• Vivamus lobortis
  • Ut porttitor urna ut pretium
  • Phasellus convallis tincidunt enim.

Christ Church Complex

Corner Acland Street and Church Square, St Kilda

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.[1]

The 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.[2] 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 St Michael.

 After Seddon 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’.[3]Anglicanism was the establishment religion and worshippers at places like Christ Church were prominent in the community and in the forefront of its philanthropic work.

Subsequent 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. White, 1940-47
Claude Woodhouse, 1947-71
P. H. Salvin, 1971-77
Philip Hutchinson, 1977-98

Jim Minchin became the vicar in 1998 and is the incumbent in 2003.

The ornate 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.[4] 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 memory.

Christ Church 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.

The changing 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.[5]

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 the site.[6]

Christ Church School

This school 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.


The 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 vicarage.[7] This two-storey building with its graceful, clean design is typical of the affluent 1870s and 1880s.


The parish hall was built in 1913-14. In recent years it has been leased to Theatreworks and the facade was refurbished in 2002.


[1]     For an account of the voyage and arrival see: John Butler Cooper, The History of St Kilda 1840-1930, Printers, Melbourne, 1931, vol. 1, p. 325.

[2]     Ibid., p. 327

[3]     Ibid., p. 331.

[4]     For details of the wreck see: Argus, 1 June 1874. Research by Pearl Donald.

[5]     ‘A 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 Claude Woodhouse.

[6]     Christ Church St Kilda Fact Sheet.

[7]     Ibid. and St Kilda Sketchbook, pp. 52-3.