The following testimonial was laid on the coffin of my great-great-grandfather, John Ross McNaughton - who died at 148 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne on July 18th, 1885 - and in August 1885 appeared in 'The Monthly Messenger,' published by the Presbyterian Church from 1880 to 1923. It was signed by D. M., moderator of the West Melbourne Presbyterian Church, presumably D. MacDonald, D.D., who also wrote a reference for John McNaughton from The Manse, Emerald, Melbourne on January 29th, 1874. Emerald Hill changed its name to South Melbourne in 1883.
Mr. M'Naughton was a very old colonist. He was one of the first immigrants who came direct from the old country to port Phillip. As is well-known, the first land sale took place in Melbourne in the year 1837. Within a year thereafter our late friend arrived here with a young wife, to push their fortune. Times were hard on the working classes in Scotland in the decade from 1830 onwards, and John M'Naughton, then in the prime of early manhood, was one of those at that period who had the courage to accept, with thankfulness, the great news from Australia of the opening up of a new settlement on the banks of the Yarra Yarra. Mr. M'Naughton was just the man to make a good colonist. A shrewd Scotsman, with a plain education - still young and inured to work, he was at once employed on reaching Melbourne. He first wrought at Heidelberg, then an agricultural settlement, supposed to be far in the bush, but he soon went further into the interior, and engaged in the service of Mr. (afterwards Sir) William Mitchell, who was then making his place at Barfold, on the Campaspe. As years rolled on, however, the attractions of Melbourne drew Mr. M'Naughton to the rising city, where he felt that he could have a wider field for his exertions, and better opportunities for his young family.
Coming to Melbourne with some saved money, Mr. M'Naughton invested in working-horses. He was his own carter, and by the time that gold was discovered in 1851, he had a good team, and was thus in circumstances to make money. Unlike many others, who threw away their all on a venture, this careful Scotchman carted to the goldfields, and at a time when teamsters received £1 per ton per mile in taking goods to Bendigo, his means steadily increased. Need I say that his savings were wisely invested, and that he soon began to be known as a citizen of some importance? He had settled in West Melbourne on land which he had purchased, and from the first he took a deep interest in the district in which his lot was cast. By that time, the territorial feeling which has since divided Melbourne into several cities and municipalities was gradually growing up, and John M'Naughton was early known as a "West Melbourne" man. Whenever there was a movement in political or municipal affairs John was sure to be deep in consultation on the subject.
He would not, however, have been the good Scotchman that he was, unless he also had taken an interest in church affairs. He had early joined the Scots' Church, under the ministry of the Rev. Mr. Hetherington; but the Scots' Church was not in West Melbourne, and he watched for his opportunity to start a Presbyterian cause in his own special field.
Although Melbourne began in West Melbourne, yet, for a good while, residence and business went gradually eastwards, and the western quarter of the city was a long region of scattered lodging-houses for workers in the foundries and lighters - not a church-going people. But a turn of the tide came when such men as Samuel Amess, James Paterson, James Lawrence, and Alexander Stevenson settled in the locality. And now came the opportunity for originating a West Melbourne Presbyterian Church. In the year 1864 a weekly meeting was begun, conducted by Mr. James Brown, now the Rev. Mr. Brown, our respected missionary in the charitable institutions of Melbourne. This at once attracted the sympathy of Mr. M'Naughton, who had then the leisure and the will to push this movement to practical results. It may be said that they knew every resident in West Melbourne who had any standing in the district, and having now means and time on his hands, he went with all his soul to accomplish the object on which he had long set his heart. He never, of course, neglected his own private affairs, but his true work henceforth was the institution of a congregation of his own denomination in his own locality, and the building of a church worthy of the city of Melbourne.
There were difficulties in procuring a site, but the removal of the Government offices and Parliament House to the other end of the city, left some land available and Mr. M'Naughton did not let the grass grow under his feet until the present noble site was obtained through pressure brought to bear on Mr. J. M. Grant, who was then King in the Lands Department, and was not unwilling to befriend any Presbyterian cause. I will not dwell on the first effort made to erect a temporary church - the wooden structure still in existence - nor the still greater effort made to erect the pile in which we are now met, more than to say that I doubt whether the one or the other would have been built but for Mr. M'Naughton's efforts - not that money was wanting, but that such an agent was needed who could press the movement to a consummation. The hard work that he undertook was to collect subscriptions. This, as everyone knows, is work which needs stout qualities. Mr. M'Naughton, though a canny Scotchman, was one of the first - after his efforts to get subscriptions were exhausted - to give his own name, with others, to a guarantee for a large overdraft at a bank, on personal security, for means to finish the body of the church; and thus the West Melbourne church was erected, as we now see.
But all this was as nothing to the difficulty of organising the congregation ecclesiastically. It is only due to the Presbytery of Melbourne of that day to say that upon the whole they were enthusiastically in favour of the movement, though they made one grand mistake, which brought them within the law of appeal and landed the case in the Assembly of 1865, thereby causing delay and irritation. Meanwhile Mr. M'Naughton was working the congregation. He had all the sittings (600) in the temporary church let by the time it was finished. It was my fortune to be appointed moderator of the West Melbourne Congregation after it was recognised by the Presbytery, and our first duty was to get a minister called. The choice of the people fell on the Rev. Andrew Robertson, Minister of Castlemaine. Mr. M'Naughton accompanied me to the meeting of the Presbytery of Castlemaine, to plead for the translation of Mr. Robertson to West Melbourne, and great was the rejoicing of the good man when the call was accepted, and the translation agreed to.
This accomplished the Christian work on which Mr. M'Naughton first set his heart, but, unlike many others in similar circumstances, he never tired of the good work. He was a trustee and a member of the Board of Management of the congregation till his death, and whoever else neglected the temporal affairs of the congregation, not so Mr. M'Naughton, who counted every shilling of its revenue. I add that he was a regular worshipper, and always in his pew on the Lord's Day. Though in advanced years, he was twice at church on the last Sabbath of his life. In later years he was an elder, and sedulously attended to the duties of his sacred office. He was, in short, a devoted Christian - he loved his Bible and his church, and now, at the close of his useful life, devout men will carry him today to his burial. May the Lord raise up such men in all the congregations of our church!
It would not be right to close this brief notice without stating that a few years ago the Government of the colony recognised Mr. M'Naughton's character and position by appointing him a Justice of the Peace, an office for which he was well qualified. His large experience of life, his concientiousness, his good sense, and his humanity were generally recognised on the bench, and it is a melancholy pleasure to me, as an old friend and fellow-worker, now to have this opportunity of laying this testimonial on his coffin.
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