Pulpits and Personalities – The Shifting Sands of Time – Holy Trinity Church Erskineville

Holy Trinity Erskineville Nov 2015

As the end of 2015 nears it is worth mentioning before the year is out the 135th anniversary of the formation of the parish of Holy Trinity Macdonaldtown in 1880, and the 130th anniversary of the opening of the Holy Trinity Church in Toogood Street (now Rochford Street) in 1885.

The following article was published 85 years ago in 1930, in celebration of the jubilee of the parish of Holy Trinity Erskineville:


Evening News Saturday, 28 June 1930

The text of the original article is largely illegible, so here instead is a transcript:

Historic Sydney Parish Has Interesting Story

The story of the development of, and changing conditions in a parish lying on the outskirts of a big and modern city provides interesting reading. Such a story is afforded by the parish of Holy Trinity Erskineville, which has just celebrated the jubilee of its formation.
Fifty years ago Erskineville, unlike the industrial centre it is today, was the proud possessor of wide open spaces. Of the old homes occupied by families of note, two examples still remain—”Blair Athol” and “Gowrie House” the former of which is now the rectory. This fine old house with its spacious grounds has  undergone many iterations since its erection some sixty or seventy years ago, but still stands with its huge Moreton Bay fig and well-known pine trees, sentinel-like as a reminder of the past.
The parish of Holy Trinity Macdonaldtown—as it was then called—was formed by cutting off the portion of St. Stephen’s parish Newtown lying to the east of the main Western line and the separation is officially recorded as having taken place on June 22, 1880. Prior to this event, however, services had been held for some time in private houses situated in this area, and were conducted by the late Rev. Canon Robert Taylor, Rector of St. Stephen’s, Newtown. Mr. H. J. Handel, a parishioner of those days, and since deceased, has written:
“We were present at the first meetings for service in a cottage near the railway bridge at Erskineville, belonging to Mr. Horsfall. After this, an old coach builders place was taken, and the large accommodation was taken up with increasing numbers. Then followed the movement for building a school church. Ground was procured in George st., along side the Illawarra railway line, subsequently built, and after some struggles the little church has opened, under the charge of the rector and curates of Newtown.”
This first church, situated in George-st., was opened for service, and its license was granted on December 4, 1879.

There was considerable growth in building construction and population in the district during the early eighties, and church life was developing to such an extent that the ecclesiastical authorities considered that the time was ripe for the formation of a new parish, to be known as Holy Trinity, Macdonaldtown and consequently Bishop Barker signed the necessary documents, bringing into being the new parish on June 22, 1880, and at the same time licensed the late Rev. Joseph Dark, curate of Newtown as its first Incumbent. Among the preachers in the little old church of those days were Revs. Hulton King, David Dillon (entered up in the records as “a catechist from Bathurst”), R. S. Willis, John Done. Thomas Holme. J. Howell Price, S. Hungerford, Samuel Fox, S. G. Fielding, and F. S. Boyce, all of whom, with the exception of the last two, have passed away. Mr. Fielding is living in honored retirement at Longueville, while Archdeacon Boyce, affectionately regarded as “the grand old man of the diocese,” officiated at one of the special jubilee services.
Rev. J. Hornby-Spear succeeded Rev. Joseph Dark as incumbent in 1882, but during the next two or three years the church suffered some reverses, and on the resignation of Mr. Spear in 1884, Bishop Barker requested Rev. Robert Taylor, of Newtown, to take the over-sight of the parish in addition to his own duties as rector of St. Stephen’s.
Canon Taylor considered that it would be wise to transfer the church organisation to a more central situation, and the last services in the first church were held on Sunday, January 4, 1885, and for the next three months services were conducted in the council chambers during the erection of the new church in Toogood (now Rochford) street.
One conversant with the affairs or the church at that time states: —
“The rector and wardens of Newtown succeeded in selling the old church property to the Roman Catholics, and then set about bidding for the valuable property now possessed by the parish. The present property then consisted of the old residence, ‘Blair Athol,’ and very large grounds. A sum of money was borrowed, and a new church was started. It was intended to leave the valuable grounds in front of ‘Blair Athol’ (now the rectory) for the future large parish church. A schoolroom was afterwards built and then Canon Taylor launched a building proposition and put up four workmen’s cottages. They were, when erected, substantial buildings for those days, and the rental enabled the trustees to keep the interest on the large debt paid up, and the rectory at that time was let, the clergy living in Erskineville-road.”
A new era in the life of the parish was ushered in with the dedication of the new church in Toogood-street on the second Sunday after Easter, April 19, 1885, by Right Rev. Alfred Barry, then Bishop of Sydney. Rev. J. D. Langley, now a retired and revered Bishop of the Church, preached at the evening service on that day, while the officiant on the following Sunday was Rev. Gerard D’Arcy Irvine, at that time curate of Newtown cum Erskineville, and now Co-adjutor Bishop of the diocese. Mr. D’Arcy Irvine continued as minister, together with other members of the staff of St. Stephen’s, Newtown, till the appointment of the late Rev. Edward Hargrave as rector in March, 1888.

In 1895 the parish hall was enlarged to meet the growing demands of an expanding Sunday school, and ten years later the fine pipe organ that the church is proud to possess was installed. Since the beginning of this century there has been a fairly steady departure of parishioners of Holy Trinity to suburbs further out, with consequent loss to the church, but its erstwhile workers are now to be found in many newer churches giving faithful service elsewhere with the spirit of energy and devotion found at Holy Trinity, Erskineville. In times of many difficulties, the parish continues to make a live witness for God and it is fortunate in still possessing a band of devoted workers who strengthen the hands of their rector, Rev. H. Cocks.
The list of clergy who have been in charge of the parish since its inception is as follows:—Rev. Joseph Dark, 1880-1882; Rev. J. Hornby-Spear, 1882-1884; Rev. Robert Taylor, 1884-1888; Rev. Edward Hargrave, 1888-1889; Rev. C. B. Gibson, 1889-1904, Rev. F. M. Dalrymple, 1904-1907; Rev. O. J. Kimberley, 1907-1909; Rev. C. Hughendrey 1909-1910; Rev. Stephen Taylor, 1910- 1916; Rev. J. Newton Stephen, 1916- 1922; Rev. O. V. Abram. 1922-1926; Rev. E. R. Elder, 1926-1928; Rev. Reginald Smee, 1928-1929; Rev. H. S. Cocks, 1929.
Last month the Dean of Sydney opened and dedicated some extensions to the church and parish hall, designated as the Dalrymple Memorial Wing, in memory of Rev. F. M. Dalrymple and his wife Isabella.
The energetic rector of the parish, Rev. H. S. Cocks, supported by an enthusiastic band of workers, has just carried through a most successful and ambitious jubilee programme, to mark the 50th anniversary of the formation of the parish. Special services and social gatherings of past and present parishioners were held. A particularly attractive souvenir “Looking Backward.” being a short history of the church, was compiled, and about £215 was raised in thanksofferings towards the erection of an organ chamber, and other improvements to the church.

At the recent Churches of Christ Conference the following resolution was carried unanimously: “That this conference records its appreciation of the action of the “Evening News” in devoting so much space in its Saturday issues to the activities and teaching of the various churches, and directs that a letter of appreciation be sent to the paper.

An article recording the details of the consecration of the church on 19 April 1885, and providing a good description of the ‘new’ Trinity Church is available here.

A more recent history of the Holy Trinity Church Erskineville with a focus on the building’s interior, including its stained glass windows and memorials was published in 2011 by Craig Wilcox. Called ‘Love’s notebook : inside Erskineville’s Holy Trinity Church‘ it can be viewed at the NSW State Library here.

A history of the church and its buildings can also be found on at the State Heritage Inventory section of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage website here.

Trinity Curch Erskineville south wall

Mr. Horsfall’s cottage near the railway bridge at Erskineville at which the first meetings for service were held has been demolished to allow for the widening of the Illawarra Railway line. Mr. Joseph Horsfall is listed in the Sands Directories of 1875 and 1876 as a draper, then in 1882 as a woolbroker and in 1884 as a wool merchant (in 1880-1881 and 1883 Joseph Horsfall was Mayor of Macdonaldtown). By referring to the 1884 Sands Directory the property of Joseph Horsfall can be identified several doors along from the Rose of Australia hotel. Taking a look at the City of Sydney map of Erskineville published ten years later in 1894 indicates Mr. Horsfall’s property corresponds with number 11 Swanson Street, next to the railway line:

1894 Sands Horsfall

1884 Sands Directory – Swanson Street, South side
(Note: Burren Street referred to here is now Bridge Street)

Horsfall Map

Sheet 5 & 7 City of Sydney Section Erskineville – 1894

As for the first church, situated in George Street from December 1879 until January 1885, it makes its first appearance in the Sands Directory of 1880, showing its location to be on the east side of George Street, south of Erskineville Road:

1880 Sands Directory George St extract

1880 Sands Directory – George Street, East Side

Following the departure of the church from George Street the 1886 Sands Directory and subsequent directories list the George Street location as St Mary’s of the Suburbs Roman Catholic Church. With the numbering of the streets of Erskineville from 1891 onwards the Sands Directory lists the Sisters of Mercy at 134 George Street and St Mary’s of the Suburbs Roman Catholic Church and School next door. Today a building bearing a memorial stone ‘solemnly blessed and laid by his eminence Cardinal Moran Archbishop of Sydney’ on 20 March 1898 stands at 134 George Street, suggesting the original church was located at what is now the Kirsova 2 Playground. The detailed map of Erskineville published in 1894 shows what appears to be a large hall with prominent fencing to George Street in this location:

Map extract

Sheet 5 & 7 City of Sydney Section Erskineville – 1894

Both ‘Blair Athol’ and ‘Gowrie House’ referred to in the article have been demolished. Here is a photo of the rectory, referred to as ‘Blair Athol’ (and known otherwise as ‘Erskine-Villa’) taken in 1929, a year before the article was published:


The Australian Women’s Weekly Wednesday 3 September 1975

In 1975 the daughter of Rev. Reginald Smee, Dorothy Hulme-Moir recalled her time living in the Holy Trinity Rectory in 1929, stating:

Rectory recollection

The Australian Women’s Weekly Wednesday 3 September 1975

This photo shows the house again in May 1936, from another angle, with a buttress-rooted tree (the huge Moreton Bay fig perhaps?) in the foreground:

Erskine Villa

Erskine Villa
Pictorial History of South Sydney also d1_25480 State Library of NSW.

This extract of a detailed map of Erskineville published in 1894 shows the church with the Rectory ‘Blair Athol’ located in between the church and Erskineville Road. As stated in the article, it was intended to leave the valuable grounds in front of ‘Blair Athol’ for the future large parish church:


Sheet 9 – City of Sydney Section Erskineville – 1894

Here is an extract of an aerial photograph taken in 1949, with the (now much larger) fig tree visible towards the corner of Erskineville Road and Rochford Street. The chimneys at each side of the building and visible in the previous photographs can be seen and there appears from the image (and adjacent aerial photographs) to be something to the rear of the roof – perhaps the windows of the ‘darling little attic rooms’ that Dorothy Hulme-Moir referred to overlooking Rochford Street.

1950 Aerial view

1949 – Aerial Survey of the City of Sydney, Main Survey – AO099

The Sands Directories indicate Gowrie House was located on the corner of Erskineville Road and Gowrie Street (where the supermarket is now), opposite Alfred (Albert) Street:

Gowrie House

Sheet 15 – City of Sydney Section Newtown – 1891

This entry was posted in 1880-1889, 1890-1899, 1930-1939, Erskineville Road, George Street, Rochford Street, Swanson Street, Toogood Street and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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