The first Anglican service held in St Kilda was on
Sunday 23 December 1849 at the home of Henry Jennings in Melbourne
Terrace, now Fitzroy Street, St Kilda. The number of worshippers soon
outgrew the accommodation available in private homes and a wooden
building, soon replaced by brick, was erected to serve as a church and
schoolroom to accommodate 140 people. It later became half of an extended
schoolroom. The first incumbent was the Reverend David Seddon. He had
arrived from England in 1852. The historian J. B. Cooper relates the story
that when the minister was farewelling his congregation a young architect
named Charles Swyer announced he would go to Australia
with him and build him a church.
foundation stone was laid on 29 November 1854 and the architects were
Albert Purchas and Charles Swyer. It was opened on 2 August 1857 with
three services led by Bishop Perry, the Very Reverend Dean Macartney and
the Reverend David Seddon. It was consecrated on 19 January 1863. Built in
Gothic Revival style with a nave, two transepts and a chancel, it is the
oldest surviving church in St Kilda. The hand-carved gargoyles are a
distinctive feature, reminiscent of medieval European churches. It is made
of Point King and Sorrento sandstones, which are rarely used in churches.
The original pulpit, ‘a typical three-decker’ with winding stairs leading
to its platform, was in the centre of the church in front of the chancel
rails. The font was in front of the reading pew, below the pulpit, and the
organ was at the rear where the west gallery now stands.
The first organist was Hugh Childers. He later became the Chancellor of
the Exchequer in England. The current organ was built by William Hill of
London and shipped to Australia. It was modified by George Fincham in
1859. The planned tower and steeple were never built but the south gallery
was a later addition. In 1874 the chancel was extended and in 1881 a new
chancel was built. Other distinctive features are a huge painting of St
Michael conquering the Devil and a memorial chapel with a reredos mural of
retired, the Reverend J. Stanley Low replaced him and served the Christ
Church congregation from 1868 to 1904. He was also the Chaplain General of
Victoria’s armed forces before Federation. Canon W. G. Sadlier was the
incumbent from 1904 to 1912. The Reverend George Pennicott was vicar from
1912 to 1934 and a stained-glass window was later dedicated to his memory.
Canon F. E. C. Crotty succeeded him and served from 1934 to 1940. As
Cooper notes, during this period St Kilda was a ‘conservative, homely, and
very English place’.Anglicanism
was the establishment religion and worshippers at places like Christ
Church were prominent in the community and in the forefront of its
incumbents listed on a board in the foyer, placed there by the efforts of
the Sunday school to celebrate the centenary of the church in 1957, were:
E. J. B.
P. H. Salvin,
became the vicar in 1998 and is the incumbent in 2003.
interior with gold-leaf stencilling and stained-glass windows is a
prominent feature of Christ Church. The stencilling was restored in
1996-98. In the choir area around the altar a series of windows depicting
the life of Christ cost £84 in 1888. The craftsmen include Ferguson and
Urie, William Montgomery and Brooks Robinson. The western triangular rose
window is modelled on one in Lichfield Cathedral. One of the most
interesting memorial windows commemorates Miles Nicholson, who died on 27
April 1874, aged twenty-eight, and his twenty-five year-old brother
William Dalzell Nicholson, who drowned when the British Admiral was
wrecked on King Island on 23 May 1874.
They were the sons of William Nicholson, MLC. Two World War I soldiers are
also commemorated: Harold Worseldine, son of longstanding parishioners,
and Lt P. Vassy, who died at Gallipoli, aged thirty-seven. He had been the
Sunday school librarian and had sung in the church choir for many years. A
mother and daughter are commemorated in two windows: Louisa Murphy is
remembered by her daughter Sophia Matilda Murphy. For many years, Sophia
conducted a school in Wattle House, Jackson Street, believed to be the
oldest existing house in St Kilda. Her pupils erected a window in her
also has a mystery associated with it. The former vicar Philip Hutchison
believed there were graves on the site and this is supported by the story
that a woman approached a man gardening in the church grounds in the late
1990s and asked what had happened to the headstones, although she could
not remember exactly where they had been located.
nature of St Kilda is highlighted by two stories from different periods
related to Christ Church. In the 1920s and 1930s, Christ Church was a very
fashionable place for weddings and the incumbent, the Reverend George
Pennicott, was dubbed the ‘marrying vicar’, performing a record
twenty-five wedding ceremonies in one year. Fifty years later, Christ
Church was described as being in the ‘heart of St Kilda’s vice and crime
belt’. A bomb was lobbed through the vestry at the vicar but fortunately
he was unharmed.
In 1999 a
review of community, civic and parish needs resulted in plans being drawn
for a community centre and an emergency annexe on Acland Street on the
site of the school. In addition to its uses for liturgical celebrations,
pastoral services and private prayer, the church is used for three
Narcotics Anonymous and one Alcoholics Anonymous meetings each week as
well as residents’ meetings and civic occasions. Between thirty and
seventy people call on the vicar each week, seeking help of various kinds.
The church grounds are a pleasant place for locals to enjoy but they have
also been used for drug injection, sex, illegal car parking and ball games
which gives rise to concerns about the safety and heritage integrity of
was one of the earliest in St Kilda. During the gold rushes, the teacher
abandoned his scholars and went to the diggings. The school was without a
teacher for about a year and when John Hadfield re-opened the school just
two pupils attended on the first day. The school continued until the
1940s. The building was burnt down in 1977.
original vicarage was built on the corner of St Leonards Avenue and Church
Square before 1855. It has been used as a school, a community health
centre and a private residence. It is currently occupied by the Bishop of
the Southern Region. The story goes that in the 1870s the vicar’s daughter
died of tuberculosis and this prompted the building of a second vicarage,
next to the church, close to Acland Street, and still in use as a
This two-storey building with its graceful, clean design is typical of the
affluent 1870s and 1880s.
parish hall was built in 1913-14. In recent years it has been leased to
Theatreworks and the facade was refurbished in 2002.
 For an
account of the voyage and arrival see: John Butler Cooper, TheHistory of St Kilda1840-1930, Printers, Melbourne,
1931, vol. 1,p. 325.
details of the wreck see: Argus, 1 June 1874. Research by Pearl
facelift for St Kilda’s Christ Church’, The Emerald Hill &
Sandridge Times, 23 June 1983, p. 10. The article says it was the
‘last vicar bar one’, which if correct would have been the Reverend