The Church of St John the Baptist is named after John, a preacher, who was the cousin of Jesus. John recognised Jesus as the Messiah and baptised him in the River Jordan. This baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The painting below, by eminent Australian Artist Margaret Cilento, depicts Jesus’ Baptism and was gifted to St John’s.
St John the Baptist Church is one of thirty designed by the Diocesan Architect, John Hingeston Buckeridge. The ground plan is rectangular and faces East – the direction of Jerusalem and the place of the resurrection. The main entrance to the Church is through the West Door. The building is an example of a timber Victorian Carpenter Gothic Church. The internal frame was originally exposed and in 1936 was covered in wood panelling, some of which is believed to have come from the wreck of SS Maheno. The panelling was consecrated in October 1937 in memory of 25 parishioners whose families donated to it. Several years ago the building was placed on the Heritage Register of The Brisbane City Council.
In The Beginning…
Original indigenous residents referred to this area as Boolimbah, meaning place of the Magpie Lark.
St John the Baptist Anglican Church became an integral part of the history of Bulimba only some 125 years ago. Prior to this, Anglican residents travelled across the river by ferry to worship at St Andrew’s in South Brisbane. In 1887, Mrs Elizabeth Coxen, a highly respected member of the Bulimba community, decided it was time that Bulimba had its own Anglican Church. A Public Meeting was called at which she advocated for regular church services to be held locally. Money, however, was needed if a building was to be erected for this purpose. To initiate subscriptions Mrs Coxen donated £100. This was a considerable amount at the time and represents 1/7 of the total cost of the building. Her generosity did not end there, however, and she donated land, the funds from the sale of which were used towards purchasing the land on which St John’s now stands.
Founder’s Stone. In 1886 Elizabeth became the first female member of the Royal Society of Queensland. Following her death in 1906 Elizabeth was described as the ‘Mother of Bulimba.’ In 1907 the lectern, from which Bible readings are presented and a marble plaque, were both dedicated to her memory. In 2003 a monument to Charles and Elizabeth Coxen was unveiled in Tingalpa Pioneer’s Chapel. Elizabeth is described as a “naturalist, meteorologist, pioneer, curator and first woman employed by the Australian Museum and founder of St. John The Baptist Church, Bulimba” In 2012 one of two Meeting Rooms in the new St John’s development was named “The Coxen Room”.
The first service held on the site was 23 June 1888 when Lady Musgrave, wife of the Governor of Queensland, capped the first stump for the new Church; the first service in the completed church was 29 September 1888.
The history of St John’s Bulimba is privileged to include Mrs Elizabeth Coxen. Dr Judith McKay and Dr John Healy have researched and published a paper on Mrs Coxen which we are pleased to present for your reading. If you know or have any further information concerning her or her family then please contact us as there are still some gaps in the story, particularly where precisely their home was situated in Bulimba!
“Elizabeth Coxen; pioneer naturalist and the Queensland Museum’s first woman curator” by Judith McKay and John M Healy, first published in Memoirs of the Queensland Museum. Nature 60 2017 (© The State of Queensland, Queensland Museum 2017)