In the beginning...

The date of the first Anglican service in Ballarat is problematic. Undoubtedly it occurred soon after the discovery of gold late in August 1851. A history of St Paul’s Bakery Hill contends that it was on 12 October 1851, when an open air service conducted by the Rev’d J. Cheyne from Burnbank was held in a tent. It was a musical service, with hymns accompanied by violin and flute, and was so well received that an evening service was held by lamplight. Ballarat’s historian W.B. Withers is vague on early details, saying the Anglicans followed on the heels of the Wesleyans. Spielvogel records that it was the Rev’d William Sim and the Rev’d A. Morrison who held a service in a tent in November 1851 not far from the present site of St. Paul’s Bakery Hill. Yet another Anglican source plumps for the Rev’d Charles Perks of St. Peter’s Eastern Hill who visited and conducted an out-door service under the escarpment later overlooked by Christ Church.

Following the survey of the township of Ballarat, a large block of land in Lydiard St. South was set aside for church purposes. There was little building activity until 1854, when the Rev’d James R.H. Thackeray M.A., Ph.D., was appointed minister in July. (Argus, 6 July 1854) In September 1854 collections were taken up for a fund to build a ‘church and parsonage’ - services in August being taken in the Court House. Thackeray’s first church was in a tent, and in October a school began in the tent, with William Barton as schoolmaster. There were as many as eighty children crammed into the tent, and in March 1855 Thackeray allowed the school to be transferred to Bakery Hill. Early in October 1854, Henry Bowyer Lane, government architect at the Ballarat Camp, called tenders for the ‘Erection of a Church in the Township of Ballarat,’ according to plans to be seen at his office. Building began in 1854 after £250 had been subscribed, and a ceremony was held to lay the foundation stone. But building proceeded slowly. The basalt church, designed by Lane in 1854, was finally completed in 1857 by Backhouse and Reynolds of Geelong as contractors for a price of £2,000.  It was dedicated on 13 September 1857. It is interesting to note for comparative purposes that the same contractors/architects were responsible for the nearby Lydiard St. Wesleyan Church, built of stone in 1858 for £5000. Christ Church was built of basalt quarried at Bond St, Ballarat and measured 76 feet by 36 feet, with beautiful cedar furnishings supplied by Mr Halpin of Geelong. From the 1850s, the choir was important, with a paid choir at least from 1859. The women of the parish took on the task of sewing the table linens and soft furnishings for the church, led by Mrs Loftus Lynn, wife of Ballarat’s first solicitor. Adam Loftus Lynn was a leading member of the early church, and he imported a house which was constructed on the site of the Ballarat Club. They had a total of 11 children, who also contributed much to the social activity of the Church.  Lynn’s Chambers in Lydiard St, opposite the Church, commemorates the Lynn family.

An article on architecture in the  Ballarat Star in 1862 mentions ‘there has been some talk of building a tower and otherwise enlarging Christ Church, erected some years ago in the early English style of architecture, but the efforts of the congregation seem to have ceased for the present’. The congregation asked the Melbourne architect Leonard Terry, who had designed the handsome banks in Lydiard St., to undertake additions to the existing building in 1867. In 1868 the sanctuary and transepts were built by Mr. Edward James at a cost of £1,792  and in September of that year the western half of the Cathedral Hall was opened as a school hall. A great celebration for the church came on 11 August 1875, when Samuel Thornton was installed as the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Ballarat. Henry Caselli, who arrived in Ballarat in 1855, and became a member of the Christ Church community, was at some point appointed diocesan architect. He designed many churches around Ballarat, and always gave half his services gratuitously, as well as being a generous donor to building funds. His 20 year old daughter Georgiana was buried from Christ Church in 1866. Early in 1882, Caselli and Figgis called tenders for the Bishop’s Registry, Council Chambers and other facilities for Christ Church. At the time of Caselli’s death in 1885, he held a prominent position as a leader of Christ Church, and was accorded a splendid farewell by the Bishop on 5 March 1885.

 

Since the arrival of Bishop Thornton, there were dreams of building a fine cathedral, which would have a frontage onto Dana Street. With this in mind the old vicarage, which dated from 1854-5, was demolished and the present Deanery built. A public meeting was held at the Alfred Hall on 10 September 1886 to launch the idea of the cathedral. The Diocese conducted a design competition, and of the 24 entries received from leading Victorian architects, the design of Tappin, Gilbert and Dennehy was accepted in early 1887, and a fund was opened for the building, which soon amounted to £1710.

The original plan had been to build the cathedral over the existing church, but there were so many difficulties to the plan that it was decided to begin on a new site on the corner of Dana and Lydiard Streets. The new Deanery was completed on 26 April 1888. There was a ceremonial laying of the foundation stone of the cathedral on 30 November 1888, when the Governor Sir Henry Loch came to do the honours. Mr John Manifold laid £500 on the stone as a donation to the building fund.  But the Depression of the 1890s made money scarce, and the failure of a number of banks saw significant losses suffered by members of the diocese. Many parishioners felt that Christ Church was perfectly adequate as a cathedral, especially when the architect William Tappin estimated that the cathedral would cost £50,000 to build, exclusive of the tower and spire. 

Work finally began in 1903,when a tender of £3624 was accepted for completion of the diocesan offices. 

When funds ran out in 1904, and no support was forthcoming from England, the grand cathedral plan was abandoned. The portion of the plan that was erected was called the Manifold Chapter House in 1908, when the first Synod was held in the building in November 1908. It was dedicated on 10 November 1908, at a cost of £12,000.

 

As time passed by, improvements were made to the pro-cathedral, each improvement making the dream of the great cathedral recede even further.  In 1923 Bishop Maxwell Gumbleton decided that Christ Church should be remodelled to conform as far as its design would allow, as a cathedral church. The chancel was extended into the nave, and its floor raised. Screens were placed across the transept arches, and a fine throne of blackwood was placed on the south side of the chancel. In 1929 a new organ was installed. At the end of the 1930s the church was further improved by the erection of a beautiful reredos, and panelling to the east.  A lovely gift from the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral came in 1935, when a stone replica of an eighth century cross from the cathedral was presented to Ballarat and set into the arch (left hand side) near the altar. In 1972, the front porch was added, and the baptistry moved to the west end of the nave. A major development came in 1989 when the Diocesan Centre was added, the architect being John Vernon. In 1993 the choir and organ gallery was added. In 2004 a new pipe organ was installed. In the 1980s, the Church sold the old cathedral site (The Chapter House) and it was used as a Disco, ‘Hot Gossip’, for about a decade from June 1988.  It was later rather irreverently called The Chapel Nightclub. In 2007, the old Chapter House became a residential apartment.

Christ Church contains many fine memorial stained glass windows, and plaques dedicated to parishioners who have died.