One such person who frequented Sandgate was Robert Travers Atkin, a former member of the Queensland legislature. Atkin played an essential role in establishing the Church of England in Sandgate. After migrating to Australia from Great Britain in the 1860s, Atkin became involved in journalism in Queensland. In the late 1860s, Atkin became involved in State politics, initially as the member for Clermont. However, Atkin resigned in 1869. He later became the member for East Moreton in 1870, but again, Atkin resigned in 1872 because of ill-health. Atkin had lived in Brisbane, but to help relieve his illness, he moved to Sandgate. It is recorded that Atkin regularly frequented the site upon which the original St Margaret’s Anglican Church would be constructed in the 1890s. On his death in 1872, Atkin left a sum of £50 towards the building of a church, a sum matched by his sister, Grace, who drowned in 1876. Grace had run a school for young ladies in Brisbane. Both Robert and Grace were buried on the hill where St Margaret's now stands. The monument, designed by Mr P. Donovan, was erected through funds raised by members of the Hibernian Society, which Atkin was instrumental in forming. Inscribed on the front of the monument is the following epithet to Atkin:
Erected by members of the Hibernian Society of Queensland in memory of their late Vice-President, Robert Travers Atkin, born at Fern Hill, County Cork, Ireland, November 29th, 1841.
Died at Sandgate, Queensland, May 25th, 1872.
His days were few, but his labours and attainments bore the stamp of a wise maturity.
A side panel of the monument provides further details of Atkin:
This broken column symbolises the irreparable loss of a man who well represented some of the finest characteristics of the Celtic race — its rich humour and subtle wit, its fervid passion and genial warmth of heart. Distinguished alike in the press and parliament of Queensland by large and elevated views, remarkable powers of organization and unswerving advocacy of the popular cause. His rare abilities were especially devoted to the promotion of a patriotic union amongst his countrymen irrespective of class or creed combined with a loyal allegiance to the land of their adoption.
After she died, the following inscription was added to the rear panel of the monument in honour of Grace Atkin:
In memory of Grace T. Atkin, died January 26th, 1876, aged 32 years. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.
The first recorded Anglican service in Sandgate took place in 1871 in a slab shed in Kate Street, Shorncliffe. When the town of Sandgate was planned, land was allocated for a Church of England. From 1874 there was some dispute and confusion over plans for the church, which the Select Committee of the Diocesan Council resolved in 1879. The first Church of England in Sandgate, St Nicholas' Anglican Church, was opened on 7 December 1880. The timber church was built at the junction of Yundah Street and Signal Row, close to the developing town centre. St Nicholas’ was designed by designed by F.D.G. Stanley; a noted Brisbane based architect. Among his various roles, Stanley served as the Colonial Architect to Queensland Government between 1873 and 1881. St Nicholas' remained an essential part of the Sandgate parish until 1988, when it was secularised and sold.
With the construction of the Sandgate Railway link with Brisbane in 1882, the area became even more popular, with more residents establishing homes and seaside villas. Archdeacon, later Canon, James Matthews was appointed Rector to the parish in 1886 and soon noted that a chapel should be built for Lower Esplanade, Brighton, and Nashville residents. A meeting of parishioners in 1891 considered the building of a church school on the site in Rainbow Street. No time was wasted, and the ‘foundation stone’ of the first St Margaret's church was laid by Walter Barrett, the Mayor of Sandgate, on 9 August 1891. Architect William Alfred Caldwell produced a design for a timber church that was modified to lower the cost. Caldwell had worked for noted architect Richard Gailey during the 1880s before starting his own practice in 1889 that operated until 1905. After this point, Caldwell worked for Queensland Government until his death in 1918. With gifts from the Mayor of Sandgate totalling £50, and from the architect, as well as a loan of £100, St Margaret's was completed in hardwood and pine, with a single skin wall nailed inside the studs, and a porch and steps facing east.
Plans to build a rectory at the same time as the original St Margaret’s church were shelved as the 1890s economic depression reduced parishioners' circumstances. In 1901, St Margaret’s was rendered unsafe by a gale. In 1905, the need for a rectory had become evident. With funds collected, the original St Margaret’s church was converted into a rectory with a room for a Sunday School added. This work was completed by 1909. In 1916, several donations financed the construction of Sunday School Hall, using the original school room from the rectory, which was removed and enlarged. The two-storey hall was bought by the Sandgate 16ft Skiff Club, dismantled, and re-erected on the bank of Cabbage Tree Creek in the late 1940s.
The Sandgate parish debt was reduced during the 1920s, and it was decided to build a more suitable church on the Rainbow Street site. Monies were collected and promised. These were added to the £258 raised at the October Fair in 1926, the £20 annually for five years promised by Mr Lovelock, and a loan of £2,000 from the Commercial Bank of Australia. Architects Chambers and Ford were appointed to design a new church, and Mr O. Brooks was engaged as the builder.
Chambers and Ford were a well-known Brisbane based architectural practice established in 1920. C.W. Chambers trained in Melbourne, and in 1889, he became the Brisbane based a junior partner of the Sydney practice of McCredie Brothers and Chambers. Between 1892 and 1910, Chambers worked independently until entering a partnership with Leopold Lange Powell in 1911. Chambers relocated to Sydney in 1915 where he opened a branch of Chambers and Powell. After Chambers and Powell dissolved in 1920, Chambers was joined in practice by Eric Marshall Ford, who, after migrating to Australia, had worked as the office manager of Chambers and Powell. Ford managed the Brisbane-based commission. In 1935, Chambers retired, though the practice continued to operate under Chambers and Ford's name until 1951 when Theodore Hutton and Peter Newell joined Ford in partnership. The practice eventually closed in the 1980s by which time, after several changes in personnel, it was known as Lund Hutton Ryan Morton. Chambers and Ford were well known for their ecclesiastical designs. For example, as well as St Margaret’s, the practice also designed the Spanish Mission-inspired Holy Trinity Church in Woolloongabba (1930).
The foundation stone to the new St Margaret’s was laid on 31 July 1927 by his Grace Archbishop Sharp in front of a congregation of about 500 adults and children. The new St Margaret's was dedicated by Archbishop Sharp on 11 December 1927. At the ceremony, the architects, the builder, and contractors were congratulated on the work ‘done as a permanent expression of man's desire to give God Honour and thanks.’ Parishioners donated many of the furnishings for St Margaret’s, and the pulpit, pews and font were procured from the old St John's Pro-Cathedral in Brisbane. The bell from St Nicholas' Anglican Church, which also came from St John's, now hangs in a belfry at St Margaret's.
In the late 1930s, the eldest son of Robert Travers Atkin, Lord Atkin of Aberdovey, donated a sum of money to repair the monument that had been erected in the 1870s in his father’s honour. Lord Atkin, born James Richard Atkin in Brisbane in 1867, had returned to Great Britain in 1870 before his father died. This was due to the ill-health of Lord Atkin’s younger brother, Robert. After attending the University of Oxford, Lord Atkin became a lawyer and, in 1906, was made a King’s Counsel. In 1928, Lord Atkin was made a member of the House of Lords. He became widely regarded for his judgements related to the idea of the ‘neighbour principle’ in negligence law. He died in 1944.
Once the work on the monument was completed, the remaining money was devoted to placing a memorial in St Margaret’s in memory of Robert Atkin. Noted Brisbane sculptor Daphne Mayo was commissioned to prepare a pair of carved lunettes located above stained-glass windows in the sanctuary. These were unveiled and dedicated in February 1937. Mayo, born in 1895, was widely feted as ‘Queensland’s girl sculptress.’ Amongst Mayo’s notable work in Brisbane are the tympanum at City Hall (1927-1930) and the Queensland Women’s War Memorial in Anzac Square (1929-1932). In 1959, Mayo was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of British Empire) for her service to art. Mayo died in 1982. Other memorials included an electric carillon, installed in 1948 to commemorate those who served and died during the Second World War. Unfortunately, this fell victim to cyclone Wanda in 1974, but numerous other memorials remain in St Margaret’s.
From the time of the construction of the first St Margaret's in 1891, the Church became the base for numerous social and community organisations and activities. For example, the Gordon Club, established by Cannon Matthews, encouraged youth in the parish to participate in sport, while from the late 1920s, the Girls' Friendly Society also involved parish youth in community work and sporting activities.