William & Helen Finlayson

The current Burnside Family Church, which began in 1864 as the Burnside Christian Chapel, has a long history of missionary involvement, going back to the first pastor, William Finlayson. He grew up in Scotland and became a Christian as young man who loved romantic novels, but one day by mistake grabbed a Bible and found God speaking to him as he read through the book of Isaiah.

After several years attending Bible Study groups and participating in open air witnessing, William developed an interest in missionary service to the Pacific Islands. He tried unsuccessfully to join a Baptist Mission, but they refused because he wasn’t a Baptist, so he tried another mission, but they had no funds at the time to send anyone new.

Then he saw the newspaper advertisement from the South Australia Company asking for married couples to come as settlers to the new colony of SA.

William and his young wife Helen, sailed from Scotland, arriving in the very new colony in the heat of Feb 1837, when the surveying of the city of Adelaide wasn’t completed and life was difficult and primitive.


Although still hoping to be a missionary to the Pacific Islanders, or to the Aboriginal people around Adelaide, William found himself instead involved in the early development of Scots Church, then Tom Playford’s Bentham St Chapel in the late 1840s, the Zion Chapel in Pulteney St in 1855 and finally the church here at Burnside in 1864. (see photo)

William and Helen’s 9 children were brought up attending Sunday School at Mitcham Christian Chapel (which became Mitcham Baptist) and when they were older, attended Zion Chapel.  Some of the children and grandchildren were actively interested in supporting missionary outreach.

The Zion Chapel sent out missionaries to China, Sudan and India, including William Finlayson’s granddaughters, Dr Ethel Ambrose and her older sister Nurse


Lily Ambrose, who both served with the Poona and Indian Village Mission for decades from 1905. Dr Ethel (on the left in the photo) with a lovely, industrious manner, was greatly respected during her training and work experience in Australia, at a time when women doctors had a hard time. Then in India her selfless, caring efforts in developing medical care for women and children, made her much loved by staff and patients, first at Nasrapur and later for many years at Pandharpur.


Their uncle Robert Finlayson co pastored at Zion Chapel and Burnside with his father from 1864 until 1874, when he became pastor in his own right at Burnside until his death in 1916. During this time the Burnside congregation grew through sound teaching and developed an interest in the China Inland Mission and other missions seeking workers for Africa, India, Asia, the Pacific Islands and South America.

A Missionary Training College was set up in Adelaide at Hope Lodge, Belair, which later moved to North Adelaide and was known as Angus College, because of the interest of the family of George Fife Angus, an early SA pioneer. Then a Women’s Missionary Training College was set up at Seaton House in Kensington Park.


In 1899 the large extension was built onto the front of the original smaller chapel and it was there in 1911 that Pastor Robert Finlayson and the Burnside folk supported and prayed for their first missionaries to Bolivia, both graduates of the Missionary Training Colleges.

Since then many long and short term missionaries have gone from Burnside to overseas countries, as well as here within Australia, supported and prayed for by the Church members. Over the years the various Church Ladies Groups sewed and knitted and fundraised for missions and for decades the monthly Ladies Missionary Prayer Meeting supported the church missionaries and had informative visits from many other missionaries on furlough.