John Turner was born in Surrey, England on July 9, 1817. It is likely that John Turner was the eldest child in his parents family, as he shares the same name as his father, John Turner, a caretaker. Often in families, the first born children are named after their parents, and this was a tradition carried visibly through the Turner family for several generations. John Turner's siblings were James (christened September 9, 1827), Sarah Ann (christened December 20, 1829), Hannah (christened October 9, 1831) and Mary Ann (christened February 9, 1834). The christenings of these family members took place at St. Mary Independent Church, Putney, Surrey, England. It is also probable that there are other, as yet unknown, members of this family, as there is a ten year gap between the birth of John Turner and his next eldest sibling, James.
Nothing is known at this stage about the childhood of John Turner, for the first traceable event in his life was his marriage to Lucy Barnes when aged twenty-one.
He married twice. John Turner married Lucy Barnes in London, England in 1838. John was a teacher by profession. Lucy was born in 1815 in Wandsworth, Surrey, England.
The Turner family were Particular Baptists (also known as Strict Baptists and Ebenezer Baptists), a strongly Calvinistic branch of the Baptist Church who believed that atonement was only for the elect (that is, that Christ died for a particular number who were elected to salvation before the creation of the world). They were opposed in theological matters to the Arminians (Methodists) and their 'temples of free-will', and also to the Established Church. The Particular Baptists laid great emphasis on the unworthy backsliding and depraved nature of man. Participation in their communion service was strictly confined to those adult believers who had been baptised by immersion into membership of their Church. In 1848, John, Lucy and their young family were members of Ebenezer Chapel, Richmond Hill, Brighton, Sussex, where John Turner was the Sunday school teacher.
1848 was a difficult year in England, there was a famine in Ireland and provisions became very costly. Some members of the congregation of Ebenezer Church met together, and after many prayers, resolved to emigrate to Australia. They were formed into a church with John Turner as Minister. On July 5, 1849 the group drew up 'A Declaration of the Faith and Practice of the Church of Christ under the pastoral care of John Turner', a carefully worded, comprehensive document listing the beliefs and government of the Church. John Turner was made Minister and the group corresponded with the New South Wales Government (this was prior to the separation of Victoria in 1851) with a view to obtaining a grant of land, dividing it equally into farms, and keeping themselves as a separate community. A favourable reply was received, advising that land was available at either Moreton Bay or Port Phillip, and the group decided to take up the offer of land near Lake Colac, Port Phillip. The Turner family arrived in Port Phillip on the Harpley.
From the Argus Melbourne, Port Phillip. Wednesday, January 9, 1850, page 2:
(Reprint of a paragraph from the Plymouth Advertiser, Wednesday, September 20, 1849).
Under her three topsails and jib, with a stiff breeze from North East, and a strong ebb tide, the smart ship Harpley appeared off Plymouth, on Monday morning, the 17th instant, and notwithstanding the opposition of both elements, she, cutter-like, grace fully entered the Sound, and with conscious pride took up her anchorage at the appointed station. Comparatively a few years since no one would have imagined that the far distant colonists of Van Diemen's Land would have sent to the mother country, a fine specimen of naval architecture, so well qualified to mingle in one of her noblest ports, with the merchant shipping of the parent state.
The Harpley was launched at Launceston on the 2nd of February, 1847, and with the exception of her chain cables, was there supplied with all her materials, stores, rigging, pumps and c. She is now, through the instrumentality of Messrs. Ford and Co. destined to convey a cargo of British merchandise, and a living freight back to Port Phillip. She is full ship rigged, and registers 570 tons, is fitted in the 'tween decks right fore and aft, and well ventilated cabins for four and sixes, for which accommodation each person pays Eighteen pounds. Her ample poop aft possesses an elegant saloon, into which the superior cabins open. Near the rudder there is a very convenient entrance to the saloon from the poop deck, by which this part of the ship is most conveniently separated from the main deck. The Harpley has all the other usual fitments for emigration, including one of Thompson's life boats, the lockers of which are fitted with cork. Mr. Thomas Buckland, a first-class master of considerable colonial experience, commands her, and he has an able crew of 10 officers and 24 seamen. Nearly 200 souls are committed to their charge.
Among the passengers is a Baptist congregation of about 60 persons, who accompanied by their ordained minister, Mr. Turner, have left Brighton in a body, intending to settle in one locality. An experienced surgeon, Mr. Smith, takes medical charge, and a medical assistant, Mr. Haye, goes out in the vessel. Few emigrants have left the Sound under more favourable auspices than those on board the Harpley. Her agents in Plymouth are Messrs. Luscome, Driscoll and Co. and it is understood that at Melbourne s he will load for England, thus assisting to maintain that happy connection between Great Britain and her colonies which it is to be hoped will continue for centuries unbroken. The Harpley left for her destination this (Wednesday) afternoon, with a spanking wind from the north-east.
An item in the Argus on Tuesday, January 7, 1902, on the occasion of the golden wedding anniversary of Mr and Mrs Edward Wood of Preston (members of the group) recalls:
In leaving the old country for the new it was decided that everything necessary should be taken for founding a colony. So all manner of furniture and household utensils were provided, pots and pans, windows, doors, chairs, tables, also all field necessaries for the new unknown land, and even the bell for the chapel which was to hold the little community together.
The group (of about fifty and comprising of the Turner, Vincent, Wood, Chandler, Juniper, Tyler and Foreman families) boarded the barque Harpley at St. Katherine's dock, London.
The Harpley was towed to Gravesend on September 9, 1849 and from there had a rough passage down the English channel. The ship was not very large, carrying only 200 passengers with 800 tons burden. Before they arrived at Plymouth eleven days later, two men had died of cholera. After three days at Plymouth, they resumed their voyage. Sea-sickness abounded and provisions began to run out soon after leaving. The ship was badly provisioned and the food was bad. John Chandler in Forty Years in the Wilderness stated 'The biscuits were very bad, and nothing but downright starvation made us eat them. Our water ran short, and they had to boil our plum duff in salt water, which spoilt it.' After 111 days they anchored off Adelaide on December 23, 1849 and arrived at Hobson's Bay on January 6, 1850.
The Argus of January 7, 1902 continued:
As vessels in those days were obliged to anchor out in the bay, it was found impossible to unload from the hold all the stock of furniture and farming plant in time for it to be of any use, so most of it was sold at Bell's auction rooms ... Even the chapel bell went to the auction room, and is probably now gracing the belfry of some Melbourne church.
On the first Sunday in Melbourne the group met for worship at the home of John Joseph Mouritz, one of Melbourne's earliest Baptist Ministers, in Newtown (officially Newtown became West Collingwood in 1842 and Fitzroy in 1858) and John Turner preached. The next Sunday he preached in the Collins Street Baptist Chapel. In Forty Years in the Wilderness, John Chandler says that after a few weeks the Church began meeting for worship in the Mechanics' Institute (now the Athenaeum). This was the first Particular Baptist Church in Victoria.
The idea of the farming community soon lost favour. John Chandler in Forty Years in the Wilderness says that he held a grudge against John Turner for breaking up their arrangement for taking up land, although the Sydney Government was still willing that they should have the land. Chandler thought that perhaps members had seen quite enough of each other during the voyage out.
New church members were baptised by John Turner in the Yarra, reportedly then a beautiful clear stream, near the falls, where the Queen's bridge is now. A small tent was erected on the banks of the river for them to change in. This was the first baptising of Strict Baptist's in Victoria. Melbourne was still a small settlement at this time. By 1851 the population reached 23,143. The colony was to grow with great speed soon after news had reached London about the gold discoveries in Victoria in May 1852. The english public went wild with excitement. Newspapers breathlessly described the fortunes being rapidly made on the fields and reported that even those who chose to stay at their normal work earned such fabulous sums as 35/- a week. Men rushed to board ship and 33,000 unassisted immigrants landed at Port Phillip in 1852.
Soon after arrival in the Colony, John Turner had applied to the Superintendent of Port Phillip for a grant of land to build a church on. All the other denominations had free-grants and Turner's Church was subsequently granted half an acre of land situated on the north-west corner of Lonsdale and Stephen (Exhibition) Streets, Melbourne, and extending down Stephen Street to Little Lonsdale Street. The church itself was built on the Lonsdale Street frontage. Fund raising for the building of the Chapel commenced with the holding a public tea meeting on Good Friday, April 20, 1850.
The design for the chapel was unadorned and simple. The members gave their labour freely and the church was built. The Church had pilastered rectangular column) walls and were constructed entirely of roughly squared stone laid in courses. This was the second Baptist Church built in Melbourne. The church was officially opened on October 20, 1850 with a 'tea meeting' and was called 'Zion Particular Baptist Church'. Later, around 1859, the Church was extended at the back with a brick vestry, and a new and ornate front was added. J. M. Freeland in Melbourne Churches, 1836 - 1851, An Architectural Record describes the Church:
The front, architecturally, a mixture of Palladian, Baroque and Mannerist styles, was unique in its design, for probably no Melbourne building, and certainly no Melbourne church, was ever vaguely similar. The unknown designer was obviously determined to fight his own little battle in the battle of styles, which was at its peak about that time and, uninfluenced by the niceties of Gothic or Greek revival as the most appropriate ecclesiastical style, he sprang a vigorous, rugged and forceful, if somewhat primitive revival of his own. The rustically coupled columns, the doorway and its round pediment, the Florentine mouldings and particularly the scrolled buttresses, the windowed gable and general black and white impression of the gable portion of the wall, suggest and individual designer with a courage and forthrightness of no mean degree.
The design of the Melbourne church was of a similar style to that of the Ebenezer Church at Brighton, Sussex.
Soon after the church was built, John Turner began introducing his doctrine - That the Holy Spirit should not be addressed in prayer, as He was the inditer of all true prayer. He brought forward much scripture to support his views. His view divided the church community and many of the old members left, leaving John Turner with a small church group.
The Church site is now the location of the exclusive Rockman's Regency Hotel. However back in the 1850s, this was not such an illustrious address. The population of Melbourne had increased tenfold with the discovery of gold, and the north eastern part of the city became crowded with small cottages, factories, hotels and shops, and it was in this fringe area of the city where the poor congregated. The high proportion of men and the lack of work for women saw a sudden growth in prostitution. By 1854 the area was the centre of Melbourne's infamous prostitution or 'red light' district. The more fashionable brothels had their frontages on Stephen and Lonsdale Streets, not far from John Turner's church.
The reputation of the area where the church was located, for thievery and prostitution, remained for the entire time whilst the Baptist Chapel stood. In 1878 the City was preparing to host the 1880 International Exhibition. The connotations of the name Stephen Street were so poor that it was decided to change the name to Exhibition Street. However, by 1880 in the area bounded by Spring, Lonsdale, Exhibition and Little Lonsdale Streets (the block directly opposite the church) had approximately 200 resident prostitutes, although the women were no longer destitute and living in squalor, they had become highly organised and were run by 'madams'.
Lucy Turner died from chronic stomach irritation at Princes Street in Kew, Victoria, Australia on October 30, 1870 and was buried on November 1, 1870 in the Boroondara General Cemetery in Kew, Victoria, Australia. The ceremony was performed by her husband, Reverend John Turner.
John Turner then married Alicia de la Porte in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia in 1871. Alicia was born circa 1840.
John died from paralysis at 215 George Street in Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia on December 30, 1894. John Turner, his first wife Lucy, granddaughter Maud Mary Plaisted, daughters Florence and Hannah (Mrs Smith) are all buried in a grave at Boroondara General Cemetery, Kew, underneath a shady tree in the baptist A compartment.
John Turner fathered in total, some twenty children, thirteen to his first wife, Lucy Barnes, who died in 1870 and a further seven to his second wife, Alicia de la Porte. Eight of his children pre-deceased him. Alicia died in North Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia in 1921
After John Turner's death, the Particular Baptist Church in Lonsdale Street was under the pastoral care of Reverend Charles Walter Hartshorn, who in 1910 married John Turner's widowed daughter Mary Ann (Setford), however this was to be a short marriage, for Reverend Hartshorn died later the same year. The church was demolished in the mid 1930s when the land was sold for £35,000 to a rubber company who erected a factory and petrol service station on the site.
History records John Turner as being a man of fine powers and strong character. Chandler stated that Turner always liked to be wiser than his brethren.
John Turner and Lucy Barnes had the following children:
The half-holiday was granted by the Hon. Henry Cuthbert, M.L.C., in 1878 and has since been adopted by the Governments of the other colonies . At the banquet held in January each year to celebrate the event, John Turner's name is coupled with the half-holiday toast.
I am exceedingly glad to note that the idea of securing some hours' respite from labour on Saturdays for the letter-carriers, is taking favorable hold of the public mind. Several letters have during the week appeared in the daily papers approving of Cr. Turner's suggestion, and pointing out that it could be carried into effect with a mere nominal amount of inconvenience to what Mr. Fawkner used to style 'the gentle public.' Several customers have asked me to advocate the cause, and I comply most gladly. Some of them who are business men, tell me that the percentage of letters they receive by the last mail on Saturdays which could not well be delayed on Monday, is so small that they are quite willing the postmen should be relieved of that delivery. This I take it is the real point about which the Postmaster-General will require to be convinced. Make it clear to him that the public will not merely acquiesce in the change, but actually desire it, and depend upon it he will not stand in the way of its being brought about.
Apart from a brief interval around 1888, John remained a councillor until 1905.
He was chosen Mayor by a unanimous vote in 1882, and discharged his duties with skill, probity, and discretion. As a councillor he is thoroughly practical, and labours with untiring zeal for the benefit of the city, of which he is an honoured citizen.
The most public period in John Turner's career as a councillor of the City of Prahran occurred in 1887. At the council meeting held on September 12, 1887, he moved That this council proceed on an early date in committee to consider the advisability or otherwise of altering the name of the City of Prahran, in consequence of the ineuphonious [unpleasant] nature of the said name. He supported his motion with claims that the residents preferred any other name to Prahran and that he was prepared to sink or swim at the next election on the point of changing the name of Prahran. Councillor Arkie supported the motion and commented that whenever an auctioneer had a place to sell he always preferred Armadale, Hawksburn, Windsor, or any other name in preference to Prahran. The motion was lost.
He is widely known as a highly successful financier and auctioneer, having invested his capital upon the Building society principle, in building Richmond and South Yarra, permitting his clients to become their own landlords, by making time payments in lieu of rent. We understand that he is the largest private lender, under this system, in Victoria.
At the following council meeting, Councillor Forbes moved That in view of the steps now being initiated by Councillor John Turner for the separation of the districts of South Yarra and Toorak from this city, he be requested to at once resign his seat as a councillor for the City of Prahran. He said that it was with some regret that he moved the resolution, as Councillor Turner was an old member of the council and he was a comparatively new one. The motion was seconded by Councillor Bowden who remarked that Councillor Turner's attendance at their meeting was no longer desirable. The motion was carried. The supporters of the severance committee made it clear to John Turner that they did not wish him to resign his position as councillor. In his official reply to the council, John Turner stated his disinclination to resign, and added that as long as he retained his legal qualification the only person by whose judgment he must be guided in the matter was himself.
The action of Councillor Turner in suddenly setting a motion afoot to wreck the City of Prahran and to build upon its runs a miserable borough, calls for the severest censure, and it is gratifying to know that only a very small section of the community have been, up to the present, hoodwinked by him. But his mischievous proposition that South Yarra and Toorak should sever from the city may perhaps bring forth some fruit if opposing influences are not soon brought to bear upon it. Many persons may be led away by false arguments. Councillor Turner with considerable craftiness told his audience that the city offices were too far away from South Yarra, and he would have new offices for South Yarra in a central place with the flag of the new municipality 'floating proudly in the breeze'.
Unbelievably, the Prahran Telegraph which had so publicly condemned John Turner two months earlier, now hailed him as a hero. From December 10, 1887:
This did not deter Councillor Turner, who expressed his satisfaction at the result, although he held that the ratepayers of South Yarra and Toorak were more in favor of severance as was evidenced by the fact that out of 2700? only 516? signed the wards petition. He was one who could take defeat as well as victory, and would accept the position.
The following August John Turner stood for the Toorak ward but was defeated by Councillor Forbes. After the announcement of the results, Councillor Forbes commented One of the councillors who is now unseated had brought it about by his own conduct.
It will be well remembered that a few months ago Councillor John Turner, a member of the Prahran City council, took steps towards effecting a severance of South Yarra and Toorak from the city In all probability Councillor Turner simply suggested the severance question in a jocular manner, and was only perhaps reciting comic poetry when he spoke of the 'flag of South Yarra and Toorak waving proudly in the breeze'. But if Councillor Turner joked at first, some of his neighbours did not. They were suddenly smitten with a desire for glory and independence, and then a motion was speedily set. .... But in the moment of victory won, a great fact should not be lost sight of and that is that Councillor John Turner is the prime cause of wards being granted to Prahran. He brought the matter to a climax and compelled the citizens to choose between severance or wards, and they have chosen. Therefore, as things are now, the advocates of wards should, as a matter of rightness, crown Councillor Turner with laurels and banquet him. ... If the ward system is such a boon as it is said to be, then it shows execrable [abominable] taste to revile the man who was the primary cause of establishing it, and whatever may have been permissible before any result was achieved for either side, it is certainly very different now, and if Councillor Turner cannot be sincerely thanked for what he has done, he should not be persecuted because he has, inadvertently or otherwise, caused a result which is in the main satisfactory.
Bellin took more than £3,000 from the short-lived Fourth Industrial Building Society, and by mid 1890 had accumulated more than £70,000 in personal debts. By September 1890 Bellin could hold off his creditors no longer and a petition for bankruptcy was filed against him and the affairs of the two building societies were immediately investigated.
During that year, Bellin fell in with John Turner and James Hobson Turner, two auctioneers and warehouseman of Flinders Lane who were engaged in many speculative ventures with B. J. Fink. Bellin and the Turner brothers [sic] formed a new financial institution, called the Fourth Industrial Building Society. With Bellin's reputation behind it, the public willingly placed their faith and their deposits in its hands. Bellin, as manager, proceeded to borrow heavily from the funds of this second 'building society', and to open its coffers to his friends.
Mr. John Turner, one of the best-known figures in municipal life in Prahran for upwards of quarter of a century, died at his residence, Alleyne avenue, Malvern, on Monday last, after a short illness. Possessed of restless energy and being a fluent speaker, he entered municipal life in 1877, and with one brief interval remained a councillor of Prahran until 1905, being Mayor in 1882- 3, being intimately associated with most of the movements which during that lengthened period contributed to forward the progress of the city. Originally post-master at South Yarra, his strong advocacy led to the abolition of the Saturday afternoon delivery of mails, thus giving the letter carriers their half-holiday. He was also an energetic worker in the temperance cause and in Baptist circles. The finest eulogy of his work will be found in the columns of this paper, his reported speeches in which would fill volumes. Of late years he has lived in comparative retirement, though it was only a short time since when his well-known form was seen in Chapel street.
John Turner and Alicia de la Porte had the following children: