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  • Phasellus convallis tincidunt enim.

St Kilda Presbyterian Church

Corner Alma Road and Barkly Street, St Kilda

 The first Presbyterian service in St Kilda was in May 1855 in an iron building with wooden forms and earthen floors at the corner of High Street and Alma Road. The original church used for services was wooden and owned by the Independent (Congregational) Church. The Reverend Arthur Paul conducted the first service there on 23 September 1855. The worshippers were Free Presbyterians, a sect that had broken with the Church of Scotland in protest at the perceived encroachment of the state on the church. Most of the congregation chose to join the Free Church Synod in 1857, which was the precursor to the Presbyterian Church of Victoria in 1859.[1] However, some members left, choosing to continue as Free Presbyterians. (Their story is told later.)

With the departure of the Reverend Paul through this split, Charles Moir became the new minister in 1858. He oversaw the erection of the church on land on the corner of Alma Road and Barkly Street bought for £1000 from Mr Langevill. The Governor of Victoria, Sir Henry Barkly, laid the foundation stone for the church, which was designed by Alfred Smith. The builders, Bayne and Company, completed it within six months. Designed to seat 380 people, it was opened on 5 June 1860. It was brick and cement with stone dressings and in the Perpendicular style with a square tower and no spire.[2] Most of the debt was paid by 1863, helped considerably by a bazaar in the Melbourne Town Hall, which lasted four days and raised £857. A gallery was added six years later. The site was just over 27 metres on Alma Road and almost 40 metres on Barkly Street, which limited expansion, but the congregation was loathe to give up the prominent and central hilltop location. In 1882 the congregation bought the site opposite in Alma Road and built a Sunday school, opened in 1883, which was used as a church while the original was demolished and a new one built. The Sunday school retained the gallery from the first church. It was demolished in 1991.

In 1878 the Reverend Samuel Robinson was appointed and he oversaw the design and completion of the new church. Wilson and Beswicke were the architects for both the church and Sunday school, which cost £17,657. Ralph Wilson designed the Methodist church on the corner of Princes and Fitzroy Streets and lived diagonally opposite the Presbyterian church. Charles Beswicke had toured Britain and the Continent in 1886 armed with a camera and returned to Australia with photographs of what he considered the greatest examples of architecture. He was responsible for the town halls in Brighton, Malvern, Hawthorn and Essendon and Wesleyan churches in Camberwell and Dandenong.[3] Thomas Corley was the builder. The Governor of Victoria, Sir Henry Brougham Loch, laid the foundation stone on 27 January 1885 and the church opened on 30 May 1886 with three sermons that day and a ‘Grand Sacred Concert’ during the week. Conditions were somewhat austere, with only some of the carpet laid and the purchase of seat cushions postponed. There was now room for 750 people with fifty in the choir gallery. The lofty spire was ‘a landmark to the mariner’ used by sea captains sailing up Port Phillip Bay.[4] On a prominent position, the highest point in St Kilda, the church attracted wealthy people with legal, merchant and pastoral backgrounds.

The pulpit is central on a raised platform with a cast-iron grille. The pulpit, pews and other fittings are of kauri, pine and cedar. Perry described the ‘strange mixture of Gothic architecture and cast-iron’ in the interior, adding: ‘The slim column standing on its own supporting a heavily decorated capital is unknown to traditional Gothic architecture’.[5] There are coloured glass windows — behind the pulpit the painted glass was donated by ladies of the church — and some stained-glass memorial windows. A new organ was installed in 1890 and the choir moved from the gallery to near the organ at the front of the church. The pulpit carving and honour roll are the work of John K. Blogg (c.1851-1936), an industrial chemist, who turned to carving when he became deaf. He produced over 200 honour rolls and panels for pulpits.

The Reverend Robinson’s health suffered during the difficult Depression years and he died in 1899. His successor was the Reverend David Ross. He served for thirty years and was followed by the Reverends H. C. Clark, 1925-41, for whom the carillon is a memorial, William Alec Fraser, 1942-44, Esmond New, 1946-51 and William Young, 1951-55.

By 1950 the stonework was decaying and dangerous. It was removed because the cost of replacing it was beyond the congregation’s means. The wealthy had long abandoned the area and the numbers attending the church were in decline. About 1957 the louvres over the opening in the tower were replaced by a speaker and a record was played to imitate the peal of bells.

In 1977 the congregation opted to continue as a Presbyterian church rather than join the Uniting Church, which is an amalgamation of some Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches. Instead, faced with declining numbers, it joined with nearby Presbyterian churches in Caulfield and Elwood. After a brief closure, it reopened under the ministry of the Reverend Bob Thomas, who was inducted as the church’s full time minister on 24 November 1994. Today the church serves the community in the vicinity of Barkly Hill with a small but growing congregation.[6]


A manse was built in 1869 on a government grant of land between Acland Street and the Esplanade near the Luna Park area. It was sold for £9306 and Stanthorpe, next to the church at 42 Barkly Street, St Kilda, was bought for £3500 in 1919. Stanthorpe was built in about 1875 as a private residence for merchant Alexander Sutherland.

It is a two-storey rendered brick Classical style mansion dominated by a central portico and cast-iron verandah. For some years, the manse was at 102 Hotham Street before Stanthorpe was converted into a manse and church officer’s flat in 1956. After infrequent use by the church, it was sold to a developer in 1999. It was renovated and is now being used as commercial offices.


A Presbyterian Common School associated with this church was opened in 1872.



[1]     For the background to the Presbyterian groups and their differences see: Lewis, Victorian Churches, p. 9.

[2]     Based on Dr Robinson, 75th Anniversary, 1930. Perry gives the number as 300 in Ian Perry, ‘St Kilda Presbyterian Church’, undergraduate thesis, Architecture, University of Melbourne, n.d. The Robinson booklet shows a photograph of the original church. Various sources give the cost ranging from £4-6000. See: Perry, ‘St Kilda Presbyterian Church’, p. 2. Also: Australian Heritage Commission, Register of the National Estate Database, ‘Presbyterian Church, St Kilda, Vic’, database number: 009868, file number: 2/11/046/0034. Class: Historic, indicative place.

[3]     Perry, ‘St Kilda Presbyterian Church’, pp. 7-8.

[4]     Robinson, 75th Anniversary.

[5]     Perry, ‘St Kilda Presbyterian Church’, p. 13.

[6]     My thanks to the Reverend Bob Thomas for this information.