Biographies of the Early Aldermen

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William Hobbs MD

Alderman in 1869-72

William Hobbs was a Surgeon and Baptist minister who arrived in Sydney on 3 April 1860. He was travelling from Nova Scotia to New Zealand but news of the Maori War decided him to disembark here.

The Colonial Missionary Society learned of his arrival on the following evening and offered him a position for a new parish in Newtown. An informal congregation of 25 adults with forty/fifty children there had met for six years without a minister in a temporary chapel in Campbell Street. The chapel is (or at least was, according to a 1966 church history) housed in the third building up from the north west corner of the Campbell Street/Missenden Road intersection.

Hobbs’ took up his appointment on 3 June 1860 and lived in Wellington Street near Bishopgate. It prompted the new parish to gain its independence from the mother church in Bathurst Street.

The congegation was progressive and increasing and could no longer fit in the chapel so they hired the School of Arts hall for Sunday services and the baptism ceremonies of immersion were held in a pond down in the low lands of Erskineville.

He retired as Newtown’s pastor on the appointment of Reverend James Voller on 30 May 1862 but he did preach out on the goldfields. He pleaded to the Baptist hierarchy that ‘the vast and unceasing spiritual necessities of our colonies demand an increase of ministers. Our railroads are opening up the country and new towns are arising in the interior’. He made a number of week long visits to the Araluen goldfields, opening the chapel, giving communion, baptising in the river and preaching to congregations on the river banks.

He is not known to have campaigned for election in Newtown’s Kingston ward but his congregation’s accomodation needs probably persuaded him to cover for Martin Gibben’s hasty departure in March 1869.

He was asked to chair Council’s committee supervising the new Free Library. It received a number of donations in its first year, including books from Reverend J Voller. The Library Committee recommended that a code of By-laws be made to regulate readers in the reading room, that clerk Robert Noake Banks be appointed Librarian, that books be repaired and additional shelves be affixed to the walls. Their most crucial issue was the weak ceiling; the hall upstairs was in use over many years for dancing, so a hardwood girder was installed in 1869.

In December 1869 Council granted the use of the Hall upstairs free of charge to Reverend G. Sheppard on behalf of several local ministers for a series of united prayer meetings for the first week of the New Year. Yet in the following September Alderman Hobbs was told that a charge of eleven shillings would be required if the Baptist denomination wanted the Hall for regular Sunday services.

The Baptists were able to commence building their own stone church in June 1872 adjoining St Stephen’s Church of England on the corner of Lennox and Church Streets. Council helped by doing the kerbing and guttering at its entrance.

William Hobbs rarely made proposals in the Council chamber but frequently seconded others’. He was absent for his last two months in office in 1872. The Sands Directory claims he was an Alderman in the following year but his name does not appear in the minutes after January 1873.

Nothing is known of Hobbs’ later life. By the end of the century the Baptist faith was the sixth most popular in Australia.

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