St Peter’s, Eastern Hill is a small, yet beautiful church situated opposite to St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne. This is one of the few buildings in Melbourne built before the Goldrush and is the oldest Anglican Church in Melbourne still standing in its original site. Though St James Cathedral was erected before St Peters Church, St Peters was the first to be consecrated.
The Church still adhere to its founding principles and remains an excellent example of service to mankind. Church provides breakfast from 7.30 am every day to the homeless and their Lazarus Centre provides food parcels and emergency referrals to people in need. This is a place where people can grow in faith and spiritual formation and where worship and service are key.
The foundation stone for St James Cathedral was laid in 1839 and the construction was going on, but it was evident that another church was required in Melbourne to meet the demands of a fast-growing Anglican Community. On those days, Eastern Hill and the regions beyond were dotted with cottage homes of well to do in the community. A movement was growing to plant a Church in the midst. In a meeting held on 23rd June 1841, the desire to build a church was announced and it was stated that £200 had been subscribed for the purpose without much solicitation. Religious services were conducted by Rev. J.Y Wilson at a temporary building in Little Bourke Street near Spring Street. An application for a land grant for a Church, parsonage and a school was made to the Government. A commanding site on the crust of Eastern Hill was granted for the purpose.
The foundation stone for the church was laid by then Superintendent of Port Phillip, Charles Joseph Latrobe on 18th June 1846. The ceremony was presided over by the Rev. A. C. Thomson, Minister of St. James’s Church, who conducted the services, aided by the Rev. Mr. Collins, of Geelong.
The inscription on the foundation stone was as follows:
The Foundation Stone of St. Peter’s Church, In the Town of Melbourne, District of Port Phillip, Colony of New South Wales, Built by Local Subscription, Aided by an equal amount from the Colonial Government, Was laid by His Honor Charles Joseph La Trobe, Esquire, Superintendent of Port Phillip, On the 18th day of June, AD 1846, And in the Ninth Year of the Reign of Queen Victoria.
William Grant Broughton, D.D., Bishop of Australia.
Adam Compton Thomson, Minister of St. James’ Parish of Melbourne.
James Simpson, James Denham Pinnock, Robert Williams Pohlman} Esquires, Trustees.,
Charles Laing, Architect
Under the foundation stone Latrobe placed a sealed- bottle containing a parchment scroll. The architect was Charles Laing, who arrived in Melbourne just 6 years before, from Manchester, England and worked as a butcher for a brief period before setting up practise in his profession. He was city surveyor of Melbourne from 1845 to 1850. The church was built by Webb, Brown and Co. tor £1333. The church had a shingled roof at this time.
The budgeted figure for the construction of the church was £2000. The colonial Treasury granted £1000 on condition; an equal amount be raised by subscriptions.
On 29 June 1847, Charles Perry was consecrated as Bishop of Melbourne in Westminster Abbey by Archbishop Howley. Perry arrived with his wife in Melbourne in clipper Stag on 23 January 1848 and was installed at St James Cathedral on 28th January. His letters patent designated Melbourne a city by virtue of being the seat of the bishop’s See. The letters patent somehow got mislaid and could not be read at his installation ceremony at St James Cathedral. So, the historic document signed by Queen Victoria, creating the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne and proclaiming Melbourne to be a city within the said colony of Australia, was read at St Peters on 13th February 1848.
A brief version of the record of the proceedings on that day reads: “Mr. Henry Moor was appointed chancellor of the diocese, and on Sunday, 13th February 1848, at the close of the service at St. Peter’s, the new chancellor read her Majesty’s letters patent. This valuable charier of the bishop’s appointment contains the letters bearing dale 26th June 1847, in which, the Queen has been graciously pleased to appoint the Right Reverend Charles Perry to be bishop of the See of Melbourne, and further ordaining that the said Town of Melbourne shall be hence forth a city and be called the City of Melbourne.”
A parsonage and a School room was built at the Church compound in 1849.
When the Church was built, from its origin as a tent city, Melbourne was just stretching its legs to the celebration of wealth for the incoming Goldrush. The church and its surroundings still looked rudimentary. The wife of Bishop Charles Perry thus described her first impressions of St Peters Church: “The pretty new church situated on the brow of the hill overlooking Melbourne, with a view of the sea. and the dry plains, and on two sides an immense extent of undulating well-wooded country, with blue ranges of hills on the horizon. There was certainly no timber shortage then, and inhabitants of the parsonage are said to have hewn and cut their firewood on what is now Victoria-parade”
Until the St Pauls Cathedral at Flinders Street was ready, the regular worshippers at the church included prominent citizens of Melbourne and those held top Government positions. In 1883, the site of the parsonage and school was passed to the Parliament of Victoria. In return, the Church was given a sum of £10,000, of which £6000 was utilised for building a clergy house and the Albert Street buildings and the remainder was invested for endowments.
The chancel and transepts were built between 1853 and 1854 and the architect was Charles Vickers. The church was enlarged; the nave made longer, the transepts with galleries were added along with the chancel. Originally the church had shingles on roof, which were replaced with slate.
Sanctuary, vestry and the organ chambers were built in 1876 and the architects were Leonard Terry and Oakden. In 1896, in preparation for the jubilee celebrations at the Church, centre and side aisles were constructed and the galleries in the two transepts were removed. The Parish hall now facing the Gisborne Street was built in 1913 and the wayside crucifix was erected in 1924, as a memorial to the fallen of World War I. The Interior of the Church as it now stands is from the 1920’s.
Address: St. Peter’s Eastern Hill, 15 Gisborne Street, Melbourne, VIC 3002
For the curious cats
What had happened to “The letters patent”?
For several years the letters patent was missing and could not be traced. Eventually they were discovered in a second-hand bookshop in London by Mr. J. B. Merrett, a Melbourne citizen, and he purchased it. It is thought that when Bishop Perry retired from the bishopric in 1876, he took the letters with him. and that they were included among some of his effects, including his library, which were sold on his death in 1891, and were eventually purchased by a second-hand dealer. Mr. Merrett presented the valuable parchment to the late Archbishop Lees on behalf of the diocese at the general synod in 1930.
The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954) Wed 25 Apr 1934 , Page 11 “HISTORIC CHURCH” accessed on 29th September 2019 through Trove.
The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954) Sat 1 Jun 1946, Page 27, “MEMORIES OF EASTERN HILL” accessed on 29th September 2019 through Trove.
The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954) Tue 6 May 1890, Page 4, “CHURCHES AND PASTORS”