Manufactured by the noted prefabricator of “portable colonial cottages”, Henry Manning of London, the Meeting House arrived at Port Adelaide on February 6, 1840. It is one of the most sophisticated examples of prefabrication from this period and is of international significance in the development of this most important building technique.
The one practical way in which the English body of Quakers could help “Friends” in outposts of the British Empire was to raise subscriptions for meeting houses. As early as 1825 the Quakers in London resolved to ship a prefabricated dwelling to Sierra Leone. During the 1839 London yearly meeting of Quakers, concern was expressed that a building should also be despatched to South Australia as a meeting house and that it should be prefabricated in nature. The choice of Henry Manning as the manufacturer was due to the fervent testimonials of the prominent South Australian pioneer and Quaker John Barton Hack, who had imported two of Manning’s portable colonial cottages to South Australia. Before the shipment of the Meeting House from London it stood on show at the West India Dock.
In October 1839 Hack was advised that “a wooden framework Meeting House with verandah and iron pillars complete, packed and numbered” had been shipped aboard the Rajasthan. These packages, together with 3300 slates that had also been shipped out, were transported by April 27, 1840, to a site on Pennington Terrace.
Progress in the erection of the building was slow. Henry Watson, a Quaker and Hack’s brother-in-law, who lived immediately adjacent to the west in another Manning house (see Walkley Cottage, St Mark’s College) recorded at this time: “We have not done anything yet about putting up the Meeting House – the Friends have all gone up to Mount Barker – I have little expectation of seeing a second Pennsylvania here.”
The building was erected by June 14, 1840, and Hack commented happily “The Meeting House is finished except painting and a very handsome building it is. Manning has done full justice to it.”
At first the Meeting House was little used, not all the Friends showing Hack’s enthusiasm for it, and in 1863 there were moves to drastically alter or replace the building. Fortunately such action did not take place, and the building remains testimony to Manning’s high-quality workmanship and his remarkable perception of climatic control (especially the use of verandas tied down by the iron “pillars”). The interior is remarkable for its originality; the pews are also by Manning, and are the only pieces of furniture made by him known to have survived.