1877: St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Colac, Victoria.

St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (now Uniting) at Colac in western Victoria contains an entire cycle of historical stained glass window created by the renowned colonial craftsmen Ferguson & Urie of North Melbourne.

The Colac church’s archives detail the intricate detail surounding the concept of the windows but the one which would mesmerise the congregation for well over a century would be the west end rose shape window which was erected in 1877. It is a magnificent piece of stained glass dedicated to the memory of the pioneer of the Colac district, William Robertson, who died in 1874.

Photos taken 10th August 2013.

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On the 13th October 1876, the Secretary of the Colac Presbyterian Church, P. C. Wilson [1] invited architects to submit designs for their new church to be erected at Colac [2]. A month later a dozen submissions had been received:

“Some twelve designs have been sent in for the New Presbyterian Church which is shortly to be erected at Colac. Some of the designs are of a very neat order.” [3]

The designs of Melbourne architect Peter Matthews were subsequently chosen and the foundation stone was laid on the 10th April 1877 on the corner of Manifold and Hesse streets in Colac. Mr. E. Bulling had been selected as the building contractor and the church was constructed of bluestone quarried from George Robertson’s estate at nearby Coragulac [4]. St Andrew’s was officially opened for services on the 16th of December 1877.

State aid to religion had officially ended at the start of 1876 leaving churches to fully fund themselves for new constructions but on the 19th of April 1877 a significant private donation came for the Colac church. Mr George Pringle Robertson of Coragulac wrote to the Presbyterian Church Committee with a generous offer of £150 towards the building fund on behalf of himself and his brothers John and William.[5]

The architects designs for the church included elaborate stone tracery to be fitted with a series of round windows at the liturgical west end facing Manifold street. On the 28th of June 1877 the Ferguson & Urie stained glass company of North Melbourne provided the architect with a quotation for a stained glass “Rose” window at £100 in addition to the contract for work [6]. It was later resolved to also place windows with stained glass margins in all other windows of the church. The costs were tabled in the January 1878 minutes as £127./6/0 [7] with a further £30 owed to Ferguson & Urie by the architect Peter Matthews.

At 3 p.m on Friday the 5th of October 1877 the Church committee held a meeting, at which Peter Matthews and James Urie were present. The minutes record that;

“Mr Matthews Architect and Mr Urie of Ferguson & Urie were present by invitation.”

“Mr Urie submitted designs for stained glass windows”;

“Mr James Robertson announced that he and his brothers had decided to defray the cost of putting in the large central window in a highly ornamental design of stained glass estimated at 100 guineas.”

“Resolved; that the thanks of the committee be given to Messrs Robertson Brothers for their very handsome gift to the church”.

“Resolved; that ornamental leaded margins off stained glass be erected in all the windows in accordance with designs submitted.” [8]

All the windows in the church were subsequently erected with Ferguson & Urie’s simple stained glass margins of the alternating primary colours of red, blue and yellow.

The primary window, the large series of round stained glass windows in the liturgical east end, is an eight lobed oculus, or more commonly described as a wheel or rose window, and measures approximately 12 feet in diameter. A brass plaque below the window reads:

“This window was erected by William, George, & James Robertson in memory of their late father WILLIAM ROBERTSON, who died 18th Jan 1874, aged 76 years”.

The eight round outer lobes of the window contain four floral designs between another four which contain representations of the four Evangelists depicted as their biblical symbols (as described in Revelations 4:7-8).

In relation to a clock face, at 12 o’clock the top window represents the winged St Matthew holding a ribbon with the text “St Matthew”, at 3 o’clock, St. John (as the Eagle), at 6 o’clock, St Mark (as the Winged Lion) and at 9 o’clock, St. Luke (as the Winged Ox). The larger central round window contains the shield of the Trinity.

So who was William Robertson?

William Robertson (1798-1874) was a member of the Port Phillip Association which led to the first European settlement of Victoria. He was a renowned sheep and cattle breeder and became the largest landholder ever known in the Western district of Victoria since Colonial times. He was born in Alvie, Inverness-shire, Scotland on the 7th October 1798 and in late December 1822 arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) with his brother John aboard the Regalia[9]. Initially selecting land near Campbelltown he partnered with his brother John and younger siblings James and Daniel (who arrived later) to form Robertson Brothers Mercantile Importers in Elizabeth Street Hobart in 1829[10], which was run by John & William, and in 1831[11] in Brisbane Street Launceston, run by James and Daniel. Their mercantile interests earned them a considerable fortune whilst John and William maintained their interests in sheep and cattle and a land holding of 7,500 acres at Elizabeth River (Campbelltown) which they offered for sale in 1835 [12].

On the 10th September 1834[13] William married Margaret White (1811-1866) of Berwick, Scotland, at Campbelltown in Van Diemen’s Land, and they had four sons and three daughters.

Having become disillusioned by the land grants system in Van Diemen’s Land he began to take an interest in the reports of explorers Hume & Hovel who had previously made expeditions to the Port Phillip district in 1824, then known as New Holland (and later Victoria). William was invited to become a member of the Port Phillip Association which led to the first European settlement of Victoria. He had also partially funded John Batman’s first two expeditions[14] to the Port Phillip district and later, in 1836, he explored the Western District of Victoria in the company of Joseph Tice Gellibrand and the infamous William Buckley.

In 1837 he returned to Port Phillip for the first of the Government land sales and made his first purchase of 5,000 acres at Colac. By late 1865 he had sold most of his business interests in Tasmania[15] and in early 1866 permanently moved his family to Colac where Margaret died only weeks later on the 19th of January 1866 [16]

He built his substantial residence, known as “The Hill” at Colac where in December 1867 he hosted the Duke of Edinburgh [17].

By 1874 William Robertson had amassed over 34,000 acres of land around Colac to become one of the largest landholders in Western district of Victoria [18].

William Robertson died at his Colac property on the 18th January 1874 [19], predeceased by his wife Margaret and eldest daughter Jessie[20]; his total land holdings at Colac and district were listed at probate as 219,656 acres[21] and were divided equally between his four sons, John (1837-1875), William (1839-1892), George Pringle (1842-1895), and James (1848-1890).

The sons of William Robertson, donors of the window:

William Robertson (1839-1892):

The second eldest, William, was born in Hobart on the 29th March 1839[22]. He studied law at Oxford and was admitted to the Victorian Bar in 1864. He married Martha Mary Murphy in England on the 24th April 1863 [23], and was active in the Victorian political scene between 1871 and 1886 and during that time was also Colac Shire Councillor from 1877 and president in 1881-82. He died on the 23rd June 1882 and his funeral, held in Colac on the 28th June 1882, was “one of the largest ever seen in the district”.[24]

George Pringle Robertson (1842-1895):

The third eldest, George, was born in Hobart on the 22nd August 1842 [25]. He was educated at Rugby, and later at Trinity College, Oxford. He married Annie Murray in Scots Church, Melbourne, on the 18th May 1871 [26]. He was well known in cricketing circles and captained the Victorian Cricket Eleven against the All England team in 1874. He built ‘Coragulac House’ on a portion of the family estate he inherited from his father. He joined the Colac Shire Council in 1878 and served for ten years and was twice elected president. He died 23rd June 1895 [27]

James Robertson (1848-1890):

The youngest was born in Hobart on the 7th July 1848 [28]. James was educated first in Hobart and later at Rugby in England.  He was predominantly the manager of the Robertson estates in Western Victoria and in later years universally known as the best judge of the Shorthorn cattle breed. He married Margaret Stuart Stodart (1849- 1903) at St George’s Presbyterian Church at Geelong on the 16th March 1870 [29] . James died of Typhoid aged 42, during a brief visit to England, on the 25th July 1890 [30].

John Robertson (1837- 1875):

The eldest son, John,  is not listed as a donor on the memorial plaque for the stained glass window in St Andrew’s. He had died eighteen months after his father at his Cororooke estate aged 38 on the 18th July 1875 after a long illness[31]. His wife Sarah left for London in January 1876[32] and later married Louis Anderson Corbet at Stoke Bishop, near Bristol, on the 12th June 1877[33]. The Cororooke part of the Robinson Estate was willed to John after his father’s death in 1874 and was sold at public auction as part of John’s estate in late 1885[34].

Significant historical tabloid transcriptions:

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Tuesday 20th January 1874, page 5.


We have with regret to record the death of Mr William Robertson, of Colac, who expired at his residence at Colac on Sunday morning last, at the ripe age of 75 years. In him the colony loses one of the founders of its fortunes, for not only was he among the earliest of its pioneers, but he took an important part in its early struggles for existence, and never ceased his exertions in it until by his acumen, energy, and perseverance, his lands became a vast possession, and himself a millionaire. He was born in 1799, at Alvey, Inverness-shire, Scotland, where his father was a respectable sheep-farmer, and there the son was brought up. After receiving a sound practical education from the dominie of the parish, who afterwards became placed minister at Balmoral, the lad began to assist on his father’s farm, and in that condition of life he arrived at man’s estate. About this time he was attracted by the offers of land on easy terms, and the assistance of convict labour, made by the Colonial Office to induce emigrants with capital to locate themselves in Van Diemen’s Land, and the result was, that he and his brother John accepted those offers, and, in 1822 arrived in the sister colony. His brothers, Daniel and James, subsequently followed his example. Our business is, however, with the first-named brothers, whose first step was to select 2,560 acres of land in the neighbourhood of Campbelltown, where they remained in partnership until 1831, when they decided to sell their property, which they had made valuable. They then entered into business in Hobart Town, by which they profited exceedingly, varying their occupation by farming a small estate they purchased near Melton Mowbray. In 1835 William became fascinated by the stories that were then told of the richness of Port Phillip, and with a view to enterprise in that direction, bore on his own account half the expense of Batman’s first expedition, the end of which was that the latter landed at Indented Heads and journeyed to Station Peak, from whence he took his first real survey of the glories of what was to him a promised land. On his return Mr. Robertson and others contributed the cost of Batman’s memorable second voyage, the object of which was to get a large slice of the newly-discovered territory. There is no need to repeat the well known story of the first settlement of Victoria. Suffice it that Colonel Arthur, in Tasmania, and Sir Richard Bourke, in New South Wales, declared Batman’s treaty with the natives invalid; that batman’s partners eventually abandoned their claim, under which Mr. W. Robertson and his associate asserted a right to the whole Geelong district an half the Indented Heads, and that they subsequently got a certain amount of compensation. It is worth mentioning that Batman’s idea was in the first instance to land at Western Port, and that he was wisely overruled by the subject of our memoir. After an unsuccessful attempt to obtain land by virtue of certain rights supposed to be possessed by Buckley, the convict who had lived 33 years among the blacks, Mr. Robertson for the first time crossed the Straits and visited the country of his adoption. On this occasion during his travels he saw the Warrion country, and the richly-grassed plains to the west of Colac. Here he settled, and brought 7,000 acres at auction. About this time he also became the owner of 7,000 acres near Bolinda, on the Deep Creek, now part of the famous Sunbury estate. In 1843 he purchased the run of Captain Foster Fyans, together with his stock, even then celebrated for its high quality. He also bought several other adjoining runs, and forthwith devoted his main attention to his Colac property. Subsequently he purchased 34,000 acres of splendid land on his runs, and by buying the best bulls and cows that could be got in the colonies, and importing purely bred Herefords and Durhams from home, he secured to himself the possession of stock unsurpassed in value in Victoria. It is to his lasting credit that, eager as he was to get land, he never unfairly availed himself of any of the facilities afforded by various land acts, but always bought at open auction. While carrying on this enormous business Mr. Robertson chiefly resided in Tasmania, but some 10 years ago, after a prolonged visit home, he decided to establish himself wholly here. This he did in good style by building a house on his estate, where, in 1867, he had the honour of entertaining H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh. Although he took no part in politics in Victoria, he had much to do with political life in Tasmania, and was among the leaders of the anti-transportation movement. He has left a family of four sons and two daughters – the latter both married. The eldest son, John, was educated in England, and underwent training in the Agricultural College of Cirencester. The second son, William, is a barrister, a B.A. of Oxford, and represents Polwarth and Grenville in the Legislative Assembly. While at college he enjoyed the honour of being the first Australian who pulled in an Oxford University eight. The third son, George, also graduated at Oxford, and distinguished himself in the cricket field as one of the Oxford eleven. The fourth son, James, was at Rugby. The deceased gentleman was always a man of great activity, and so great was his sympathy with manly sports that not a month since he sent away his son George from what proved to be his deathbed to play for the honour of the colony with the Eighteen of Victoria against the All-England Eleven”.

The Colac Herald, Vic, Friday 23rd January 1874, page (unknown)

“Yesterday afternoon (Jan, 22nd), Mr. Robertson’s remains were interred in the family vault in the Colac cemetery. At 12 o’clock the whole of the business places in Colac were closed, and the majority of the male residents might have been seen wending their way to pay their last tribute of respect to Mr Robertson. At about 2 p.m., the coffin was placed in the hearse, and followed by three mourning coaches. In the first carriage were Messrs John, William, George P., and James Roberson (sons of the deceased); in the second, Messrs C. C. Dowling, Charles Officer, Tertius Robertson, and Joseph Sutherland; in the third, Rev J. D. Dickie, Dr T. Rae, Messrs Mathieson and Blake; in the following ones, the Hon C. Sladen, the Hon J. F. Strachan, Dr D. E. Stodart, Messrs A. Murray, Leishman, R. Calvert, J. Gibson, Chas. Beal, Captain J. Haimes, A. Dennis, B. Hepburn, C. Buchannan, A. Wilson, Tilly, and Strickland, the latter four representing the Shire Council. The pall-bearers were the Hon J. F. Strachan, Dr Stodart, Messrs A. Murray, J. Sutherland, R. Calvert, and J. Mathieson. Six of the employees of the deceased walked by the side of the bier the whole distance, arrayed in deep black. When the procession filed into the main road, it was found to be about a mile in length. About 75 buggies and other vehicles followed the hearse, and nearly 200 horsemen in double file, brought up the rear. A large number of people had gathered in the cemetery to witness the ceremony. The Rev J. D. Dickie conducted the service at the family vault. Fully 500 people must have been present, and Mr. Robertson’s popularity sufficiently explains this fact”.

The Colac Herald, Vic, Tuesday 17th October 1876, page 3.


DESIGNS are invited and will be received by the Committee of the Colac Presbyterian Church until FRIDAY, the 10th November next, for a NEW CHURCH at Colac. Copies of conditions upon which such designs are invited and will be received, may be obtained on application, from the undersigned.

P. C. WILSON, Secretary. Colac, October 13, 1876”.

The Colac Herald, Vic, Tuesday 14th November 1876, page 2.

“Some twelve designs have been sent in for the New Presbyterian Church which is shortly to be erected at Colac. Some of the designs are of a very neat order.”

Illustrated Australian News, Melbourne, Vic, Wednesday 31st October 1877, page 171


 “The foundation stone of a new church for the rapidly increasing body of the Presbyterians in the township of Colac was laid on the 11th [sic] of April, the site chosen for the purpose being situated at the junction of Hesse and Manifold streets. The church has been designed by Mr. Peter Matthews, architect, of Melbourne, and is an oblong edifice consisting of nave and two side aisles. It is 60 feet long by 35 feet wide, and will seat, when finished, 316 persons. The style of architecture is known as geometrical. There is a tower at the corner of Hesse and Manifold-streets, 80 feet in height from base of foundation to top of finial, the belfry is to be decorated in carved and open work, and the appearance of the tower will greatly add to the beauty of the building. The vestry is situated at the extreme end, measures 20 feet by twelve, and has a porch at each side; behind this are the book room and offices. The building is to be constructed of bluestone, from Mr. George Robertson’s estate, with Waurn Pond freestone dressings, and the floors and porches paved with encaustic tiles. The sides are pierced with windows, divided by stone pillars with carved capitals, and the southern front adjoining the tower decorated with a great rose window. The whole of the interior fittings will be of Huon pine, and the ventilation upon Tobin’s system. The entire cost is estimated at 3280, and this calculation will not, it is believed, be exceeded. Mr. E. Bulling is the contractor for erecting the church, and, when finished, divine service will be conducted in it by the Rev. J. D. Dickie, pastor of the Colac Presbyterian Church.”

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Thursday 30th August 1934, page 3.


293 HEAD REALISED £30,807 /4/

By R.V.B of the “Australasian: and A. S. Kenyon.

“A successful landowner and businessman of Van Diemen’s Land, William Robertson contributed half the cost of Batman’s first expedition to Port Phillip. He was one of the principals of the association which financed batman’s second expedition. Robertson arrived in 1836 with Gellibrand in the Norval. With Buckley as guide they set out on foot to examine the country west of Corio Bay. Buckley, who had lived more than 30 years with the blacks, claimed ownership of the Barrabool Hills, and these hills he “presented” to Mr. Robertson as a tribute to Robertson’s exceptional physical strength and endurance. It is not, however, as promoter of Batman’s expeditions or as “owner” of the Barrabool country, but as the proprietor of The Hill, Colac, and founder of the renowned Shorthorn and Hereford cattle herds that Mr. Robertson’s name is conspicuous in the records of Port Phillip. In 1843 he acquired the run of Captain Foster Fyans, with all the cattle on it. He retained Fyans’s FF brand. He effected wonderful improvements in the standard of his herds, and the stud cattle of The Hill came to be acknowledged as unsurpassed in the world. In 1875 Robertson Bros., sons of the pioneer, purchased the entire herd of Mount Derrimut Shorthorn stud cattle, which comprised 27 head, including imported Oxford Cherry Duke, from Robert Morton for £27,000. Annual sales of stud cattle were held at The Hill. The Robertson’s pledged themselves to offer no stud animal for sale except by auction without reserve, and every female carried a guarantee as a breeder. The most notable sale of FF cattle at The Hill was on January 7, 1876, when a 26 months old Shorthorn heifer, Roan Duchess, was knocked down to the bid of Samuel Gardiner at 3,20 guineas, the highest price to that time for a heifer of her age. At this sale 293 head were cataloged in 118 lots. The sale occupied four and a half hours, and prices aggregated £30,807/4/, or more than £100 a head. The Shorthorns averaged £155/2/ and Herefords £45/7/9. In 1887 the last sale of cattle was made at The Hill. The whole herd was offered “without reserve” as usual, and the Robertson’s relinquished cattle-breeding in Victoria. William Robertson was born in 1799. He died at Colac, aged 75 years. He left four sons and two daughters. He sent his sons to be educated in England. John was trained at the Agricultural College of Cirencester. William, who became a barrister and member of the Legislative Assembly, was the first Australian to row in an Oxford University eight. George, who graduated also at Oxford, was a member of the University cricket eleven, and he played for Victoria against an All-England Eleven. James Robertson was at Rugby.”

Interesting coincidental points of note:

Joseph Tice Gellibrand (1786–1837) has a memorial stained glass window dedicated to him at All saints Anglican Church at south Hobart. The window was created by the stained glass artist Charles Clutterbuck, England, and was erected in All Saints in 1864.  This window underwent heritage conservation work by Gavin Merrington of ‘Original Stained Glass” in Hobart in 2012. The same church contains stained glass work by the North Melbourne stained glass firm Ferguson & Urie which Gavin is also restoring in 2012-2013.

The brother, James Robertson  (1800-1874), mentioned in the above article built “Struan House” in Launceston in 1870-71which is now part of the Launceston Supreme Court. It also has remnants of original Ferguson & Urie stained glass. See 21-03-1871: Struan House, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia.

Points of note:

The Robertson family grave at Colac holds some interesting information and can bee seen here.


My grateful thanks to the following for their assistance:

Arthur & Joyce Grant, Archivists, St Andrew’s Colac, for the fantastic original church correspondence containing references to the Ferguson & Urie stained glass company from 1877-78.

Jan Thwaites, Secretary of St Andrew’s, Colac

Historical Society, Gellibrand Street, Colac.


[1] Patrick Clason Wilson (1831-1915), also Colac Shire Secretary and Insurance agent. Died 29th May 1915 aged 84.

[5] Letter from G. P. Robertson to Church Committee dated 19 Apr 1877.

[6] Ferguson & Urie quote to architect Peter Matthews dated 28th June 1877.

[7] Church committee minutes, 11th Jan 1878.

[8] Church committee minutes 5th Oct 1877.

[13] TAS BDM: 2678/1834

[18] Royal Historical Society Journal, Vol 56, No.4, December 1985.

[20] Jesse died in Hobart 3rd December 1849 aged 14 years & six months. Her remains were removed St Andrew’s Cemetery at Hobart and interred in the family vault at the Colac cemetery on the 10th April 1868 (as mentioned on the memorial).

[21] Public Records Office Victoria file 11/547, grant dated 19 Feb 1874.

[22] TAS BDM: 99/1839

[25] TAS BDM:1101/1842

[28] TAS BDM: 171/1848



2 comments on “1877: St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Colac, Victoria.

  1. Thanks Ray. Do you know if there are any Ferguson & Urie works in Geelong viz. St. Mary’s R.C. Church

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