Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Australia's First Church

Poor old Rev Richard Johnson was forever having a whinge about his working conditions.
Apparently pubs, brothels and playhouses were far more in demand in the colony than building a single church.

Dicky Johnson was getting a bit unwell after standing about in all weathers for 5 years but his whining was ignored by Governor Phillip and his successor Major Grose.
So he decided to take the bull by the horns and build his own church.

He picked the spot that is the current-day intersection of Hunter and Bligh streets in Sydney, used the oh-so-fashionable building materials wattle and daub with a thatched roof, in the shape of a cruciform. It could hold 500 worshipping sinners or more if needed.

Dicky Johnson put his back into it himself, with his 2 convict servants lending a hand and other convicts who had a spare spot in their diaries. Dicky paid the labouring lads in grog (of course), flour, salted meat, tobacco and tea from his own pantry. The building was finished without any union action on site within 3 months.

It opened for business in September 1793 and during the week it was used as a school to learn the convict kids their three R's, taught to them by convict men and women.

Dicky sent Major Grose the bill for £67 12 s 11 1/2 d, which Grose rejected, stating it cost far more than it ought, that Johnson had decided to build it himself therefore he should shoulder the cost.
Grose obviously noted standing around in pouring rain and searing heat for 5 years hadn't sweetened Johnson's disposition when Grose had a whinge of his own to the Colonial Office in which he stated "Johnson is a very troublesome, discontented character".
Wonder why?

In 1795 the colony's second Governor, Captain John Hunter, popped in and immediately reimbursed Dicky for the cost of the church and enforced compulsory church attendance.

Hunter overlooked the fact that more than 40% of the convicts were Roman Catholics and had a slight aversion to being dragged out of their warm beds for 6am service only to be preached at by a proddy.

On the windy and moonless night of October 1, 1798 someone put a match to the church and with its timber and thatch it went up like a Roman Candle. Sydney once again had no church.
Gov Hunter offered a reward of £30 for info on "the wicked and disaffected" bodies that had performed such a dastardly act but, strangely, the reward was never claimed.


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