15 November, 2020

Saint Mary's Cathedral circa 1890

Saint Mary's Cathedral circa 1890
Image : State Library of NSW
Digitally restored by the Saint Bede Studio. 

This marvellous photograph was taken in about the year 1890.   During the last years of the 1880s, after the arrival of Patrick Francis Moran as Archbishop of Sydney, the upper walls of the northern end of the Cathedral (the sanctuary) were raised and a permanent roof set in place.  Notably missing from this depiction, however, are the transepts and central tower, which were completed by 1900.

The photograph was taken by Henry King (1855-1923), an English-born photographer, known for his studies of Australian Aboriginal people and his views of Sydney.  King was one of Australia's most significant late 19th century photographers.  The exceptional clarity of this image is due to the fact that the original large glass plate negative survived and was electronically scanned to give the greatest possible resolution.  Click on the image for an enlarged view.

In the left mid-ground, a Hansom cab can be seen moving up the road and beside it a tram bearing the sign "King Street".

Much the same view of the Cathedral, taken in 1981.


29 October, 2020

Saint Mary's Cathedral Sydney circa 1942

Saint Mary's Cathedral Sydney early 1940s.
Digital restoration by the Saint Bede Studio

This image, taken in the early 1940s, shows the southern facade of Saint Mary's Cathedral, Sydney in the form it took between 1928 and 2000.  For those used to the stone spires which soar above Hyde Park, the Cathedral might look somewhat odd and incomplete. It was always the intention to complete the Cathedral with spires on the southern facade.  The construction of stone spires concealing a structural steel frame, was completed in 2000.

Without the spires, the similarity between the facade of Saint Mary's Sydney and Notre Dame, Paris (see below) is more readily evident.  But the Sydney Cathedral is a more "precise" form of Gothic, that of the Victorian period, whilst Notre Dame is very much the sum of several periods of architecture, commencing in the 12th century.  The composition of the facade of Notre Dame is common amongst the Cathedrals of France and it is obvious that the architect William Wardell had these facades in mind when he drew up his design for a new Sydney Cathedral in 1865.

Notre Dame de Paris
Image : Wikipedia.


26 October, 2020

In Diebus illis 2020 - 2021

Over the past year, we have been tracing the beginnings of the Church in Australia. Even the story of pioneering days is so immense that preparing well-researched articles for presentation on this blog is a time-consuming process.

The portrait of Archbishop Polding in the refectory of
Saint John's College, University of Sydney.
Image : Giovanni Portelli Photography

The following is an outline of the subject matter we intend to present over the ensuing year, covering the period 1788 - 1835 :

The challenges of establishing Christianity in a Penal Colony

The convict priests 1800 - 1810 : Fathers Dixon, Harold and O'Neill

Initiatives by laypeople to build-up a Community of Faith in the Colony

The ministry of Father O'Flynn in Sydney 1817-1820

The arrival of the first permanent chaplains, Fathers Therry and Conolly.

The foundation of Saint Mary's Cathedral, Sydney 1821.  

Other pioneering priests : Fathers Power, Dowling and McEncroe

The work of Father Ullathorne OSB, first Vicar General.


Amongst these posts will be our ongoing work to publish the life, work and writings of Archbishop Polding OSB

A great deal of effort is made to present our Australian Catholic story on this blog with as much accuracy as possible.  Many others have and continue to present this story, but we believe that it is convenient to present it in one place, in a united way : a continuous story of fumbling steps, faith and hard work in discouraging circumstances.


24 October, 2020

Pastoral Address 1792 : The Evangelical School

John Wesley preaching in a church-yard
an 18th century engraving.

Image : Wikipedia.

In Britain of the 1730s a young Church of England parson underwent a form of spiritual conversion.  This was the Reverend John Wesley.  His father had been a clergyman and he himself had been educated at Christ's College, Oxford.  Wesley, and a group of his confreres at Oxford, devised a method or a rule for living a more devout Christian life and because of this were called Methodists.  Their method subsisted in reading and praying together, the strict observance of The Book of Common Prayer (including weekly attendance at the Holy Communion service) and a disciplined approach to life. Subsequently, Wesley taught these principles whilst a missionary in the American colony of Georgia.  John Wesley and a number of others became seized with a zeal for the souls in a time when religious fervour was at a very low ebb.  Wesley travelled the length and breadth of Britain preaching this message and attracted many similarly-minded men to this Evangelisation.  Within the Church of England, they came to be known as Evangelicals

The Evangelical Revival (as it came to be known) began as a protest against two things : the frivolous and dissolute state of eighteenth century English society, and the impoverished theology and worldly state of the Church of England. They rejected the concept that the Church of England subsisted in the English social and political establishment, instead focussing their ministry on the poor and un-Churched.  Above all, the Evangelicals were earnest and single-minded. In a careless age, they stood for discipline, fervour and zeal.

The Rev'd John Newton
Evangelical Church of England 
parson and mentor of the 
Rev'd Richard Johnson.

Image : Wikipedia.
The serious-minded Evangelicals were somewhat puritanical in their disapproval of things such as theatres, card-playing, dancing and sensationalist literature.  Their attitude to the Scripture was fundamentalist, whilst more extreme elements disdained scholarship.  At first, the Evangelical clergy worked within the Church of England with no intention of going outside the system of parishes. They found, however, many of the parish clergy preaching very poor stuff and devised a new style of preaching altogether.  This became their hallmark. Man, they believed, was fallen and in need of salvation; that salvation was through Christ alone and dependent upon faith.  The acceptance, by faith, of Christ as saviour was called conversion and would lead on naturally to sanctification and growth in grace.  This the believer found through prayer, through study of the scriptures, through sermons and, to some extent, through the sacraments. But increasingly, the Evangelicals had little sense of the Church and its authority.  To them, it was the individual soul which counted above all else.  Their object was to deliver their message to as many people as possible, whether in church or out of it.  They were indeed men afire with the message of the Gospel. They had something vital to say and many of them developed almost hypnotic powers conveying it.

Of a similar persuasion within the Church of England was the first chaplain to the Colony of New South Wales, the REVEREND RICHARD JOHNSON.

Richard Johnson was born in the village of Welton in Yorkshire. He was educated at the grammar school at Kingston-upon-Hull, and engaged in farming and teaching until 1781, when he was awarded a sizar scholarship  (1)  to Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.  Obviously he studies were directed towards ministry within the Church of England, since he was ordained by the Bishop of Oxford in 1784.

In October, 1786, Mr Johnson was nominated to become the Chaplain to the intended Penal Colony in Botany Bay.  At this time, he was 31 years of age.  He owed his appointment to the influence of three men : the renowned Evangelical parson John Newton, the Reformist parliamentarian, William Wilberforce and the British Prime Minister, William Pitt ("the Younger").  This was an impressive team of supporters.  (2)  Newton had written to Mr Johnson in October 1786 :
A minister who should go to Botany Bay without a call from the Lord and without receiving from Him an apostolical spirit, the spirit of a missionary, enabling him to forsake all, to give up all, to put himself into the Lord’s hands, to sink or swim, had better run his head against a stone wall.
William Wilberforce
Parliamentarian, Social reformer,
Evangelical Christian.

Image: Wikipedia
We can only surmise that Newton and Wilberforce believed that Richard Johnson would be such a zealous missionary.  But we should be honest : it is hardly likely that Church of England clergymen were falling over each other to obtain the post of Chaplain to the new Colony.  It was not intended as a settlement of free men, but a repository - largely unknown - for felons, the outcasts of society, whom England was very pleased to be rid of.  At the time of his appointment in October 1786, Richard Johnson was taken to inspect one of the prison hulks which housed wretches at Woolwich on the Thames River.  That might have deterred any man.  He accepted his appointment, none-the-less.

John Newton wrote at this time about Mr Johnson :
He is humble and simple-hearted ... I think he would not have thought of this service had it not been proposed to him; for some time he wished to decline it, but he could not, he durst [sic] not.
Captain Arthur Philip R.N., the man chosen to be the Commander of the First Fleet and Governor of the intended New South Wales settlement, also gave his approval to the appointment of Richard Johnson, but cautioned him that his ministry was to focus on "moral subjects" rather than the personal salvation of his spiritual charges.

Some months before leaving England for Botany Bay, Richard Johnson married Mary Burton, who at that time was aged 34. The young couple departed Portsmouth on the ship Golden Grove along with the other ships of the First Fleet.  Mr Johnson took with him a large number of bibles and other books on religious subjects, which had been supplied to him by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge(3)

Two ships of the First Fleet at anchor in Portsmouth harbour, May 1787.
These were the Lady Penryhn (left) and the Charlotte.

Image : Wikipedia.

These words of introduction being concluded, we now continue with our transcription of Mr Johnson's pastoral Address of 1792, commenced in our previous post.


In the former part of this address, I have already laid before you, in the plainest manner I was able, my views of the gospel of Christ. And as an experimental knowledge of this gospel is so very important, I have endeavoured to press that importance upon your consciences. Whether you have paid that attention to the subject, which it deserves and requires, yourselves best know. I can only say, that if I did not know it to be of great weight, I should not either speak or write of it with so much earnestness. .... I ought to be very indifferent what men of depraved morals, and corrupt principles may say, or think of me, if I have the witness of a good conscience, and the approbation of the God whom I serve. My concern is for your welfare and salvation; for l am certain, as I have told you before, and now tell you again, that unless the gospel is made the power of God to your souls, you must be miserable in time, and to eternity. 

I propose now to give you some advices, to assist you in understanding the gospel for yourselves, which if you observe, I trust, you will attain to the possession of those principles, and walk by those rules, which will both afford you present peace, and secure your future happiness. For godliness has promises pertaining to the life that now is, and to that which is to come.

Let me then exhort you to attend seriously to what you are to believe and to what you are to do. These two points include the sum and substance of the gospel, the whole of the Christian life, and may be comprised in two words,  faith and practice.

You must learn from the word of God, what you are to believe.  True faith is the root and foundation of all real religion. Without this inward principle, nothing that we have done, or can do, will be acceptable to God.   ( Hebrews 11: 6 )   I have briefly informed you what you are to believe – That you are sinners, that Jesus Christ is an all-sufficient and willing Saviour and that the word of God both warrants and commands you to look to him for salvation.  This looking unto Jesus, is what we particularly mean by faith or believing.  When we cordially and entirely rely upon him, upon the invitation of the promises of God, for pardon, peace, and eternal life, then we believe. 

All who thus believe, through grace, are required and commanded to be careful of maintaining good works.   (Titus 3 : 8 ) As our moral, and what are often called, our virtuous actions, are to be tried by our religious principles; it is equally true, that our religious principles, or at least the proof that they are indeed our principles, must be evidenced by our moral conduct. These two are so inseparably connected, that you may depend upon it, where one of them is wanting, what bears the name of the other, is no better than pretended. If what we profess to believe does not make us humble, honest, chaste, patient, and thankful, and regulate our tempers and behaviour, whatever good opinion we may form of our notions or state, we are but deceiving ourselves.  The tree is known by its fruits. (James 2: 17,18;   Matthew 7 : 20).   In this way true believers are equally distinguished from profane sinners, and from specious hypocrites. The change in their hearts always produces a change in their whole deportment. Sin, which was once their delight, is now the object of their hatred. It was once necessary as their food, but now they avoid it as poison. They war, watch, and pray against it. And their delight is to study the revealed will of God. 

By these tells, you may judge of your true state before God. Surely you cannot suppose that your inward state is good, while your outward conduct is bad. Hence you may be assured that no unclean person, or profane swearer, no one who lives in direct opposition to the commands of God, can be, while he continues in this course, a true christian. ... I hope you will not mistake me. I do not mean that true Christians are without sin.  But I affirm, that no true Christian can live in an habitual course of sin. No, sin is their grief, their burden;  (1 John 3:8,9; Romans 7: 23, 24 )  and when through temptation, or unwatchfulness, they are drawn aside, like the dove sent out of the ark, they can find no rest, till by hearty repentance, and true faith, they obtain a new sense of forgiveness. 

I now proceed to offer you some directions, with which if you comply, I trust, that by the blessing of God, you will enjoy peace in your souls, and be enabled to regulate your conduct and conversation, as becometh the gospel of Christ. 

Read and study the scriptures. This was our Lord’s direction to the Jews : Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they testify of me.  (John 5: 37; Acts 17:11 )   ...  The Bible is our only sure and infallible guide. It was given by inspiration of God. All other books, however good and useful, are but of human composition, and are therefore not perfect. (2 Timothy 3 :16;  Isaiah 8 : 20 )

This sacred book, as I have already observed to you, contains all that is needful to make us wise unto salvation.  It informs us of our original, how pure and innocent  and our present condition, how guilty, polluted and miserable! and the happiness or misery which awaits us in a future state.  ...  I intreat you, therefore, to read the word of God carefully.  Many of you have had Bibles or New Testaments given to you, and others might have them, if they had but an inclination to read. 

Some of you will perhaps object, and say, as you have already said to me : We cannot read. Others : We have no time given us.  If you cannot read yourselves, you might prevail on some of your comrades to read to you.  *   As to your having no time, I much question it.  Rather you have no inclination. Too many of you can find time to jest, to talk obscenely or profanely, to read and sing idle songs; why might not some, or rather the whole of this time be employed in reading or hearing the Bible?  You might find time, if you could find a will.  But remember, that such excuses as you now make, will stand you in no stead when you appear before God in judgment.  There are few, if any of you, but might have opportunity of attending to these things, if you were but willing.

*  Two or three hours thus spent on the Lord’s day, in instructing each other to read, would be a very commendable employment. I have often expressed my longing desire that such a plan was set on foot among you. And if there could be a convenient building erected for this purpose, I should think myself happy, not only to furnish you with books, so far as I am able, but also personally to attend and assist you, as much as my immediate calls of duty would permit.

Observe and reverence the Sabbath, or Lord’s day. Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy,  is a solemn and positive command of God.  ( Exodus 20: 8 ) ... It gives me a deep and continual concern to observe how the Lord’s day is spent by many of you. What would a stranger think, who regards the Sabbath, if he visited every part of this colony on the Lord’s day ? Ah ! my brethren, I have seen and heard enough (alas! much more than enough) to form my own judgment on this subject. If my duty did not require my attendance on the public worship, and were I to visit your different places and huts, I fear I should find some of you spending the hours appointed for divine service in cultivating your gardens and grounds, others indulging themselves in mere sloth and idleness, others engaged in the most profane and unclean conversation, and others committing abominations, which it would defile my pen to describe. Now what must be the end of these courses? God says : Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. But the language, both of your hearts and actions, is “We will not keep it holy. It is a day given us for ourselves; and we wish, and we are resolved to spend it as we please. We do not choose to be confined, or compelled to hear so much preaching and praying.”  Is not this the language of your hearts? Your conduct too plainly proves it: but, my brethren, let me reason and expostulate a little with you upon this head. 

Consider, what have been the consequences to many who have thus broken God’s commands.  I have known, and you likewise have known, those who have been brought to an untimely and disgraceful end, and who have dated their ruin from this one evil, the profanation of the Lord’s day.  Instead of spending it in the manner which he has enjoined, they kept bad and profligate company.  By this practice, all serious impressions (if they formerly had any) have been driven from their minds.  Their hearts have become more and more hardened and insensible till at length, lost to all prudent reflection, they have regarded neither the tender felicitations and tears of parents, relations, and friends, the faithful warnings of ministers, nor the checks and rebukes of their own consciences.  And what has been the event ?  I need not tell you, that having given way to their own wicked wills, the advice and example of their ungodly companions, and the temptations of the devil (for, be assured, that he is always at the bottom of these mischiefs) they have, at length, committed some act of depredation and villainy, which has brought them to an untimely grave. 

A map of the settlement at Sydney Cove prepared by Captain John Hunter
in 1788.  A star marks the place of the residence of
the Rev'd Richard Johnson and his wife.

Image : State Library of NSW.

Such, brethren, have been the free and ingenuous confessions of many of those unhappy people who have suffered death. And if you were to speak the sentiments of your hearts, I doubt not, but many of you, who by the mercy of God are yet living, would make the like acknowledgment that breaking the Sabbath was the first step towards bringing you into that pitiable situation, in which you either have been, or still are suffering. And will you still persevere in the road of misery ?  Will you still prefer the chains of your own depraved inclinations, to the service of God, which is perfect freedom ? ... But such is the long-suffering of the Lord, that though others have been cut off, you are spared to this hour. May his goodness lead you to repentance! Or otherwise, light as these things may appear to you now, and though you may plead a necessity for what you do, I tell you again, as I have often told you before, that a day is coming when God will call you to a strict account. 

Besides, if you would reasonably hope for the blessing of God to succeed your labours, it is certainly your interest, as well as your duty to obey his commands. And this in particular : Keep the Sabbath day holy. If, in direct opposition to this plain precept, you will work and labour, as on other days, what ground can you have to expect that God will bless and prosper your undertakings? You have much greater cause to fear that his curse will follow you in your affairs, and blast and disappoint all your wishes and prospects. 

Let then the misconduct and fatal ends of others, and the calamities and troubles that you have brought upon yourselves; Let the gracious promises of God, on the one hand, and his awful threatenings on the other, induce you, in future, to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy! 

And let me offer you a few plain directions, as to the observance and improvement of the Sabbath: 

Begin the day with prayer ; and for this purpose seek some place of retirement, if you find it impracticable to meditate or pray, from the interruptions you are exposed to, in your dwellings,  *   from those who ridicule and scoff at every appearance of religion. Retire from them, and pray to him who seeth in secret; and praise him for the many mercies you have received. Consider with yourself, how little you have improved them. Humble yourselves before God, under a sense of your sins and imperfections, and pray for pardon and repentance. Intreat him, to enable you to watch over your hearts, words, and actions, throughout the day, and that you may not be hindered or hurt by the snares and temptations around you. Intreat God to assist your minister, and to accompany what you may hear from him, with a blessing to your soul, and to all who shall be present with you. 

Many complaints have been made to me on this head.

If you have families, you should call them together, and pray with them, and for them. There are many promises made to worshiping families, and to those who, like Abraham, endeavour to teach their children and household to know and serve the Lord.   ( Genesis 18:19;  Proverbs 3 : 33 )  And the neglect of this is one reason, why many families live uncomfortably. They live without prayer, and therefore without peace. 

Having thus endeavoured to impress your minds with serious thoughts, in secret or at home; attend constantly upon the public worship, and there pay a close attention to every part of the service. Remember that the eye of God is particularly upon you there. He has promised to be with two or three that meet together to call upon his name.  ( Matthew 18:20;  John 4 : 24 ).  He is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth ; and whether they assemble in a church, or in the open air, he can give them cause to say with Jacob, “This place is surely the house of God, and the gate of Heaven”.   ( Genesis 28:17 ) Attend the public worship again in the afternoon, with your hearts lifted up to God, that you may not hear in vain; and accustom yourself in the evening to recollect what you have heard, concerning the miseries which sin has brought into the world; the love of God in sending his own Son to redeem sinners from those miseries, the sufferings, life, death, and resurrection of the Saviour; and that eternal rest, which remained for the people of God.  For you, and for me, if we are believers in Christ.

If, by the blessing of God, I can happily persuade you thus to observe and improve the Lord’s day, I am sure it will promote both your pleasure and your profit. ...  [But] I too well know the indisposition and averseness of the carnal mind to God and his ways. Hence the thought of many is, “What a weariness is it?” and, “When will the Sabbath be ended ?” Hence that open contempt and scorn, which is cast upon the Sabbath and upon public worship by many, both high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, old and young, men and women.  To them, the worship of God is tedious and disagreeable.  They neither find pleasure in it, nor expect benefit from it.  And therefore their attendance is not from choice, but from constraint. 

But the thoughts and the conduct of true Christians are very different. No day is so welcome to them as the Lord’s day; not merely considered as a day of rest from labour; but because, having their heads and hearts freed from the cares and encumbrances of the world, it affords them opportunities of waiting upon God. And, brethren, you must allow that these persons are best qualified to judge of the question I have proposed. Whether is best, to walk in the ways of God, or in the ways of sin ?  For they have experienced both sides of the question. They have tried the pleasures of the world, and they have also tried the pleasures of religion. And they will readily assure you, that in their deliberate judgment, one day thus spent in devotion, and the exercises of religion, is preferable to a thousand days wasted in the vain and unsatisfying pleasures, which they fought in their former wicked practices.  (Psalm 84:10 )

I have written thus largely upon the due observance of the Lord’s day, because of that shameful, open, and general neglect, that daring profanation of the Sabbath, which abounds amongst us. It is well known, and it is matter of great grief and concern to me, that numbers of you pay not the least regard to this day. Numbers of you will not come to public worship at all, others but seldom, and then with much reluctance. And when spoken to, different persons frame different excuses, all which, when examined, amount to little more than a want of inclination.

I have here a more special reference to those of you, who are called Settlers and Free People. You think, perhaps, and some of you say, that having served out your appointed term, you are now your own masters, and have therefore a right to employ your time as you please.  But, indeed, it is not so.  I must tell you, brethren, that my commission from God, and my appointment from government, extend equally and alike to all the inhabitants, without distinction. It is my duty to preach to all, to pray for all, and to admonish every one.  And it is no less the duty of all, to come to public worship, to hear the gospel, and to pray for me.  The mutual ties and obligations between you and me, are not lessened by any change in your circumstances.  And remember, that the slight you put upon the public worship, is not properly a slight of me (if that was all, it would be a matter of utter indifference) but upon the Lord himself ; for I trust it is his message, and not my own, that I deliver to you.  ( Luke 10 : 16 )   I wish, therefore, what I have said upon this subject, to be understood as addressed to all, whether of higher or lower rank, who are guilty of breaking the Sabbath. Whatever our station or calling may be, our obligations to keep holy the Sabbath-day, are precisely the same.  If any are more inexcusable than the rest, it must be those who, from their station and office, are peculiarly bound to set a good example to others.  I hope this friendly hint will be received in good part.  I mean not to offend.  But I must admonish you, that whatever be your situation in life, you will gain nothing in the end, by doing what God forbids, nor will you be a loser by yielding first obedience to his commands.

The Second Part is to be concluded ...

Felons embarking at Portsmouth for the Voyage to Botany Bay, 1787.
Image : State Library of NSW.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.


1. A Sizar scholarship was given to poorer students in return for their carrying out what amounted to domestic duties around their college.  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sizar

2. The Reverend John Newton was the principal figure in a group of evangelical clergy and laymen called The Eclectic Society, which was founded in 1783.  William Wilberforce was also a member of this Society. They discussed how they could evangelise the intended Colony at Botany Bay and became interested in the choice of a Chaplain to sail with the First Fleet.  The Society used its connections to lobby the Prime Minister, William Pitt, who was also an Evangelical.

3. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge were by the 18th century long-established and orthodox missionary departments of the Church of England. 


Grocott, Allan M, Convicts, Clergymen and Churches, Sydney University Press, 1980.
Moorman, JRH, A History of the Church in England, London, 1976.
Chapman, Don, 1788 : The People of the First Fleet, Sydney, 1981

Percival Serle, "Richard Johnson, First Clergyman in Australia", Australian Dictionary of Biography : http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks15/1500721h/0-dict-biogI-K.html#johnson1

Anonymous "Richard Johnson, first Chaplain to Australia", Anglican Church League.

Marylynn Rouse "Richard Johnson, 1755-1827" The John Newton Project.


14 October, 2020

Saint Mary's Road circa 1886

Saint Mary's Cathedral circa 1886
Digital restoration by the Saint Bede Studio.

This fine old photograph was taken from the gates of the Domain looking across to the Northern facade of Saint Mary's Cathedral. When this photograph was taken, the Northern gable had only just been completed, but the adjacent roofline not yet been commenced.


10 October, 2020

the rev'd richard johnson's pastoral address 1792 : 1

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.


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 by

Port Jackson,  30th October, 1792.

To this preface, Mr Johnson appended details of the rites he had solemnised since the beginning of the Colony :

At this date, exclusive of those who died or were born on the voyage from England :

Baptisms - - - 226
Marriages - - - 220
Burials - - - - 854



I BESEECH you, brethren, suffer this word of exhortation. Your souls are precious. They are precious in the sight of God. They are precious to the Lord Jesus Christ. They are precious in my esteem. Oh that you yourselves were equally sensible of their value.

We have now been here almost five years. During this time, I trust, I have been faithful in the discharge of my duty, faithful to my God, my country, my conscience, and to your immortal souls.

I would, nay I do, humbly hope that my labours have not been wholly in vain. Some of you, I trust, have been convinced of your folly, sin and danger; you have earnestly sought, and happily found mercy with God through a Mediator. You can now approach him as a God reconciled, a merciful Father and Friend, and are evidencing the reality of you conversion, by an upright life and conversation. 

But I must express my fear, that those of you, who are thus convinced of sin, and converted to God, and reformed from your evil courses, are comparatively very few. It is too evident, that the far greater part of you discover no concern for religion. The Great God, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, death, judgment, eternity, heaven and hell, these are subjects. which seldom, if at all, engage your attention; and therefore you spend days, weeks, months and years, in a profane and careless manner, though you are repeatedly informed and reminded in the most plain, faithful, and alarming language I can use, that the wages of sin, without repentance, is death ( Romans 6: 23  ) the curse of God, and the eternal ruin and damnation of your souls!

O, I entreat you, brethren, to consider what is contained in these two words, salvation and damnation.  The one implies everything that an immortal soul can want or desire to make it happy. The other includes an idea, the most gloomy and dreadful that can be conceived ... Our glass of life is running away apace. Our time is fast hastening to a period ...

On these accounts your souls are, as I have already observed, very precious, not only in the sight of God, but also to me. My brethren, God is my record ... next to the salvation of my own soul, nothing in this world lies so near my heart, as the conversion and salvation of my fellow creatures ; and especially of you, over whom I am appointed more immediately to watch, as one who must give an account.    ( Hebrews 13: 17 )

And O, my friends, if this affectionate, though plain address, should answer my ardent wishes and prayers, if it should prove the happy means of converting even one soul to God, I should indeed rejoice, as one that findeth great spoil.  ( Psalm 119: 162 )   For once, at least, endeavour to lift up your hearts with me in prayer to Almighty God, the bountiful giver of all grace. He only can make this or any other means effectual; and should it please Him of his abounding mercy to make a lasting impression upon your hearts, you will reap the happy fruits of it in life, at death, and to eternity. O, that the gracious Spirit of the Lord may open the eyes and the ears of all who may read or hear what I am writing.  May they who are asleep, awake! May they who are spiritually dead, be made alive!

My brethren, I trust I can say in truth, and with a sincere conscience, that I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.  ( Romans 1: 16 )  It is a knowledge, and I hope an inward experience of this precious gospel, that bears up my spirits when I am ready to sink as in deep waters, and when I am almost overwhelmed by the many heavy and daily trials, crosses, difficulties and disappointments, that I meet with in this, alas! most uncomfortable situation. An acquaintance with this gospel, an experience of its truth and power, sweetens every bitter, makes my crosses comforts, and my losses gains. It is by this knowledge that I am enabled to bear the cross of Christ, not only with some degree of patience and resignation, but at some seasons, with consolation and joy ; while I at one time reflect on what our dear Lord and Saviour endured for me, and at another anticipate the unspeakable honour and pleasure, which, through grace, I hope ‘ere long to enjoy at his right hand forevermore. And to endeavour to bring you, my dear friends, to a saving knowledge of what is contained in this gospel, is not only my duty and inclination as a minister, but also my earnest: desire and pleasure, and that which I long for more, than for any other thing that can be named.  ( Romans 10: 1 )

I have often explained to you, according to my sentiments, that is contained in the gospel. But as I fear, and am indeed well aware, that many of you, after all you heard, still remain ignorant, I will now tell you again briefly and plainly, what my views of the gospel are that by putting this book into your hands, you may, if you please, more carefully and attentively examine and search for yourselves, whether what I lay before you be agreeable to the holy scriptures, or otherwise and consequently, whether you ought to believe, or to reject it. 

The gospel, I conceive, in its most extensive sense, comprehends the whole revealed will of God, recorded in the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament.  ( 2 Timothy:  3: 16 )

This sacred book, which we call the Bible, describes the original state of man, as a state of perfect purity and innocence. He was made in the image of God. He was made upright . ( Genesis I: 26,27; Ecclesiastes 7:29 ). His understanding, will, his affections and conscience, his body and soul, were free from defilement, guilt, or guile. and while he continued so, he was not liable to pain, misery, or death.But man did not continue in this state. Our first parents disobeyed their Maker. By sinning against God they lost their original righteousness, and became earthly, sensual, devilish. Such are all his posterity: for who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean ?  Man is now the very reverse of what he was when first created.   His understanding is darkened ... his conscience is defiled, his affections, no longer fixed upon God his Creator and Benefactor;  by sin his body is become mortal, subject to pain, disease, and death.  (Romans 5: 12 )  ...

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.

Whence is there so much ignorance and contempt of God?  Why do mankind so eagerly, so universally pursue the vain pleasures and follies of the world, while they seldom think of God their Maker ?  From whence proceed the infidelity, blasphemy, lying, theft, Sabbath-breaking, slandering, and the many horrid evils, which everywhere abound ? Whence is it that so many in this colony, labour under such sore and complicated disorders, pains, and miseries ? Why are so many, both young and old, taken away by death ? And why is it that others, who see all those things, do not take warning by them, to prepare for their own latter end ? Brethren, all these are so many undeniable proofs and evidences of what I have said, namely, that we are fallen and guilty creatures.  These are the effects of Adam's sin and disobedience. The certain consequences of which would have been unavoidable and endless misery, both of soul and body, to himself and all his posterity, had not some means been provided, some way laid open, for his and their recovery. 

But, blessed be God, a door of hope is opened by the gospel for miserable sinners! A gracious promise was given early, even to our first parents, immediately after their fall : "The seed of the woman shall break the serpent’s head." ( Genesis 3: 15 )  This promised seed is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, in due time, was to appear in the world, to be born of a woman, that by his life, suffering, and obedience unto death, he might recover fallen man from the misery and ruin in which he was involved. Brethren, this gospel which, as the ministers and ambassadors of God, we are commissioned and commanded to preach to sinners, proposes a free and gracious pardon to the guilty, cleansing to the polluted, healing to the sick, happiness to the miserable, light for those who sit in darkness, strength for the weak, food for the hungry, and even life for the dead. ( Galatians 4: 5;  Galatians 3:13;  1 John I: 7; Matthew 12: 28; Matthew 11:5 )

All these inestimable blessings are the fruits and effects of the death and mediation of Jesus Christ. His great design in coming into the world was to seek and to save those who are lost.   ( Luke 18:10; 1Timothy 1:15; I Peter: 3. 18 )  He came from heaven, that he might raise us to those holy and happy mansions; he endured the curse, that we might inherit the blessing; he bore the cross, that we might wear the crown; he died, that we might live; he died, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.  ( 1 Peter 3:18 ) ....

The faith whereby a sinner receives Christ, and becomes a partaker of all the blessings of the gospel, is the sole gift of God, wrought in the heart by his Holy Spirit. ( Ephesians 2: 8 )    This Holy Spirit produces an inward change in the soul, called, in the scripture, the new birth, regeneration ( John 13: 3-7 )  or conversion, and thus enables a sinner, convinced of his sin and misery, to look to Jesus, and to believe on him. 

But though repentance and faith are the gifts of God, which none can obtain by any endeavours of their own, yet we are encouraged and commanded to pray for them.  ( Luke 11:17 )

Now is the time to obtain the blessings revealed in the gospel, and which are set before you when it is preached.  Many have had these gracious declarations made to them, before we were born, and they will be repeated to many after we are dead.  But this is our day.  Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. ( 1 Corinthians 6:2 )  Today ? For you and I may not live to see tomorrow.  Today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. ( Hebrews 3 : 7, 8 ) ...
A day is likewise coming, when our mortal bodies, which must shortly moulder into dust, will be raised again from the dead.  Whether believers or unbelievers, whether saints or sinners, we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.    ( 2 Corinthians 5:10 ; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:21 )   For the Lord Jesus will shortly appear in the clouds of heaven, the last trumpet shall sound, the graves shall open, the sea give up her dead, and all who have lived upon earth, from the creation to the final consummation of time, will, then be judged, and rewarded or punished according to their works. Mark well St. John’s representation of this solemn transaction, “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” ( Revelation 20: 12, 13 )  ....

You must then give an account how you improved the advantages now afforded you, for attending to the things pertaining to your peace. 

Then all ungodly and impenitent sinners, being tried, cast, and condemned, must hear that final terrible sentence pronounced upon them : "Depart, ye cursed, into the everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!" ( Matthew 25:41 ).  And remember that those who have been your associates in wickedness here, will then be your companions in misery...O ! think of this and pray for grace to repent, before it is too late!

[But] the righteous - however obscured and reproached upon earth - shall then shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. ...  They will enjoy the unclouded presence of their Lord and Saviour, who once suffered pain, and shame, and death for them. They will see him seated upon a throne of glory, and unite with all the heavenly host, in ascribing salvation, glory, and honour, and praise to him who loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood; and has made them kings and priests to God, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever.  ( Revelations 5: 9 )

I have now given you a summary of the great truths, which, as a minister of the gospel, I am commissioned and commanded to preach.  ... I have told you again and again, that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and that there is no coming to God with comfort, either in this world, or in that which is to come, but by him. He has told you so himself.   ( John 14: 6 ; Acts 4:12 )  ...

Artist's impression of the church which Mr Johnson caused
to be built near Church Hill, Sydney in 1793.

Permit me then, as your minister, your friend, and a well-wisher to your souls, to press these serious and weighty considerations home upon your consciences once more. I hope and believe that I have asserted nothing, but what can be proved by the highest authority, the word of the living God. They certainly deserve your closest and most careful attention, since it is plain beyond a doubt, that upon your knowledge or ignorance, your acceptance or rejection of this gospel, your everlasting happiness or misery must depend. Brethren, I do not ask you, what religious persuasion or denomination you have espoused. I fear, that, if I may judge of your hearts by your actions, too many are destitute of any sense of religion at all. But I do not address you as Churchmen or Dissenters, Roman Catholics or Protestants, as Jews or Gentiles; I suppose, yea, I know, that there are persons of every denomination amongst you.  But I speak to you as men and women, as intelligent creatures, possessed of understanding and reason. I speak to you as mortals, and yet immortals; as sinners, who have broken the laws of God, and are therefore obnoxious to his displeasure. And my sole aim and desire is, to be instrumental in turning you from darkness to light, from sin to holiness, from the power of Satan to the service and favour of God.  ( Acts 26:18 )

Seek then, I beseech you, above all things, an interest in the blessings of the gospel. Be assured it is a matter of much less moment, whether you are rich or poor, respected or despised in this world. The rich have their cares, fears, crosses, and vexations, no less than the poor; but admitting that they could pass through life with greater care than others, we all know that they cannot escape death. The great point is, how we shall die? Whether as believers or unbelievers, as saints or sinners. One soul, according to our Lord’s declaration, is of more value than the whole world.   ( Mark 8:36 )  If you lose your soul, you lose all at once. You lose heaven and happiness forever.  Whatever, therefore, you do, or leave undone, for God’s sake, and for your own sakes, neglect not for one day or hour longer, the vast concerns of another life. Delays are dangerous.   The more we have to risk or lose, the greater folly it would be accounted, to defer securing our property and goods, which we know to be in danger.  What folly, therefore, what madness must it be, to put off with careless indifference, the concernments of eternity; and to prefer the trifles of this transitory life to heaven, and the favour of God! 

If you consider what a valuable price was paid for our redemption, you must be convinced that the soul of man is very precious in the sight of God, and that sin is not so light and small an evil, as many of you have supposed. To disobey the commandments of the just and holy God, is, as far as in us lies, to renounce our allegiance to him, and our dependence upon him, and to set up for ourselves, and even to join with the devil in open rebellion against our Maker. It is, in plain terms, to fly in his face, and to bid defiance to his almighty arm. Sin is such a horrid evil, that unless it is forgiven, and blotted out, by the blood of Jesus, it will sink your souls lower than the centre of the earth, even into the very depths of hell, never, never, never more to rise.  ( Mark 9:44-48 )  So heinous was sin, in the sight of God, that rather than permit it to pass unpunished, he would punish it in the person of his own, his only, his well-beloved Son, who was made sin, that is, treated as a sinner deserved to be treated, for us. He was delivered up into the hands of wicked men, and crucified, that by his sufferings and death, he might make atonement for our sins, and procure an honourable and happy reconciliation, between a righteous God, and offending sinners .   ( 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 )   I beseech you, therefore, to prize and to study this gospel, that you may obtain a growing experience of its benefits. Praise God for such a Saviour, and such a salvation as he has provided. Adore him, for that infinite wisdom and boundless mercy which he has displayed in the redemption of fallen man ; and never rest, nor be satisfied, till you have good and scriptural reason to hope, that this Saviour is yours, with all the blessings he is exalted to bestow without money and without price.

Our food, my brethren, then only can nourish us, when it is eaten and digested. Medicines can only profit us, by being applied, and taken. It is exactly thus with the gospel. We may hear, and talk of these things, but so long as they remain matters of speculation, and do not enter into our hearts, into the very vitals of our souls, (if I may so speak) we cannot be the better for them. Christ is the bread of life. His flesh is meat indeed, and his blood is drink indeed!  But unless we ourselves do spiritually eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man (for our Lord speaks of food for the soul, not for the body) we have no life in us. ( John 6: 52-58


The second part of Mr Johnson's pastoral address will be published in a following post on In diebus illis.  It details the state of the Colony of NSW from his daily experience and offers some suggestions for its improvement.

The population of the Colony of New South Wales in 1792 was slightly in excess of 4000.  Settlements existed around Port Jackson, Parramatta and Norfolk Island.  Being more specific about population numbers is difficult, since statistical returns before 1795 have not survived.  We know how many convicts arrived in the Colony in the First, Second and Third Fleets (1788-1791 with some other smaller fleets), being approximately 4300.  Soldiers, officials and others also add to the increase of this number.  Mr Johnson tells us that 854 burials took place between 1788-1792.

A copy of the Reverend Richard Johnson's Address to the Colony of NSW is kept by the National Library of Australia.  The Library photographed the book, converting it to a portable document format file, available online.  The Library also makes available a transcription of the book with optical character recognition software.  Unhappily, however, the OCR software was no match for the archaic spellings employed by Mr Johnson, and required the author of this article to manually transcribe Mr Johnson's address, so that each word and scripture quotation is accurately presented - we hope.


07 October, 2020


The principal building in the village of Galong in the Riverina of New South Wales is Saint Clement's Retreat and Conference Centre.  These buildings, however, comprised a minor seminary of the Redemptorists between 1918 and 1975.  They have, however, a much older colonial history.  Around 1825, a former convict, Edward (Ned) Ryan "squatted" on hundreds of acres in the area, part of which was called Galong. Many years later, some of what he leased became his own property and he built a residence for himself which he named Galong Castle.  Ned Ryan was a colourful character and a generous Catholic.

The following is an edited version of account in a volume by Father Max Barrett CSsR The King of Galong Castle.  

Due north of Galong Castle, rising 553 metres above sea level and dominating the country for miles around, is a mountain that came to be known as Rosary Hill.

Rosary Hill, Galong NSW

It was a practice of the first - and remarkably mobile - Catholic bishop of Australia, John Bede Polding, on his initial visit to a town or district, to climb a neighbouring hill, erect a Cross at its peak and the bless place from there.  This happened at Galong.  Members of the Ryan family who accompanied the bishop on this occasion suggested that the prelate leave his beads on the tree near which they had just recited the Rosary.  The tree was a she-oak which grew about twelve metres to the north-west of the present trig on Rosary Hill.  His Grace complied; he hung the beads, a Benedictine rosary, in towards the centre of the tree.

The date of this occurrence is not certain.  Archbishop Polding was in Galong district on four separate occasions, 1838, 1853, 1858 and 1863.

A conflicting voice says that Rosary Hill was named by the pioneer priest, Father Charles Lovatt.  But the unanimous local tradition, which goes back to the days to the days of John Nagle Ryan [son of Ned Ryan], says Polding.  The Freeman's Journal, on the occasion of John's death [January 1887], reported that John Nagle used "narrate how the saintly Archbishop Polding planted a cross on the summit, recited the Rosary, and requested him to have his Catholic visitors sometimes say the Rosary there.

The Ryans and other local families were faithful to the Archbishop's request.  From time to time, little groups climbed Rosary Hill - in itself, an exercise for the physically fit and penitentially inclined - to tell their beads.  These pilgrims also followed the Archbishop's example and hung their rosaries on the tree as well.  By 1900, the tree was covered with beads.  Archbishop Polding's rosary had broken with age and the growth of the limb, but one or two of the decades had become embedded into the bark.

About this turn-of-the-century time, a storm damaged the she-oak.  It was reduced to a stump but, surprisingly, a new trunk grew from the old stock.  When, however, workmen were seeking timber for the extension of the nearby railway a good deal of land was cleared and the she-oak disappeared.  When it was realised what had happened, there was great consternation; but by that time it was too late for any effective action.

In the 1940s, a grotto was built on the moderate rise immediately north of Spring Creek, in view of the old Galong Castle and about one kilometre to the north-east of the Ryan home.

An annual procession in honour of the Mother of God, which had been held in the Galong Monastery grounds since the early 1930s, was re-routed to the grotto.


An illustration of the She-oak from Father Barrett's book.
The drawing is by Mrs Peggy Jones.


Barrett, Fr Max CSsR, King of Galong Castle, Majellan Press, 1978.