The church history of Watsons Bay is unusual in its origins, starting with a non-conformist chapel and then balanced between Anglican and Roman Catholic establishments.
In 1839 there began by public subscription the creation of an independent chapel near the Lighthouse at South Head, inspired by Richard Siddons who had Congregational Church leanings. It was opened at a ceremony on 18th July 1840 at which one of the speakers was a Samoan chief, Leatona. A subsequent Congregational church operated in the heart of Watsons Bay commercial area from 1891 to 1910.
Significant and neighbouring areas of Watsons Bay were allocated to the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. In 1849 two acres were set aside for the Catholic church, especially to serve the community of Portuguese descent. The church took some time to build and was fully completed only by 1881. In 1910 it was replaced by Our Lady Star of the Sea, which was improved with choir gallery and new facade in 1940 and further changes in 1965-6.
Support for an Anglican church dates from 1847, but it took until 1864 to build and consecrate the church of St Peter's (designed by Edmund Blackett) on the site to the southeast of the Catholic church. It came to serve the expanding professional classes occupying the new suburb of Vaucluse. The church hall from 1911 and the rectory from 1925 were added to the site as were the gates dedicated to the memory of those killed in the Greycliffe ferry and completed in 1929, when St Peter's became a full parish.
A privately run school operated in Watsons Bay in the late 1840s. Following efforts of local residents a new school was opened in 1859 – the South Head School. It was funded but not initially owned by the state's school authorities. In 1877 a school opened on Old South Head Road between Catholic and Anglican churches, for up to 100 pupils, but pressure of numbers grew. A separate Catholic convent school operated for a period next door in 1907. With further suburban growth a new Vaucluse School was opened in 1925 and the old school changed to become a Scout and Guide centre and was renamed the Gunyah.
Published with thanks to the Dictionary of Sydney