The first white settlers of the Buninyong district, mainly Scottish in origin, held firmly to their Presbyterian religion, and to the importance of education as a basis of their culture, so that their first communal action in 1847 was to call the Reverend Thomas Hastie (from Linlithgoshire) to be their minister of the new Presbyterian parish of Buninyong and Shelford. The first church was opened in June 1847.
The young men did not neglect education, and the following year established the Buninyong Presbyterian Boarding School, the first inland boarding school in Victoria.
In 1859 these Scottish settlers commissioned the beautiful Presbyterian Church in Buninyong, a landmark of the township today in the centre of its historic precinct. The church was designed by Benjamin Backhouse of Geelong, who had designed Trinity Church for the Free Church of England in La Trobe Terrace, Geelong, in 1858. The Geelong church, now known as the Church of Christ, was built in bluestone. Backhouse went on to design many buildings in Queensland and NSW.
The foundation stone was ceremonially laid on 27 March 1860 by Mrs Celia Scott of Mount Boninyong, the oldest resident in the district. The cost of the building was £900 and when fitted out the cost was £1,265. The first service in the new church was held on 26 August 1860, and a bell founded by Greeves of London in 1849 was hung in the steeple. (Possibly this bell came from the old church on the hill.)
A notice appeared in the Argus on 7 November 1860 announcing that the trustees of the land set apart at Buninyong as a site for Presbyterian church purposes would be Robert Scott, Robert Allan, Archibald Fisken, William Bailey Rankin and John Kelsell.
The local builder Richard Rennie built the church of brick and slate. In the 1950s the brick was covered with roughcast and plaster.
In 1971 the church combined with the Methodist church to form the Buninyong United Church, which in 1977 became part of the Uniting Church in Australia.
The church has a number of fine stained glass windows. At the north end is a window placed in 1891 by James Richmond in memory of Mr and Mrs Thomas Scott. Manufactured in Edinburgh by Ballantine and Sons, the window represents the friendship of Jonathon and David, and includes portraits of the Scotts.
Side windows in memory of Rev. Thomas Hastie, and Mr and Mrs Robert Scott were unveiled on Good Friday, 13 April 1900, representing the sower and the reaper, again with portraits of those commemorated. These windows were made by the Melbourne firm of Yencken & Co., designed by a Mr. Harness; the Hastie window was presented by the congregation, the Scott windows by the Scott family.
In 1982 a window was placed in memory of pastor Stuart Davies, a Lay Preacher at the church for over 50 years. It depicts 'Christ, the Light of the World'.
Anne Beggs Sunter,
Buninyong and District Historical Society