St Agnes Anglican Church

Celebration of One Hundred Years of Worship in Black Rock

15 November 1992

Presiding Bishop: The Right Reverend John Wilson


"Beginnings are always interesting – perhaps because of the possibilities of the future."   These words are as true today as they were 63 years ago in 1929, when they were written for St Agnes' Thirty Year Dedication Service.

Today we give thanks for the pioneer families who, one hundred years ago, struggled through adversity to establish the Church of England community and eventually the Church of St Agnes, in Black Rock.

Significant Dates

1890–91: A Sunday School established by Mrs Jessie Frances Montague Traill in the front room of a house belonging to a Mr Wilson in Seaview Crescent. Before this children had to travel by horse or foot to All Souls in Sandringham.

1892: Shared use of a small wooden Congregational Church on the corner of Arkaringa Crescent and Bent Parade. The Sunday School had outgrown Mr Wilson's in Seaview Crescent.

Later Developments

It was not until 1899 that a church was built on the present site, 1913 that the existing church of St Agnes was constructed following a bushfire which destroyed the original building in the same year, and 1919 that St Agnes was established as a parish in its own right. These dates, of course, are the subject of later celebrations.

Two Pioneering Families

The Traill Family: Mrs Jessie Frances Montague Traill has already been mentioned as an initiator of the first Sunday School, and her family went on to have significant links with St Agnes and the wider Church. Amongst her daughters, Kathleen Mary went on to give leadership in the Sunday School, and then to join the Community of the Holy Name. Her sister, Minna, later also joined the Community. Sr Minna was well known for her embroidery, and was the first Conventual Superior of the Community House.


Jessie Constance Alicia Traill (1881-1967). Landscape. 1911.

Another daughter, Elsie Margaret, had a long and distinguished association with Janet Clarke Hall as well as being a skillful woodcarver. Several examples of this talent are to be found in the Church of St Agnes including the rood screen, pulpit and sanctuary panels. Her sister Jessie Constance Alicia Traill is known today as a watercolour artist of renown.

The Gawler Family: John Miller Gawler and his wife Kate (nee Stevens) came to Australia in 1886 and built a house at 9 Bent Parade, which exists today. They were very involved in church affairs in early days. John Gawlr played the organ for the Congregationalists and the Church of England people.

Their eldest child, John Stevens Gawler, became a prominent architect and designed several churches, including the older part of the present-day St Agnes Church, the foundation stone of which was laid by Elsie Traill on 2 November 1913.

Another son, Duncan Philip Gawler, was a wood carver and worked with the well known carver from Black Rock named Prenzel. Before Duncan Philip's death in World War 1 he worked on the rood screen at St Paul's Cathedral and the Honor Board at St Agnes. It was dedicated shortly after news of his death. He may also have been the carver of the oak alter in the Lady Chapel.


Studio portrait of Mr & Mrs J M Gawler and family. C.1900.
Back row: Kathleen, Philip, Oswald. Front row: Harold, John (father), Norah, Kate (mother), Jack (who was the architect who designed the new St Agnes church). S180N34

Black Rock at the turn of the Century

Norah Louise Gawler was also born at Black Rock, on 25 August 1894. In 1975 Norah Gawler wrote her early memories of Black Rock. The following is an extract:

Black Rock was a very different place in my young days. The land sale when my father bought the block of land was the first big sale, and comprised land from Edward Street to Black Rock corner – a rough triangle consisting of land in between the Beach Road and Bluff Road. I think our house was the only one in that triangle at that time and even in my memory there were hardly any others there.
It was a lovely spot, with tall trees of ti-tree, banksia, and many smaller shrubs. In the Spring it was a veritable paradise of wild orchids. There were miniature forests of greenhoods, both small and large, up to seven inches tall. Then came spider orchids of different kinds, Buddy orchids, wild fuschias and bunches of heath – white, pink and red. Later in the season came the tall orchids – usually under trees, that we called wild hyacinths. These grew about three feet tall, and one could pick a bunch in no time.
One of the memorable occasions of my childhood was the Annual Flower Show. The children brought flowers to a special church service and came up one at a time to leave them on the alter or on the steps. After the service the flowers were taken to the Children's Hospital in Melbourne. Most children brought bunches of wild flowers – we thought very poorly of those who brought 'garden' flowers.
Black Rock was one of the best places for finding large varieties of wild orchids. As the land became more populated we used to resent anyone who took over one of our favourite orchid spots.

Norah Gawler goes on to relate her early recollection — of tea on the beach at Half Moon Bay, the whole stretch to themselves; of school lessons with a Miss Bell, the pupils being Noel and Dorothy Piper and the older Gawlers; of services in the Congregational Church which was made available to the Church of England people before their own church was built; of her father playing the organ for all services, Congregational in the morning, Church of England at night; of the rate visit of a doctor – "He was Dr Harbinson of Brighton, who came in great style in an open carriage with his wife seated beside him. The two horses were perfectly matched bays, the coachman dressed in smart brown to match the horses and beside them ran two dogs – also matching – Irish Setters. It was a long drive from Brighton, mostly on unmade roads, and a long trip just to see a small girl. I used to sit up and look out the window at the splendid spectacle."

That was life in Black Rock in the 1890s and into the turn of the century, and today we remember and give thanks for those early families who paved the way to the Church of St Agnes.


  • Sisters of the Community of the Holy Name, Cheltenham.
  • Ms Phyllis Fry, Principal, Janet Clarke Hall.
  • Mrs Nan Jenkins
  • Miss Kathleen Gawler
  • Notes made in 1925 by Sr Kathleen (Traill) and notes made in 1984 by Mr Bob Black.
  • Mrs Shirley Davie for notes made in 1992 from the above sources, upon which this pamphlet is based.