Thomas Magarey and his brother James and wife arrived in Nelson, New Zealand from England, February 1st. 1842. The brothers were involved in a number of business and occupational interests . At the end of December 1844 while walking beside his horse and cart loaded with goods, Thomas was seriously injured when the cart got out of control going down a steep gully. Falling beneath the cart the wheel passed over his head. Fortunately he was assisted to his home, where after a long period of recuperation he recovered, although suffered with severe headpains for the rest of his life.
About this time Thomas came into contact with a religious group called Christian Disciples, to whom he referred as a strange people. Back in England he had become familiar with baptism (immersion) through the writings of the great Baptist preacher Gill. But the Disciples preached something unfamiliar to Thomas, a baptism for the remission of sins. It was difficult for Thomas to give up his Calvinistic view of salvation and he initially resisted all opportunities to make a public confession of faith and be baptised, Eventually on March l9th. 1845 he was baptised and became a member of the small group of Disciples in the area where his neighbour Thomas Jackson, the English reformer, guided the movement. Because of the fear of a Maori war with the settlers, the Magarey brothers left New Zealand arriving in Adelaide, Sunday 21 st . 1845.
From September 25th. to near the end of October, Thomas and James worked in the Lyndoch Valley washing sheep. When bailiffs came to take possession of the sheep station they decided to return to the city. John Ridley who owned a mill in Hindmarsh gave them work. They had contacted him as soon as they landed but there was no opening for them at the time. Ridley first questioned young Thomas' ability to do the skilled work required, but soon changed his opinion.
On returning from Lyndoch Thomas resumed his search for the Scotch Baptists, commenced before going into the country. Going first to a new Baptist chapel in North Adelaide he found Jimmy Allen the minister preaching his farewell sermon. On another occasion attending this same church Thomas found a man named Gill, a Plymouth Brethren, was dispensing the communion. It was said that he would preach to any congregation that would have him.
Inquiring from this congregation about the Scotch Baptists, the people were unsure of whom he spoke, almost as though they had never heard of them. Finally they directed him to one or two people including Thomas Neill, who was a Scotsman and a Baptist,
I called at the house of Mr Neill three times, but he was not at home. (1)
At last calling again at Neill's home in North Terrace, he found Mrs Neill was going out, but she sent one of the children with him to Mr Sanderman's shoe shop. Discussing the church with Thomas Neill and others he learnt the congregation had given up the name Scotch Baptist and had taken that only of a New Testament Church. Later, returning to Neill's, he found that the only difference between them was baptism for the remission of sins. Neill was particularly interested in the subject as some of his friends in Kilmarnock had recently accepted this teaching and had written to him about it.
On November 2nd. Thomas attended the Scotch Baptist meeting and found their church order almost the same as that of the Christian Disciples in New Zealand.
Early the following year, 1846, he was persuaded by some friends to apply for membership in the church but was refused because of his belief in baptism for the remission of sins.
Magarey was not allowed to join at the Lord's Table in the Scotch Baptist church until he became a member, so at times attended the Baptist church in North Adelaide. But he did speak personally to the brethren and though quiet in manner he was
persistent in his presentations of what he held as the word of the truth of the gospel. (2)
It was through him that many in the congregation began to understand Campbell's teaching on baptism and to feel t hat Captain Scot the leader of the congregation was in error.
Thomas Neill's doctrinal position on baptism was not as rigid as that of Captain Scott. He understood something of baptism for the remissions of sins. He believed in immersion on a confession of faith but still clung to his Calvinistic beliefs . Both Neill and Magarey the whole time they were connected with the Movement found difficulty with the interpretation of baptism for the remission of sins as presented by many within Churches of Christ (as that group came to be known). Magarey in particular held implicitly to the teachings of Alexander Campbell on baptism, accepting also Campbell’s openness, while others came over with the British emphasis that sounded very much like baptismal regeneration.
Magarey was quite hurt at being rejected from membership of the Franklin Street church and while he did not give up his private conversations on baptism he took a retiring position in the congregation.
It is difficult to determine what influence Magarey had on the thinking of the congregation in the two months prior to the opening of the Franklin Street church. It would seem very little. His first appearance at the church was November 2nd. 1845. He did not get very far with his conversations on baptism with Neill, did not apply for membership until after the building was opened, and when he did so was rejected on the meaning of baptism as one holding baptismal regeneration views. He makes no mention of the opening of the Franklin Street building in his Diary or Memoirs. Some of Campbell's writings were among the members and the congregation's worship was nearly the same as the Christian Disciples suggesting this as the real source of influence.
The notice in the Register emphasises the usage of the times of the term Church of Christ.
The Baptist Chapel
This body of Christians known as Scotch Baptists but who eschewing badges of distinction, call themselves merely "A Church of Christ. " . . . (3)
Note the notice does not use the term The Church of Christ but A Church of Christ. This was the usage of the times. At no time in Australia does Magarey use in his writings the term Church of Christ to describe the religious group to which he belonged. He always referred to them as Disciples. The Franklin Street church was still a Scotch Baptist church. It was not uncommon for an earIy Baptist Church in Australia to call itself simply a Church of Christ.
Rev. J. Price writing the early history of the Baptist Church and referring to those appointed to preach, says,
One of these was Captain Scott, who seems to have been one of the chief means of keeping the church together until the end of the year 1848. He was engaged throughout his colonial life in rendering service to the Church of Christ...Captain Scott and Thomas Neill, and others left them in that year and with their withdrawal it may be said that the identity of the original church was lost. (4)
It can be clearly seen that the Baptist authorities recognized the congregation as Baptist until the withdrawal of Scott and Neill in 1848.
In June of 1847 Elizabeth Verco arrived in Adelaide and Thomas Magarey immediately fell for her charms.
Early in August 1847 Magarey wrote to James Wallis the editor of the Christian Messenger and informed him of events that had recentIy taken place. Obstacles had been removed barring his admission to the church, and he was now a member. What had brought about his acceptance was the receiving of a number of books, particularly Alexander Campbell's Essay on the Remission of Sins.
Magarey also states the source of this congregation being known as a New Testament church as the Christian Messenger.
I am in connection with a congregation professing New Testament principles led in part by your valuable Messenger to discard sectarian names and connections, taking the New Testament alone as their standard and guide. (5)
Around this time was the baptism of Elizabeth Verco, the woman Magarey shortly afterwards married. Strange circumstances surrounded her baptism. Magarey went visiting friends, the Raglasses, one Sunday morning in August 1847. On the way home in the evening he learned that Elizabeth had been baptised that afternoon. His contact with her up to that time must have been sufficient for him to feel he could ask her to marry him. What is strange is that he didn't know she was to be baptised. Of course she could have decided that day to be baptised but that seems unlikely not being the practice of Captain Scott. He required a period of examination in order to meet the doctrinal stipulations of membership. The question still remains, why didn't Thomas know Elizabeth was to be baptised? If he wasn't in membership at the time, he wouldn't know all that was going on in the congregation. As soon as Thomas heard of Elizabeth's baptism he was overwhelmed with joy and decided no barrier remained against his asking her to marry him. The barrier for the need to be baptised and for the remission of sins was now removed. Writing a letter of proposal he entrusted it to James Verco her brother.
Magarey's letter to James Wallis in August 1847 indicates the changing scene in the Scotch Baptist congregation. A free and open discussion of the congregation of Campbell's Essay on the Remission of Sins resulted in the stumbling blocks being removed. In July one was immersed, a baptism for the remission of sins. Shortly after in August Thomas would have been admitted to the church membership and the way seemed open for the embracing of the teachings of the Disciples. What some of the brethren had been struggling with and what Thomas had been unable to fully explain had become clear on receiving Campbell's teaching on baptism.(6)
Magarey was delighted with the sudden turn of events after nearly two years of patient, persevering belief. He believed it now to be the right time to develop the ideas of the restoration movement, for there was a good spirit of acceptance among the brethren and they were resolving their differences in a most brotherly manner.
But Magarey felt a certain inadequacy in convincing others, much older than himself, of the truth which he believed. What was needed was an experienced teacher, He wrote immediately to James Wallis and then to Thomas Jackson. He invited Jackson to come to Adelaide as soon as possible, informing him of the encouraging events in the Franklin Street church. Two months later on October 10th. 1847, Jackson left New Zealand arriving in Sydney November 13th. and Adelaide December 14th.
Unfortunately Magarey's hopes were never to be realised for Jackson, the ardent reformer, was extremely disappointed to find that only part of the Franklin Street congregation had accepted the restoration position. For Jackson, Christian union meant all should accept the position the Disciples were putting forward. Of the situation as he found it he said,
I expected to find the church here founded upon the true principles of Christian union, but my expectations were disappointed . (7)
Jackson could not allow a mixed congregation, as Magarey was prepared to allow. A person had to decide one way or the other if he were to belong to the true Church of Christ. That could only happen, according to Jackson, when one accepted baptism for the remission of sins.
It was Magarey's hope to bring the Franklin Street congregation to the Disciple's view, but in a harmonious way. For over two years to the time of the arrival of the Jacksons he had worked in a quiet yet convincing way. Although Magarey had invited Jackson to come to Adelaide and sought his help in putting forward the Disciple's views, he did not forsee that Jackson would force the issue and divide the congregation. Division and contention were things he hated. As H.R.Taylor says,
Thomas was greatly distressed with the turn of events and the unhallowed contentions which had broken up the church. (8)
Stung by the biting words of Thomas Jackson that the church was not as Magarey had glowingly stated, Thomas kept in the background.
It was Jackson's hard line on the principles of Christian union which caused the whole doctrinal issue of baptismal regeneration to erupt into division that split the church. The Jacksons were voted into membership of the Franklin Street congregation by a majority, but Captain Scott and about one half of the congregation left the church. Other issues followed and again on July 23rd. 1848, Thomas Neill, a deacon who had assumed leadership of those who remained gathered his followers and withdrew leaving only up to thirteen members.
Right through his life Magarey kept the question of baptism in the perspective of the overall teachings of Christ, and the presentation of the Gospel. His deliberations on the meaning of baptism before he accepted it were long and drawn out. He saw this as a matter not to be considered lightly Eventually he came to accept the design of baptism as the "baptism for the remission of sins", but he was prepared to allow this belief to take second place to the fellowship of God's peoples No doubt he had been more influenced by Alexander Campbell than the man who brought him to the position of believer's baptism.
Arriving in Adelaide Magarey would have gladly joined the Scotch Baptist church even though he couldn't fully agree with their doctrinal position nor they with him. Fellowship with Christ's people was what he wanted. It was Jackson who demanded full agreement on the question of baptism for there to be any fellowship.
Baptism should not be the major subject of one's Christian fellowship, according to Magarey. When he was at Noarlunga he enjoyed fellowship with those who were not all of the same mind on the understanding of baptism.
We make a difference between confession of faith for the information of others and making that confession a bond of union to others . . but we feel it our duty to allow the diversity I speak of...
Again, we do not consider the remission of sins as the only object worth speaking of; indeed we look upon it as being but one of the first principles of the doctrine of Christ. It ought not, therefore, to be the subject of every discourse in the congregation or out of it. We do not consider it the best way to win souls to Christ to be continually abusing the sects; but rather to enlighten our hearers by proclaiming the truth as it is in Jesus, with as little reference to existing prejudices as possible. (9)