nineteenth century, Congregationalists usually called their churches
‘Independent’. This church was one of the first Independent Churches built
outside the city of Melbourne. It was built on land which was sold in 1851
and was part of the second major subdivision of land in St Kilda.
The church had local significance because it was a landmark on St Kilda
Hill, which is a historic precinct of metropolitan significance, and for
its relationship with neighbouring buildings, especially the Presbyterian
history of the Congregationalists in St Kilda is uncertain. Cooper records
that the first Congregational service in St Kilda was held in a tent on
Marine Terrace in December 1855.
However, E. N. Mathews states that a wooden building in Alma Road was
opened in 1853 for Congregational services and that an iron church was
imported from England in 1855.
Timothy Hubbard concluded that the 1853 building may have been relocated
to make way for the new iron church. He also suggested that a brick
building may have been built in the 1860s and could have survived in the
existing structure but that no tender notice or other evidence was
To support his view was the fact that the brick of the side and end walls
differed markedly from the polychrome brick facade.
November 1874, the church was reopened ‘after undergoing extensive
repairs, 1,000 pounds being spent on the improvements which included a new
front, choir gallery and organ’.
The opening services were performed by the Reverend W. R. Fletcher in the
morning and the Reverend J. J. Halley in the evening.
Ellerker, an important architect, a Congregationalist and mayor of St
Kilda in 1885-86, is thought to have been responsible for the design of
He arrived in Australia in 1853 and began work for Thomas Kemp of Knight,
Kemp and Kerr in Melbourne. The company was responsible for the new Houses
of Parliament. Ellerker later worked for the Public Works and Railways
departments before moving to Queensland for three years. He returned to
Melbourne in 1866 and established his own business and was responsible for
the Temperance, Horticultural and Protestant halls in Melbourne and many
private homes. Edward Kilburn joined him in 1885 and the firm designed the
Federal Coffee Palace, ‘justly considered one of the handsomest buildings
Although a prolific and well-known architect, Ellerker designed very few
design was ‘loosely Early English Gothic Revival and used polychrome
brickwork for its chief effect. Its form was that of a simple hall
The church had polychrome brick (cream and red) on the facade and pink
bricks on the side and rear. It had a gabled slate roof. All the
windowsills were bluestone. At the rear was a weatherboard extension and
detached brick classrooms with bluestone footings.
The interior was typical for its period with a balcony at the northern
end, the balustrade richly panelled with Gothic motifs. The flat floor was
‘unusual, perhaps’ for a Congregational church of this period. There were
three stained-glass windows. The west window had the text, ‘Remember the
Sabbath day to keep it holy’ and the east window had ‘Honour thy Father
and thy Mother’. The eastern banner of the centre window proclaimed
‘Suffer little children to come unto me’ and Christ was depicted with a
group of children and women.
Congregationalist benefactor was Thomas Fulton, ‘a most worthy resident of
Early St. Kilda, and a pillar of the Congregationalist Church’.
With Robert Langlands, he started the first iron foundry and engineering
shop in Melbourne. He contributed £1000 of the £5000 required to bring
ministers to Australia during the gold rushes. One of the group was the
Reverend Richard Fletcher, the first Congregational minister in St Kilda.
Fulton was tragically killed in an accident at a mine in Bendigo. His
funeral procession was more than a mile long.
Congregationalists had brief associations with the St Kilda Independent
Church. William Roby Fletcher MA, the third son of the Reverend Richard
Fletcher, was also a Congregational Minister. After completing his studies
in England, he joined his father in 1856. They briefly shared the pastoral
duties of St Kilda and Brighton before William moved to pastorates in
Bendigo, Richmond and Adelaide, where he also taught and served as
vice-chancellor of the University of Adelaide. In addition to theological
publications he also wrote on Egyptian archaeology and his broad interests
had a great influence on the intellectual life of Adelaide.
Gosman, a Congregational theologian and social reformer, was called to the
St Kilda Independent Church in 1863. The following year he moved to the
Congregational College of Victoria and was its principal from 1876 to
1913. He was a founder of the Bible in State Schools League, the first
president of the Anti-Sweating League and active in the Charity
James Jefferis, Congregational minister, lecturer and journalist, married
Marian Turner in the St Kilda Independent Church on 11 April 1866. His
pastorates were in Adelaide and later Sydney. He worked for a more
organised Congregationalism and supported Protestant union.
were built in 1875 and four years later a new organ was installed. In 1888
the congregation and the organ moved to a new church, St John’s, on the
corner of Barkly and Mitford Streets, near the Village Belle Hotel in
South St Kilda.
The church and the detached building at the rear, probably the original
classrooms, were sold to the nearby Presbyterian Church. The church was
used as a Sunday school for many years until the early 1970s. It was
subsequently used as a dance studio. It was demolished in the 1990s and in
October 2002 the site was part of a huge excavation, apparently the
preparation for a high rise building. St John’s closed in 1974 and gave
its hymn books, carpets and curtains to their sister church, East St Kilda
Congregational Church. St John’s has also been demolished.
Hubbard, ‘The Former Independent Church, 9 Alma Road West, St Kilda: A
report to the Minister for Planning and Urban Growth supporting the
addition of the building to the register of classified buildings in
the St Kilda planning scheme’, Timothy Hubbard Pty Ltd, South
Melbourne, 1991, p. 16. See also: National Trust, Submission to the
Historic Buildings Council on the Former Congregational Church 1874,
29 August 1883, HBC file 84/3046.
‘The Former Independent Church’, p. 9.