St Peter's Pew Rent Book, 1848

Image of rentbook, 40.5K

A page from the 1848 pew rent book, containing the signatures of regular worshippers at St Peter's in the first year of its existence as a parish church. Notable among the signatures are, on the left hand page, those of C(harles) J(oseph) La Trobe, who then held the title of Superintendent of the Port Phillip District; Richard Hale Budd, the headmaster of the Diocesan Grammar School located in the church grounds; politician and landowner C. H. Ebden; the merchant William H Buckley; and, on the right hand page, Dr Maund, one of the founders of the Royal Women's Hospital; the Rt Rev'd Charles Perry, who appears by his title as the Bishop of Melbourne; Frederick Wilkinson; and Dr Motherwell.

The renting of pews to worshippers who paid a regular fee in return for a reserved seat was a custom already the subject of increasing criticism in England. In the new churches of the Australian colonies, it was commonly used to secure a steady income from which the debt on new buildings could be paid. A diocesan regulation ensured that a proportion of pews (at least one sixth) always remained free; the seats of renters who had not arrived before a certain point in the service were also regarded as free for occupation by others. St Peter's was the first inner-city Anglican church to abolish pew rents – in 1896. Some parishes had a number of rented pews until after World War II, when the practice was completely abolished.

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