My grandfather’s name was Hopkin James. On the basis of this extensive evidence I have always assumed Hopkins was a Welsh name. As it turns out, I wasn’t far wrong. Ancestry tells me that although the surname Hopkins is used throughout South England, it is most commonly found in South Wales. Perfect! Because today I want to tell you about Henry Hopkins, one of Port Phillip’s notable early settlers, and, although he was born in Deptford and listed as having English and Flemish ancestry, I am claiming him as one of ours.
That’s right, Welsh.
Hopkins was a merchant and philanthropist who, after emigrating, acquired extensive properties in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) and Port Phillip (Victoria) (Pardon the brackets – I’m catering for an extensive world wide readership). Hopkins was also a devout Congregationalist. My Deptford born, Lowland leaning, still undeniably Welsh, Henry Hopkins was responsible for bringing the first Congregationalist clergyman to Victoria, and for subsidising his salary. But his generosity did not stop there. It also extended to the Wesleyan, Presbytarian, and Anglican denominations. In an age without social welfare, this amounted to helping widows, orphans and the destitute.
Now for those of you who can’t tell a Congregationalist from a Wesleyan, the Congregationalists were a denomination that arose out of the religious battles of the sixteenth century. Their adherents believed in a democratic church structure and the autonomy of each individual congregation. They didn’t dance. Or use musical instruments in worship. Neither did they chant or sing anthems. They confined themselves to rousing, unaccompanied, renditions of Isaac Watt’s hymns.
Port Phillip’s first Congragationalist minister was Reverend William Wakefield, formerly of Wrexham, Wales. Now if you are thinking his address makes him Welsh, think again. The Australian Dictionary of Biography gives him English ancestry and, as Reverend Wakefiled seems to have been a bit of a pedant, we’re gonna let England keep him.
According to the 1836 Churches Act, all major Christian denominations in colonial Australia could apply for a land grant, assistance with their building funds and a subsidy towards their clergyman’s salary. Reverend Wakefield was suspicious of this arrangement. Perhaps, enough to make his hair stand on end? According to the Port Phillip Pioneers group, he was unwilling to greet visit passengers on newly arrived immigrant vessels or, indeed, anyone not from his congregation. He also resented Henry Hopkins financial assistance. Though it seems his congregation had no such scruples. When they sought government funding to build a school house, Wakefield resigned and took up residence in Van Dieman’s Land. Where he is, no doubt, someone’s beloved great, great grandfather and I will face legal action for slandering their heritage.
It seems the Congregationalists weren’t only Puritans in Port Phillip. Wesleyan Methodists also eschewed musical instruments in worship. However this was not the position of John Jones Peers, an energetic, red-headed Welshman who gave generous assistance to both the Congregationalists and Methodists causes. Peers built Melbourne’s first Wesleyan chapel. Under which roof he took great delight in leading a choir. He also assumed the cost of importing a pipe organ from Liverpool. On January 9th, 1843, this instrument was used for Melbourne’s first formal organ recital. The program included selections from Handel, Haydn and Mozart, which is no more than you would expect from one hailing from the Land of Song.