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History - Scots' Church Melbourne

In May 1835, John Batman sailed across from Tasmania in order to explore the Yarra River.  His exploration rapidly led to the settlement of the area which was to grow into the Melbourne of today, and was soon followed by the first move to establish a church in Melbourne.  It was Dr. Alexander Thomson who held Presbyterian services on the banks of the Yarra in 1836, but he was soon followed by Rev. James Clow, a retired East India Company Chaplain; who conducted his first service on 31st December, 1837.

So it was that the Presbyterian Church was the first church in Melbourne; the first Christian denomination to have regular services of worship conducted by an ordained minister.

Since 1838 Scots’ has been continuously reaching out to the people of this city.  When Rev. James Forbes arrived from Scotland to minister in the colony, the first church was a temporary wooden building at the west end of Collins Street whilst the congregation applied for an official grant of land.  Two acres on the present site were obtained and a school was subsequently built.  This school also served as a church on Sundays until a proper church building, seating five hundred, was built in January 1841.

However, the population and congregation were still growing, and the congregation resolved in January 1869 to build a new church designed by the notable architects Reed & Barnes.  This is The Scots’ Church which you see today.   The present church building is famous for its austere interior including fine timber fittings and magnificent stained glass windows by both local and overseas makers.

The style of the church is “decorated Gothic” which is somewhat unusual amongst Presbyterian Church buildings.  Bluestone was used for the foundations, Barrabool Hills Freestone from Geelong for the superstructure and cream-coloured Kakanul Stone from New Zealand for the “dressings.”  The church spire is 210 feet high and was for many years the highest point in the city.  The church was built by David Mitchell, who was the father of the famous Australian soprano - Dame Nellie Melba, at one time a chorister in the Choir.  The foundation stone was laid on 1st April, 1873 and the building opened on 29th November, 1874.

Whilst the exterior of the church has changed little in the succeeding century, the interior - particularly the Apse - has been altered considerably.

In the last century, the Apse was dominated by a stone pulpit and reredos erected as a memorial to Rev. Irving Hetherington (Minister: 1847 - 1875) and his assistant Rev. Peter Menzies (Minister: 1868 - 1874).  It was Rev. Menzies in particular who played a major part in the design of this church and in the encouragement of the music in the Services.  In 1928 and then, in progressive stages, the original Tasmanian Blackwood panelling has been extended to surround the entire nave.   In the late 1930’s the current vestries were added in a style appropriate to the rest of the building.

The centenary of the present church building was celebrated on 24th November, 1974, and at a service that afternoon Dame Pattie Menzies unveiled a plaque at the west end of the church displaying The Scots’ Church Coat of Arms.

During a severe storm in 1963, the top of the spire was extensively damaged by lightning and was subsequently lowered by 40 feet.  However, in 1989 the exterior stonework was restored and the spire rebuilt to its original height, regaining its traditionally important position in the Melbourne skyline.

Almighty God, you have told us to be still and know that you are God.
Help me to be still, here in this place of worship,
and rest in your presence.
Help me to lift my thoughts above the concerns of my daily life
to you and your love for me;
and grant that I may receive your blessing on my life.
For your love’s sake. Amen


A church is more than just a building - it is primarily people.  The Scots’ Church is and has been the spiritual home for many thousands of Christians since its foundation in 1838.   Visitors are always welcome at any of our Services of Worship, and it is a very unusual week when we do not have visitors at The Scots’ Church from around the world sharing with us in the worship of God.   You will be made most welcome at our Services.  If you live here in Victoria and wish to become a member of Scots’, we would be happy to welcome you to the fellowship of the congregation.  Please feel free to either contact the Church office and speak with a Minister, or come to a Service and ask an office-bearer on duty.