Friend's Meeting House: Keith explores some early history in the Adelaide City region of South Australia

Up a little laneway off Pennington Terrace in North Adelaide behind Saint Peter's Cathedral is a simple wooden building that is the original home of South Australia's Quakers.

The Friend's Meeting House can be traced back to the very beginnings of the Colony of South Australia. Quakers or the Religious Society of Friends were among the earliest free settlers attracted by a founding idea - worship as you wish.

The little wooden hut and its history says a lot about being a Quaker - the simple, humble building is testimony to the simplicity which is central to the Quaker faith. The Meeting House is built on land provided by prominent colonist, John Barton Hack, who had a direct and sad interest in its establishment. Tragically, in 1839 he lost his daughter and niece to disease and needed somewhere to bury them, but because they were Quakers they couldn't be laid to rest in South Australia's new church plots. 'Clerks of the Meeting' - or elders, Roger Keyes and Ann Rees say John Hack came to the rescue and provided this land for a burial ground.

Roger Keyes: "The established church would not accept people for burial that were not baptised into that established church. We don't baptise, we don't do sacraments…"

The 14 graves alongside the Meeting House have since been moved to a Quakers plot at West Terrace Cemetery, but the remains of the two little girls were never located. The wooden building is a study in simplicity and clever design. It's a 'Manning house' - built by a man way ahead of his time. Henry Manning was a London architect, carpenter, builder and entrepreneur who made his name - literally - by building pre-fabricated buildings. This one arrived at Port Adelaide in sixty-nine flat-packs in February 1840.

It's not just Quakers who like to come to see the building. Engineers and architects love it too because of its elegant, simple and very innovative design. Thomas Manning made all the panels interchangeable. It was the full kit - even the three thousand, three hundred Welsh slates on the roof arrived by ship.

The simplicity on the outside is even more evident on the inside. No pictures on the walls, no adornments. No priest up the front either - no single focal point. The building is revered around the world as a classic original Meeting House and includes the only surviving original wooden furniture built by Henry Manning - arranged in the round of course, symbolising the equality of those at the weekly meeting.

Ann Rees: "There's no focal person, no focal point because we're in silence, we're in the deep silence and we're searching for truth. "

A Quaker meeting largely consists of sitting in silence - getting in touch with and forming a personal relationship with God within. Occasionally, someone will stand and speak - or 'minister' to the meeting. The Friends believe in truth, equality, peace and simplicity - and there's no doubt, their historic Meeting House suits their purpose beautifully.

Naturally, the Friend's Meeting House is on South Australia's Heritage List but despite an open and shut case put to the powers that be, somehow it's not yet on the national list. The Quakers of course are so passionately pro-peace that it wouldn't be appropriate for them to give someone a nudge in the ribs but perhaps South Australia should.

The Friend's Meeting House is at 40a Pennington Terrace in North Adelaide - up the laneway behind Saint Peter's cathedral. Meetings are held between 11 and 12 noon on Sundays. If you have any further questions please email info@postcards-sa.com.au

Friend's Meeting House
40a Pennington Terrace
North Adelaide
11am - 12 noon Sunday

Published 1st March 2009

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