In 1898 the people of the six separate Australian colonies voted to establish a federated ‘Commonwealth of Australia’ whose centenary we celebrate this year. In the campaign preceding that vote, the South Australian Council of Churches petitioned its member churches actively promoting a ‘yes’ vote. The letter bearing that recommendation was drafted by a Congregational minister, Dr James Jefferis, of the Brougham Place church.
Jefferis received the criticism of the Advertiser for this stance which was, it claimed, “beyond the province of the pulpit”. “If the pulpit had nothing to say at such a moment of national significance,” Jefferis retorted, its ministers would be rightly denounced as “dumb dogs that cannot bark”. It is perhaps no co-incidence that the referendum question received its strongest metropolitan support in the electorate of North Adelaide.
For this and his many public statements towards Federation, Dr James Jefferis has received the biographical title of “Prophet of Federation”. Historian, Dr Walter Phillips, of the La Trobe University in Melbourne, wrote that history which was published in 1993.
“It was the Rev. T.Q. Stow who invited the Rev. James Jefferis to come to S.A. to help form a church at North Adelaide. Jefferis began his ministry in Temperance Hall, North Adelaide in May 1859 and a fellowship was formed in October of that year.
The Brougham Place church was opened in February 1861 and could seat 800 persons. Jefferis filled the church. [He] preached a ‘progressive theology’ and, at a time when many saw religion and science as enemies, he encouraged his congregation to see science and philosophy also as witnesses to God’s truth.”
A prophet of Federation is remembered.