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St Michael's, Vaucluse, derives its name from the church of St Michael the Archangel,Bristol, England, and its material establishment in part to a parishioner of the older church. St Michael's, Bristol, built between 1125 and 1147 and rebuilt in 1777 was the church where George van Straubenger Thorne, the church warden, was baptized on 18 July, 1820. At the age of 22 George Thorne migrated to Australia, meeting his future wife, Elizabeth Anne Bisdee, on the ship. In 1847-48 he purchased from the Wentworth Estate some 15 acres of land on the hill above Rose Bay, the property straddling Vaucluse Road near its junction with New South Head Road. On the western section he built a stone villa which he called Claremont. Anxious to see a church in the vicinity, he had transferred a section of his property on the eastern side of Vaucluse Road to the authorities of the Church of England as a site for a future church and donated 150 pounds towards its cost. That was in 1862 but it was not until 1875 that the foundation stone of a small Gothic Church, designed by E. Blackett, was laid was Bishop Frederic' Barker, Bishop of Sydney. In view of George Thorne's links with St Michael's, Bristol, and his benefactions to the church of which he and the Rev. Thomas Kemmis were the first trustees, the new church was dedicated to St Michael. It was opened for use and consecrated on 20 February,1877, by the Bishop of Sydney. The Sydney Morning Herald reports: "St Michael's, Vaucluse, was opened for Divine Worship by the Lord Bishop of the Diocese, Bishop Broughton. The sermon was preached by the Rev. A.W. Pain." (1) it is of interest to note that Arthur Wellesley Pain, afterwards Bishop Of Gippsland, married Anne Bisdee Thorne, the eldest of George Thorne's six daughters. For the next 25 years, St Michael's was under the pastoral care of the Rectors of All Saints, Woollahra. In 1902 Watson's Bay and Vaucluse, aided by the Home Mission Society, were formed into a Conventional District, and the Rev. G.E. Stiles became responsible to the Archbishop for the proto-parish. The parishioners, anxious to establish a parish of their own, began to hold meetings to discuss the now urgently needed church expansion. The first meeting was held at "Tivoli", the home of Mr and Mrs J.R.Love, and was followed by another at the Rectory, Watson's Bay. Tenders were called, but extensions to the church were not begun until the Rev. A.H. Chapman, a former Headmaster of the King's School, replaced Stiles in 1906. The work was entrusted to Edward Blackett's son, Cyril, and the additions comprised a shallow sanctuary and a temporary vestry, accommodation still being limited to 160 persons. W.B. Dailey gave the font in thanksgiving for the birth of his son, and the east window, sanctuary chairs and holy table were donated by J.R. Love. The dedication was performed by Archdeacon Gunther and Sr H. Rawson, Governor of New South Wales, assisted at the ceremony. As soon as the Rev. Molyneaux Hopcraft became curate-in-charge (1909), Cyril Blackett was commissioned to complete his father's design for the church, and the choir, new sanctuary and organ chamber were added. On 10 November, 1910, a site for a rectory was purchased from the Wentworth Estate, with a frontage on New South Head Road. The extended church was consecrated on3D July,1911. The following year the Conventional District of Vaucluse and Rose Bay was created and the Venerable Archdeacon D'Arcy-Irvine was appointed in charge. In 1913 the church wardens of St Michael's presented their formal petition for the formation of the Conventional District into a Parish (2). This was formally accorded by a decree of the Diocesan Synod on 29 September,1913, traditional feast day of St Michael the Archangel. At the same time the Synod issued the Licence appointing the Rev. D'Arcy Irvine first Rector of the Parish Church of St Michael's, Vaucluse. As there was as yet no rectory the Rector lived for a time in a house in Newcastle Street, and later in a house next door to the church. It was not until 30 June, 1923 that the foundation stone of the rectory was laid by the Governor General's wife, Lady Foster. In 1926 the Ven. D'Arcy Irvine became Coadjutor Bishop of Sydney, and had to retire from his position as Rector of St Michael's. For a year the Rev. M.G.H. Garnett was Acting-Rector until Canon Barder assumed office on 27 August,1927. His period as Rector was marked by an extensive building programme. The parish hall was built and opened on 23 February,1929,by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Dudley de Chair. The north and south transepts were added and opened for use in December, 1931. Seven years later the west end and the northern transept were extended, the baptistry
added and the tower and spire constructed, completing the church as we know it today. The completed church was dedicated by Archbishop Mowll, on 7 April, 1938. Two months later Canon Barder accepted nomination as Rector of St Mark's, Darling Point. He was succeeded by Canon H.W. Powys, whose incumbency of St Michael's is the longest to date: 1936-1957. Succeeding Rectors are listed in the Appendix. It is from the offices of these rectors that so much of the history of the Parish Church of St Michael's has issued, mainly from the Parish Magazines and the Minutes of the Parish Councils, dating from 1905.
(1) Sydney Morning Herald, 20/2/1677
(2) Appendix No.3. Proceedings of the Second Session of the 16th Synod of the Diocese of Sydney. The letter approving the formation of the parish (in the archives at Moore College) is dated October, 1913.
Administrative history written by Sister Leila Barlow, 1986.