by Merrill O’Donnell and Stephen Brooks
On 6th April 1870, John Davenport Bromfield laid the foundation stone for the new Christ Church at Birregurra. As one of the original trustees, he had been a fitting choice for that honour. Sadly, less than seven weeks later, John Bromfield died, never having had the pleasure of seeing the pretty stone church, nestled on side of the hill of the Birregurra township, completed, or attending Sunday worship there with his fellow parishioners.
Thirty-three years earlier, in 1837, a young John Bromfield, newly arrived in the colony, had pitched his first camp in the district on the same site as the church would later be built. After various farming pursuits around the Colac district, John took on the role as a manager for the Robertson Bros, and in 1865 built the homestead “Elliminook”, today a notable district landmark.
John’s grieving widow, Eliza, commissioned stained glass windows to be installed on the east side of the new church. The beautiful windows, which were unveiled on Christmas Eve 1872, remain a feature of the church more than 140 years later. There is a dedication inscribed “To the glory of God in Memory of John Davenport Bromfield died 20th May 1870, erected by his widow”.
Three years after John’s death, Eliza Bromfield married William Edmundson, a friend and colleague of her late husband, at St John’s Anglican Church in Colac. The following week, Harriet Elizabeth Chapman, niece and adopted daughter of the Hon. Charles Sladen of Ripple Vale, married James Ford Strachan at Christ Church, Birregurra where Harriet had been a regular worshipper.
The marriages were both to last for fourteen years until 1887, when each of the couples experienced the death of a partner. Harriet Strachan died in January that year, aged just 40 years and in November, 52 year old William Edmundson died.
The surviving spouses, James Strachan and Eliza Edmundson, became generous benefactors to Christ Church in memory of their loved ones. Harriet had inherited a considerable sum on the death of Sir Charles Sladen in 1884 and on her death, James became the beneficiary. James provided the funds to the church to erect a high square tower and steeple in memory of his beloved wife Harriet. The tower, a feature of the original church design, had never been completed.
Harriet’s untimely death was three months before the unveiling of stained glass windows installed on the west side of Christ Church, in memory of her adoptive father, Sir Charles Sladen. The windows, donated by Lady Sladen, were unveiled at a service on Good Friday, April 1887 and Lady Sladen, along with the Bishop of Ballarat and his wife, had been the guests of William and Eliza Edmundson of Elliminook. Sadly, Lady Sladen died in Bendigo two months later.
It was in November that same year, that Eliza Edmundson became a widow for the second time when William died unexpectedly in Ballarat where he had been judging at an agricultural show. For many years, Eliza and William had conducted the Sunday School classes at their home and Eliza decided an appropriate memorial to William would be a purpose-built Sunday School hall. In 1889, the local paper reported that the “Edmundson Memorial Sunday School contract has been let”. The Sunday School and tower and steeple were all completed in 1890.
Eliza died in 1908 and she bequeathed the sum of two hundred pounds to both the Church of England and the Presbyterian Church in Birregurra. The parish dedicated a brass lectern to her memory, “a tribute of affection and esteem and in memory of Mrs Eliza Edmundson, who died in 1908 and whose kind true Christian character endeared her to all with whom she came in contact.”
The deaths of these prominent citizens and subsequent generosity of their families provided an enduring legacy for Christ Church, Birregurra, praised by Bishop Moorhouse of Melbourne in 1889 as the “prettiest and most compact Church of England in the colony.”