The first Congregational services in the Kensington area were held in the home of John and Leonora Roberts. They, and most of their children, had arrived from England in the early 1840s. Roberts built his own house in 1844 as well as a number of other houses in Maesbury Place, later known as Maesbury Street. Congregationalists soon held their meetings at his house.
A start for a chapel was made when John White, a cabinet maker of Adelaide donated the land for it. The foundation stone was laid on 5 September 1844 and by the end of the year it was completed and opened. Within a few short years the Village Church as it was known proved to be too small and a new, and much larger, one would be needed. This resulted in the donation by John Roberts of a section of land on the corner of today’s Maesbury and High Streets.
The foundation stone for the new building was laid on 8 April 1848 by William Giles, manager of the South Australian Company and a lay preacher. It was to be a non denominational Chapel and Congregational services were held in the mornings and evenings and Baptists services in the afternoons.
It was officially opened on 1 October 1848. Within a few months the first official interment took place in the cemetery next to the church when on 28 February 1849 Eliza Mitchell was buried. Although hers was the first to be recorded, it is more than likely that others were laid to rest there before.
In early 1849 the Rev John M. Strongman started his work and a fellowship was formed in March 1849. John Roberts became both deacon and treasurer. In 1852 the Rev. Henry Cheetham was appointed and stayed for 23 years. Cheetham had previously been working at Burra where he showed to be a very progressive man. At an election meeting he had declared that he was in favour of equal rights for men and women, including the right to vote. Cheetham was to be Burra’s first and last Congregational minister.
Not everyone agreed with Cheetham’s political or religious views. In December 1853 matters came to a head and when an attempt to remove him failed, a breakaway group, which included John Roberts and William Bruce, eventually formed its own congregation and built Clayton Church at Norwood.
When feelings had settled down the building at Kensington was soon referred to as Cheetham’s Church. His wife Susannah died on 10 June 1862 aged 62 at Fairview, Norwood but was buried at Maesbury. Two years later, on 27 October 1864, the cemetery was formally closed by the government but those people who had already bought a plot could still be buried there after that time.
When Cheetham himself died on 1 September 1881 he was stationed at Milang but his body was brought back to be buried next to ‘his church’. His daughter and son were also buried there. All in all there have been some 550 people buried but only very few have been officially recorded. The last person laid to rest there was Emily Ann Hughes in 1962.
From 1876 the church building was used by the Bible Christians and from 1902 by the Seventh Day Adventists. In 1962 it was sold into private ownership. In 1964 the site was cleaned up and turned into a public park, The Kensington Pioneer Garden. Further work was carried out in 1966. Unfortunately information has not survived detailing any plot arrangements or locations.
Listing of known burials for 1850
The old and the new