The St George's Uniting Church is probably one of the oldest continuously operating churches in Australia. It was opened on May 24 1866 by Rev. John Dunmore Lang1 on land bequeathed by George Barclay to the Presbyterian Church, whose congregations, formally known as St. Andrew's Presbyterian Congregation had been meeting since 1859 in the Eden Court House. [held at the court house on alternative weeks to the Anglican service].
At the time it was built in 1865 St Georges was the first substantial place of worship in the district.
The building was made of brick supported by buttresses on a stone foundation. The pulpit for the church was paid for by Alexander Davidson but at the time of its opening of the church it had no pews. In 1931 due to original brickwork beginning to crumble the exterior was rendered with cement and in 1961 the original roof was replaced. In 2007 the original bell tower was restored with the assistance of the local council Heritage Grant.
The Bega Gazette and County of Auckland Advertiser2 reported on the laying of the foundations for St Georges on the 27th May 1865:
'A sealed bottle was placed in a cavity under the stone, containing the following, written on parchment;- St. George's Presbyterian Church, Eden, New South Wales. The foundation stone of this church was laid on May 24th 1865 by Mrs. Barclay, widow to the late George Barclay, Esq., who for many years was a steady and liberal supporter of Presbyterianism in the district. The site on which this church is built was given by Mrs. Barclay, in accordance with what she knew to be the wish of her late husband. It is intended that this church shall be placed under the superintendence of the Presbytery of Illawarra.
Those by whom this church has been created trust than no unchristian sound shall be heard within its walls, and that all the ministers who may be placed in it, shall freely and fearlessly proclaim the glorious gospel of Lord Jesus Christ. Glory be to the Father and to the son, and to the Holy Ghost
The documented also contained the name of the Governer-General of NSW , the names of the Illawarra Presbytery and the building committee, vis., Messrs. Joseph Teas, treasurer, William Shaw, secretary, Bourn Russell Jnr (Eden's first harbour-master), John Machie, A. Davidson snr., Thomas Thomason, W.A. White and George Moorley. William Ogle, contractor.
About two o'clock a large number of persons assembled, among which some of the leading and most influential residents of the district, and formed a circle around the stone to witness the ceremony, when the Rev. A. Boodie briefly addressed the assemblage in a very impressive manner, and stated that Presbyterianism was the largest protestant denomination in the world: although it does not occupy that position among the churches in New South Wales.
Mrs Teas then came forward and presented Mrs. Barclay with a mallet and silver trowel, who then laid the foundation stone in the usual manner.
The following was beautifully inscribed on a silver plate on the box which contained the mallet and trowel.
MRS. GEORGE BARCLAY
on the occasion of laying the Foundation stone of the
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, BEGA
MAY 24th, 1865
The opening of the church was a major event for the town and people came from as far as fifty miles to attend.
The Bega Gazette and Eden District or Southern Coast Advertiser of 2 June 18663reported on the opening of St George:
“The labours of the day began at noon by service, at which the Rev. Dr. Lang officiated, in fulfilment of a promise made some time since to the Rev. Mr. Boddie. The little church was comfortably crowded, even the aisle being occupied by cross seats. It is estimated that over 200 people gathered on the occasion. The service commenced with singing the 100th Psalm” At the end of the service the seven year old daughter of B. Russel Esq., was baptised and a collection made amounting to £13” [according to the Rev. Lang's4 account the amount raised was £32].
After a soiree or tea meeting was held in the church “the proceedings at which were very spirited, although in perfect accordance with the previous proceedings of the day”4 Early in the proceedings Joseph Teas stated that “the subscriptions received, added to the collections and anticipated proceeds of this meeting, would nearly, if not quite, enable him, as Treasurer, to state that they entered the building that day free of debt”. He went on to reassure the congratulation “that he trusted that in a very short time the church would be provided with suitable pews”.
Near the end of the tea Mr. J.M. Walker rose and said that he knew he was out of place, but he really did not like to see the meeting break up without paying the honour certainly due to the ladies, [Mrs. Barclay, Mrs. Teas, Mrs. Anderson, Mrs Leslie, Mrs Bonffeld, Mrs Moorley] for the very creditable manner in which they had performed their part of the evening's entertainment. He would not have risen, but felt so ashamed of his fellow-men that he would not remain silent under the circumstances.
In 1951 he Presbyterian Women's Association was formed in Eden by Mrs. Lexie Greig. As well as providing fellowship for its members the Association raised fund for the chuch.
In 1956 the Rev. W. Cummingthorn laid the foundation stone for a chuch hall. the hall was framed by contractor, Alby Latter and completed by local residents Jack and Doug Ireland. The hall was opened in 1958.
Historic Places Survey, Eden New South Wales - Compiled Eden Killer Whale Museum and Historical Society assisted by funds allocated to the Royal Australian Historical Society through the Heritage Office [NSW] 2010 Available for viewing at the library
1 John Dunmore Lang (25 August 1799 – 8 August 1878) was a Scottish-born Australian Presbyterian minister, writer, politician and activist. He was the first prominent advocate of an independent Australian nation and of Australian republicanism. Wikipedia
TROVE National Library of Australia
The Rev. Lang gives a very interesting account of his journey to Eden and his short stay in the town. The good Reverend's full article [very interesting reading for anyone interested in the history of Eden] can be read on TROVE at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news- page5698305