Home Historic Day 110: Old England on the cliffs

Day 110: Old England on the cliffs

Day 110: Old England on the cliffs
Hammer beam ceiling

LOOKING across the river to the City Botanic Gardens from its perch high on the Kangaroo Point cliffs, St Mary’s stone church is a nod to Brisbane’s English heritage.

It’s the sort of church that if you saw it in an English village, you would have to stop and look inside. The same goes here at St Mary’s-on-the-Cliffs.St Marys on the CliffsSt Marys on the Cliffs

It also has a few interesting little yarns attached.

When Government House was still in the middle of a paddock rather than a university campus, the Governor would walk down and take a boat across the river to the Naval Stores which were at the bottom of the cliffs.

He would then climb a steep set of steps up the cliff face (sadly, no longer there) and attend the weekly Anglican service.

Although well-hidden off Main St with its back to the road as it faces some of the best city views around, St Mary’s has a few other claims to fame.

Because of its long association with the navy, it’s the semi-official naval chapel for Queensland.

St Marys on the Cliffs
Sanctuary art by Godfrey Rivers

It was here that Australia’s first ship-to-shore radio trials took place by radio beam. A little naval plaque marks there spot where, in 1903, the HMQS Gayundah conducted the transmissions.

Inside, the Warriors’ Chapel, dedicated in 1950, has a memorial to those who died on HMAS Voyager in 1964 where an annual commemorative service is held.

There are also a number of naval plaques and monuments in the church gardens.

Lilian Cooper, the first female doctor registered in Queensland who lived nearby, has fine memorial stained glass windows and her medal of St Sava embroidered on an altar frontal.

The sanctuary has three paintings by the noted artist Godfrey Rivers (famous for the “quintessentially Brisbane” work Under the Jacaranda and president of the Qld Art Society).

The pipe organ is the oldest in Queensland and older than the church itself. It was built in the early nineteenth century by H.C. Lincoln (1789-1864) and imported from a London church in 1876.

As a bit of background, the explorer John Oxley, when he arrived in 1823, described Kangaroo Point as a “jungle, fringed with mangroves with the higher land open forest, covered with grass”.

St Marys on the Cliffs
View from the front of St Mary’s

Two years later it was cleared for crops during convict settlement and then opened up for free settlement with the first land sales on December 13, 1843.

Police Magistrate, Captain J.C.Wickham was one of the first to buy and surveyor James Warner built the first house at Kangaroo Point in 1844.

St Marys on the Cliffs
Bell tower at the back

The first Anglican church with a congregation of about 40, was on land donated by Captain Wickham in 1849, where the Story Bridge Hotel now stands.

It was then called Church Lane, later became John St and is now Rotherham St.

It was a little wooden building, so small that only one person could walk down the aisle at a time – a bride and groom had to walk single file.St Marys on the Cliffs

By 1870 this old timber church was too small for its growing congregation and was falling apart.

The congregation scored its brilliant spot on top of the hill thanks to incumbent priest Rev R Moffatt who was also the parliamentary librarian.

He pulled a few strings and managed to exchange half of the original Crown land grant for the current site and the parish set about building a new church.

It was designed by Richard George Suter in the neo-Gothic style using rough hewn Brisbane Tuff quarried from the cliffs around it.

The Queensland colony’s Governor, the Marquis of Normanby, laid the foundation stone in April 1872, Alfred Grant won the contract to start building in 1873 and it was ready to go by November that year.

That wasn’t quite the end of it though. Nine years later, in April 1892, a cyclone hit and peeled off its roof.  It reopened in February 1893, free of debt.

St Marys on the Cliffs
Naval chapel

The original roof of ironbark shingles was replaced with galvanized iron in 1921.

Oh how nice it would be to live in the rectory next door, a superb old Queenslander with verandas overlooking the river.

St Mary’s was added to the Queensland Heritage Register in October 1992.

Services are Sundays 7am and 9am or if visiting the Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park look for the gate to the south and slip through to discover this little bit of England.St Marys on the Cliffs