Scots' Church, Melbourne

The Scots' Church, a Presbyterian church in Melbourne, Australia, was the first Presbyterian Church to be built in the Port Phillip District (now the state of Victoria). It is located in Collins Street and is a congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. It has been described as "an icon for well over a hundred years."


The Rev James Forbes was recruited to come to Australia as a Presbyterian Minister by the Rev John Dunmore Lang, arriving in Melbourne from Sydney by boat on 20 January 1838. He found that retired Church of Scotland minister Rev James Clow had arrived on 25 December 1837 and had commenced an afternoon service between 2 and 4 according to Presbyterian forms in a basic building constructed west of William Street and north of Little Collins Street (now the site of the AMP centre). Clow had been a Church of Scotland chaplain in Bombay but had retired and was of independent means. He had intended to settle in South Australia but when he stopped en route in Hobart the positive reports about Port Phillip led him to visit in October 1837 and then settle permanently.

Original church

Forbes continued the Presbyterian services commenced by Clow on 31 December 1837 in the Pioneers Church near the north west corner of William Street and Little Collins Street. The Church of England soon made exclusive claims to this communal building and so Forbes held services in Craig and Broadfoot's store in Collins Street until a temporary timber building called Scots Church was opened on the adjoining land loaned by David Fisher in July 1838. The site was between where the Olderfleet and Rialto buildings were subsequently erected (Lot 14 Section 2). It was essentially a large room with a fireplace.

On Saturday 3 February 1838 a meeting of members and friends of the Church of Scotland was held with James Clow in the chair. It was resolved to build a church and that £300 be raised in order to obtain the matching grant available under the Church Act. This is regarded as the official birthday of Presbyterianism in Victoria and of the beginning of Scots’ Church. A committee of James Clow (treasurer), James Forbes and Skene Graig (secretaries) was appointed to collect subscriptions and to take the steps to obtain a church site. The sum of £139.19.0 was subscribed on the spot.

Scots Church secured a 2.0-acre (8,100 m2) site on the corner of Collins and Russell Streets as a Government grant. When the site was allocated, the elders objected that it was "too far out of town".

The temporary building also served as the Scots' Church School which relocated to new brick premises in September 1839 on the western part of the 2-acre (8,100 m2) site on the corner of Collins and Russell Streets adjoining the present Baptist Church and on which the George's department store was later erected.

First Scots' Church

The foundation stone of the first purpose built church building was laid on 22 January 1841 and it was opened on 3 October 1841. It was designed to seat 500 and the contract sum was £2,485 without plastering, gallery, vestry or fittings. The building was opened with temporary seating. Plastering was carried out the following year, proper pews, gallery and vestry were added in 1849 and a spire some years later.

James Forbes built a simple manse (minister's house) on the site where the Assembly Hall now stands and was later reimbursed.It was replaced by a two-stoey manse in 1852 during the ministry of Rev Irving Hetherington. The manse was sold to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria for 5,000 pounds in about 1913. In 2007 the Assembly Hall was bought by the Scots' Church Properties Trust to be renovated for use as congregational offices and meeting halls following the proposed demolition of the Scots' Church Hall in Russell Street and the heritage listed Scots' Church Car Park and the redevelopment of the site with a 10 story building.

The first church building was demolished partly because of concerns that the tower and spire would collapse after it developed huge cracks and became crooked. During the ministry of Rev Peter Menzies (1868–74) the building was too small for the congregation but in any case a building more suited to the site and the social position of the congregation was considered appropriate.

Current Building

Construction of the current building took place between 1871 and 1874, during the ministry of Rev Irving Hetherington and his colleague Rev Peter Menzies, and was opened on 29 November 1874 with fixed seating for about 900. It was designed by Joseph Reed of the firm Reed and Barnes, and built by David Mitchell, the father of Dame Nellie Melba. Reed and Barnes also designed the Melbourne Town Hall, the State Library of Victoria,Trades Hall, the Royal Exhibition Building, the Wesley Church in Lonsdale Street, the original Presbyterian Ladies' College in East Melbourne, and Collins Street Independent Church, now St. Michael’s Uniting Church, on the opposite corner of Russell Street.

Scots' is in the Neo-Gothic style and built of Barrabool freestone, with dressings in Kakanui stone from New Zealand. During the last decades of the nineteenth century the spire of Scots' Church was the tallest structure in Melbourne at about 210 feet from the ground. The interior features the large stained glass window depicting the Last Supper, basalt asile columns, timber beamed roof and an elevated floor for a good view of the pulpit.

Laid up in the church are two sets of Regimental Colours of the Australian 5th Battalion, The Victorian Scottish Regiment, which include the honour LANDING at ANZAC.

The crest & flag of Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies are located near lectern. Queen Elizabeth II was present for the presentation by Dame Pattie Menzies in 1983. Queen Elizabeth had been accompanied by Sir Robert in 1961 when they visited Scots' to unveil a war memorial mosaic in the vestible near the entrance.


The Director of Music and principal organist since 1984 is Douglas Lawrence, while Robin Batterham is the assistant organist.


The first pipe organ at Scots' was built in 1883 by Hill and Son. It was rebuilt and enlarged in 1910 by George Fincham and Sons and rebuilt again in 1959. The organ was removed for storage in 1999. The present organ was built in 1998 by Rieger Orgelbau, Schwarzach, Austria.


The Choir of Scots' Church has been under Lawrence's direction since 1984. He had started the Choir of Ormond College (University of Melbourne) in 1982 and raised the standard at Scot’s considerably. The Choir released their first recording in 1987: Joy my Heart Outpoured. Scots' Choir consists of four principals, eight choral scholars and other members. Dame Nellie Melba reputedly started and finished her singing career in the choir at Scot's Church, and her funeral was taken from Scots' in February 1931.


The first minister of Scots' Church was Rev James Forbes, who, as well as being involved in the foundation of Scots' Church, was instrumental in the establishment of John Knox Free Presbyterian Church on Swanston Street (now housing a Church of Christ congregation), Scotch College, Royal Melbourne Hospital, and the Melbourne Mechanics' Institute.

Rev Charles Strong became the minister in 1875. His theology was questioned after the publication of an article in the Victorian Review entitled "The Atonement", but he resigned from Scots' Church before the Presbyterian Church of Victoria heard the case.

Scots' Church is currently served by a senior minister, Rev Douglas Robertson, and a minister to the central business district, Rev Richard O'Brien. Rev Geoffrey Blackburn serves as the pastoral care minister.

Historically, most of the senior ministers at Scots' Church have been trained or served in the Church of Scotland, including Robertson, who first worked at Scots' as an assistant minister between 1991 and 1994. He returned to Scotland to take up the position of Parish Minister in Appin And Lismore, North Argyll, but was then called by the congregation of Scots' Church to come back to Melbourne and serve as senior minister from February 2001. Robertson recently served as moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria.

As in any church with a Presbyterian structure, the ministers of Scots' govern and care for the congregation with a body of Church Elders called the Session.

Every few years, a visiting preacher spends some time at Scots' under the terms of the Turnbull Trust. Past preachers have included Hugh Black,Lauchlan MacLean Watt, and James S. Stewart. The most recent Turnbull Trust preacher is David Lunan.


Services are held on every Sunday of the year. A traditional service is held at 11:00am and a contemporary service known as engage city church (formerly known as sevententhirty) at 5pm at 156 Collins Street. Communion is held on the first Sunday of each season (Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer) and on Easter Sunday. A lunchtime service for innercity workers is held at 1pm every Wednesday. From time to time prominent members of the community are invited preach at this service. In 2006 one such speaker was Australian golfer Aaron Baddeley. On the Wednesday before the AFL Grand Final, Scots' hosts a Grand Final Service. The speaker at this service in 2009 was Shaun Hart.

An Indonesian language service is held every Sunday at 5:15pm. On 1 April 2007, the congregation known as the Indonesian Christian Church officially joined Scots'.


As a congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, the ministers and elders of Scots' Church are required to ascribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the major English statement of Calvinistic Christianity, read in the light of a Declaratory Statement explanatory of certain clauses and which also allows liberty of opinion on matters not essential to the doctrine taught in the Confession.

Members are not required to ascribe to the Westminster Confession, but, if they are not already a member of a Christian church, are admitted to membership by making a public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ and their commitment to the church.


Scots' Church has participated in a number of ecumenical activities. Two Catholics have preached from the pulpit of Scots' Church: the Archbishop of Melbourne, Sir Frank Little, in 1974 and Bishop Mark Coleridge in May 2005.

Francis Macnab & the Ten Commandments

In September 2008, Francis Macnab of St Michael's Uniting Church launched what he called a "new faith" with a $120,000 advertising campaign including posters reading, "The Ten Commandments, one of the most negative documents ever written."

The Session of Scots' Church published a reply defending the Ten Commandments from "he most incredible publicity war... being waged against the historic Christian faith." They installed a poster on their Russell Street frontage facing towards St. Michael's, outlining the influence of the Ten Commandments and calling it "the most positive and influential document ever written."

Building Activity

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