, and devoted his gifts and energies in leading this evangelistic thrust. He was called by Assembly 1950 to be President-General, although absent in America at the time, and while in office continued to travel through Australia encouraging churches in this evangelistic endeavour.

In 1950 Jarvis gave a memorable keynote address at the World Congress in Cleveland, Ohio, United States of America, which appointed him Australian Vice-President of the Baptist World Alliance. He subsequently served for some years on the Alliance’s executive committee.

Few have been more gifted than he. He was a superb communicator, an eloquent preacher and a persuasive evangelist with a genius for an apt epigram, repartee and the use of sanctified humour. To state that he was also a talented musician, artist and dramatist by no means exhausts the list of his gifts. After a particularly moving portrayal of William Carey in a play he had written, produced and in which he starred, someone asked him: “Wilfred, what can you not do?” “Sleep!” was the laconic reply. Jarvis would not use this rich endowment for self-display or personal gain, but to glorify the Saviour whom he delighted to serve. He died in Sydney in October, 1977.




Missionary Statesman - Frank Arnold Marsh


Frank Arnold Marsh was trained in the Baptist College of Victoria and ordained to the Baptist ministry in 1922. He served churches in Victoria at Regent, Warrnambool and Sandringham before becoming General Secretary of the Australian Baptist Foreign Mission in 1934 after the death of Rev. J.C. Martin. He guided the Mission out from the depression years and through the period of war that followed. During his term of office, its activities expanded from East Bengal, which upon the formation of the Islamic State became East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), to Assam, to New Guinea (Papua New Guinea) and into Netherlands New Guinea (Irian Jaya). He travelled from State to State, particularly in his earlier years in office, pleading the cause of the Mission, establishing it more firmly in the affection of Australian Baptists.

Marsh was recognised as a missionary statesman. In 1950 he attended the Assembly of the United Nations in New York as a special adviser to the Australian delegation. At all times he had the loyal support of his wife and daughters, from whom he was frequently separated by his work. However he did not totally confine his interests to the Mission, but was active in the business of the Baptist Union of Australia, serving on the Executive Committee, which appreciated his wisdom and experience. In 1947-48 he was Acting Secretary of the Union.

When he retired from the Mission in 1958, Marsh became Assistant Minister of the Collins Street Church, Melbourne. He was President General of the federal Union from 1959-62. In 1962 he left for Hong Kong to serve the needs of students, especially refugees from China, as Comptroller of the Hong Kong Baptist College. Severe heart trouble compelled his return to Australia in 1964. In spite of this, he undertook a number of interim ministries in Victoria in churches such as Blackburn North. He died at the age of 78 on July 1, 1976.

The Australian Baptist Missionary Society paid this tribute to its former leader: “Mr. Marsh was a man of God. In his personal dignity, his unquestioned integrity, his wide grasp of missionary affairs, his quietly cautious approach to all matters, his refusal to be harried by hostile pressures, and his insights into people’s character, he embodied many of the best aspects of Christian life and character.’’




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