At the 1838 London Yearly Meeting of Friends a subscription was taken up to send a Meeting House to the Province of South Australia where a number of Friends had recently migrated. South Australia was to be a planned Settlement, based on the enlightened ‘systematic colonisation’ principals of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, brought up a Friend, and indeed the great grandson of the famous author of the ‘Quaker Apology’, Robert Barclay.
A special erection “of Manning Construction” was acquired, and displayed on London’s West India Docks, having been treated with anti-dry-rot, before it was dispatched to the care of John Barton Hack, and his brother Stephen. Manning houses were prefabricated and suitable for quick erection for settlers on arrival in Australia.
The building arrived in 69 packages on the ‘Rajasthan’ on 6th February 1840. The three thousand three hundred slates arrived the previous day on the ‘John’.
This presented a problem. It was impractical to transport the Meeting House into the Adelaide Hills where most of the Friends had gone. They were busy constructing their own homes. Besides it was a three day journey to the Mount Barker – Echunga area where most of the Friends resided.
It was therefore decided to erect the meeting house in the burial ground. The first thing that had to be done as Friends in this new settlement was to find a burial ground, a melancholy requirement because of the death of several babies, and also the tragic drowning of a promising young Friend, Charlotte Coleman. The denial of the interment of Quakers in the consecrated ground of public cemeteries, being unbaptized, made a burial ground essential.
It was in this burial ground that the meeting house was erected, by mid-June 1840. It was little used at first, especially as it was remote from the centre of the new settlement of Adelaide, with no bridge across the River Torrens. The frontage to Pennington Terrace was sold at the insistence of one of the trustees, Samuel Gurney (youngest brother of Elizabeth Fry), who claimed that so much land was not required for a meeting house. This explains why the Meeting House is ‘hidden’ up a lane!
Time has proved the meeting house’s worth, so that today it is the oldest place of worship in South Australia, still standing in its original state, and original colour.