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A Short History of the Church of England in Victoria 1847-1947

By H. W. Nunn

Issued by the Editorial Committee of the Centenary Celebrations, Melboune Diocese, 1947.



THE earliest social service provided by the Church of England in Victoria for the community, was the formation in 1849, of the St. James' Dorcas Society, whose aim was to provide shelter for orphaned children, and for those left destitute in their old age. This work the society carried on for two years, until the Benevolent Asylum took care of the elderly people and left the Dorcas Society only the young children to look after. The Society erected the St. James' Orphan Asylum in Bourke Street, but four years later the asylum was transferred to Emerald Hill, now known as South Melbourne. From that time on, the Asylum was carried on as an undenominational institution, although for a long period, the office of President was held by Bishop Perry. It is now the Melbourne Orphanage, the largest in the State, but it was first cradled by the Church of England.

Perry's pioneering task in establishing the Church of England, left very little time to concentrate the efforts of the Church along the lines of social service institutions, but the wide-visioned Bishop Moorhouse keenly felt the fact that the Church was doing so little in the face of the growing vice and crime in the city of Melbourne proper, and in 1885, he was responsible for the establishment of a Deaconess's Home to be the focal point of slum rescue work. He founded the Diocesan Mission to the streets and lanes of Melbourne, with Canon Handfield as its first Chaplain and Warden, and with Sister Esther from England, as its leader. The latter gave forty years of devoted service to the poor, and her Mission Home in Little Lonsdale Street, became a centre of activity among the forgotten.

It was not long before the Mission began to provide shelter for women and children who had suffered misfortune, and in 1892, the first portion of the House of Mercy at Cheltenham was completed, and two years later a Home for Neglected Children was opened at Brighton. The present Home was completed in 1897, and since 1901, has [74/75] been reserved for girls. Bishop Goe created an order of Deaconesses in 1889, from the ladies in charge of these institutions, and they later, during the Episcopate of Archbishop Clarke, became known, as they are today, as the Community of the Holy Name. Today, the Diocesan Mission to Streets and Lanes is under the management of this community. Their work continued to expand however, and in 1918, the headquarters of the Mission were moved from Little Lonsdale Street, to the present institution in Spring Street, and in the same year St. George's Intermediate Hospital was opened at Kew. In 1916, the Diocesan Mission was able to open a Home for Babies at Brighton, but this was transferred to Darling in 1928, and the original quarters turned into a Girl's Hostel. The latest venture of the Sisters of the Community of the Holy Name was the purchase of St. Ives Hospital in 1918, a truly philanthropic and well worth while community venture. Today, the Community of the Holy Name are responsible for the staffing of this latter hospital; the Mission House and Hall in the city proper; the House of Mercy (Cheltenham) for Delinquent Girls, now a Retreat House for the diocese; the Church of England Home for Children, with Girls' Hostel (Brighton); the Babies' Home (Darling); St. George's Hospital (Kew), with Maternal and General Blocks; and the Community House (Cheltenham); a great deal of quiet, self-sacrificial work in the service of humanity.

The closing years of the nineteenth century are noted for the land boom and the consequent hard, economic depression which struck the people of Victoria. The challenge of hardship and poverty did not find the Church of England wanting, for in 1892, an extremely interesting social experiment was fathered by the Church in the "Tucker Village Settlements," The originator of the scheme was Canon Tucker, Vicar of Christ Church, South Yarra, in collaboration with Dr. Strong of the Australian Church. The scheme was to form agricultural communities, on land obtained from the Government at various centres in Victoria, consisting of unemployed city workers; a foresighted nineteenth century attempt at decentralization. The Government provided transport, camping equipment and schools for their families; but after several years, the depression lifted, the men with few exceptions drifted back to the cities, and the scheme was wound up.

[76] Another similar attempt was the Industrial Training Farm established at Apollo Bay in 1905, for the benefit of "difficult" lads, but it again was abandoned in 1910.

The year 1919, however, saw the beginning of a more concentrated movement towards social services. In that year, the Reverend E. T. Thornton secured permission from Synod to collect funds for a Church of England Boys' Home, and the result was the establishment of St. Martin's Home for Boys, Auburn, in 1921. The work was further extended with the formation of St. John Evangelist's Home for Boys, Canterbury, on property given by the Hindson family. Since 1926, both homes have been conducted on this site, and today St. Martin's Home is incorporated under the name of St. John's Home. A later development is a Hostel, St. Martin's House.

Another home, of independent origin, about this period is the Andrew Kerr Memorial Home at Mornington, founded in 1920 in memory of Sergeant Andrew Kerr, killed during the first World War. Its object is "to provide and maintain a home for the homeless and other children, irrespective of creed, until provision can be made for their welfare."

In 1919, Synod passed a "Special Mission District Act," combining the old parishes of St. James', Melbourne, and St. John's Latrobe St., into a Mission District; "to carry out all or anything incidental to the work of a City Mission," including the provision of intermediate hospitals and homes for the homeless. Up till that year, the Church of England Metropolitan Mission, Bourke Street, had been working in the district since the turn of the century, providing a dispensary and food and shelter for the homeless. It had developed out of Dean Macartney's Navvies' Mission, established by the Dean whilst incumbent at St. James, when the Victoria Dock was being excavated. The Mission of St. James and St. John carried on with its work of relief and shelter, until in 1926, the problem was dealt with more firmly and a capital of £100,000, accumulated from St. John's Church lands became available. In that year, "Kedesh," a maternity home for unmarried mothers was founded, the "Arms of Jesus" Babies' Home at East Melbourne, later replaced by St. Gabriel's Home for tiny infants at Balwyn, was also established, together with "Ramuth," a Toddler's Home at Ferntree Gully, later [76/77] transferred to St. Luke's Toddler's Home, Bendigo (ages 18 months to 5 years); also St. Agnes Home for Girls and St. Nicholas Home for Boys at Glenroy (for children 5 to 14 years). Also "The Horseshoe," an old delicensed hotel in Carlton was purchased, and turned into a home for girls suffering from venereal diseases. That work subsequently so impressed the Chief Secretary of the Hogan Government, Mr. Tunnecliffe, that the Mission was invited to take control of the Female Venereal Diseases Residential Clinic just being established in the old Yarra Bend Buildings at Fairfield, and under the name of "Fairhaven," the Mission has carried on the work since 1926, the Government supplying equipment and running expenses.

One other activity was undertaken by the Mission of St. James and St. John, in that eventful year, 1926. An undenominational institution at Phillip Island, known as Newhaven Boy's Home, had been closed through an adverse report of the Charities Board, and the Mission undertook the work that the Home had been carrying on. It was reopened in 1928 as St. Paul's Training School for Problem Boys. In 1934, the Mission also took over the management of the adjacent Seaside Garden Home, its previous management having been condemned. It is now incorporated with St. Paul's. Today, the mission chain of the Mission of St. James and St. John is completed by a "School for Homecrafts" for training in domestic and vocational services, and Women Students' Residential Flats and Rooms in Carlton.

The Victoria Missions to Seamen is one of the oldest of the social services of the Church. In 1857, an old hulk was obtained from the Government and converted into the "Bethel Sailor's Club," and opened by Bishop Perry. The work was interdenominational, and the first Chaplain was supplied by the Presbyterian Church, the Reverend Kerr Johnston. This hulk was anchored off Williamstown, but the work was soon transferred to land, at Sandridge, and a new "Bethel" was built on the site of the present Port Melbourne Institute of the Church's Missions to Seamen. The "Sailor's Rest" was opened at Williamstown. For the rest of the nineteenth century, the work of the Victorian Seamen's Mission was carried on on an interdenominational basis, but in 1905, the English and Church of England "Missions to Seamen," which has stations throughout [77/78] the world, sent out the Reverend G. Goldsmith to establish an Institute nearer the city, where wharf and dock facilities were now attracting a greater proportion of shipping. This Central Institute was ultimately established, but in 1906 the old Victorian Seamen's Mission amalgamated with the "Missions to Seamen," and since then, under the name of the "Victoria Missions to Seamen," the work has been specifically Church of England, and forms a link in the great chain of such Missions carried on by the Church of England throughout the world. The present Central Institute was opened in 1917 and with the new Mission building erected at Port Melbourne, ranks with the best in the world, in its provision for the healthy amusement and spiritual needs of sailors.

A more recent social service work, is that of the Brotherhood of St. Laurence's "Single Men's Unemployed Housing Scheme," begun in 1933, by the Reverend G. K. Tucker in charge of St. Mary's Mission Church, Fitzroy. On August 8th of that year, seventy-five unemployed men who had been living together in a terrace of cottages in Fitzroy Street, Fitzroy, were evicted by the police, and so the work of the Brotherhood began. Today the Brotherhood of St. Laurence's Housing Settlement at Carrum Downs maintains twenty-nine families from slum areas. Carrying on in Canon Tucker's footsteps, in an attempt to grapple with a social malady, his son has, through the Brotherhood of which he is Superior, established the "Coolibah Club," which provides food and shelter for old men in Fitzroy; "Alcoholics Anonymous," an organization to reclaim derelicts; a University Students' Hostel; and a Housing Scheme, to buy condemned houses in Fitzroy and either renovate or rebuild them on behalf of those who occupy them, is in the process of being established.

In any complete survey of the social work of the Church of England, there are other aspects of her work to which reference must be made. Since 1885, the Girl's Friendly Society, has provided a Hostel for girls strange to Melbourne, or who are friendless. There was the work begun by the Church of England Men's Society in 1911, in welcoming and assisting immigrants, and today the Church of England Boys' Society has its Training Camp for Boys, St. Hubert's at Yering, and its permanent camp at Frankston, In slum and other areas, there are Church [78/79] of England Free Kindergarten Schools; and Lovell House, Caulfield, originally founded in 1857, with Mrs. Perry as its President, and known as the "Melbourne Home," and caring for elderly ladies, represents yet another side of the Church's work.

Finally, as study, investigation and the education of public opinion are of no less importance than their results in active social service, there is the work of the Industrial Questions Committee of the nineties, of the Christian Social Union, at the beginning of the century, and the present Social Questions Committee.

Of recent years, the Church of England in the Diocese of Melbourne, has spent well over £100,000 annually in the furtherance of social service work.

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