Initially the visiting clergymen were Church of England, but in time, ministers of other denominations began to establish their circuits and the building of new churches was proposed. A visiting clergyman was always assured of a warm reception by the local citizens, no matter which denomination he represented.
Christ Church, Tarraville,
built in 1856.
Christ Church's nave
Of all the small towns in Gippsland, the first church was located in Tarraville. Why Tarraville, a town that 99% of Australians would not have heard of? With the establishment of Port Albert as an access point to Gippsland, the development of the neighbouring town of Tarraville looked set to boom. Today it is difficult to imagine that there was once a thriving small town in Tarraville, a town that had 5 hotels and wine bars, dozens of businesses and the largest permanent town population in the region.
The first resident minister to be appointed to the parish was Rev Willoughby Bean. Under the direction of local architects and surveyors John Pettit and George Hastings, Christ Church was built in 1856. Pettit and Hastings’ chosen style, Victorian Carpenter Gothic, was developed to showcase the skill of the builders AND to provide a relatively cheap alternative to brick or stone buildings.
The public buildings that were best suited to Victorian Carpenter Gothic were small churches and meeting halls, especially in the areas where budgets were very small and there was a growing need for places of worship. The style was most prevalent in places like Gippsland where wood was the most plentiful building material. Of course public acceptance of budget-built churches relied on the charm and quaintness of timber, replacing the authenticity of carved stone Gothic architecture.
Port Albert and Tarraville are 225 ks SE of Melbourne
In Tarraville they used local mountain ash and yellow stringy bark timbers, and did not use any nails. The roof was originally of wooden shingle; a galvanised iron roof has subsequently been laid over the original shingles.
Older photos of the church show painted orange with dark brown timber trims; today the exterior timbers are cream and the timber trims are dark blue. Otherwise the exterior features remain in place, especially the multi-columned porch and the really lovely, open bell tower.
Christ Church Tarraville continued to be used as a parish church until there were not enough parishioners and eventually there was no resident minister. So what went so sadly wrong with the growth plans for this part of South East Victoria? It seems that once the modern railway opened up from Melbourne to Sale in 1877, Sale boomed and Tarraville was by-passed. This lovely religious site now has Heritage Protection and so it is preserved and restored, but a heavy security grill inside the door means the visitor can only see down the nave from a distance.
Virtual Tourist records the impressive Victorian architecture still to be seen in Tarraville and Port Albert. For example, by the time the Gippsland gold rush made a major government investment in Port Albert-Palmerston necessary, most of the land within the township was in private hands. Two fascinating buildings from that time survive: Police Barracks and Gaol (1857) and Immigration Depot (1858).
By way of comparison, examine Christ Church in St Stephen, New Brunswick. This Canadian church was built only 7 years after the Gippsland church, and it shares many of the Carpenter Gothic elements. This wooden church remains as an example of the application of formal British Neo-Gothic theory developed by Britain's Ecclesiological Society to the design and construction of a vernacular wooden church in the colonies. Originally, Christ Church had the essential 90' Gothic tower attached to the front of the nave, but it fell during the 1869 hurricane. The chancel windows were designed by prominent English Gothicist, William Butterfield.
Christ Church, St Stephen New Brunswick
built in 1863