The Presbyterian Church of Victoria was one of the strongest forces for the Gospel in the 19th century in Melbourne and throughout the State of Victoria. From its central church in the heart of Melbourne to a presence in virtually every small town in the State, it was in its size and impact Victoria’s third Christian denomination.
As the State of Victoria grew and prospered, it was no longer feasible for the Presbyterian Church to call for ministers from overseas or to send candidates overseas for training. Presbyterians were instrumental in the setting up of various educational institutions in Victoria, including the University of Melbourne, Scotch College, and the Presbyterian Ladies’ College (PLC). In 1866, the Church established what is now called the Presbyterian Theological College, originally called the Theological Hall of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria.
From 1868, the College operated from Chalmers Church in the suburb of Eastern Hill. In 1871, it moved to the Old Assembly Hall in Collins Street, Melbourne.
Ten years later, it moved again to the magnificent neo-gothic building of Ormond College, as part of the University of Melbourne.
Whilst the Presbyterian Church and PTC thrived for many years as a bastion of reformed and evangelical thought, increasingly in the 20th century there was a shift towards ‘liberalism’ – a departure from the fundamentals and the denying of the Christian faith. The fiery Irish lecturer at Ormond College, John Laurence Rentoul (1846–1926), is perhaps a marker of the early stages of the shift – in many respected he was a resolute evangelical and defender of traditional Christianity, and yet he was also open to adapting the faith to modern thinking. As the shift to the new allegedly enlightened way progressed, the spiritual effect was devastating, both in the lives of individuals who lost a clear vision of the love of God exhibited in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, and no doubt also upon society more generally as Australia slipped into what now appears to be a post-Christian age.
In the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, matters came to a head in the 1970s. The wider Presbyterian Church joined with Methodists and Congregationalists to form what is now the Uniting Church of Australia. Those who still held to the Gospel as historically understood continued on as the Presbyterian Church of Victoria (and the federal body, the Presbyterian Church of Australia).
In 1974, things had so deteriorated at Ormond College that all its lecturers opted to join the Uniting Church. The continuing Presbyterian Church of Victoria responded quickly by opening a reorganised Presbyterian Theological Hall in Hawthorn, with just a small number of staff and students. The college relocated to the top floor of the Assembly Hall building in Melbourne in 1977.
Following growth in enrolments, in 1986, the Church purchased the present campus for the College at Box Hill North. The building originally only had one lecture room, three offices for lecturers, and a modestly sized library.
The Box Hill North campus was renovated and extended in 1990, and the fuller building programme was completed in 1996 with the expansion of the Swanton Library.
Further development in 2008 saw the opening of a block of six residential units for students. The units are entirely self-contained, suitable for single students and families.
The library has now expanded so that it is full and overflowing, so the next planned step is a library renovation that will effectively double the size and allow for a more comfortable and conducive atmosphere for learning and collaboration.
In its Box Hill phase, PTC became an affiliated college of the Australian College of Theology, the largest theological consortium in Australia. Through the ACT, PTC collaborates with most other Australian evangelical theological colleges in the pursuit and maintenance of high academic standards.
The first principal of the 19th century college was Adam Cairns (1802–1881), a Free Church minister from Scotland.
The first principal of the newly formed college was the Robert Swanton. He was succeeded by Allan Harman in 1982, who served until his retirement in 2001, and then the Douglas Milne until his retirement in 2011.
Peter Hastie was appointed as principal for a ten-year term from 2012 and reappointed in 2021 for a further two years.