1867: St Patrick’s Catholic Church Port Fairy

St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Port Fairy, Victoria.

There are many mysteries to be unraveled in historic Ferguson & Urie stained glass windows. This one at Port Fairy in Western Victoria is yet another that I needed to pick to pieces.

The foundation stone of St Patrick’s Catholic Church at Port Fairy (then known as Belfast) was laid on the 30th July 1857 by Bishop James Alipius Goold. The land was donated by one of Port Fairy’s earliest settlers James Atkinson.[1]

The church was built to the designs of London architect Charles Francis Hansom[2] and officially dedicated by Bishop Goold on Thursday 17th January 1861.

In August/September 1868, some stained-glass windows for St Patrick’s were ordered by the Rev James Parle[3] from the Ferguson, Urie & Lyon [4]stained-glass company of North Melbourne. A pair of small two-light windows were the first to be completed and installed on the liturgical south side of the chancel.

The symbolism in the first pair of windows depicts the fleur-de-lis with a crown and the Chi-Rho.

The second pair contains the monogram letters “I.H.C”[5] incorporated with a gold crown and a monogram for the Virgin Mary also with a gold crown. Each of the lancets has the recognisable Ferguson & Urie border design of alternating red and blue glass separated by a flower. The diamond quarries contain repeating patterns of the fleur-de-lis. A quatrefoil in matching colours appears above each pair of windows.

In 2015 master stained-glass craftsman Geoffrey Wallace mentioned some elements in the Ferguson & Urie glass that impressed him, in particular, the ruby red sgraffito rose decoration, in the background of the window depicting the “I.H.C” monogram.

“…There are also two, 2 lancet geometric windows that have the most wonderful sgraffito decoration, particularly the roses…”[6]

The detail of the sgraffito work in the roses is extraordinary, and this level of detail is a highlight of the company’s early stained glass work. St George’s Anglican Church at Queenscliff in Victoria is another example of this detailed sgraffito work in their twelve apostle windows.

The stained glass windows for the main four lights at the liturgical east end of St Patrick’s were originally supposed to depict the Nativity, Baptism, Crucifixion, and Resurrection but these were never ordered by the Rev Parle.

In late September 1867 it was reported;

“…The chancel and spire of the Belfast [Port Fairy] church has been completed. Two very beautiful stained glass windows light the chancel from the northern side, but the great chancel window has not yet been ordered, the estimate of Messrs Ferguson and Co, for which is £250…” [7] – The Age 30th Sept 1867

Almost a year had passed before Rev Parle placed the order for the chancel windows but on the 29th of March 1870 he died, and this would likely be the reason why further progress on the windows was put on hold.

In August 1868 the Melbourne Age reported on the stained-glass for the tracery windows and that temporary windows would be inserted in the lower portions:

“A MAGNIFICENT STAINED GLASS WINDOW has been ordered by the Rev. Mr Parle, for the chancel of St. Patrick’s R.C. Church, Belfast, from Messrs Ferguson, Urie and Lyon, of Melbourne. The design for the four lower or principal openings consists of the nativity, baptism, death and resurrection of our Saviour. In the large circular opening in the upper portion of the tracery the Ascension is the subject, and in the intermediate openings, other scenes in the life of our Saviour are represented. The upper portion is complete, but temporary windows of plain cathedral glass will be inserted in the lower portions. The cost when completed will be £280.” [8] – The Age, Victoria 15th Aug 1868

On the 5th of September further information was reported with a detailed description of the figures that appear in the upper tracery windows:

“ST. PATRICK’S CHURCH, BELFAST.- A new stained glass window has been erected in this church. The lower compartments have been temporarily glazed with plain cathedral glass, but hereafter will be filled in with designs of the Nativity, Baptism, Death, and Resurrection of our Saviour. The tracery about these portions is completed; and in the four trefoils immediately above them are representations of the four Evangelists. In the central and uppermost opening is the Ascension, and in those on either side the Annunciation, and the descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles; the various interstices being filled with appropriate emblems. The coloring is very beautiful, and, both in design and execution, this window is a very creditable production of colonial art. It is, we believe, from the establishment of Messrs. Ferguson, Urie, and Lyon, Curzon street, North Melbourne.”[9] – Advocate, Victoria 5th Sep 1868

Starting from the top of the arrangement in the tracery windows is the Ascension. Directly below this is the Paschal Lamb or Lamb of God with Victory Banner. On the left is the Annunciation of Mary and on the right is the Descent of the Holy Ghost. The lower row of four windows depicts the four evangelists as their alter egos, St Mathew as the Winged Man, St Mark as the Winged Lion, St Luke as the Winged Bull, and St John as the Eagle.

Reports of the stained glass windows for St Patrick’s even made it across the globe to Ireland.

“The Builder informs us that “a stained-glass window has been ordered by the Rev. Mr. Parle, for the chancel of St. Patricks (R. C.) Church, Belfast, from Messrs. Ferguson, Urie, and Lyon, of Melbourne”!! Was there not a possibility of the reverend gentleman procuring a window somewhat nearer home?”[10]

The writer from the ‘Dublin Builder’ of November 1868 has me perplexed with this quip. I’m not sure if it was meant to be a joke or whether he was truly oblivious to the ‘Belfast’ he refers to being in Australia and not Ireland.

The temporary cathedral glass that was installed in the four lancets below the Ferguson, Urie and Lyon tracery windows remained an uninspiring bland feature of the chancel of St Patrick’s for more than half a century. They were eventually completed by the Melbourne stained glass of firm Brooks, Robinson & Co circa 1920, but they didn’t depict the scenes originally intended. The scenes in each of the four lights now depict the Agony in the Garden, Christ bearing the Cross, Crucifixion, and the Ascension. 

The depiction of Christ in the window at the top of the tracery had at some point in time been removed for repair or conservation and unfortunately, it was re-installed back to front, which means the delicately painted side was outside and exposed to the weather, which significantly damaged that window. In May 2015, Geoffrey Wallace indicated:

“…The East window has the tracery section done by F&U while the lancets below are by Brooks Robinson.  At the top is an image of God the Father…Unfortunately, someone has installed this panel back to front and most of the paint has washed off…”[11]

A historic black and white photo of the chancel of St Patrick’s dated circa 1920 reveals that the image of Christ in the tracery window is facing to the right which means that it had been installed back to front before 1920. The Lamb carrying the banner below was also facing the wrong way.

In 2017 stained glass craftsman Robert Rusev[12] from Melbourne was commissioned to do some conservation work on the four lancets made by Brooks, Robinson & Co. In addition to that, Rob indicated the following:

“I rectified that situation of the Ascension window being installed painted side out, but I’m afraid I was too late. Almost all of the painted detail has been lost.” [13]

Robert also rectified the reverse installation of the Lamb with Banner window below Christ. 

Rob also wrote:

“… You may have also noticed that the St. Mark roundel is not original. Whilst working I bumped into the old fellow that broke it and all those years later he was still very upset on out it…” [14]

The History of Port Fairy:

Circa 1828, Captain Henry Wishart steered his cutter, the “Fairy,” to shelter from a storm in a little bay off the southwest coast of Victoria. He named the inlet “Port Fairy” after his vessel and it later became the site of a busy whaling station. In less than twelve years unsustainable fishing practices had decimated the whale population in that area and by1840 it was closed as a whaling station. After more than 175 years the fragile whale population is still recovering.

In 1843 the Government wanted a township established in the area and began selling significant parcels of land at very cheap prices. These land sales had a special condition attached to encourage settlers to establish a township. James Atkinson[15], in partnership with William Rutledge and others, purchased 5120 acres from the Crown and Atkinson named the area “Belfast” after his birthplace. The sale to Atkinson was published in the Government Gazette on the 19th Sep 1843[16] but the concept was flawed. Atkinson’s sizeable land holding was considered more of a threat and eventually meant the establishment of the town would stall.

In 1887 the residents of Belfast petitioned the Victorian Government to rename the township back to its original name “Port Fairy” and in May 1887 the Governor of Victoria, Sir Henry Brougham Loch, officially proclaimed the name change[17].

In 2012, nearly 185 years after the inlet had been discovered; Port Fairy was bestowed with the honor of being the world’s most liveable town.[18].

Another church at Port Fairy that has extant stained glass windows by Ferguson & Urie is St John’s Anglican Church.

Acknowledgements:

My thanks to Geoffrey Wallace and Robert Rusev for their contribution of photographs and quotes for this article, and for all the fantastic conservation and replica work they have done and continue to do on the historic Ferguson & Urie and other historic stained glass windows.

Foot notes:


[1] James Atkinson 1804-1864, proprietor of the “Special Survey” for land at Port Fairy in 1843.

[2] Charles Francis Hansom (1817 – 1888)

[3] The Rev James Parle (1811-1870) also instigated the Ferguson & Urie windows for the Infant Jesus Catholic Church at Koroit, Victoria, in November 1870.

[4] John Lamb Lyon became a partner with Ferguson & Urie between 1866 and 1873 at which time the company name was known as Ferguson, Urie and Lyon.

[5] IHC or IHS is a monogram contraction of the Greek word for Jesus.

[6] Geoffrey Wallace email to Ray Brown 14th May 2015.

[7] The Age, Melbourne, Vic, Monday 30th September 1867, page 6.

[8] The Age, Melbourne, Vic, Saturday 15th August 1868, page 3.

[9] Advocate, Melbourne, Vic, Saturday 5th September 1868, page 11.

[10] The Dublin Builder, Ireland, Sunday 1st November 1868, page 9.

[11] Geoffrey Wallace, May 2015.

[12] Robert Rusev was formerly an apprentice to Master Glass Craftsman Geoffrey Wallace.

[13] Robert Rusev email 12th June 2022.

[14]  Robert Rusev email 14th June 2022.

[15]  James Atkinson died in Sydney on the 17th of December 1864.

[16] Victorian Govt Gazette, No.78, Tuesday 19th September 1843, page 1209

[17] Victorian Govt Gazette, No.46, Friday 27th May 1887, page 1388.

[18] The Standard, Vic, 28th November 2012.  (on-line accessed 18 Oct 2020)


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