of land was reserved in Chapel Street for the Presbyterian Church and was
gazetted on 10 September 1866. In June 1876 a public meeting was held in
the Orderly Room in Chapel Street, St Kilda East, adjoining the church’s
land, to gauge interest in establishing a church. Sunday services began on
13 August 1876 in the Orderly Room with the Reverend Groundwater Fraser
April 1877 the foundation stone for the church was laid by Sir James
McCulloch, the former Premier of Victoria and a founding trustee.
Albert Purchas was the architect of this substantial red brick Gothic
Revival building with its distinctive 33.5-metre banded octagonal
belltower and attractive contrasting cream brickwork and freestone
dressings. The facade is dominated by a double entrance surmounted by a
triangular rose window. Robert S. Ekins was the contractor and his tender
was £3000. The church opened on 1 October 1877 and reflects the wealth and
aspirations of the St Kilda Presbyterians of this period. At the first
Communion Service, held on 9 December 1877, fifty-one communicants were
minister was the Reverend J. Laurence Rentoul. Born in Ireland and a
brilliant scholar, he and his family travelled to Australia to answer the
call to St George’s. He commenced duties on 15 June 1879 and spent four
years at St George’s before taking up the position of Professor at Ormond
College. An eloquent preacher and influential professor, he became an
important figure in the Presbyterian Church and public life. He became
Moderator of the State Church in 1894 and from 1912-14 was
Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. He was
appointed Chaplain-General of the Australian Military Forces at the
beginning of World War I and in 1916 became Chaplain-General of the AIF on
the Western Front.
congregation soon outgrew the church’s capacity and an enlarged building
was opened on 3 October 1880, designed to accommodate 650 people and built
at an estimated cost of £8700. The memorial stone was also laid by Sir
James McCulloch. The church has a T-shaped plan with ‘an aisleless nave,
raked floor and broad transepts, a shallow sanctuary and no chancel,
representing a Protestant reduction of the ideas of British architects
such as Pearson and Butterfield’.
The stained-glass windows are noteworthy and the early non-figurative
windows by Ferguson and Urie are particularly fine.
The large triple window in the chancel was presented by Lady McCulloch in
memory of the ‘loved and Dead’. Another, in memory of John Kane Smyth, the
Vice-Consul for the United States of America in Melbourne, has the Stars
and Stripes on the top ventilator above it. The newest window is on the
southern side of the church and depicts the children of the world gathered
around Christ. It is in memory of Samuel Lyons McKenzie, the
congregation’s beloved minister, who served from 1930 to 1948. His
ministry is remembered
for his love of people and concern for their welfare during the Depression
and World War II. He died on 16 January 1948 and his grieving widow
continued her role of helping and advising, editing the newsletter and
helping in the choir until the Reverend H. Douglas Fearon was inducted on
8 March 1949.
by Lewis & Sons of London dates from 1881 and was classified by the
National Trust (Victoria) in April 1989. Prior to this acquisition, a
harmonium had been used and then a hired small pipe organ. T. C. Lewis was
a progressive English organ builder and a foremost pioneer of the German
system of tonal design in England. St George’s organ is one of five Lewis
organs exported to Australia and the earliest still in existence.
St George’s established a proud tradition for music in its services. Miss
Nicholls organised the first choir and then in 1880 Thomas Brentnall, a
professional organist and choirmaster, was appointed. He was succeeded by
Julius Herz in 1885. He was a renowned musician and attracted some of
Melbourne’s most talented singers to the choir. Bertha Rossow, Lalla
Miranda and Clarence Fraser and later Madame Steinhauer were all
well-known singers who sang in the choir.
Rentoul left, it was feared this would be a major setback for the young
church but the Reverend John Gordon Mackie began his ministry at St
George’s in September 1884 and the church continued to prosper. In 1884
the Sunday school building was opened, having cost £1486. By 1890 all debt
had been expunged. Half of the remaining debt had been paid by Sir James
McCulloch, even though he had retired to England several years previously.
and fathers of the St George’s congregation enlisted during World War I
and twenty died, including St George’s own minister, the Reverend Andrew
Born near Glasgow, Gillison was a minister in the United States,
Edinburgh, North Shields, Glasgow and then Brisbane before arriving at St
George’s in 1909. Appointed a chaplain of the AIF, he was closely
associated with the 14th Battalion, which was raised in St Kilda and
Prahran, and was with the unit at Gallipoli. On Sunday 22 August 1915 he
and another chaplain ignored warnings of the presence of snipers and
attempted to bring in a wounded man lying 20 metres away in no-man’s-land.
Both chaplains were hit by snipers. Gillison was carried to safety and
announced he felt ‘bright and happy’ but passed away a few hours later.
The first AIF chaplain to die in the war, he was deeply mourned by his
military companions and his parishioners. The 14th Battalion and the
congregation at St George’s jointly erected a memorial tablet in the
church and provided a communion table. The congregation raised almost
£700, which was placed in trust for his family. The commemorative service
in 1917 to install the memorial forged a bond between the battalion and
the congregation at St George’s. The battalion colours were later
entrusted to St George’s and now hang in the Shrine of Remembrance. The
marching banner of the Battalion is cared for by the St Kilda Historical
Society. After World War II, members of the 2/14th Battalion and the
14/32nd Battalion also became involved in the annual memorial service and
since 1994 Vietnam veterans have also attended with other veterans.
It has become an important contemporary ritual, which attracts hundreds of
people and its theme of ‘healing the wounds of war’ has deep significance
for all veterans.
World War I the female members of St George’s raised £1000 for patriotic
funds and sent more than 10,000 articles to the Red Cross for the care of
soldiers. Mrs Glass, the minister’s wife, served as president and Mrs
Larard and Mrs Gray Cox were on the committee organising this work. The
Reverend Thomas Glass was the incumbent during the war years and, like all
clergymen, had the unenviable task of conveying news of casualties to
families. His health suffered during the war and he resigned in 1922. The
roll of honour in the vestibule is made of Victorian blackwood, carved in
high relief. It commemorates the twenty men who died and another
eighty-nine who served.
years many spiritual and social activities were instituted at St George’s,
some of short duration such as the Ladies’ Reading Club which operated
from 1888-93. There were segregated Bible Classes for young men and women,
the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union, formed in 1892, a cricket club
and a floral guild. Guilds teaching physical culture for girls, boys and
young men began in 1904. They were entirely financed by John Maclellan and
the idea extended to other denominations throughout Victoria. Maclellan
died in 1936 and the guilds ceased at St George’s through lack of funds
although in 1977 the members of the girls’ guild were still holding
bi-annual reunions and raising money for charity.
mission work began in 1880 with G. O. Duncan appointed as a full-time
visitor and lay reader, the entire cost being paid by Sir James McCulloch.
In 1885 Lady McCulloch inaugurated a mission among poor women in Windsor
and Prahran with a Miss Wilson appointed as the first missionary. A
library was established and weekly Mothers’ Meetings were held. After Lady
McCulloch withdrew her financial support in 1894, a committee of women at
St George’s continued the mission. Beatrice Davidson worked for the
mission from 1900 until her death in 1917, when the mission ceased.
Parishioners had a large memorial erected over her grave in Sutton Grange
Cemetery, south of Bendigo.
World War II, St George’s suffered from the general decline in church
attendances exacerbated by the changing nature of St Kilda and the
decrease in numbers of residents living in the vicinity of the church. In
1973 the congregation was deeply distressed when the communion silver was
stolen, including the small communion cup presented to the Reverend
Gillison by the Young Men’s Bible Class before he left for overseas and
used by him at Gallipoli. It had been presented to St George’s after the
war and was used for communion. In a strange turn of events, the cup was
found by a Vietnam veteran during excavations for flats. It was buried a
metre deep. He sold it to a militaria dealer who advertised it in a
catalogue in 1987. The wife of a member of the 2/14th Battalion
Association saw the catalogue and, realising its significance, the
battalion raised the money overnight to buy the chalice. It was donated to
the Ivanhoe Grammar School cadet corps as a reminder to the young of the
achievements and sacrifices of those who served.
1980s the reduced numbers and ageing congregation led to questioning
whether the congregation remained viable. John Bottomley was inducted into
the parish in 1991 and began a program of consolidating the church’s
physical and spiritual resources and re-energising the congregation.
Historic buildings were put to new and profitable uses. Much of the site
is now used by St Michael’s Grammar School. In addition, a range of
activities was introduced to attract younger people to the church. A
centre for theology and the arts, the Centre for Creative Ministries, was
established to meld activities in the arts with worship, faith development
and community service. During the late 1990s, the emphasis was on the
disadvantaged, for example the homeless, and people with intellectual,
psychiatric and other socially isolating disabilities.
More recently, the Centre has refocussed on its original vision.
the congregations of St George’s and the former East St Kilda and Windsor
Congregational Churches joined together to form the East St Kilda Uniting
Church parish. The Centre for Creative Ministries now operates from the
former Congregational church and hall on the corner of Hotham and Inkerman
Streets, East St Kilda. The new parish is growing in numbers and vitality
and diverse groups of people come in contact annually with the parish
through the many outreach programs.
school with Mr A. Anderson as Superintendent began in August 1876. Three
years later, it moved to Hornby Street State School where there was an
average attendance of one hundred children and eighteen teachers. A hall
in the church grounds was opened on 14 February 1886. This was destroyed
by fire and a new hall built in 1927-28. After World War II the numbers of
children attending declined and the Sunday school ‘went into recess’,
probably in the late 1960s.
Today, a small group of children participate in a Children’s Ministry
program to meet the present need.
biographical details see: Australian Dictionary of Biography.
biographical details see: Centre for Creative Ministries, History
of the East St Kilda Uniting Church Parish: Application to the Local
History Grants Program to make a 60-minute Video Documentary,
Centre for Creative Ministries, East St Kilda, 1999, pp. 9-10.
detailed descriptions see: Ibid., pp. 6-7.
 For a
complete list of incumbents to 1977 and brief biographies see: ‘St
George’s Presbyterian Church St Kilda: The First One hundred Years’,
details about the organ and its builder see: Christopher Gray,
‘Proposed Restoration of the 1882 T. C. Lewis Organ: The history and
importance of the instrument and its builder’, reproduced in Ibid.,
Australian War Memorial has an informal portrait of Gillison
P02615.004 and a photograph of Gillison preaching at Gallipoli A03808.
Also: Gillison papers, PR86/028 and his diary, 3DRL/6277.
also: Healing the Wounds of War, video, Centre for Creative
Whiffin, ‘Back from battle, cup rests in peace’, Port Phillip
Leader, 18 September 1995.
for Creative Ministries, History,pp. 2-3.
otherwise acknowledged, this account is based on St George’s
Presbyterian Church, East St Kilda, 1876-1926 Golden Jubilee Book.
My thanks to the congregation of St George’s for a copy of this book.