In 1852-3, what is today known as South Melbourne consisted about 8000 people, living in tents arranged into streets and laneways, known as ‘Canvas Town.’ To get to Melbourne, residents had to cross a ‘ramshackle gangway’ about 60cm wide raised above the swamp to reach the bridge over the Yarra.
The site where St. Luke’s now stands contained a timber and canvas hospital to tend those suffering the Typhoid outbreak in 1853.
The first St Luke’s Church was a wooden building, the corner of today’s Park and Ferrars Streets, opened in November 1855.
The present St. Luke’s was built in 1857 by architect F.M. White, in the Early English Gothic style. The foundation stone was laid on 9th March by Governor Sir Henry Barkly. The first official service was 7th February 1858, with floor and windows yet to be installed.
The pipe organ was built in London in 1865 by John Courcelle, and imported to Victoria. Thanks to a major rebuild in 1937 and regular attention since, it is still in use today.
The first vicar was Rev A.J. McCausland from Londonderry, Ireland, who oversaw the building plans, 1854-1856.
The second vicar, Canon R.B. Dickinson, from north-east London, was incumbent at St. Luke’s for 51 years, 1856-1907!
In the late 1800s the entrance of St. Luke’s was moved from Clarendon St to Dorcas St, and the building altered to make way for a new shopfront. This is the location of the Clarendon Centre today.
‘Violet Sunday’ was a large annual event St. Luke’s from c1908-1985, in which the parish, especially children, would collect violets and oranges, and take them to patients at local hospitals. This event has been attended by governors, governors-general, and prime ministers over the years. It was often a time of reunion and generosity, including the occasion of the Darlington bequest, which continues to contribute to the ministry of St. Luke’s today.
In 1922 electric light was installed in the church and vicarage.
c1936, a special side-chapel was built ‘in honour of the men of this parish who served in the great war 1914-1918.’ This chapel remains today.
From its beginning, St. Luke’s ran school classes, and later a kindergarten. This was still the case when in 1962, the kindergarten hall was used as the space for the official opening of Emerald Hill Court, the apartments which stand beside St. Luke’s.
The parish has been home to numerous sporting greats. The parish cricket club, South Melbourne, has produced 7 Australian Test captains. Wally Lindrum, holder of the World Professional Billiards Championship from 1933-1950, was a parishioner of St. Luke’s.
In 1954 a bell tower was built for the church.
The Community Camp at Phillip Island and later Camp Coolamatong was an important annual event from 1995-2014 – a holiday provided for those living around South Melbourne who normally could not afford one.
In 2002, St. Luke’s began a partnership with government to provide social support to young people in the South Melbourne area. This has taken many forms over the years, and today continues in the Homies homework club.
In 2008, St. Luke’s celebrated its 150th anniversary. Much of the history and photos provided here come from a video produced for that occasion, with thanks to Jack Smith and Tim Parsons.
Between 2009 and 2014 major refurbishments were made, including the provision of wheelchair access via the front gardens, and a refurbishment of the vicarage to create community meeting spaces.
On Tuesday 31 July, 2018, Jon Cox was commissioned as the new vicar for St Luke's. He, along with his family, have moved down from Sydney to be with us.
Today St. Luke’s is home not only to the congregation, but to groups including a weekly ESL Class, the Southport Playhouse, the Port Philip Men's Shed, and in 2017 and 2018 Orchestra Victoria's Five at 5 concerts. You will also find people from St. Luke’s in the local community, for example, singing carols in the Clarendon Centre at Christmas.
We thank God for the history of St. Luke’s, and look forward to being part of his work in South Melbourne in the future.