Parsonage for St Matthew’s

Vicarage of St Matthew’s Church of England, corner of Park and Charman Roads, 1964. Courtesy City of Kingston, Leader Collection.

The custom of English villages was to provide accommodation for their clergymen adjacent to the parish church in which they served. Generally this practice was followed in Australia but in some instances due to the lack of money or priority being given to building a church, a vicarage, parsonage or rectory was not built. While St Matthew’s at Cheltenham had a brick church there was no residence on the church land. Accommodation for their minister was found beyond the immediate environment of the church. It was some years after the building of a church that a parsonage was erected.

The first two vicars of the Cheltenham parochial district lived in the Brighton district, necessitating their travelling by buggy or horse to conduct services for their several disbursed congregations. It was with the arrival of the third vicar, Alfred Caffin, that the need to build a parsonage was raised by parishioners. At the annual meeting of the congregation in 1887 it was proposed and accepted that the ladies attending the meeting and the members of the vestry form a committee to explore ways and means of erecting a parsonage in connection with the church. [1] The vestry took the matter up in February when it was accepted that a wooden building erected on the church site would be suitable. [2]

Initially, Caffin, with his wife and four children, lived in a rented house owned by Ada McGeorge in Mentone, but he was a strong advocate for the building of a house in Cheltenham, the centre of his ministry. The arrangements at Mentone were not satisfactory and as soon as it was possible Caffin moved his family to a rented cottage and paddock in Charman Road which he named The Glebe.

At a special meeting of the congregation, held in the school room in June 1889, Caffin reported that the parish had £168 in the bank and a credit of £27/12/- with the Diocesan Registry which had been collected at Christ Church, Dingley. He thought Little Brighton would give £12/10/- and Mordialloc £35. Mentone was unlikely to give anything while the possible contribution of South Brighton was unknown. He, himself, would contribute £25 and Mr Vail, a parishioner, would give £20.

General discussion followed the presentation of this information. Mr Plumridge didn’t believe Cheltenham could afford a parsonage costing £1100, as was wanted by Mr Caffin. He thought £500 to £600 was a more realistic estimate. Caffin, probably disappointed and frustrated by the discussion, asked if there were any objections if he lived in Brighton should it be decided not to build the parsonage. In answering this question Plumridge said he thought it better for the minister to live in Brighton rather than going to the expense of erecting a parsonage at £1100. Others saw non-building as an indictment on Cheltenham in relation to other places and suggested the compromise of building a number of rooms to which more could be added in the future. Making a decision became too hard so the meeting was adjourned. [3]

In February 1890 it was decided that as soon as £400 was in hand the erection of the parsonage would commence with the direction that Mr Backhouse be asked to prepare plans for a ‘board and brick’ structure not to exceed £600. A building committee, formed to oversee the work, had its first meeting in April 1890. Membership consisted of Rev A Caffin, Messrs Vail, Comport, Kellaway, Booker, Reynolds and Wells. Tenders were submitted to the committee and after some modifications to the plans to bring the cost down, the tender of Mr Ireland was accepted. The final contract price was £623-15-0. To establish this cost charges for fencing and asphalting were excluded but £34 was added for a slate roof. [4]

By October 1890 the building was completed and attention was given to its surroundings. A working party of approximately twenty four men with horses and tip drays set about filling up the low lying parts of the ground with soil for a garden. About two hundred loads of earth were transferred from a bank on the Charman Estate to the site of the parsonage. Work had commenced at eight o’clock in the morning with an adjournment at twelve o’clock for lunch prepared by Mrs Caffin and set out in ‘a grand style’ in the schoolroom. At the conclusion of the day the suggestion was that the ladies should each provide a flower to plant in the newly formed garden. [5]

The building was complete but the parish was carrying a large debt. Ways were then sought to lighten this burden. The vestry accepted an offer of Mr Bradly to give a concert in the Mechanics’ Hall in aid of the parsonage expenses. From admission prices of one shilling and sixpence and one shilling proceeds were £12-5-9. Mrs Verity and her friends also presented an entertainment which was not as well patronised as was hoped with the hall being poorly filled. Nevertheless, there were many people, who while not attending, purchased tickets that helped swell the profits on that occasion to £11. Those who were present, according to a newspaper report, ‘enjoyed the singing of Dr O’Hara who sang ‘Nazareth’ beautifully and Miss Jukes, the only lady vocalist who sang ‘Many a Mile Away’ and ‘The Miller and the Maid’ in an amusing fashion. Both vocalists received well deserved applause. Mr Brown and Mr Sutherland also received praise for their contribution.’ [6]

Kellerway, Comport and Wells canvassed the parish soliciting funds in 1890 and raised £234.14.11d. It was proposed by Comport and Kellerway at a building committee meeting that the list of contributions collected by the committee be posted on the church door and that the minister be requested to draw the attention of the congregation to it. Minutes of the meeting don’t reveal whether colleagues of Comport and Kellerway agreed with this proposal or whether it happened but records do show the origins of the contributions. The largest single amount was £30.13.0 from Dingley. Both Rev A Caffin and Edward Vail gave £25. Vail was a solicitor and member of the vestry and building committee, conducting a legal practice in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. He also gave substantial sums of money on other occasions. Twelve people contributed £5 each.

Money Collected by Messrs Kellerway, Comport and Wells 1890.

Mrs Gartside, 5-0-0
Dingley, 30-13-0
Mr G Beazley, 2-0-0
Mr Harvey, 1-1-0
Mrs G Tuck, 1-1-0
Mr W Tuck, 10/-
Mr Williams, 10/-
Mr Docrawa, 1-0-0
Mrs I Beazely, 3-0-0
Mr G Tilly, 2-0-0
Mr T Tilly, 1-0-0
Rev A Caffin, 25-0-0
Mr Bleasdale, 5-0-0
Mr Gomm, 1-10-0
Mrs Gomm, 1-10-0
A O Kellaway, 1-5-0
Dr Scantlebury, 1-0-0
Mrs Garrard, 2-0-0
Mr A Dickman, 1-0-0
Mr Crawford, 2-0-0
Mrs C M Watson, 5-0-0
Mr Singleton, 1-5-0
Mr Rositer, 10/-
Mr W Coleman, 1-0-0
Mr W C Morris, 3-3-0
Mr Stephens Frank, 5-0-0
Mr W Harvey, 1-0-0
Mr Richards, 5-0-0
Mr Kellaway, 5-0-0
Mr Vail, 25-0-0
Mr Butler, 1-1-0
Mr Wedd, 1-0-0
Mr King Sr, 1-0-0
Mr King Jr, 1-0-0
Mr Mundy, 5-0-0
Mr Lamb, 5-0-0
Mr I Tilly, 5-0-0
Mrs Dickerson, 3-0-0
Mr Comport, 5-5-0
Mr I Booker, 3-0-0
Reynolds, 5-0-0
Wells, 10-0-0
McKnight, 1-0-0
Nunn Sr, 1-0-0
Nunn Jr, 1-0-0
Hughes, 10/-
H Booker, 3-0-0
Mrs Jaman, 5-0-0
Mrs Ruck, 1-0-0
Mr Bevin, 1-0-0
Mrs Verity Concert, 11-0-0
Mr Burgess, 1-0-0
Bishops Collection, 2-10-2
Mr Plumridge, 5-0-0
Mr W Tuck Snr, 1-1-0
Mr Bradly’s Concert, 12-5-9
Jeffreys, 1-0-0

From Minute Book for Church of England Vestry & Church Wardens 1888 page 58.

In subsequent years money was also gained from other sources. Two concerts were held in Sandringham and half the proceeds were donated to the Parsonage fund and the Wesleyan choir of North Melbourne offered to give a concert in aid of the appeal. A tea meeting at Cheltenham raised £15-2-6. [7] In 1893 a bazaar, opened by Mrs Goe, the wife of the Bishop of Melbourne, was held in the Mechanics’ Institute. There stalls decorated with flags and evergreens had available refreshments, flowers, fancy goods, produce, and old curiosities. The women behind this successful venture were Stuart, O’Grady, Watson, Moore, Dickson, Caffin, Comport, Layer, Palmer, Attenborough and Scantlebury. Fifteen little girls gave an exhibition of fancy and floral dancing while Mrs Clarke of Mentone gave ‘a graceful exhibition of Indian club swinging’. The band of the Victorian Rangers played during the evening. [8]

That year the Rev Caffin wrote, seeking financial help, to several individuals who had contributed to the parish in the past but on this occasion none of them did so. Mr Budd, a lay reader from Brighton, wrote back that he was unable to help but John Matthew Smith and Mr Richards did not reply. [9] That year saw Melbourne facing a financial crisis with banks being forced to close their doors to customers. The inflow of overseas capital that had previously funded booming land sales, building, railway and road constructions dried up. Many families were struggling, individuals were unemployed and people lost confidence in their ability to survive. Given this situation it was not a good time to appeal for money to pay off a debt on a parsonage.

The parsonage was the home of successive vicars and became known as the vicarage. By 1946 it was in need of attention so some remodelling took place, and like in many other residences in Cheltenham, sewerage was installed. In 1951 the Rev Robert Dann was appointed as the thirteenth vicar of the parish. Later, Dann after retiring as an Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, wrote of his time at Cheltenham. He commenced full of energy and expended some of that on the large timber vicarage.

“Its dark wallpapers presented a gloomy aspect and there were acres of bare wooden floors. So with a bit of help from the family I set to and painted the entire house in water based ‘kalsomine’. A variety of pastel colours cheered the place up. I tacked second hand underfelt and old carpet squares to the uneven floors. Yvonne did wonders with cheap curtain materials. We felt cosy. The Vestry installed a kerosene hot water service. There were still severe restrictions on the supply of electric power; hence the smelly, sooty kerosene heaters and the pathetically inadequate new stove.” [10]

By 1956 the vicarage was in urgent need of serious attention. The churchwardens asked the Diocesan Registrar for advice and raised the option of selling the land on which the vicarage was built. At first this option was rejected but after a review in 1963 of the church properties a decision was taken to sell the piece of land on the corner of Park and Charman roads. After the completion of the sale to Total Petroleum a new vicarage designed by Rex Patrick was built on the former church tennis courts in Park Road. In 2007 the ‘new’ vicarage became the parish office and a veterinarian’s clinic while the accommodation for the vicar moved off site, a situation that existed in 1867.


  1. Minute Book 1875-1888.
  2. Minutes of Meeting, 14 February 1887.
  3. Minutes of Meeting, 12 June 1889.
  4. Building Committee Minutes 2 June 1890.
  5. Mentone and Moorabbin Chronicle, 18 October 1890.
  6. Mentone and Moorabbin Chronicle, 21 June 1890.
  7. Building Committee Minutes 28 Nov 1892.
  8. Moorabbin and Mentone Chronicle 30 November 1893.
  9. Building Committee Minutes 14 September 1893, Inspector Budd: Educator and Lay Reader, John Matthew Smith: Pioneer and Philanthropist. Kingston Historical Website.
  10. Dann, R W Parish Ministries, (Manuscript) 1998.
31 August 2013
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