United Evangelical Church

The United Evangelical Church in William Street, around 1899, just before it was demolished. SLQ image 41685.

In its brief 50 year history, the building on William Street which began as the United Evangelical Church took on several roles, from Church to Telegraph Office to offices for the Department of Public Instruction.

When they arrived, the Baptists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists encouraged to emigrate to Moreton Bay by Dr John Dunmore Lang in the late 1840s did not have a dedicated church in which to worship. To serve their needs, Reverend Charles Stewart, the congregation’s first minister and the man who had been the chaplain on the Fortitude, initially held services in the Brisbane Court House.

Remarkably, by October 1850 enough money had been raised by the United Evangelical congregation for the building of a 400-seat church. A tender from builder Alexander Gould was accepted. Earlier that year Gould had completed work on the town’s first Catholic Church, what we know today as the heritage listed Old St Stephen’s, or Pugin’s Chapel, in Elizabeth Street. The first service was conducted by Reverend Stewart in the William Street church on 13 April 1851.

The Reverend Stewart’s ill-health caused him to resign in December 1854. With no successor to take his place, the three diversifying groups split. Only Lang’s Presbyterians continued to meet in the building, from 1855 regularly referred to as Lang’s Church . In February 1857 the whole parcel of church-owned land, from William Street through to George Street, was put up in three lots for auction.

The chapel itself was built of brick and was 60 by 40 feet (18.2 by 12.1 metres) and 18ft (4.4 metres) high. The subdivision on which the chapel was located (Lot 1) had a 117 foot (35.6 metre) frontage on William Street and a depth of 115ft 6ins (35.2 metres), with access to a 17ft (5.2 metres) wide side passage (Telegraph, later Stephens Lane) running through to George Street. Reverend Lang purchased this allotment, on behalf of the Presbyterian body, for £1,080. Behind Lot 1, fronting George Street, were the smaller Lots 2 and 3, vacant land which had 50ft (15.2 metres) street frontages and were 120ft (36.5 metres) deep. They sold for £265 and £185 respectively.

After only four years, the Presbyterian Congregation moved out of the church. In 1860 Lang sold the building and land to the Queensland Government. The old church building became the first official Electric Telegraph Office in Brisbane, used as such until 1879 when telegraphic operations moved to the GPO Building in Queen Street. The old church then was converted into a residence for the Government Printer, whose workplace, the Government Printing Office, had been located in this section of William Street since 1862.

It is not known when the Government Printer moved residence. By 1889 it was occupied by the Department of Public Instruction. This department remained in the former church until 1893 and nothing further is known of its occupants between this date and the demolition of the former church in June 1899, an action required to make way for the Lands Administration Building on which construction would begin in 1901.

By the time of its completion in 1905, the Land Administration Building was known as the Executive Building. It housed the offices of the Premier, Executive Council and Cabinet. Today this building is the Treasury Heritage Hotel and little reminder of the United Evangelical Church, other than a plaque on the William Street wall of the former Government Printing Office, remains.

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