1878: St John’s Aboriginal Mission Church, Lake Tyers, Victoria.

St John’s Anglican Church at the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Mission was built in 1878 to the designs of architects Terry and Oakden and formally opened on Sunday 26th October 1878[1].

Photo of the chancel window was taken 17th Dec 2012 and kindly contributed by Bruce Hutton of Almond Glass, Oakleigh.

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The first minister of the Aboriginal Mission at Lake Tyers was John Bulmer (1833-1913). Bulmer arrived in Australia aboard the ‘Emigrant’ on the 12th Jan 1853 with his employer John Eggars and his family (Eggars died on the voyage)[2] For the first three years in the colony Bulmer worked as a carpenter to repay his passage and assist the Eggars family to return to England.

In 1855, having witnessed the maltreatment of the Aborigines, Bulmer offered himself for the Church of England Aboriginal mission being planned for Yelta near the Murray River. He was accepted by the Church, despite his Methodist background, and in 1858, with the assistance of the Rev Friedrich Hagenauer, was invited to open a mission in the South Gippsland region and in 1862 he and his second wife Caroline began the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Mission[3].

Eighteen years later Bulmer sought to have a suitable house of god on the mission estate and in 1878 a wooden church was “erected by the blacks under the able superintendence of Mr Bulmer”[4]

In the presence of the Rev. Canon Stuart Lloyd Chase, who was the donor of the stained glass windows, the church was formally opened on the 26th October 1878.

Amongst the description of the building and its furnishings was the mention of the stained glass windows:-

“…painted glass in the three light window of chancel (presents by the Rev. Cannon Chase), as well as that of all other windows, were sent up from Melbourne…”

The three light chancel window is identified as the work of the Ferguson & Urie stained glass company of Curzon Street, North Melbourne. It has the typical Ferguson & Urie stained glass border design of alternating red and blue, but in this window it has a small depiction of a majestic crown separating each colour instead of the usual yellow or white flower.  In the left light is the Greek symbol of Alpha (the beginning) and in the right light the symbol of Omega (the end). The diamond in-fill quarries in each light are of a repeat depiction of the passion flower in grey, gold and pink. The centre light comprises a scrolling ribbon on a crimson background with biblical text:

(John 10-11, – King James Bible).

The three light chancel window has recently undergone restoration and conservation by Bruce Hutton of Almond Glass, Oakleigh, Victoria, in 2012.

Gippsland Times, Vic, Friday 1st November 1878, page 3


The ceremony of opening a new church in connection with the Church of England Missions to the natives at Lake Tyers’ Aboriginal Station was celebrated on Sunday with unusual éclat. On Saturday, the Tanjil conveyed to the Lakes Entrance a party of visitors, among whom were the Rev. Canon Chase, W. E. Morris, Esq., Deputy Registrar of the Diocese, and hon. Sec. of the Mission, H. Henty, Esq., and other gentlemen, who were joined at Sale by the Rev. Canon Watson, the Rev. Mr. Hagenauer, and other friends. Several ladies were of the party. Bairnsdale was reached in the afternoon, and the steamer then went on to the Entrance, the party walking to the station, where they found accommodation. On Sunday, after a preliminary service conducted by the Rev. Mr. Hagenauer in the school-room, the congregation assembled in the new church. The opening sermon was preached by the Rev. Canon Chase. During the afternoon a missionary meeting was held, Mr. Henty in the chair, at which addresses were delivered, service in the evening being conducted by the Rev. Mr. Hagenauer. On Monday the programme was diversified by a most enjoyable pic-nic. During the evening several aboriginals were baptized. On Tuesday, the Rev. Canon Watson delivered an address in the Church, and on Wednesday morning the party left in the Tanjil, reaching Sale in time for the afternoon train for Melbourne, all exceedingly delighted with the excursion, and loud in their praises of the Tanjil. The occasion was one of great delight among the 120 natives at the station, the arrangements of which were the theme of general commendation. The following is a description of the new building:-
The Mission Church has a nave 40 feet long by 20 feet wide and about 16 feet high from floor to roof, which has a Gothic pitch. The chancel is 12 feet by 10 feet deep. The tower is square, rising well above the Church roof, is terminated by a stunted spire, crowned by a gilt weathercock vane. The lower stage of the tower forms a spacious porch, with double doors at each side window in front; above the porch is a ringing chamber, and over it a belfry, with lowered lights. The structure is of hardwood, and erected by the blacks under the able superintendence of Mr Bulmer. It is covered with painted weatherboarding outside, and lined inside, including also the roof, with slightly stained and well-varnished boarding. The roofs of nave, chancel, and spire, are covered with galvanised corrugated iron. The doors, windows, painted glass in the three light window of chancel (presents by the Rev. Cannon Chase), as well as that of all other windows, were sent up from Melbourne. The chancel arch is the full width of the Church, and is to have illuminated text round it. The Church ceiling is of a neat pierced wood-work executed on the station; the pulpit was a present from Melbourne; the pews of good solid character of polished deal, made in Melbourne. The plan was furnished gratuitously by Messrs Terry and Oakden, architects, Melbourne.”

Gippsland Times, Vic, Friday 12th March 1880, page 4

“…If the exterior of the Church pleased us, we were more than delighted with the interior. As the doors swung back, the glories of a large stained glass window, placed over the chancel, burst suddenly upon us…”

 ATNS – Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements Project   (Accessed 04/06/2013)

“The Lake Tyers Mission Station was established in 1861 by the Church of England Mission. In 1863, the Victorian Colonial Government set aside 2000 acres of land as the Lake Tyers Reserve. In the early 1900’s, residents from Ramahyuck moved to Lake Tyers as did those from Lake Condah and Coranderk after these stations were closed. By 1962 the State Government had announced plans to close Lake Tyers. In 1971, the Government returned the Lake Tyers Reserve, including 4000 acres, to the local Aboriginal community under the Aboriginal Lands Act 1970.”

“…In 1858, Bulmer married a young school teacher, Miss Stocks, and shortly afterwards was invited to open a mission in Gippsland. Mrs Bulmer died in Melbourne in 1861. Bulmer went to Gippsland where, with the help of local Aboriginal people, he chose a mission site on Lake Tyers. Returning to Melbourne Bulmer married Caroline Blay. Together they commenced the Lake Tyers Mission in 1862, with both church and government support…”

Traralgon Record, Vic, Tuesday 19th August 1913, page 2

“The Rev. John Bulmer, associated with the Lake Tyers Mission Station for over 50 years, died last Wednesday, in his 81st year.”

The Bairnsdale Advertiser, Friday 15th August 1913, page 3.

“BULMER.- The friends of the late Rev. John Bulmer are respectfully informed that his remains will be interred THIS (Friday) AFTERNOON. The funeral is appointed to leave St. Nicholas’s Church, Cuninghame, at 2 o’clock for the Cuninghame Cemetery. W.SHARROW, Funeral Director, Phone 27.”

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Wednesday 10th July 1918, page 1.

“BULMER.- On the 2nd July, at Lakes Entrance, Caroline, widow of the late Rev. John Bulmer, formerly of the Lake Tyers Mission Station, in her 80th year.”

After John Bulmer’s death in 1913 the Victorian Board for the Protection of Aborigines sought to have his wife Caroline and his daughter Ethel evicted from the Lake Tyers station. With the support of the Aboriginals, she petitioned the board to be allowed to stay on the station but after numerous failed attempts, she and her daughter were forced to leave[5]. Caroline Bulmer died five years later at Cunninghame near Lakes Entrance aged 80.


[1] Gippsland Times, Vic, Friday 1st November 1878, page 3

[2] ‘Aboriginal Mission Stations in Victoria’, Aldo Massola, Hawthorn Press, 1970

[5] The Journal of the Public Records Office Victoria, September 2008, Number 7, p53.


Many thanks to Bruce Hutton of Almond Glass for the correspondence, his contribution to the preservation of the historical stained glass, and for contributing the photo of the chancel window.

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