Scots Church Adelaide
The Building

Chalmers Church Adelaide Circa 1856

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Scots Church Adelaide (Chalmers Church) was built in 1851. The site on the corner of North Terrace and Pulteney Street was purchased from Mr. (later Sir) John Morphett for £400. The foundation stone of the building was laid by Rev John Gardner on September 3, 1850.[i] The foundation stone can no longer be seen and may be below the present ground level in the eastern wall of the tower.

The architect-builder was Thomas English (1819 - 1884). From 1850 to 1865 English was in partnership with his brother-in-law, Henry Brown, as English & Brown. The colony of South Australia had attracted a large number of immigrants who objected to the established churches in England and Scotland, so called ‘dissenters’. English was architect-builder for prominent dissenting groups, well-to-do dissenting merchants and businessmen. He erected some of the finest buildings in the province, including the Town Hall, the Post Office, Parliament Houses, The National Bank of South Australia, Flinders Street Baptist Church, the Advertiser building as well as significant and solid houses out of the city like Seafield Towers at Glenelg.[ii] English’s buildings were said to be “substantial works of lasting quality and good finish”.[iii]

It was reported that “erection of this church displays considerable spirit on the part of the body of Christians who have reared it. It will contain 500 people comfortably seated; and has been erected at a cost of £2,300, including the site on which it stands, and ground sufficient for schools. This amount has been raised by voluntary subscription, and by a loan of £1,000, without any assistance from the Government.”[iv]

Scots Church AdelaideNewspaper commentary at the time offered some criticism of the architectural taste of the building,[v] claiming that it had an “unsightly appearance” and exhibited “the most striking discord”. The architects and builders, English & Brown, responded by finding the newspaper’s comments to be “calculated to make a false impression on the mind of the public”[vi] and pointed out many mistakes on which the criticisms were based. The builders conclude with the comment that “we are content to leave the public to judge of themselves”.[vii] It is obvious that English & Brown suffered little from this adverse criticism as the firm became one of the city’s most important builders.

English & Brown were responsible for the erection of the spire on the church in 1856, completing the original intent of the design. The height of the spire was 120 feet (37 metres) and it was described as “one of the greatest improvements Adelaide has had to boast of for a long time past”.[viii] In 1863 – 1864 the building was reroofed with galvanised iron, and the parapet walls were finished in stucco.[ix] “At this time schoolrooms and a presbytery[x] were also erected by English & Brown behind the nave of the church. . . . A ‘dwarf wall’ on the street frontages with cast iron railing was erected in 1868”.[xi]

The Weather Vane at Scots Church AdelaideA distinguishing feature of the Scots Church building is the weather cock on top of the spire. From the earliest times, many Christian churches in Europe and Scotland displayed a weather cock on the spires of their buildings. In later centuries it was more commonly added to Protestant churches only. Several conflicting reasons for weather cocks on churches are given on the internet, none of them from authoritative sources. However there is a suggestion that the cock or rooster refers to the Biblical story of the cock crowing three times reminding the disciple, Peter, of his betrayal of Jesus following his Crucifixion.

The building was placed on the Register of State Heritage items in 1986.

[i] The Register (Adelaide, SA” 1901 – 1929) Saturday 31 August 1901

[ii] Adelaide Observer (SA: 1843 – 1904) Saturday 12 July 1851

[iii] Chessell, D, 2014,  Adelaide’s Dissenting Headmaster, Wakefield Press, 2014, p129

[iv] Adelaide Observer (SA: 1843 – 1904) Saturday 12 July 1851

[v] South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA: 1839 – 1900) Saturday 5 July 1851

[vi] Adelaide Observer (SA: 1843 – 1904) Saturday 12 July 1851

[vii] Adelaide Observer (SA: 1843 – 1904) Saturday 12 July 1851

[viii] Marsden, S, Stark, P, Summerling, P eds. 1990, Heritage of the City of Adelaide, Corporation of the City of Adelaide, Adelaide S. Aust.

[ix] Marsden, S, S, Stark, P, Summerling, P eds. 1990, Heritage of the City of Adelaide, Corporation of the City of Adelaide, Adelaide S. Aust.

[x] Chancel or sanctuary

[xi] Marsden, S, S, Stark, P, Summerling, P eds. 1990, Heritage of the City of Adelaide, Corporation of the City of Adelaide, Adelaide S. Aust.

Further historical information may be obtained from the following publications:

  • Scrimgeour, Robert J: Some Scots were here: A history of the Presbyterian Church In South Australia, 1839- 1977, Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, 1986
  • 150th Anniversary TALK Magazine souvenir issue, Scots Church Adelaide, 2001

 Copyright © 2015 Scots Church Adelaide. The Memorials Booklet was compiled and written by Mrs Rosalie Smith.

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