In a previous post, we met with the Chaplain appointed by the British Government to accompany the First Fleet to the new colony of New South Wales. This was a Church of England parson, the Reverend Richard Johnson. Our purpose in discussing Mr Johnson is to demonstrate that the challenges which faced the chaplains of the Church of England in the earliest years of the colony of New South Wales were, in many respects, the same as those which faced the Catholic pioneer priests only a few years later.
The next three posts on In diebus illis will focus on the ministry of Mr Johnson in New South Wales.
In this post we reproduce the first part of a remarkable document from 1792, slightly more than four years after the founding of the Colony in January 1788. This document, written by the Reverend Richard Johnson, may be regarded as the first pastoral letter of a Christian minister in Australia. It was published a small book, intended to be made available widely in the Colony. Very few copies of Mr Johnson's book are known to survive.
These are the plain words of a parson of the Evangelical discipline of Anglicanism. Mr Johnson's book (printed in England for use in New South Wales) commences with a letter or a preface to his flock, explaining his reasons for writing, before he moves into what might be called a sermon or admonition. The Address is of great interest not only because of what it says, but sometimes because of what it does not say. It also makes clear reference to his ministry being for Christians of all denominations and to non-Christians. We will discuss these things at the conclusion of this series of articles.
Because the address is so long, we cannot hope to reproduce every word of it here. On the other hand, its importance as an historical document is such that we take the trouble to include the significant parts of it, for these are the observations of a minister of religion about the deplorable state of the Colony of NSW in 1792 and what he sees as necessary to reform it : namely, personal conversion to Christ. Below is the first part of Mr Johnson's address, in which he describes the Christian Faith, the history of Salvation and his desire that all may be saved in Christ. Much of what he writes is illustrated by references to verses from the Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.
A likeness of the Rev'd Richard Johnson engraved in London 1787.
Digital art by the Saint Bede Studio.
TO THE BRITISH AND OTHER EUROPEAN INHABITANTS
OF NEW SOUTH WALES AND NORFOLK ISLAND.
My Beloved,I do not think it necessary to make an apology for putting this Address into your hands; or to enter into a long detail of the reasons which induced me to write it.One reason may suffice. I find I cannot express my regard for you, so often, or so fully, as I wish, in any other way.On our first arrival in this distant part of the world, and for some time afterwards, our numbers were comparatively small; and while they resided nearly upon one spot, I could not only preach to them on the Lord’s day, but also converse with them, and admonish them, more privately.But since that period, we have gradually increased in number every year (notwithstanding the great mortality we have sometimes known) by the multitudes that have been sent hither after us. The colony already begins to spread, and will probably spread more and more every year, both by new settlements formed in different places under the Crown, and by a number of individuals continually becoming settlers. Thus the extent of what I call my parish, and consequently of my parochial duty, is enlarging daily. On the other hand, my health is not so good, nor my constitution so strong, as formerly. And therefore I feel it impracticable, and impossible for me, either to preach, or to converse with you so freely, as my inclination and affection would prompt me to do.I have therefore thought it might be proper for me, and I hope it may prove useful to you, to write such an Address as I now present you with. I transmitted a copy of it to my friends in England, with a request, that if they approved of it, a sufficient number might be printed, and sent to me. Thus I am now able to leave with you a testimony of my affection for you, and of my sincere and heartfelt concern, for your best, because your eternal, welfare. My times are in the hand of God. He, and He only, knows how long I may live, or how long my present connexion with you, may continue. I trust, however, that so long as the all-wise Disposer of all events shall be pleased to spare my life, and strength; and government shall deem my services in this remote land, necessary, it will be, as it has hitherto been, my most ardent desire, my uniform endeavour, and my greatest pleasure, to promote your happiness. And when recalled to my native country or removed by my God to my eternal home, to receive that crown of righteousness, which I humbly trust is laid up for me, by reading and carefully perusing the following pages, I hope you will be convinced, and reminded how sincerely you were pitied, and how dearly beloved byRICHARD JOHNSONPort Jackson, 30th October, 1792.
At this date, exclusive of those who died or were born on the voyage from England :Baptisms - - - 226Marriages - - - 220Burials - - - - 854
|This 18th century drawing of the Rev'd John Wesley |
preaching in a town square in England
illustrates the style of Mr Johnson's ministry
in the earliest years of the Colony of NSW.
|Artist's impression of the church which Mr Johnson caused|
to be built near Church Hill, Sydney in 1793.