The cross atop of Reverend Louis Alexander Baker’s grave seems at odds with the other memorials in the Church of England section of Geelong’s eastern cemetery.
Embellishing a too-short pillar it seems uneasy atop of its heavy block base and in contrast with its rusted iron railing.
But this is no ordinary cross crafted as a memorial token following the death of Reverend Baker.
This is the Cross that adorned the first church of St Paul, erected in Melbourne in 1852.
The cross from St Paul’s was one of many relics preserved when the church was dismantled in 1885 to make way for the grand St Paul’s Cathedral, erected diagonally opposite the Flinders Street railway station.
After the death of Reverend Baker in 1889 the cross was placed over his grave at Geelong and seems a splendid embellishment for a vicar who ministered in a little ‘iron church’ below the rim of Tower Hill in the pioneering days of Victoria’s south-west.
Reverend Baker ministered his congregation at Tower Hill between 1855 and 1870 and his little church above Armstrong’s Bay has long been believed as one of three land bearings used to identify the location of the Mahogany Ship, a mystery wreck believed to be buried in the dunes between the coastal towns of Port Fairy and Warrnambool.
Baker’s iron church was moved northward to Koroit as the needs of the congregation grew. In 1905 it still formed part of the vicarage of St Paul’s at Koroit.
It was Bishop Perry who had imported iron churches into Victoria, wrote the Argus in 1905 and one still stood then at Port Melbourne and another at Abbotsford. (Source: Argus, 22 Feb 1905, TROVE, NLA)
St Paul’s was the third church built in Melbourne, following St James’s and St Peter’s wrote the Australasian Sketcher in 1885.
“Its inception takes us back to the early days of the colony…at that time, 1852, the congregation of St Paul’s were worshipping in a brick barn-like building standing back from Bourke-street near Russell-street.”
(Source: Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil, 27 Jul.1885, TROVE, NLA)
Reverend Daniel Newham took up the project of building St Paul’s after learning that a parishioner had conditionally promised the ‘munificent donation’ of 100 pounds. Rev. Newham collected the same amount from ten others and the designs of the church were drawn up.
Victoria’s gold rush slowed work on St Pauls and one contractor and his assistant toiled on until Rev. Canon Chase, incumbent of the church and life friend of Reverend Baker, issued an appeal to finish building the Church.
St Pauls Church was opened on Advent Sunday in 1852 by Bishop Perry and sermons were preached by Rev. Canon Chase and the Rev. Dr. Macartney, later Dean of Melbourne.
By the 1880’s it had been decided that St Paul’s cathedral was to replace St Paul’s Church, and the Dean of Melbourne preached the farewell sermon on the 19th July 1885. (Sketcher, ibid).
“The demolition of the church is full of regret to some of those who have grown old with it. There are those who remember the first confirmation service, and those, now grow to middle age, who recall how they were drawn while girls and boys, by the music of the 40th Regiment of Foot, or the 23rd Royal Fusiliers, and the glitter of the officer’s uniforms, to be present when the morning church parades were held.” the paper wrote.
A memorial window at the east end of the north aisle of St Paul’s church had been erected by the Sunday School as a ‘mournful token’ of the esteem in which the wife of Rev, Canon Chase was held, the Sketcher wrote.
“The church is unwillingly parted with by some of its members who have worked and given to place it in its present prosperous condition, and who fondly placed the last finishing touches – such as stone steps and out-door lamps.”
At St Paul’s Church in Koroit there is also a stained chancel window, erected in memory of Mary Baker, wife of the Reverend and as “a lasting memento of the kindly feelings of the people towards himself” after Mary’s death on the 8th of April 1865.
(source: Bacchus Marsh Express, 20 Apr.1889, TROVE, NLA).
Mary Baker’s brother was William Dunn, a Melbourne colonist and one of Victoria’s earliest printers. Dunn arrived in Melbourne about 1840 and was employed on the earliest Port Philips newspapers, the Patriot, Herald and Argus. In 1851 Dunn joined the staff of the Government Printer where he remained for fifteen years as a typographical reader until his death in November of 1866.
William Dunn died aged 57 years just over 18 months after his sister Mary, who died age 56. They were the children of Mr Jonathon Dunn “An old and respected printer and publisher in Nottingham” and Phoebe Kelk.(Source: Bendigo Advertiser, 9 Nov. 1866, TROVE, NLA).
Oddly there are two death certificates for Mary Baker, but both say Reverend and Mary Baker had no children.
The Reverend Baker remarried eighteen months later to Hannah Davies, eldest daughter of the “the late Rev. Josiah Davies” of Kingsbridge, Devon. The couple were married in the St Paul’s Church Melbourne where Rev. Baker first ministered after his arrival in Victoria. The Rev. S.L. Chase performed the marriage ceremony.
Baker’s obituary in 1889 said he had followed the gold rushes to Victoria though having received a diploma as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in England.
However Reverend Baker’s death certificate says he arrived in New South Wales about 1844 before making his way to Melbourne four years later. The death certificates of Mary Baker say she and Louis Baker married in Nottingham about 1849.
“Soon after his arrival he offered himself to Bishop Perry for spiritual work, and was licensed as a reader to the cure of souls in the district known as the Moonee Ponds” wrote the Bacchus Marsh Express in April 1889, following Rev. Baker’s death.
(Source: The Bacchus Marsh Express 20 Apr. 1889, TROVE, NLA.)
“On St Thomas day, 21st December, 1853 he was ordained deacon, and appointed to the curacy of St. Paul’s, Melbourne, where he established a warm friendship with the Rev. Canon Chase, which has never been interrupted.
“For many years he officiated in the district surrounding Koroit, between Belfast and Warrnambool, where he was much beloved and valued, his name being a household word in that locality to the present day.”
Louis. Alexander Baker was born in Nottingham, England on the 11th October 1813, the son of Anna Baker (nee Wright) and Louis Baker snr, who is described variously as a silk merchant insurance agent, Lloyds agent and bookseller.
The Cable Clerical Index says after working in England as a surgeon Louis A. Baker went in that profession to India, before moving to Sydney where he spent the next four years working as a doctor.
Baker next took a trip home to England and by 1844 had made his way back to Australia and was in Moonee Ponds (Victoria) as a Lay Reader, going next to South Australia in 1848.
After another trip home to England Baker returned to Australia aboard the Alice Maud on the 23rd of January 1849.
By 1853 Baker was a curate at St Paul’s in Melbourne and then went as incumbent for the combined parish of Rosebrook and Tower Hill, on the 1st of January 1855.
Baker resigned from the dual parish on the 30th September 1870, moving on to Ballan with his new wife, to serve as a minister until 1874, then to Talbot as parish priest (1874-1877) and Kingston (1877 – 1870)
At Buninyong Baker served from 1880 – 1887 “where he continued to labour with the same success as in other spheres of duty.”
Ill-health finally forced the Reverend to reduce his workload, and though of the diocese of Ballarat he chose Geelong as the home of his last years.
Baker bought a house in Bellerine-street Geelong which “true to his Indian traditions” he named Bitah Conah – ‘The House of Rest’.
The Reverend was greatly valued for “his cultured mind, kindness of heart and as a true minister of Christ” and
passed into his Lord’s care on the 13th of April 1889, after a three-week bout with Typhoid Fever.