1871: Christ Church Anglican, Birregurra, Victoria.

The Ferguson & Urie stained glass window in the chancel of Christ Church, Birregurra, was erected to the memory of the colonial pioneer John Davenport Bromfield who died on the 20th of May 1870 aged 52.[1]

Photos taken 28th December 2010.

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Geelong Advertiser, Vic, Friday 3rd January 1873, page 2.

“The village of Birregurra is prettily situated, on rising ground, on the banks of the river Barwon, at the termination of Ripple Vale, and can boast of a commodious two story parsonage built of brick, and a handsome stone church which has been erected at a cost amounting to some 2,500. The church was further embellished on Christmas Eve by the addition of a handsome memorial window of stained glass. In the centre compartment is the representation of our Saviour ascending on the clouds of glory. On the right hand is the figure of St. John, and on the left that of St. Peter. In the centre trefoil is the trangle an dove, emblematicical of the Trinity; on one side is the Pelican and on the other the Agnus Dei. The colors are rich and the general appearance is pleasing. At the bottom, in old English letters, is the following inscription:- “To the Glory of God.” “To the memory of John Davenport Bromfield, died 20th May, 1870; erected by his widow.” The chancel is laid with encaustic tiles in a handsome pattern.”

The historic township of Birregurra lies approximately 135km west of Melbourne. In 1837 the Englishman John Davenport Bromfield arrived in the colony and took up land west of Geelong.

“…It may be interesting to note that Mr. Bromfield pitched his first camp in the district in 1837, on the present site of the Anglican Church, Birregurra, which church he had the distinguished honor of laying the foundation stone thereof (April 6th, 1870), thirty years prior to which event he had conducted shearing operations within a few yards of said building…”[2]

In August 1838 Bromfield was granted a licence to “depasture” stock in the South-western Geelong region[3] in the area originally known as “Bowden’s Point” and later as known as “Birregurra on the Barwon”. In 1839 the Wesleyan Missionary Society established the Aboriginal “Buntingdale Mission” in the area which caused much resentment between warring tribes. Bromfield’s station was within a short distance of the mission and he made a detailed account of one of the savage conflicts between the Barabool Hill and Mount Rouse tribes, the deadly results of which he described in June 1942 as; “such a disgusting scene can scarcely be imagined”[4]

Geelong Advertiser, Vic, Monday 13th June 1842, page 2.

“A FIGHT BETWEEN THE BLACKS.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE GEELONG ADVERTISER.
Ion Court, Geelong, June 4, 1842.

SIR.- I have to state to you the particulars of an affray which took place last Tuesday night, the 31st instant, the particulars of which are as follow:- “On the evening above-mentioned, two parties of aborigines encountered each other within a mile and  half of my station, part of the Barrabool Hill natives and part of the Mount Rouse tribe, which immediately gave battle, but were defeated with the loss of three men and two unfortunate young females. On the Wednesday morning the few natives immediately belonging to my neighbourhood arrived bearing this intelligence, evidently in a great state of excitement, and dreadfully afraid to return to their encampment without the protection of myself and servants, who were to be well armed. Directly after breakfast, I started, accompanied by the natives to within a short distance of their huts, where they all remained, and I proceeded forward myself, and on reaching the spot found their report to be perfectly correct. Such a disgusting scene can scarcely be imagined, the whole encampment deluged with blood, first lay the body of a middle aged man named Codjajah, speared through the breast in many places, his bowels taken off them, and a few pieces cut out of his thigh. The next was that of a woman speared in many places, quite dead. A short distance from her stood a young lubra with two spears through the belly, the whole of her intestines hanging to the ground – she was perfectly sensible – it would have been a charity to have shot her then, but she departed this life in the evening. Besides these three, within a short distance of the huts lay the bodies of two more men, known by the names of Jim and Big-one Tom, they were partly eaten, the fat being taken by their Christian brethren. These are the civilised aborigines who have been well instructed by our assistant protectors, and certainly have profited no little by the time and expense that have been lavished upon them. Such are the particulars of this affair, by the insertion of which, you will much oblige,

Your’s &c.,
JOHN DAVENPORT BROMFIELD”.

Although the Wesleyan Missionaries held the belief that their concept for aboriginal protectionism was a success, white man’s diseases became more devastating than the effects of their own tribal conflicts and the Buntingdale Mission eventually failed. By late 1847 there were calls for the resignation[5] of the missionary Francis Tuckfield and by 1850 the site had been abandoned altogether.

John Davenport Bromfield remained in the Birregurra area and in 1860 he was appointed as a Territorial Magistrate for the Colac district[6] as well as a trustee of the Colac Cemetery[7]. In January 1864 he was appointed as a Returning Officer for the district of Polwarth & South Grenville[8], but resigned the position in January 1870[9].

In 1865 he built his (now Heritage listed) home “Elliminook” at Birregurra.

In 1867 he was appointed as one of the “trustees of the land set apart on the 12th of November, 1866, for Church of England purposes, at Birregurra[10]. In January 1869 he was appointed as a magistrate for the general session’s district of Geelong[11].

On the 6th of April 1870 John Davenport Bromfield laid the foundation stone of Christ Church at Birregurra[12], which would only a short time later contain his lasting memorial stained glass window created by the Ferguson & Urie stained glass company of Melbourne.

Illustrated Australian News for Home readers, Vic, Saturday 16th April 1870, page 84.

“CHRIST CHURCH BIRREGURRA

This pretty church will be built substantially of bluestone in the decorated style, the windows having freestone tracery and mullions. The foundation-stone will be laid in a few days. The church will consist of a nave forty-seven feet long by twenty-four broad. The chancel will be sixteen feet square. The tower will be fifteen feet square, and the height will be fifty-seven feet to the parapet. The size of the vestry is twelve feet by ten. The contract has been taken by Messrs. Trovana and Gubly, of Geelong, at £1998, without fittings. Mr. Terry, of Melbourne, is the architect”.

Less than a month and a half later, on the 20th May 1870, John Davenport Bromfield died from an aneurism aged 52[13].

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Wednesday 25th May 1870, page 4.

“BROMFIELD.- On the 20th inst., at Birregurra, near Colac, from aneurism of the aorta, after a lingering illness, John Davenport Bromfield, aged 52; arrived in the colony 1837; eldest son of the late John Davenport Bromfield, formerly of Pershore, Worcestershire, England.”

Christ Church was opened just over seven months later on the 5th of February 1871 at a total cost of £3000[14]. The first incumbent of the Church was the Rev. Thomas Sabine.

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Monday 27th February, 1871, page 7.

“One of the finest buildings in the Western District,” says the Geelong Advertiser, “has recently been erected at Birregurra; this is the new Church of England, which was completed about a fortnight ago. The church is constructed of bluestone, ornamented profusely with freestone from Pettavel. The sides of the windows and doors are lined with this material, which offers a beautiful contrast to the darker shades of the building. Situated to the west of the township, on a rise above the Barwon, it presents and imposing appearance. The interior is capacious, and well finished, and the total cost £3000. It was opened on the 5th instant, the services being conducted by the Bishop of Melbourne. There was a large assemblage, no less 1000 persons being computed to be present on the occasion.”

(The tower and spire of Christ Church were added in 1890 and the “Buntingdale” Aboriginal Mission bell is still located in the Church)

After John Davenport Bromfield’s death, his widow Eliza commissioned the Melbourne stained glass firm “Ferguson & Urie” to create the chancel window of Christ Church in his memory.

The three light window depicts the Ascension of Christ in the centre light with St Peter in the left light holding an open book in his left hand and the Key in his right. St John appears in the right light holding the poisoned chalice containing a serpent and a book in his right hand, his alter ego, the Eagle appears at his feet. The memorial inscription at the base of the windows reads:

“TO THE GLORY OF GOD

IN MEMORY OF JOHN DAVENPORT BROMFIELD DIED 2OTH MAY 1870

ERECTED BY HIS WIDOW”

Three years after Bromfield’s death, his widow Eliza married William Edmundson at St John’s Church in Colac, on the 8th of January 1873[15].

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Friday 10th January 1873. page 4.

“EDMUNDSON-BROMFIELD.- On the 8th inst., at St. John’s Church, Colac, by the Rev. Thos. Sabine, William Edmundson, of Birregurra, to Lizzie, relict of the late John Davenport Bromfield, of Colac.”

Interestingly, William Edmundson’s name appears in John Davenport Bromfield’s Probate documents as signatory to the documents. Undoubtedly Edmundson, who was wealthy and well known in his own right, was also well known to Bromfield!

The Colac Herald, Vic, Tuesday 3rd September 1889, page 2.

“A contract (writes the local correspondent of the Geelong Advertiser) has been let for the completion of the steeple of Christ Church at Birregurra, and the whole of the work will, it is expected, be carried out by the end of November. The steeple is being erected as a memorial to the late Mrs. J. F. Strachan. Mr. Laird, one of the partners of the contracting firm, visited the township a few days ago for the purpose of making preliminary arrangements in connection with the work. The architects are Messrs. Reid, Henderson and Co., of Melbourne. The building of a Sunday-school, to be erected by Mrs. Edmundson, of “Eliminook,” in memory of her late husband, will also shortly be commenced. On the completion of the school, Christ Church will well deserve the compliment paid to it by Bishop Moorhouse, when he designated it “the prettiest and most compact country Church of England in the colony.”

Camperdown Chronicle, Vic, Thursday 29th April 1920, page 4.

“BIRREGURRA.

“The past week has been an important and memorable one for the Anglicans of Birregurra. The foundation stone of the fine stone church, with its Norman tower and spire, was laid in April, 1870, and the parishioners have been celebrating the jubilee…”

“…The vicar who opened the church, Rev. Thos. Sabine, died thirty years ago, but the people are very thankful to have had every other of their pastors with them in their jubilee each occasion the service was conducted by the present vicar, Rev. G. D. Frewin.” 

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Wednesday 3rd June 1931, page 12.

“BIRREGURRA.- Christ Church of England celebrated its diamond jubilee on Sunday. The Bishop of Ballarat (Dr. Crick) was the preacher.”

Footnotes:

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