Church Hill

Location: York Street, Sydney
The ridge along which York Street runs, between Grosvenor and Margaret Streets, had been known as Church Hill since Governor Captain Philip Gidley King laid the foundation stone on what was to become the first St Philip's on Church Hill in October 1880. Within a short period of time, Sydney's Catholic and Prebyterian congregations had also built churches there, ensuring the hill's name would be permenant.

Sydney's and Australia's first church was a humble wattle and daub building erected on the corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets by orders of the colony's first chaplain, Rev Richard Johnson using convict labour in June 1793. It was in this building that Australia's first Christian service in a building took place on 25th August 1793. A T-shaped building, with a thatched roof and an earthen floor, it could seat 500 people. During the week it served as a schoolhouse where the Reverend Richard Johnson, the colonial chaplain, and his wife Mary, taught between 150 and 200 children.

By decree of the Governor, Arthur Phillip, it was compulsory for all convicts to attend church every Sunday, because Phillip and those in authority above him believed that religion would pay a significant role in the colony s convict population seeing the error of their sinful ways and reforming their behaviour. The convicts didn't quite see it the same way - in 1798 they burnt it down.

Later that month the Governor, John Hunter, initiated work on what he saw to be a substantial stone church to replace it. On 1st October 1800, prior to his being sworn in as the new Governor, Captain Philip Gidley King laid the foundation stone on what was to become the first St Philip's on the ridge that became known as Church Hill. In 1802 he proclaimed Australia's first two parishes as St Philip's (Sydney) and St John's (Parramatta). The stone church, on current site of Lang Park, served the young colony from 1810 to 1856. Like its predecessor, the church was made from poor materials and gained a reputation as -the ugliest church in Christendom. This second church had a 46 metre high, round clock tower.

New South Wales' fourth Governor, William Bligh, worked hard for an early completion of the church, which was dedicated to the memory of St Philip the Apostle. It is a strongly held view that Bligh would not have been deposed had the colony's then Principal Chaplain, The Rev Samuel Marsden, been in Sydney at the time. He wasn't; for he was in England recruiting clergy. His choice of Assistant Chaplain, who was to become the first (and only Rector) of 'old' St Philip's, was the 28 year-old Rev William Cowper. Rev Cowper was Rector of St Philip s for 49 years. His son - William Macquarie Cowper - the first clergyman to be born in the colony, followed him as Rector for 11 years.

St Phillips Anglican Church


The modern-day St Philip's, the second church building on Church Hill, is located on York Street between York, Clarence and Jamison Streets. It lays claim to be the finest example of Gothic architecture of any parish church in Australia. The foundation stone was laid on 1st May 1848, by the Rector, Reverend William Cowper. Work was delayed during the gold rush, when the workers forsook their tools for the goldfields in 1851. However, Bishop Barker, Bishop of Sydney and Archdeacon Cowper consecrated the new church building on 27th March 1856. It had cost sixteen thousand pounds, raised entirely by the congregation.

The church's architect was Edmund Blacket, in fact it was the last church to be designed by him in the classic English Gothic Perpendicular style, a style also to be used, by him, for Sydney University and St Andrew's Cathedral. The church tower was styled after Magdalen Tower at Oxford, United Kingdom. It has been said St Philip's has an impressive homogeneity whereby everything from the window tracery to the mouldings on the base of the columns being correctly 15th Century in style. It is thought that Blacket made the main body of the church's stained glass windows, whilst the East Window was imported from England and cost 200 pounds.

The church tower was styled after Magdalen Tower at Oxford, United Kingdom, and was opened in 1856. The church was dedicated to St Philip in honour of the first Colonial Governor, Captain Arthur Phillip, RN. The tower has ten bells. The original peal of eight was donated by the Hon. John Campbell in 1872, a ninth bell was added in 1888 to commemorate the centenary of the founding of the Colony of NSW. The tenth being installed 1898 in remembrance of Charles Moore.

Prominent ministers in the life of the church include William Cowper, his son William Cowper, T.C. Hammond, Sydney James Kirkby and former Archbishop of Sydney Donald Robinson. Today the church is also known as York Street Anglican.

Scots Presbyterian Church


The Scots Presbyterian Church was founded in Sydney in the 1820s and the congregation has had to be relocated on several occasions to different sites in the Sydney CBD prior to moving back into its current site on Church Hill at 44 Margaret Street, known as the Assembly Building in February 2006. The building has been creatively redeveloped to include residential useage and at the same time the interior of the Church was redeveloped. The new building retains its historical features and significance while providing the congregation with a modern house of worship.

John Dunmore Lang (1799 - 1878), who in 1823 was sent to be the first Presbyterian minister in the colony of New South Wales, brought Scots Church into being. Lang was born near Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland, was destined for the Church of Scotland ministry from an early age, and was educated at the University of Glasgow, where he excelled, graduating as a Master of Arts in 1820. In 1823 he was sent to be the first Presbyterian minister in the colony of New South Wales. Arriving in Sydney, he found the Presbyterian Scots, which would be a small minority in a colony dominated by an Anglican administration and outnumbered by the Irish Catholics, whom Lang, a fierce sectarian, hated and feared. There was no Presbyterian church in the colony and Lang demanded that the Governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane, provide public funds for one. When Brisbane refused, Lang returned to Britain, where he successfully lobbied the Secretary for the Colonies, Lord Bathurst, to reverse Brisbane's decision. The government was to supply one-third of the cost of the building and pay Lang £300.0.0 a year.

In 1826 he became the first Minister of the Scots Church. He demanded also that the Presbyterian Church be recognised alongside the Church of England as an established church in the colony, since New South Wales was, he said, a Scottish colony as well as an English one. Lang remained as Minister of Scots Church for 52 years, although he was deposed by his own Church Synod in 1842 and for 20 years presided at Scots Church as an independent Presbyterian.

Scots Church was built in 1826 and Lang was its minister until his death in 1878. The original building had to be demolished to make way for the harbour bridge approaches. It was replaced by the impressiveinterwar gothic Assembly Hall, incorporating the church, in Margaret Street. The main city church, St Stephen's (now Uniting Church) opposite Parliament House, has had Scottish ministers for much of its long history. Its minister in the 1950s and 1960s, the Reverend Gordon Powell, became very well known partly through his popular mid-week services and radio broadcasts.

St Patrick's Catholic Church


The home of William Davis, who was convicted and transported to Australia for his part in the Irish uprising of 1798, became a centre for Catholic prayer before Sydney's first Catholic Church was built. The home was located opposite St Phillips Church of England on Church Hill. At a time when Catholicism was not officially recognised in New South Wales, a request was made for a grant of land for a Catholic church but only a grant of money was forthcoming. Davis and his wife donated some of their land for the erection of what was to be St Patricks Church. The laying of the foundation stone took place on 25 August 1840, after a procession from St Mary's Cathedral. Bishop Polding, as he then was, preached while standing on the foundation stone itself in order to be seen and heard by the immense crowd. The building proceeded under architect John Frederick Hilly, using adapted plans from an English model. Polding performed the opening ceremony on 17 March 1844. Davis had died the previous year.

Dedicated in 1844, St Patrick's Church became the immediate focus of worship for Irish Catholics in the Colony. It has served the Catholic community of Sydney since then. Restored in 1999, St Patrick's continues to be a spiritual oasis in a busy and vibrant city and remains one of the busiest Catholic city churches in Australia. The first parish priest of St. Patrick's, Archdeacon John McEncroe, became friendly with the early Marists who had established a house at Hunters Hill and on his deathbed requested that the Parish of St. Patrick's, Church Hill be entrusted to the Marists.

Built in the early 1840s, St Patrick's has a history reaching back to the very beginnings of Catholic life in Australia. In 1840 William Davis donated the land on which St Patrick's is built, gifting that section of his 1809 grant bounded by Gloucester and Grosvenor Streets. The foundation stone was blessed on 25 August 1840, and the now elderly Davis astonished everyone when he came forward and placed a cheque for Lang £1,000 on the stone, an incredible sum in those days. Davis had prospered over the years through his business ventures, which included interests in grazing and licensed premises. Davis' donation was matched by an equal grant from the colonial government.

The plans for St Patrick's are believed to have been loosely modelled on St Anthony's Church (1833) in Liverpool UK, and were drawn by William Fernyhough, a Sydney draughtsman. Unfortunately the design did not fit the site, so the architect John Frederick Hilly was employed to re-design the church and supervise its construction. Even then, the church porch extended beyond the street building line, and a special Act had to be passed through the NSW Legislative Council in 1840 to legitimise the encroachment. Built by Andrew Ross and Co., the church was officially opened on 18 March, 1844.

St Patrick's Catholic Church, 20 Grosvenor Street, Church Hill



Church Hill (York, Clarence and Kent Streets), August 1937. Photo: Royal Australian Historical Society (RAHS)

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