Facts and Recollections
Many people over the years have contributed to the records that form the information provided here, and the remaining content is from other reputable printed sources. In noting information about 'Our History' we aim for fairness and accuracy, but if you find something that doesn't look right, let us know by leaving your details via our contact message page - click here
You are welcome to visit our History Room at the Williamstown Uniting Church - Electra St where there is a range of historic pieces on display. Please contact the church to arrange a time.
We are also very interested in receiving donated church related historic pieces to add to our collection or to borrow and copy.
As our history dates as far back as 1840, we have divided the information into key blocks of time, and so we hope that you enjoy learning more of, or reflecting on these key aspects of the life our church and people.
Our Acknowledgment of Country
Williamstown Uniting Church - Electra St acknowledges that we reside on traditional lands of the Yalukit-william tribe (a name meaning 'river camp or river dwellers" of the Kulin Nation.
We offer our respect to the Elders of these traditional lands, and through them to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples past, present and emerging.
We commit ourselves to reconciliation in this land.
Our Impact and connection
In June 1835, the local indigenous people from the clans of the Yalukit-william were the occupiers of vast lands that extended from the northern shores of Port Phillip Bay to Wilson's Promontory. The indigenous name for the area is Koort Boork Boork, which translates as 'Sheoak, Sheoak, many' . Traditionally Point Gellibrand was a major food gathering site for the Yalukit-william as the mangroves located there are important fish and bird breeding grounds. While a shortage of freshwater meant that the area was unsuitable as a camp, indigenous people of Victoria frequently used the area for gatherings and ceremony*(o).
Derrimut was headman of the Yalukit willam clan, descended from the first residents of Melbourne's Western Region. For thousand of years a number of aboriginal Koorie clans had settled on the current Hobson's Bay municipality land.* His tribal colleague King Benbo was 'short and sturdy with a single cockatoo feather stuck in his lank hair, and wearing a possum skin rug with the fur next to his skin'.
John Batman's arrival on the shore of Yarra River in May 1835 had set colonisation in terrible motion. He was the man who sat down by a lovely stream of water with a group of Kulin Elders from several clans to 'negotiate' the transfer of hundreds of thousands of hectares of their land to his Port Philip Association. In return, Batman's so called treaty- drafted by prominent Tasmanian lawyer Joseph Trice Gellibrand- promised 'the yearly rent or tribute of 100 pairs of blankets, 100 knives, 100 tomahawks, 50 suits of clothing, 50 looking glasses, 50 pair of scissors and five tons of flour". It was preposterous. The Kulin Elders did not speak English and their laws could not allow the transfer of land. *The Age (A Time for Truth - Dispossession by Tony Wright) October 10th 2021
When the first Europeans came ashore on land at Point Gellibrand, now known as Williamstown, the life style of local aborigines, who were semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers, were never the same. *Preslend, G. The First Residents of Melbourne's Region, Harriland, Forrest Hills 1997 p5 # Evans, Wilson P ibid p16
Corroborees were usually held in Cecil Street. In 1840 they held one outside the Woolpack Inn in Thompson Street#
For more information on the history and current standing of the Uniting Church in Australia and First Peoples and their ancestors, click here
We've all come from somewhere to be here.
The attached church tree faithfully shows the commencement of the Christian faith from 1835 and the history connected to the present Electra St church.
From the 1850's with the discovery of gold in Victoria and the general wealth of people and fundraising efforts which took place in Williamstown, a period of time followed of erecting substantial church buildings of Christian faiths (Methodist, Church of England, Presbyterian, Baptists, Congregational & Catholic).
Our Christian Church Tree (Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational) from 1835 includes young shoots from those early foundation years and then blossoming out to young branches in new suburbs of Newport, West Newport, Spotswood and North Altona. Growth generally continued until the 1960's which then witnessed a cutting back with church amalgamations and closures, eventually back to the 2 remaining key branches- the Williamstown Uniting Church- Electra St and St Stephens Uniting Church.
For the Williamstown Uniting Church - Electra St Church Tree click here
For a City of Williamstown map of the Williamstown Uniting Church expansion from 1838 to 1995 click here
History on Display
Over the decades many people have spent time researching the history of this church and in general, the commencement of Williamstown. We are indebted to Rev Laurie Slee, Mr Bill Fletcher, and Mr Peter Jones for their work in this field.
In 2002 Rev Renate Macdonald supported interested congregational members to honour the past, in showcasing and telling the stories of our predecessors by transforming a disused room in the church to what has became The History Room. We give thanks to the efforts of Rev Laurie Slee, Dean Langford, Bill Fletcher, Pat Marshall, Peter Jones and Michelle Paule for their work in acknowledging and honouring the people that came before us, who prayed and acted faithfully to express the all-encompassing love of God and and in following the action for justice and peace of Jesus Christ.
There are many original documents and items of interest on show and so please contact us if you interested in visiting.
On January 26 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip guided 11 boats from England carrying mainly convicts to what they named Sydney Cove in New South Wales to start a colony and so, fundamentally founded Australia. From 1804, convicts were also sent directly from England or Sydney to Tasmania to start a colony there. As this colony grew, Europeans from Tasmania saw the commercial value and new opportunities and wealth of grassland and pastures across Bass Strait and up Port Phillip Bay. By 1838, many small ships from Tasmania brought passengers and cattle to Point Gellibrand (deep water port) to the area and thereby commenced the settlement of Williamstown (named after the then King William).
Our Founding Churches
As seen from the Church Tree map, our current church has been standing since 1876, some of the reason is as a result of changes happening around it and to it over the decades. We wish to focus on the three main founding churches, The Wesleyan Methodist church, The Congregational Church (Stevedore St) and St Stephens (Presbyterian)
The Methodist Years
In 1838, Mr Charles Stone, then an ardent and enterprising youth, arrived in Williamstown from Hobart Town. He settled as a schoolmaster, occupying a lean-to room attached to the school building in which a Divine Service was held where he preached as a lay preacher, conducting Wesleyan Methodist Services on Sundays. A Bethal flag waved over the spot to indicate the service had begun and the liturgy was of the Church of England.
Rev Grylls conducted one of the colonies first weddings with the service between Mr Stone and Miss Hurstone. A Methodist home was established.
In 1840, the preaching was held in the open air. On January 28th 1841 at the first quarterly meeting in Williamstown, Melbourne, it was mentioned that a new chapel was needed and a committee was appointed to secure it. In October 1841, the timber Wesleyan Methodist Church (Ann Street) was opened and it was the first church in Williamstown. Steamers were chartered to bring people from Melbourne to services conducted by Rev J Orton.
In 1851 Williamstown disappeared from the Melbourne plan and became a separate circuit.
In 1854 Rev W. Currey was appointed. A bluestone church was erected next door to the timber church in 1854. In 1874 new trustees appointed Rev John Harcourt. He decided on a new suite of buildings and land at Electra Street was purchased from Sir John Hay for £700.
In 1876, new buildings – The Wesleyan Methodist Church and Manse were erected at a cost of £5,800 and the Ann Street church property was sold for £2,800 and became “The Sailors Rest”
The Development of Methodism
The ‘Father of Methodism’ John Wesley died in 1791. Following his death many sects and breakaway groups were formed and by 1860 there were at least nine. In 1902 they joined together to become The Methodist Church.
In Williamstown this union affected The Wesleyan Methodist and The United Free Methodist Church and these congregations merged with the Wesleyans in Electra Street and The Primitive Methodist Church.
In 1973 the John Street Methodist congregation merged with Electra Street to be renamed St John's.
In 1977 St John's Methodist Church joined the Williamstown Parish of the Uniting Church as part of the
More information will be added regarding Stevedore St and St Stephen's here
The Williamstown Parish of the Uniting Church in Australia 1977 – 2005
In 1977, union took place with the Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian churches coming together to worship nationally under the one name, as the Uniting Church in Australia (“UCA”). In this district there were 5 church locations: Spotswood UCA, Westgate UCA (West Newport), and in Williamstown; St Stephens UCA, Stevedore Street UCA and St John’s UCA.
Consolidation and Re-imagining
By 1995 three linked churches remained; St John's, St Stephens and Stevedore St. Each site with aging properties to maintain and not one building suitable in its own right to accommodate a united large congregation, 30 members of the leadership teams (The Visioning Group) met with Architect Mr Ian Hartley on Tuesday 11th May 2004, to commence the discussion around the properties and the future. From a report prepared, a decision was made to rationalize the properties owned by the UCA in Williamstown.
In 2005 after much consideration and prayer, the Stevedore St congregation and some members of St Stephens decided to join with St John's congregation on the Electra St site with the new name Williamstown Uniting Church - Electra St.
Services also continued at St Stephens UCA in Melbourne Rd Williamstown.
The new Williamstown Uniting Church - Electra St congregation set goals for having a welcoming, flexible building to suit a variety of styles of worship, looking to the future with optimism of a growing faithful congregation and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ in the community.
To enable this development to proceed, the Westgate Church Property that had been rented for some years was sold to provide finance for the purchase of a manse for the Electra St Minister. The Stevedore St Church was also sold and the sale proceeds were used for the Electra St development. In addition, the congregation took out a loan to complete the refurbishment.
The scope of works was large, and in working with the architects, consultants from the Heritage and Planning departments of the the City of Hobsons Bay and the church Refurbishment Committee, the completion was still years in the making. The planning permit was granted on 23 March 2007, the building permit was received on 28th May 2010 and the work commenced shortly after. It was by July 2010 that works commenced and were completed in early 2012. The official reopening was conducted by UCA President Rev Alistair Macrae on February 26 2012.
Major Refurbishment Features:
- A level floor from both Electra St entrances
- Disability access ramps and sealed car park
- Joining of the church and former manse with a glassed roof foyer
- New semi-commercial grade kitchen and toilet facilities
- State or the art audio and visual equipment
- New carpet and flexible individual upholstered chairs
We give our gratitude and thanks to the Refurbishment Committee members; Church Council Chairperson Mrs Natalie Cronin, Miss Margaret Bull (Committee Chairperson), Mr Dean Langford, Ms Celia Waters and Miss Bev Lambie, for their tireless and dedicated work in enabling this re-imagining to take place, and for the legacy that we continue to benefit by, today.
We are also grateful to Martin Smith and Neil Langford, with wonderful support from Dean Langford, for their generous contributions to the planning and installation of the excellent audio and visual system in the church.
From Mr Charles Stone in 1838, through the Gold Rush of wealth then bust periods, the Great War and subsequent wars, The Great Depression, The Spanish Flu epidemic, Rev Byatt commencing the 'Christmas Bowl' appeal while ministering at Electra St and just about everything in between, our men and women of faith and conviction have served us well in Williamstown and we thank each of them.
Imagine from the first ministers who walked from Melbourne by foot or took the punt across the Yarra River to the dirt roads of Williamstown or ride their horse on visits, there have been many and varied challenges and events of great celebration shared, and faith journeys travelled alongside with congregational members. Even through the recent challenges of COVID- 19 we know at all times God was and is with us.
For a list of Ministers click here
What a wonderful occasion to have our past ministers attend the opening of our refurbished church in Feb 2012. From left back row
- Rev Bill Lidgett
- Rev Margaret Manning
- Rev Renate Macdonald
- Rev Alistair Macrae then UCA Vic Tas Moderator
- Rev David Howie
- Front: Rev Peter Aumann
- Rev David Kim
- Rev Walter Rolley
Work in Progress. Please visit again soon when we hope to have links to historic stories of our past.
Since formation people of faith connected to our church have lived through some unique and interesting periods of time and experiences. We are grateful for the historic material saved over the decades which enables us now to share some of their stories for a glimpse into their lives- their time, their church/faith experience.
5th November 1887 Multi church Sunday
21 November 1937. Pleasant Sunday Afternoon - Programme?
October 29th, 1938. Newspaper cutting for Mr Alexander White Hick. Is he the same man who designed the organ loft - disconnected from church later on?
1941: The Harvest Thanksgiving- this will be a link to a scanned pamphlet from that time
4th May 1975: Invitation card for 135th anniversary of Methodism in the City of Williamstown
In 1949, the then minister at this church Rev Frank Byatt founded the Christmas Bowl appeal when he placed an empty bowl on the Christmas dinner table, asking his congregation to support refugees in war-ravaged Europe by making “a generous gift so that you can share your good dinner with hungry children in other lands”.
Since then the Christmas Bowl appeal has raised more than $100 million from many denominations across Australia, according to Hannah Montgomery from Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia.
In 2019, the Williamstown Uniting Church - Electra St commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Christmas Bowl campaign with Act for Peace CEO Janet Cousens, and reflected with two members of the then and now congregation, Mrs Winsome Barnett and Mr Dean Langford.
We continue to support the legacy of Rev Frank Byatt and the crucial work to respond to the urgent needs of people around the world.