09-01-1885: Elm Street Hall, North Melbourne, Victoria.

The North Melbourne Presbyterian Church was initially founded in 1854 with the first services being conducted in a Blacksmiths shop near the site of the North Melbourne Town Hall. A temporary iron building was first erected for the congregation in Curzon street, and only a few years later a new bluestone church was erected, the foundation of which was laid by Sir Henry Barkly on Friday the 8th of April 1859[1].

In less than twenty years this church was deemed too small for the growing congregation and in the 1870’s plans were afoot to erect a new one. The designs of local Brunswick architect Evander McIver were chosen and the foundation stone for the new Union Memorial Church was laid on the corner of Curzon & Elm Streets North Melbourne by the Hon James MacBain, M.L.A, on the afternoon of Tuesday 14th January 1879[2]. In less than eight months the new Church was completed and was officially opened on Sunday 31st August 1879[3].

At the same time as the new church was to be erected, the old one was dismantled and, using most of the original building material, was re-erected about fifty meters to the rear of the site and would later become known as the Elm Street Hall. In May 1889 the Sabbath School was erected[4] to the rear of the church and the Elm Street Hall.

The Elm Street hall has a series of four single lancet stained glass windows that are a memorial to David Howat (1814-1885), the father[5] of the Sabbath School Superintendent William Howat (1850-1935). William was most likely the one who commissioned Ferguson & Urie to create the memorial windows to his father and it’s possible that these windows may have been originally erected in the Sabbath School at the time of it’s erection in 1889 and later moved to the Elm Street Hall where they exist to this day in the liturgical south wall.

Photos taken: 21st July 2012.

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The four windows are in very poor condition and there are many pieces of modern uncomplimentary glass used to fill the gaps where pieces were broken at various times during their history. Three of the four pieces of text that describe the figurative depictions in each window are missing altogether and the memorial text at the base of each window is also missing a number of pieces. The only memorial text that can be ascertained at the base of each window is:

Depicts possibly someone as the teacher? A woman or apostle seated with an open book and two children either side. The text below the figure, which may explain the precise depiction, is missing.

2. “(missing piece) HOWAT (missing piece)”
Depicts a child kneeling in prayer at the foot of an apostle? The text below the figure, which may explain the precise depiction, is missing.

3. “WHO DIED 9th JAN 1885 AGED 71”.
This window has the well known figurative depiction of Christ as the Good Shepherd. It has the partial text “The Good Shepherd”, holding a lamb in one arm and his crook in the other with sheep at his feet, so I presume the missing word are “I Am” and “The” to make up “I Am The Good Shepherd”.

4. “(All the memorial text is missing from this window)”.
This window appears to have the figurative depiction usually associated with “Suffer Little Children To Come Unto Me.” But, below the figure is the partial text “…Remember Now Creator…”. This is most likely from Ecclesiastes 12-1 which says “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them”.

The windows were a memorial to David Howat, at one time a session clerk of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Carlton. He was elected in 1872[6] and held office for more than twelve years until his death in 1885. He died at his residence at 180 William-street Melbourne on the 9th of January 1885 [7], in his 71st year. He was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery on the 12th of January 1885 [8] and many other family members, including his wife Sarah, infant son David, only daughter Mary and son William are buried in the same family plot.

The Union Memorial Sabbath School and William Howat.

North Melbourne Advertiser, Vic, Saturday 18th May 1889, page 3.

“Last Saturday afternoon a large number of ladies and gentlemen interested in the Sabbath school work, met by invitation to celebrate the opening of the new infant school, erected in connection with the Union Memorial denomination, North Melbourne…”
“…Owing to the energy of their superintendent who had not an equal in the colony – in fact there was no superintendent like him, his heart and soul were in the glorious work – they were as a school able to declare the building completed, seated, and opened free of debt…”

The stained glass windows in the Sabbath School were described in the newspapers as:

“It is lighted with ornamental cathedral lancet lights of stained glass, which when finally completed will give a softened and effective tone to the interior…”

The much revered Superintendent of the Sabbath School was William Howat (1850-1935), the son of David Howat (1814-1885) and Sarah Robertson (1814-1891). He was born in Ayrshire Scotland and arrived in Australia with his parents and elder siblings, George and Mary, aboard the Lady Octavia from Greenock on the 31st December 1855 [9][10].

He had been associated with the Y.M.C.A and the Sunday School Union movement from his early 30’s and had for more than 70 years, a long business association with four generations of the wealthy Clarke family of pastoralists[11].

He was first involved with the establishment of a Sabbath School in connection with St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Carlton (now zoned in Brunswick) which was opened in August 1884[12] and his efforts in that area made him well qualified to exert himself in the cause for a Sabbath School in North Melbourne.

Apart from being the revered Superintendant of the Union Memorial Sabbath School, William Howat was an avid and eclectic antiques collector and over a 65 year period had amassed an extraordinary collection of books and all manner of curios from all over the world[13]. His love of books also extended to the Sabbath School where he donated the vast majority of the books to its library. At the opening of the Sabbath School in 1889 it was described:

“The library is a model. It contains some 1800 volumes, mostly the gift the superintendent. The teacher’s library is a collection of the best works extant…”[14]

William Howat died unmarried on the 1st of August 1935[15], at his home ‘Glaisnock’ in William Street West Melbourne aged 85. He left an estate reported to be worth £9,912[16] and apart from many bequests to relatives and friends, and charitable institutions, he bequeathed a life interest in most of his estate to his housekeeper.

The William Howat collection of books, art, and curios, was put up for auction in November 1935[17] which consisted of over 20,000 volumes of rare old editions and modern works on all branches of literature as well as a collection of native weapons, Chinese artworks and curios[18]. It was described in the papers as “one of the Greatest Sales ever held in Melbourne[19].

Other References:



Foot notes:

[1] The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Saturday 9th April 1859, page 5.

[5] Vic Births Deaths & Marriages No: 6681/1935. William Howat, son of David Howat and Sarah Robertson.

[9] Prov.vic.gov.au (Fiche 084 page 002)

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