Main content area

Places of worship

BACK TO ALL STORIES

For the first five years church services in the colony were held in the open air or in temporary buildings around Sydney Cove. The settlement's first church was a wattle and daub building built in 1793. Built near the intersection of the present day Hunter and Castlereagh streets, the cost of the building, approximately £67 12s 11½d, was provided by Rev. Richard Johnson. Lieutenant-governor Francis Grose, who succeeeded Phillip, was just as reluctant to provide any funds or labour for an official church. The building was a T-shaped design with a nave 75 feet long by 15 feet. The transepts were 40 feet by 15 feet. The church had a thatched roof and an earthen floor and could seat 500. During the week the building served as a schoolhouse where the Rev. Richard Johnson and his wife, Mary, taught between 150 and 200 children. Johnson was not re-imbursed for the costs until 1797.

Johnson's church was in use until 1798 when allegedly a group of disgruntled convicts burnt down the building in response to Governor Hunter's decree that all residents in the colony including officer and convicts were to attend Sunday services.

After Johnson's church had been burnt down plans were made to build St Phillip's Church on Church Hill (Lang Park). Governor Hunter laid the foundation stone in 1800 but due to building problems the church did not finally open until 1809. The original St Phillip's stone church was replaced in 1857 by the current church designed in the Gothic style by Architect Edmund Blacket.

Throughout the governorship of Governor Hunter and Macquarie a number of churches were opened or begun. The foundation stone for St James Church was laid in October 1819 and churches were established in Newcastle (1818) , Liverpool (1819), Windsor (1820) and Campbelltown (1823).

In 1836 Governor Bourke introduced The Church Act. By providing government subsidies for land and church construction the Act promoted the building of churches and chapels across the colony. The Act was strongly opposed by members of the Anglican Church, particularly Bishop Broughton, as it formalised government support for the Catholic and Presbyterian churches and weakened the position of the Anglican church in the colony.

The first fifty years of the nineteenth century saw a major increase in church building across the colony. With a combination of government subsidies and private funds churches from a variety of denominations including Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian established permanent meeting places for their growing congregations.

The Church Act, 1836

Sir Richard Bourke (1777–1855) succeeded Governor Darling as Governor in 1831. The Church Act of 1836 provided Government subsidies for clerical salaries and for new church construction. Church communities that raised a minimum of £300 pounds were subsidised on a 'pound for pound' basis up to a maximum of £1000. Additional land grants were also made available for churches and schools. Originally intended for Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian denominations Bourke later extended the provisions of the Act to other denominations including the Jewish, Wesleyan and Baptist communities. By supporting the development of a diverse number of religious communities the Church Act diminished the power of the Anglican church in the colony and provided the impetus for a number of building projects across the colony.

[Governor Richard Bourke, ca. 1835]
ca. 1835
Digital ID: 
a928182
View collection item detail
The acts and ordinances of the Governor and Council of New South Wales.
Sydney : Printed by E. H. Statham, [1838]
Digital ID: 
a1770001
View collection item detail
The acts and ordinances of the Governor and Council of New South Wales.
Sydney : Printed by E. H. Statham, [1838]
Digital ID: 
a1770002
View collection item detail
The acts and ordinances of the Governor and Council of New South Wales.
Sydney : Printed by E. H. Statham, [1838]
Digital ID: 
a1770003
View collection item detail
The acts and ordinances of the Governor and Council of New South Wales.
Sydney : Printed by E. H. Statham, [1838]
Digital ID: 
a1770004
View collection item detail
The acts and ordinances of the Governor and Council of New South Wales.
Sydney : Printed by E. H. Statham, [1838]
Digital ID: 
a1770005
View collection item detail

The Pictures collections of the Mitchell Library and Sir William Dixson Research Library form one of the most significant historical and documentary collections in Australia. The collections include watercolours, prints, drawings, silhouettes, miniatures, oil paintings, architectural plans, black and white drawings and around one million photographs. The following images are a small sample of the contemporary images of churches available in the collection.

About this item: 

The foundation stone for St James church was laid by Governor Macquarie in 1819. It was designed in 1819 by Francis Greenway (1777-1837) and consecrated in 1824. An architect from England, Greenway was found guilty of forgery, and transported to NSW in 1814. In 1816 Governor Macquarie appointed him Civil Architect. He was responsible for many significant buildings including the Government Stables (now the Conservatorium of Music) South Head Lighthouse and Hyde Park Convict Barracks. The Reverend Samuel Marsden delivered the first sermon 6 July, 1824.

The Court House & St. James' Church / Hyde Park Sidney [i.e. Sydney]
1839
Digital ID: 
a928128
View collection item detail
About this item: 
The foundation stone of the first Catholic Cathedral in Hyde Park was laid by Governor Macquarie in 1821. The building was located on the first land granted to the Catholic Church in Australia. The Cathedral became the headquarters of the Catholic church when Sydney's first bishop, John Bede Polding, arrived in 1835. This church was destroyed by fire in 1865. Work began on the new St Mary's Cathedral in 1865 and the first northern section was completed in 1882. The building was finally completed in 2000 with the addition of the two spires.
Drawings in Sydney, [ca. 1840-1850]
ca. 1840-1850
Digital ID: 
c031520007
View collection item detail
About this item: 

The first synagogue in Sydney was built on York street, near Sydney Town Hall. The synagogue was designed in an Egyptian style by James Humes and seated around 500 people. It was consecrated on April 2, 1844. Music for the ceremony was arranged by the Australian composer, Isaac Nathan. According to the census of 1846 there were six hundred and three members of the Jewish community living in Sydney.

Synagogue, York St from Drawings in Sydney, [ca. 1840-1850] View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
c031520020

Made possible through a partnership with Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation