St John the Evangelist Anglican Church & Sunday School
Digby (Emu Creek), South-West Victoria, Australia
Glenelg & Wannon Region, south-western Victoria, Australia.
St John's Anglican Church, Digby
St John the Evangelist, Anglican Church & Sunday School, Digby (opened 1861).
Note the Sunday School and Bell Tower both missing from the current building below.
'Granny' Caroline McCALLUM (nee BEST, 1831-1910) standing in front.

Notes from the Merino / Digby Heritage Book, 1977

    The first Church of England service held in this district was at "Rifle Downs". then owned by Mr. Richard Lewis. This was in 1849, and was conducted by Rev. Dr. F. T. C. Russell, who had just been appointed to the Wannon Valley as vicar, by Bishop Perry, the first Bishop of Melbourne.

    In April, 1861. Dr. Russell laid the foundation stone of St. John's and in December of the same year the church was consecrated and opened for services.

    Dr. Russell continued to minister to a huge parish (travelling by horse back) for 25 years. His health deteriorated to such an extent that the Bishop granted him leave. and he returned to England to recuperate. After some time he had a relapse and decided to return to his friends in the Wannon Valley, but he died at sea, February 7th, 1876.

    The Vicarage was built in the 1880's as a residence for Rev. Moody while he served his term as Vicar. Since his term it has been leased to tenants. The Sunday School opened in 1874 with a roll call of 28 boys and 26 girls, with Mr. Nathaniel R. Burgess as Superintendent and six teachers assisting. The Sunday School closed in 1935 through lack of pupils and teachers.

    The first entry in the marriage register is for the wedding of William Harvey Jackson and Jane Clifford, on September 23rd, 1867. (Source: Merino / Digby Heritage Book, 1977)

Rev. Dr. Francis T. Cusack Russell (1823 - 1876)

    Rev Dr Francis Cusack Russell

    "In the early 1850s, F. Cusack Russell, from his base near Coleraine, ministered to a wide area in the Western District, including Hamilton. He held periodic services in homes, stores or the few public buildings. For a brief period Hamilton had its own Minister, a Mr Handt or Hantz, who arrived in 1853 but left for Geelong in April 1854. He was in Hamilton during the controversy over French's dismissal from the School Board of Patrons and was subject to some of French's wrath because he held similar views to those of Russell. Handt was refused permission to use the court house to hold services, which apparently then took place in J. H. Campbell's store. However, when Bishop Perry visited Hamilton early in 1854, he was granted the use of the court for a service. French sent off another stream of angry letters protesting that government buildings were being used to preach religious dogmas." (Source : 'Hamilton: A Western District History' - Don Garden, 1984)

    "Anglican Church Merino - Original services were conducted under an archway of trees where Mrs HUSSON's house now stands, by the first vicar, the Rev. F. T. C. RUSSELL, who was appointed to this large parish in 1850. Services were later held in the old Vicarage, now occupied by Mrs BLACKBURN; afterwards in the school building known as the Common School, till the present church was built in 1866. The late Dr. RUSSELL labored in this parish for 24 years. He was returning from a long trip in the parish when he was seized with a paralytic stroke. He was alone and driving a pair of quiet ponies, and was still some miles from the parsonagae, with at least one pair of gates to open. Fortunately he succeeded in acomplishing this task and reached home safely. For some weeks the patient was kept very quiet; then a sea trip was recommended by his medical adviser, which was subsequently made possible by his many friends and admirers, who subscribed the sum of 1000 pounds, a further 500 pounds being sent to him while abroad. When returning to Victoria he died and was buried at sea." (Source : Back to Merino & Henty Centenary Book, 1937)

    Parsonage-on-the-Wannon (residence of Rev. RUSSELL)

St John the Evangelist Anglican Church, Digby

    St John's CofE Church, Digby
  • The Foundation Stone was laid by Rev Dr Cusack Russell on April 19th 1861. A bottle containing scroll, coins, papers etc was deposited and the meeting which followed elected the following men as trustees - The Rev Russell, John Coldham J.P., Richard Lewis, Duncan McCallum and R.J. Mercer. All of these men were important pioneers of the area. The church was consecrated in Dec 1861. I believe it is the 2nd oldest church in the Western District after St Stephen's in Portland.
  • The much revered and loved Rev Dr Cusack Russell was the first vicar. He was appointed Vicar of the Valley of Wannon in 1849 by Bishop Perry, the first Bishop of Melbourne. The font in the church is in his memory. The Right Rev Jim A Grant of Parkville is working on a biography of him.
  • The church was built from bricks made on the "Pleasant Hills" property, at that time I believe it was owned by Richard Lewis who also owned "Rifle Downs" and built the first inn in Digby in 1841. My late mother, Alice Hiscock, used to tell of her Grandfather Nathaniel Burgess, the blacksmith, and a friend hauling loads of bricks in a dray with 2 bullocks. Presumably the timbers were milled locally by the other Burgess family, who were the timber millers.
  • The stained glass windows behind the altar were designed and manufactured in Melbourne by Ferguson and Urie, specifically for the church and were recently cited in an Australian study of stained glass by Bronwyn Hughes for RMIT. She produced a CD.ROM titled "Lights of Our Past". She considers the windows of national significance.
  • A box of old documents on top of a cupboard in the vestry were listed by me in 1996. I did this at the request of Una Guthridge a parishioner, (now deceased), because she was concerned that there could be important information there that could be lost. I do not know if the box is still there, but I found accounts for 3 leaded Gothic windows, Nov 20 1909 and 10 leaded Gothic windows, July 27th 1911 from Brooks, Robinson and Co Limited, 59 - 65 Elizabeth St, Melbourne. These would have to be for the 5 windows along either side of the church and the 3 on the back wall - some of which have dedications on them. There are many other documents of interest which I won't list here and also the minister for the parish, Rev John MacGlashan told me last week that other very old registrars etc for St John's are held at Coleraine.
  • There are huge Elizabethan style inscribed panels, with gold leaf highlights, displaying the Lord's Prayer, The Creed and the Ten Commandments on the walls of the church. I believe that these are quite rare.
  • All the original church furniture and objects are there, except for the silver trowel marking the foundation which was donated by Mrs Winter-Cooke and was stolen sometime around 1996. Nothing was ever followed up about this theft.
  • Around the turn of the century the church was rented by the Presbyterians, so is significant in their history also.
    (Source: Notes by Ruth Stirling, April 2000)

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