(Michael & Joy Morgan, Noel Bell)
A Planned Seed of Holiness for Australia:
I sense a divinely appointed ‘preparation‘ in England for the
‘birthing’ of Christianity in the colony. ..one senses there was a real
vision and high hopes….this led up to the appointment of a special
man of God in Rev Johnson…
A Rejected Nation of Misfits
What was established here was an “ignoble penal settlement under man”
not a “noble nation under God it was harsh territory in which to plant
that ‘seed of holiness’….
Spiritual Opposition to Birthing the Church:
And the ‘planting’ wasn’t too succesful and perhaps we shouldn’t be
surprised. But it’s almost like the actual ‘birthing’ of the Christian
faith in Sydney (and here I mean the essence of the faith not specifically
the traditional C of E) was actively opposed by the powers of darkness…
there was no religious blessing at the raising of the flag on that first
resistance or indifference from the authorities forced Johnson to go
it alone and build the first church.. ..which was later burnt down …
the first Cathedral St Andrews was believed to be unconsecrated
for many years (foundation stone being laid by Gov Macquarie, a
mason, and designed by Greenway also a mason)
and Johnson…the first Minister.. Christ’s representative…
.was openly rejected by the people (being ‘treated with apathy, discourtesy
It was like something was inhibiting the birthing of the pure church
the rooting of God’s Spirit in the foundation of the nation….and Johnson’s
attempt to build his own church (without help/approval from the authorities)
could almost be seen conceptually as an attempt to ‘separate’ the Church
and the State … to proclaim through the first church building the supreme
Lordship of Christ.. ..Christianity in its own right, if you like, rather
than Christianity in the C of E which in turn was ‘buried/entangled’ in
almost subjective to secular affairs of the State.
It seems significant too that the man chosen to birth the church here…
was such a godly man….about whom nothing ‘bad’ appears to have been written…
.in contrast to Marsden for example or Lang…
Distortion of the Pure Truth through the Church:
Despite Johnson’s valiant and gody efforts, the real truth of the gospel
was ‘distorted’ because it was ‘used’ as a religion to be IMPOSED ON the
people – rather than a religion FOR ALL. It was imposed ‘from above’ –
with spiritual and secular authority being seen as ‘in league’ with each
As put in the book ‘Sydney Anglicans’ … “The ministry of the C of
E in NSW was Evangelical as well as formal, the impetus for it coming from
the upper classes of
society. It was religion for rather than to the motley inhabitants
of the penal
And so the ‘vehicle’ for Gods truth the Church – got itself into a position
of compromise a wrong ‘position’ being locked in/associated with secular
authority (see Dean Inge’s later comment on being married to the spirit
of the age) and a wrong ‘position’ by trying to impose religion from on
high. God’s truth couldn’t really be ‘heard’ from this position …
It led – no doubt exploited to the full by Satan – to a total disregard
and ridicule of the institutional church in Sydney by all parts of society
here … one suspects that Marsden, for all his undoubted good work, would
have been ‘used’ to discredit/distort the vital ‘truth’ of the gospel….
Wrong Model for God’s Authority:
This flows from the above.. .the early Church’s authority would have
been seen in the same light as the oppressive penal secular authority of
the State… .indeed Church and State were probably seen as inseparable.
This was a distorted image of God’s authority….which one suspects
still exists.. .and helps explain negative attitudes to the ‘church’….
The ‘penalty’ for this legacy is still being paid. Dean Inge once said
that the church which ‘marries the spirit of the age becomes a widow in
the next’. In Britain at that time, the ‘Established’ Church at
least, by its identification with the State, its intimate association with
the ruling class, and its belief in the existing social order being unquestionably
God-ordained, had married the ‘spirit of the age’. It paid dearly
for it by becoming a ‘widow’ in the antipodes, so far as the great majority
of convicts and ex-convicts were concerned.
And so.. ..the wrong model for God’s authority.. ..was rooted in our
English heritage….and transported here from day one…
(The model brought in later by the Catholics was also ‘wrong’, though
for different reasons….)
And a Consequent ‘Lack of Respect’ for Clergy:
This ‘model’ brought the almost inevitable response from the people
in the early days (see later section 3.5. “Attitudes to the Clergy &
And this lack of respect for clergymen in Australia still exists today.
It may not be outright hostility, except toward men like Rev Fred Nile,
rather it is a sniggering, disinterested attitude and certainly on the
media clergy are portrayed very much as figures of ridicule.
There is a noticeable contrast to the way the clergy are treated in
England where they are given a special respect in society. German parents
of a friend also compared the salaries of German pastors with those of
Australian clergy – a marked difference down for the Australians.
The Awesome Accountability of the Early Church:
The book ‘CCC’ gives considerable evidence to support the view that
anticlericalism is rooted in the early foundations of the church in the
colony. One senses that the clergy are still labou ring under the burden
of this today.
The mocking attitude of Australians today toward anything Christian
or to do with the church is also probably rooted in this time.
The corporate accountability of the early church is awesome and
surely continues to need prayer.. ..it may not be too alarmist to suggest
that the institutional church bears some of the responsibility for not
only turning people AWAY from God but also for turning them TO things definitely
not of God.. .as outlined graphically in CC&C….
By the 1820’s the convicts and ex-convicts had no interest in the doctrine.’
and liturgies of ‘Old England’; they felt no need to come to God in prayer;
anc they had no desire to wash away their sins in Christ’s precious blood.
There were exceptions, but mostly they were sustained by mateship
A Transported ‘Legacy of Privilege’:
The C of E was effectively the State religion in the early colonial
days and there was deep-rooted conflict and difference between the denominations
(particularly Anglican and Catholic) … this early history/legacy must
still hinder the real development of a real “spirit of unity” across the
churches in Sydney….
A Growing Disturbance to the ‘Status Quo’:
The early church – which was the C of E faced ongoing threats to its
traditional power and status’:
– its legacy of ‘privileged position’ was effectively diluted as other
denominations came to the colony…
– particularly savage opposition from authorities, officers and convict
populace in the early days was common….
– clergy and church were held in low esteem….
– threat ‘from within’ also disturbed the church at that time.. ..a
‘threat’ to the ‘Evangelicals’ in the Anglican Church from the Tractarians
(and the Oxford Movement) and the real potential for this to undermine
the traditional doctrines of the church…
A natural reaction to this from the church over the years appears to
have been a move to ‘protect’… to ‘control’…to ‘hold on to’ their traditions…
.to ‘stay aloof’ and assume their traditional position. Part of this may
have been an unconscious sustaining of the church’s tradition from those
early days to ‘impose from above’.. ..almost to dictate how it will be…
It does seem to help explain what some see as the ‘prideful aloofness’
of the Anglican Church – and in particular what seems to many to be the
‘arrogant separateness’ of the Sydney Diocese. It would appear to be rooted
back to the early days in the colony.. Research illustrates this in a number
– comment from a visiting US Anglican Priest, Howard Johnson in 1964
– after investigating Anglican Churches all over the world – that “Nowhere
in my entire tour of Anglicanism did I encounter questions of churchmanship
– the marked difference in ‘climate’ within Anglican clerical circles
in the city of Sydney and in the country of NSW….(personal observations
by Mrs Barker….written up in Marcus Loane’s book….)
the noted difference in the way the Sabbath was used in Melbourne and
Adelaide as compared to Sydney… .written up by an historian (not a Chnstian)..
the serious differences (quarrelsomeness) between the Anglican Church
and the other denominations in the early days….
A Persistent Resistance to Revival:
Australia is one of the very few countries in the world that has never
experienced revival a real sweep of the Holy Spirit despite much ‘investment’
over the years to reach people for Christ it has not happened.
It has happened in US, England and Wales… .yet curiosly it has not
(like most everything else) been ‘transplanted’ to Australia….
Why? Why has it happened elsewhere and not here? How have the ‘powers
of darkness’ succeeded in blinding the eyes of Australians to the gospel
From our early Church History some of the underlying reasons may be:
that the Christian faith has never really been birthed in the
land. ..never really been ‘allowed in’ so to speak….
until the post World War II period, we were symbolically a nation of
‘rejected Deople‘ who had never really felt ‘accepted’…(.the expression
‘spirit of convictism’ littered much secular writing we researched)…
and finally we have a distorted image of God’s authority …
our ‘authority figure’ as a nation was an oppressive cruel penal secular
authority (with which the early church was directly related) which originally
inhibited us seeing God’s authority and ‘Fatherhood’ as it really is
..and I believe the ‘spirit of Momus’ (the god of Ridicule – and possibly
the root of our uniquely Australian ‘put down’ mentality) has been used
by the powers of darkness to sustain this wrong image
As with Japan – another nation where much evangelism and prayer has
produced ‘low’ returns – maybe for Australia too intensive and sustained
spiritual warfare could be a key to bringing people to Christ. As Peter
Wagner said in a recent article ” if God had called me to be a leader in
the evangelisation of Japan, I would:
– Seek God’s power to unite the various Christian factions
– Train pastors and lay leaders in deliverance ministries,
– And.. Look to God for ways to identify, engage and break the power
of the territorial spirits that have held Japan in their clutches for centuries.”
Yet through it all – A Persistent Light in the Darkness:
Despite all this… .God’s light has been ‘spread abroad’ in Sydney
since Johnson arrived… through the faithfulness of so many great men
of God over the years… God’s grace and goodness is so evident in the
lives of individuals.. .such as Johnson, Barker, Campbell etc…
despite real corporate difficulties Successful inroads have of course
been made. …often where free from authority….eg itinerant, mostly non-Anglican
We pray that there is indeed truth in the vision Newton had so many
years ago for the settlement – and in particular for Johnsons ministry
– when he said “The seed you sow in the settlement may be sown for future
generations and be transplanted in time far and near. I please myself with
the hope that Port Jackson may be the spot from whence the Gospel light
may hereafter spread in all directions”.
Is this a prophetic word for Sydney today?
Convicts, Clergymen and Churches ” by Allan M. Grocott (Sydney University
Press)….. attitudes of convicts and ex-convicts towards the churches
and clergy in NSW from 1788 to 1851. ..complled by an historian
Religions in Australia” by Tess van Sommers (Rigby)….
Sydney Anglicans ” by Stephen Judd and Kenneth Cable (Anglican Information
Office)… a pioneer essay charting the growth of the Sydney Diocese
“Hewn From The Rock” by Marcus Loane (Anglican Information Office) origins
and traditions of the Chruch in Sydney
“The Oxford Movement” edited by Eugene Fairweather (OUP)….a description
of the movement.. .the Anglo-Catholic Revival…. drawn together by a Professor
“The Mind of The Oxford Movement “by Owen Chadwick (A & C Black)…
a selection of Tractarian wdtings….
Hierarchy and Democracy in Australia 1788-1870 ” by T. L. Suttor (Melbourne
Uni Press)… the formation of Australian Catholicism by an Associate
Profesor of Theology
Rockhoppers ” by Edmund Campion (Penguin) a popular’ book that explores
the experience of contemporary Catholics in a colonial culture by a Sydney
“Australian Catholics ” by Edmund Campion (Viking) the contribution
of Catholics to the development of Australian society.
Australian Christian Life from 1788″ by Ian Murray historical background
of key Christians in bringing Gospel to Australia.
Some Letters of Rev Richard Johnson ” Parts 1 and 2 by George Mackaness
(Reveiew Publications P/L, Dubbo NSW)
“Some Private Correspondence of the Rev Sarnuel Marsden and Family 1794-1824”
by Goerge Mackaness (Review Publications)
3.2. Outline of Early Christian Life:
In 18th century England:
– religious ignorance and practical atheism well established
– mass of working class not outwardly religious, never attended church
poverty was considered God-ordained and the social hierarchy part of
the divine plan for mankind
established church closely linked with State and status quo
the professional criminal class would have had no contact with Christianity
and their first contact possibly in prison usually did not go down too
All these attitudes were transported to Australia.
Church services regarded as punishment by convicts.. ..used to preach
good subservient behaviour
Was compulsory, caused indifference and cynicism to harden into hatred
Anglican chaplains were:
objects of ridicule and abuse
the most easily hoodwinked of the ruling hierarchy.
scorned for participation in penal system – Marsden, particularly severe.
seen as moral policemen – sanctimonious spies of the govt and puritanical
Overly identified with ruling class.
Only the Catholics and Methodists were able to bridge the gap between
convicts and clergy through friendship
The few convicts who were genuinely religious and publicly showed it,
were mostly Catholics. Such men displayed admirable courage in the face
of merciless ridicule and persecution by other convicts, who saw them as
hypocrites, renegades or traitors.
Prison inmates forced to play hypocrite in order to gain indulgences
and shorten their sentences.
– Catholic convicts hated compulsory C of E services.
(Norfolk Island) – anti-religious attitudes were partly institutionalised
in the blasphemous liturgies of the ‘Ring’.
Interesting to note – the monopoly of the powerful ‘Rum Trade’ was finally
broken by Robert Campbell, a Christian businessman/merchant.
Frontier environment and struggle for survival put Church at bottom
of people’s priorities.
Most ‘new chum’ clergy were depressed by the penal character of the
colony, many had great difficulty in adjusting and some failed outright.
In the bush many parsons were regarded as a ‘standing joke’ by acclimatised
The churches, with some exceptions, failed to win the hearts and minds
of the felonry. The evangelical and moralistic message of the Protestant
Churches especially, was unappealing and unacceptable to the convict world.
Dean Inge once said that the church which ‘marries the spirit of the
age becomes a widow in the next’. In Britain at that time, the ‘Established’
Church at least, by its identification with the State, its intimate
assocjation with the ruling class, and its belief in the existing social
order being unquestionably God-ordained, had married the ‘spirit of
the age’. It paid dearly for it by becoming a ‘widow’ in the antipodes,
so far as the great majority of convicts and ex-convicts were concerned.
3.3 The Early Christian Ministers:
Unlike America the first settlers in Australia did not come to establish
a nation under God, they came in chains sentenced to hard labour, brutal
treatment and death. The arrival of the First Fleet (12 sailing ships with
prisoners, soldiers and officers as well as food and livestock) was a military
operation without any consideration for the spiritual needs of the men
and women sailing to the other side of the earth from Britian (it took
about 10 months by ship) to establish a penal colony simply to relieve
the overcrowding of the British jails. In all over 80,000 convicts were
sent to Australia over a 60 year period.
Rev Richard Johnson:
Five months before the First Fleet sailed, Rev Johnson was appointed
as Chaplian by Pitt at the recommendation of Wilberforce. The first fleet
subsequently arrived on 26th January 1788. He was Chaplain to 568 male
convicts and 191 female convicts with 13 children. Johnson also felt responsible
for the Marines as well as the Governor (Captain Arthur Phillip and his
staff) which comprosed his whole ‘parish’ of about 1,000 people. There
were about 300 Roman Catholic convivts amongst them.
The first public service of worship in Australia was held at 10 am on
Sundey 3rd February
1788 and Johnson preached from Psalm 116:12 “What shall I render unto
the Lord for all
his benefits towards me ? I will take the cup of salvation and call
upon the name of the
Johnson’s ministry was not easy as he had very little support from the
Governor and the military. Once Governor Phillip left (December 1792) his
job became very difficult dealing with the officers of the NSW Corps (the
Rum Corp). Major Grose positively discouraged people from attending Johnson’s
services. They provided no building for a church so Johnson with helpers
built a church himself out of of his own funds. When Grose became Lt Governor
he prevented Johnson having a second Sunday service and sometimes even
marched his soldiers out of the middle of Johnson’s morning service. At
this time Johnson said ‘almost all common morality and even decency was
banished from the colony’.
In 1794 he was encouraged when a second Anglican Minister arrived by
the name of
Samuel Marsden. By 1798 (ten years of settlement) things had improved
Hunter however Johnson’s health was worn out and he returned to England
September 1800. In 1794 he issued his one only publication ” An Address
Inhabitants of the Colonies established in NSW & Norfolk Island
” – a bold challenge of the
Gospel to an indifferent colony.
Socially Johnson was despised because he was a ‘Methodist’ instead of
a traditional Anglican ‘church man’. He was a strong evangelical who faithfully
preached Christ to both convicts and their military keepers.
At the age of 28 he arrived with his wife Elisabeth and first child
born at sea. He was given the spiritual care of the small settlement at
Parrammatta (where all the food was grown for the colony) and, when Johnson
left, responsibility for the settlement of Sydney as well.
He was joined by another Anglican minister William Cowper in 1809. His
two eldest sons
were killed as children, one thrown from the horse and gig whilst the
other fell into a pan of boiling water when left to the care of a servant.
Christian fellowship was vey small although all convicts and soldiers
had to attend Sunday services. He writes; “living where iniquity abounds
so much, our civil connection with the worst of men renders our souls dry
and barren. We feel little of that vital spirit of life which is essential
to the happiness of the real Christian”. However the nucleus of future
Christian leadership in the community was formed through John Palmer and
Surgeon Thomas Arndell as well as by Robert Campbell who was Australia’s
first merchant, and who eventually broke the rum economic control of the
military over the people of the colony.
Marsden’s name has been blackened by the history books because he accepted
the job of magistrate as well as clergyman and is known as “the flogging
pastor “. He also possessed much farming land and property.
In his early life he was a Wesleyan but joined the Church of England
as a Chaplain to NSW. He was a man full of sound judgment, fervent piety
and enlightened zeal, he acquired great influence with the public and commanded
the confidence and respect of both civil and military authorities.
Marsden as a missionary visited New Zealand (1814) and on six subsequent
This was the scene of his greatest spiritual fruitfulness bringing many
Maoris to the Lord.
In all he spent 45 years of his life preaching justification by faith,
holiness as essential. In brief his life’s message was “Christ is all
in all to the sinner”.
In 1798 a group of fugitive missionaries arrived from Tahiti who settled
in Parrammatta and helped Marsden. Francis Qakes became Chief Constable.
Rowland Hassall opened the colony’s first Sunday School.
Samuel Leigh arrived in NSW in 1816 as the first Wesleyan Missionary.
Leigh was a trailblazer, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. He had
the support and cooperation of Marsden. By the time he left Australia (1831)
he had established in Australia and the islands of the South Pacific 9
circuits of Wesleyan Methodist, 14 missionaries, 736 communicants and 1,000
children in schools. In those days Methodists were careful about who they
admitted to sit at the Lord’s Table so the number in church attendance
was a higher figure.
Samuel Leigh left because of a breakdown in his health but continued
his ministry in Britain until 1845. He was a man full of zeal for the Lord
whose desire was to seek the salvation of men’s souls. He did not spare
himself and was not concerned to become a comfortable settler in Australia.
Other Methodist Missionaries who followed after Leigh were men of like
spirit… wise for eternity turning many to righteousness.
John Dunmore Lang:
He arrived in NSW as a minister of the Church of Scotland in 1823 and
soon became one of the most influential, determined and colourful figures
in Sydney. He founded Scots Church and for the rest of his life was its
He returned repeatedly to Britain to crusade for able Christian immigrants
and evangelical ministers, as well as opposing the continued British policy
of transporting convicts to Australia. He saw that without the arrival
of a large number of free settlers the whole spiritual and moral tone of
the nation would not change. For the first 20 years of the new colony there
were fewer than 100 free settlers. As free settlers were the backbone of
the first churches in Sydney and Parrammatta, more free settlers were needed
for the growth of the church in the colony.
John Dunmore Lang was a prolific writer and his book in 1834 gave a
historical account of the life in NSW and the need for free settlers. Convict
transportation stopped in 1853 and over 160,000 free settlers had come
to NSW. Many of these new settlers were not concerned for material wealth.
They were God-fearing people ready to subordinate worldly comforts for
It is interesting to note that the Christian merchant Robert Campbell
established a fine country property at Duntroon (now the federal Capital
of Canberra) and he employed about 70 Scottish families of good stock who
began each day with prayer and kept the Lord’s day as a community.
The moral standards of the nation gradually began to change at which
time the Rev Saunders arrived in December 1834 and as a pastor established
the first Baptist Church in Sydney. He saw the great need of the people
of Sydney at that time and he writes:
Sydney appears at first sight, like some oriental city rising from the
wilderness at the command of a despotic power. On landing its streets appear
wretched, sand and loose, and a hovel next to a respectable shop; a hut
next to a mansion a Prince might be proud
of. It appears at present as unlike an English town as it could possibly
be made. And then to look at the people; so thin, so sunburnt, and many
of them so drunk – not a lady to be seen, hardly a woman.”
Saunders was active with many Christian agencies that began to operate
in the colony eg
Bible and Tract Society. There was a growing bond of friendship between
Christians who were united in their spiritual and moral endeavours to
change the whole
character of the colony.
3.4 Profile of First Minister – Rev Johnson:
3.4.1. Background to his appointment:
(From “Hewn From The Rock” by Marcus Loane and also from “Sydney Anglicans”
by Judd & Cable. Any highlighting is the researcher’s)
In 1783 Eclectic Society was formed in London. A group of Evangelical
clergy under the leadership of John Newton, they met on a regular, although
informal, basis in order to discuss matters of faith and the progress of
the Gospel. Close contacts were men like Henry Thornton and William Wilberforce
who was a close friend of William Pitt, the Prime Minister, at the time
decision was made to settle Botany Bay.
The Eclectic Society were Evangelicals who formed a part of the religious
renewal which flourished in Britain in the 18th century as a result of
earlier influence of Whitfield and the Weseleys. Unlike the Methodists,
the main element in the great revival, they remained firmly within the
Church of England. They were no less dedicated to the cause of Evangelical
religion but they were of the ruling classes, landowners and merchants
and professional people. They saw their duty as moral and national rather
than revivalist and personal. Prison reform, poular education, public morality,
the abolition of the slave trade, were – or came to be – their interests.
Rev Richard Johnson’s name was recommended by this group who had interested
themselves in the appointment of a Chaplain to the colony. He received
his Royal Warrant on 24th Oct 1786. On 13th Nov the Society discussed the
question “What is the best method of planning and propogating the Gospel
at Botany Bay ?”
Wilberforce then introduced Johnson to the Societies for the Propogation
of the Gospel and for Promoting Christian Knowledge and they gave him a
large supply of books and tracts for the colony.
Wilberforce in a light-hearted mood spoke of Johnson as “the Bishop
of Botany Bay”.
The ministry of the C of E in NSW was Evangelical as well as formal,
the impetus for it coming from the upper class of society. It was a religion
for, rather than to, the motley inhabitants of the penal colony.
3.4.2. Conflict of Roles:
His royal warrant of 24th Oct, 1786 was typical of the period:
“You are to observe and follow such orders and directions as you
shall receive from our Governor… or any other of your superior officers,
according to the rules and disciplines of war…”
He was frustrated by the conflict of roles:
1. As chaplain expected to be guardian of public morality.
2. As clergyman required to perform regular ministrations of the church.
As an Evangelical had mammoth task of promoting the conversion of the felonry.
Never succeeded in reconciling these three roles to his satisfaction.
His faith was strong but he lacked that ‘buoyancy of spirit’ to apply it.
Regarded by Phillip as:
Adjunct to his disciplinary arm
3.3.3. Other aspects of Johnson’s life:
Appointed through the influence of William Wilberforce
A Moravian Methodist (Moravians stressed sole authority of Bible, simplicity
of worship, receiving the Lord’s Supper in faith without human explanation,
and disciplined Christian living)
Had to function as the rep of C of E
In the First Fleet Johnson sailed on Golden Grove. Conducted a service
each Sunday and read prayers every evening. At Rio de Janeiro and at Cape
Town was able to visit other ships and to minister to all on board.
3rd Feb 1788….first service based on Psalm 116:12
Only offical rep for 3 years (Rev James Bain, Chaplain to NSW Army Corps
4 or 5 months after settlement before he was able to build a little
cottage for his wife, Mary, but by the end of the year growing vegetables
for own personal needs.
Quite incapable of tackling task of introducing Christianity to a settlement
of debauched convicts and self-seeking soldiers.
One of the busiest men in colony. Although aware enormous gulf never
shirked his official responsibilities.
Appointed magistrate within months of landing in Sydney. By July 1788
also a member of Court of Civil Jurisdiction.
Suffered apathy, discourtesy and ridicule of a godless community.
3.4.4. Johnson’s Ministry:
* Visited the ship’s holds of the 2nd Fleet in spite of health hazards
to attend to their needs. Looked after the sick, prayed with them, gave
them books to read, and fed them with food and vegies from his own store.
Johnson himself was to observe that his great joy had been to “speak of
the great and inestimable love of Jesus in dying for sinners, and in inviting
them to come to Him, to behave in and rest upon Him for life and salvation.”
* Spent considerable time visiting convicts and sick in their own dwellings
to give assistance and advice. “Found more pleasure at times in doing this,
than in preaching”.
* Was seen by some he helped as very kind, others said that ‘they did
not believe that there was so good a man beside in the whole world’ (Catholics
saw him as ‘sensitive’ to their spiritual needs…able to respond to them.
Marsden on the other hand seen as strongly anti-Catholic)
* Was concerned for the welfare of the Aborigines, tried to befriend
them, and gave his daughter the Aboriginal name, Milbah Mary. He wrote
to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1792 to urge the need
for missionaries to work among the tribes on the fringe of the white community.
* Published 74 page pamphlet encouraging people to study the scriptures,
keep the Sabbath and refrain from various sins. Totally unsuccessful.
* Built his own church from own pocket. Later burnt down by convicts.
* Only his belief that he was there ‘by God’s appointment’ that enabled
him to endure the apathy and hostility of most convicts for 13 years.
* Whether or not men cared for his Evangelical Spirit, noone could say
that he did not work as hard as any man in those critical and difficult
* He supervised the first schooling of children in the colony (1793)
3.4.5. Ongoing Dispute with Grose:
A succession of bitter, personal disputes between Johnson – that ‘very
troublesome, discontented Methodist’ – and the Lt Governor Grose who was
irritated by Johnson’s personality and evangelical views. Johnson also
subjected Grose to a torrent of insult and humiliation when he lost his
magisterial powers. Felt ‘deeply offended and shocked’.
Lt Gov Grose was a selfish, godless, worldy-minded man (Source for
our uniquely Australian expression ‘that’s gross I’ ?) who had no use
for the Chaplain. First open rupture in 1793 when Johnson refused to wait
any longer for government provision of a church and built his own.
Grose set out to frustrate and thwart Johnson with a calculated meanness
which was meant to crush and humiliate him once for all. He failed to do
Grose only permitted one service at 6 am.
Sometimes soldiers were drunk, sometimes they were marched off half
way through the service.
Interference with his ministry to the condemned.
– his convict workers were withdrawn
River transport was refused for his return journeys from Parrammatta.
Soldiers and convicts were openly encouraged to treat him with contempt.
Insults and stones were flung at him as he walked down the road.
* Grose thought that Johnson’s emphasis on personal salvation was
detrimental to good order and discipline hence the charge of Methodism.
Johnson felt the two aspects of religion could not be separated. Johnson
that during this period “almost all common morality and even decency
banished from the colony”.
Grose when he left the colony left the Rum Corps, the farming and trading
of its officer class and a legacy of bitterness.
* Gov Hunter returned in 1795 and in contrast to Grose he was genuinely
concerned for the moral and spiritual welfare of the colony and gave Johnson
support as he had not had before. Marsden by this time also brought friendship
By this time Johnson was in a very run-down state of health and had
very little resilience. Also in 1798 his church was burnt down.
3.4.6. Some of Johnson’s Achievements:
* The pioneer for education in NSW. Was as much concerned for illiterate
convicts and aborigines as for the children of free settlers.
* By March 1792 had established schools in Sydney, Parrammatta and Norfolk
Island. Within 6 years there were about 150 children in the school in Sydney.
* Started a fund for the care of orphans and in Aug 1800 was treasurer
of a committee for the conduct of an orphan institution
* One of the best farmers in the colony. Perhaps the first man to grow
wheat in NSW, as well as fruit, vegies, barley, and tobacco. Farming was
for him recreation as well as a valuable contribution to the colony’s food
His health was a cause of grave concern and finally he returned to England
with Hunter in Oct 1800.
His last service for NSW was giving evidence re transportation in 1812.
Died in 1827 back in England.
3.4.7. Johnson – What Kind of Man ?
John Newton in 1786 declared “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 to swim, had better
run his head against a stone wall.”
Johnson must have been seen as such a man with an apostolic spirit to
have been recommended by the Evangelicals for the post of Chaplain.
His gift was faithfulness rather than vision, courage and steadfastness
rather than aggressiveness, and if we reckon that God demands not success
but faithfulness, we can have no doubt that Johnson fulfilled his high
calling of God.” (Bishop D W B Robinson)
When he returned to England he was broken in health and hope, ‘a mere
skeleton’ so Marsden wrote, ‘from vexation and toil’. Perhaps Newton’s
vision of the significance of his work was clearer than his own: “The seed
you sow in the Settlement may be sown for future generations and be transplanted
in time far and near. I please myself with the hope that Port Jackson may
be the spot from whence the Gospel light may hereafter spread in all directions”.
Is this a prophetic word from Newton for Sydney today?
3.5. Profile of Rev Samuel Marsden:
* Born 25th June 1765
* Son of a blacksmith and small farmer in Yorkshire
* Went to village school and grew up to his early manhood in the environment
of forge and farm.
* Strongly influenced by the Methodist revival and soon became a lay
* Never took his degree.
* Was persuaded by Wilberforce to accept appointment as assistant to
the Chaplain in NSW.
“I am about to quit my native country with a view to preaching the everlasting
Gospel,” he wrote. “Oh that God would make my way prosperous, that the
end of my going may be answered in the conversion of many poor souls.”
He was to be as much distressed by the liquor trading of the NSW Corps
as by the sin and degradation of the convict community.
Soon clashed with MacArthur.
Largely instrumental in the establishment of an orphan home and school
for girls in 1800.
Proved to be an outstanding pioneer as a farmer and sheep breeder in
Linked with John MacArthur as the founder of sheepbreeding and woolgrowing
in this country.
Appointed as magistrate by Hunter in 1795.
Became known for the severity of his punishment. Loane writes in defence
of Marsden: “Writers such as M. H. Ellis and C M H Clark have fastened
on this and have represented him a harsh and brutal in the extreme. It
was an age in which the lash was a merciless instrument in the hand of
authority; flogging was as common in the navy as for civilians. Marsde
n’s childhood as a blacksmith’s son and his own rugged strength may have
had something to do with his severity; his strong ingrained belief that
a vigorous discipline was the only way to preserve morality may have had
more to do with it; and his recognition of the abnormal character of a
convict community may have had most of all to do with it.,’
* Judd & Cable write in ‘Sydney Anglicans’: ” Order became the
fixed point for Marsden – it was God’s will for the world and an urgent
necessity for NSW. It was the prime motive in his pulpit denunciations
of sin, where anti-social acts were his main target, his severity on the
bench as a magistrate and his insistence that missionary activity be accompanied
by European work and cultural patterns. The Aust natives did not seem to
conform to those standards; those of New Zealand did. For this reason,
he came to be the apostle to the Maoris rather than the Aborigines.”
* Marsden had good personal relations with Hunter, King and Bligh but
considerable conflict with Macquarie and Brisbane. Remained in ongoing
hostility with MacArthur.
* Consecrated churches in Parrammatta (1803), at Church Hill (1810),
in Windsor (1821), in Hobart (1823) and in King St (1824)
* Became Vice-President of NSW Auxiliary of British & Foreign Bible
Society which was formed March 1817
First President of NSW Auxiliary of Church Missionary Society. (Started
8th Feb 1825). It’s first project to promote missionary work among aborigines
and first two missionaries began their work in the Wellington Valley in
1832. This later failed because of local opposition and dispute among the
* Sole charge of St Johns Parrammatta until 1837.
Responsible for affairs of C of E during Broughton’s absence in England
from 1834 to 1836.
Died 12th May 1838 in Windsor.
He became a legendary figure in the generation after his death. Mrs
Barker who arrived in Sydney in 1855 soon described what she had heard:
Marsden, being a household word among the older settlers here, a man greatly
beloved” (quoted by Loane)
This is in contrast to his ‘flogging parson’ reputation among the wider
3.6. Descriptions of Early Sydney by Christians:
* Building up a nation of crime, a curse and a plague and a by-word
to all the people of the earth…
* ‘An awkward and uncomprising corner of the Lord’s great house’. (Johnson)
* ‘Truly a wicked people – sin abounds of all kinds and amongst all
ranks too much -God and religion set little store by’. (Johnson)
* Convict constabulary threatened convicts if they attended church which
was forbidden territory (1793)
* Convicts practised ‘gaming’ within 100 yards of church while service
* ‘Sabbath’… .was profaned as a day particularly appropriated to gaming,
intoxication and the uncontrolled indulgence of every vicious excess” (Dr
* ‘Satan’s Kingdom’ -( Marsden)
* First service for Marsden (1794) preached on breaking of Sabbath –
greeted with ribald laughter and derision
* 1793/5 (Grose – Paterson) religious climate at very low ebb….
* ‘Satan hath his agents everywhere and…. do not know one person that
wants the great Physician of souls’ (Marsden – 1795)
* ‘No other place in His Majesty’s Dominions exhibits such disrespect
to the clergy (Marsden)
Mrs Marsden dismayed so few people were susceptible to religious influence.
‘Evidently God has some great design in sending his Gospel to such a dark,
benighted part of the world’.
* Clergy insulted in streets with no form of redress.
* Grose imposed increasingly brutal punishments for non-attendance at
James Bain’s Barrack Church services – also convict women’s heads were
* Both convicts and officials showed little interest in religion
* Under Hunter stricter discipline and compulsory services hardened
an attitude of ‘indifference, cynicism and ridicule into one of bitter
hostility and opposition towards established church and two clergymen….
* Hunter a good and godly Governor trained as a Presbyterian Minister
who wrote and spoke of Christ as his Saviour. ‘A more wicked, abandon’d
and irreligious set of people have never been brought together in any part
of the world’. Saw them as willing to crucify Christ a second time.
* Rowland Hassall – missionary from Tahiti… ‘Here iniquity abounds
and those outward gross Sins which in Europe could render a person contemptible
in the Public eye and obnoxious to the civil law are becoming fashionable
and familiar -adultery, fornication, theft, drunkenness, extortion, violence
and uncleanness of every kind’.
* Convict Irish Priest, Father James Harold did not receive a
drop of Christian charity
since arriving in Sydney. People too busy gratifying their own selfish
* Mrs Marsden.. ..’so little attention paid to clergy that it
made religion appear contemptible…
* By 1800 Marsden very dejected. ‘Satan’s kingdom seems to be
established and his power and influence so universal amongts us, that
nothing but an uncommon display of Almighty power can shake his throne….’
* Clergy nor their property was safe. Robberies and murder.
* Prevailing attitude of convicts and ex-convicts was one of godlessness,
irreligion and anti-clericalism.
* People still had their babies baptised. Strong traditional desire
by women to ‘have the kid done’.
(NB: Marines, sailors, soldiers and officers rather than male convicts
mainly responsible for high rate of illegitimacy)
* By their attitude and example many officers positively encouraged
irreligion and anti-clericalism. ‘It ceases to be deemed foolishness with
some of them, to scoff at religion and sacred things and treat the Holy
Scriptures of truth with contempt and ridicule’ an artisan missionary,
* Margaret Calchpole, an exceptional convict, 1802….’l grieve to say,
my dear lady,
that this is one of the wickedest places in the world. I have never
heard of one, excepting those of Sodom and Gomorrah, which could come up
to it in evil practises’
* 1794, Thomas Watling, an observant convict artist…’There is scarce
a man without his mistress. The high class first exhibit it; and the low,
to do them justice, faithfully copy it.’
* Marsden 1806..’ .the colony was saturated with convicts and worse,
the spirit of convictism….
* Mrs Marsden began to doubt whether she was still ‘a child of God’.
Nothing seemed to be regarded as sacred
* Concubinage and illegitimacy the rule rather than the exception..
..no one attached any social stigma to concubinage except a few evangelical
churchmen. The offspring officially referred to as ‘national children’.
* ‘Crazy sex ratio’ of the convict colony 347 Men/laO Women (1st Fleet)
* Church attendances remained ‘so pitifully low as to present a perpetual
challenge to the missionary zeal of the evangelicals’.
* (Macquarie 1809)…’The morals of the great mass of the population
are in the lowest state of debasement, and religious worship almost totally
* (T. W. Plummer 1809)….’the whole colony was little better than an
* Macquarie tried to encourage marriage, the keeping of the Sabbath
by closing public houses during church hours and insisting on church attendance
for convicts. Drunks were gaoled.
* Seeds of Christianity continued to fall and wither on stony ground
* ‘Every kind of iniquity indulged in without a blush’.
* Marsden to Samuel Leigh, Wesleyan Preacher: “We must expect great
difficulties in a place where Sin and Satan have obtained such universal
sovereignty, where his kingdom appears to be firmly established, and where
his subjects are unitedly devoted to his interests; however, let us go
on and sound the ram’s horns; the walls of Jericho will fall in time.”
* Bible Society launched in March 1817. Macquarie – Patron and Judge
Advocate Wylde as President. 990 Bibles and 1600 testaments distributed
over 4 years.
* ‘Conviction had bred a race of levellers, who were only happy when
they were laughing cruelly at the misfortunes of others or getting a rise
out of the pretentious, and sneering at all the mighty men of renown’.
* ‘Large parties of boys, all strangers to the fear of God, and lacking
any reverence for the mystery at the heart of things, gathered outside
the churches of Sydney on Sunday evenings and blew smoke into the eyes
of the worshippers as they left the church.’ (Manning Clarke)
* Contrast between Sydney and Melbourne sabbaths in the 1840’s
by Russell Ward, historian. Sydney Sunday’s were ‘spent by many in boating,
driving, riding, drinking, visiting etc…’ and ‘most of the churches were
more than half empty’. Melbourne – ‘delightful contrast: the places of
worship are well-attended, the people dressed in their best attire, the
shops shut, the streets as quiet as in an English town, and no visible
symptoms of riot or drunkenness’.
* It was felt that convicts had ‘most polluting consequences’ on Sunday
* Alexander Marjoribanks (1847) – ‘fewer than 5000 out of the city’s
ever went to church. ‘The people’, he wrote, ‘do not seem to trouble
* Contrast with Adelaide – The genesis of Adelaide ‘bears the
marks of evangelical religion, pragmatic radicalism and the bourgeois virtues
of prudence, industry and respectability’. Within 10 years of its existence
it was renowned more for its churches than for its sly-grog shops.
3.7. Attitudes to Clergy and Church
Convicts and ex-convicts:
– indifferent, distrustful and hostile
despised prisoners who, in their eyes, deserted the ranks to become
viewed with contempt chaplains easily humbugged by false piety
hated compulsion associated with church parades and meaningless ritual
sheer physical survival took precedence over the study of scripture,
hymns and prayers
Early clergy were:
often ‘bloody new chums’ poorly equipped for job
– came from completely different social background to convicts
early chaplains not just ministers of religion. ..they were officers
of the Crown, appointed by the King and bound by their commissions. Primarily
responsible to their superior officer.. ..worked in quasi-military capacity…
paid by the State and were in no sense ‘called’ by the people. Never
much mutual trust, fellowship or cooperation. Marsden felt happy with this
union between ‘Throne and Altar’.
Early Governors had complete authority over most aspects of official
religious pratice. Manning Clarke summarises the instructions given to
“He was to enforce a due observance of religion and good order among
the inhabitants, and take such steps for the due celebration of public
worship as circumstances would permit he was to take care that the Book
of Common Prayer as by law established be read each Sunday and Holy Day,
and that the Blessed Sacrament be administered according to the rites of
the Church of England’
For prisoners this same man Gov. Phillip possessed powers of life and
Normal church service also used for the proclamation of government orders.
Any chaplain who challenged this was soon reminded of his subordinate rank
to the Governor.
Church was seen as organ of the State.
George Loveless (1837) “Good God, what hypocdsy and deceit is here
manifested! The most cruel the most unjust, the most atrocious deeds are
committed and carried on in the name of rehgion”. He saw C of E clergymen
as men of disturbing power and spiteful habits and so claimed it was dangerous
for convicts to offend them.
Three major steps to a convict’s freedom involved the clergy:
– petition for ticket-of-leave had to be signed by chaplain and principal
magistrate of that district
– same for conditional pardon
– also free pardon
Other privileges for convicts also required chaplain’s signature.
Clergy attended floggings and executions and so were seen as linked
with a barbarous penal system.
Until 1862 there was State aid for churches which meant they were still
very much identified with the official establishment. John Ward, historian,
“Suspicion always attaches itself to a State-aid clergyman; there
seems always to be a something which is not right about him; there is a
chord wanting – the chord of the heart.”
In early days Anglican parsons were appointed as magistrates as was
the custom in 18th Century Britain.
Samuel Marsden served 12 consecutive years as Magistrate in Parrammatta.
Position gave him prestige lacking as a chaplain but lost him any respect
and affection the convicts might have had for him.
He became the most hated clergyman of the convict era – reputation for
Became known as the ‘flogging parson’ by Sept 1800 after having an Irishman
thrashed for not revealing information. There was also something abnormally
cruel in his dealings with female convicts. Altogether the Bench under
Marsden distributed 11,321 lashes and hundreds of years in the gaol gang,
coal mines and Female Factory.
No doubt Marsden was driven by his horror of sin but the convicts only
saw him as a ruthless participant in a vile system. A popular saying at
the time – “He sentences the prisoner on Saturday, admonishes him on
Sunday and flogs him on Monday.”
Government men and reputable members of the community also felt he was
unneccessarily severe and even when no longer a magistrate he was unable
to undo his reputation as ‘flogging parson’ which assumed legendary proportions.
Other Anglican clergymen were magistrates and reluctantly tried to fulfil
the role fairly. They were glad to be relieved of their duties in 1827
when this pratice came to an end.
For generations however the tradition of the ‘flogging parson’ persisted.
As late as 1899 it was recorded that the convicts had thought….
‘the clerical magistrates were generally far more cruel and brutal
than the lay magistrates and this opinion was crystallised into a cant
phrase which was current among the old hands many years later. It was “The
Lord have mercy on you, for his reverence will have none.,’ This phrase
was used on all occasions, whether it was appropriate or not to the sublect
under discussion or the circumstances of the time.”
The tradition of the ‘flogging parsons’ not only passed into the folklore
of the 19th century, but also into the stories, drama, verse and art of
Clergy also seen by convicts and emancipists as:
contemptible, hypocritical moral policemen
servile, sanctimonious spies of those in authority for the preservation
of the existing social order
Against a backdrop of off ical support from various governors, the Evangelicals
– Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian – preached to their congregations
that they should pay ‘due respect, submission and obedience to their superiors’.
Clergymen tried to maintain the status quo from ‘home’ that all gradations
of rank and wealth were divinely ordained – seen as theological clap-trap
by the convicts and emancipists.
At the same time the Evangelicals grabbed every opportunity to denounce
what they regarded as ideleness, wasteful pleasures, trivial amusements
and sinful sports, especially d taking place on the Sabbath.
Christianity was reduced to a repulsive caricature in the press who
said there were too many narrow-minded, negative, bigoted churchmen (sounds
By 1820’s the Evangelicals had a kill-joy, sin-obsessed, God-bothering,
‘wowser’ image firmly established because of their attempts to keep the
Sabbath and their condemnation of drinking, gambling etc.
Often seen as figures of fun and disparagement.
Many clergymen were young, inexperienced, unworldly and naive when sent
to bush parishes. The bushmen ‘did not ask whether his parson was a High
Churchman, he asked whether he was a man’. Unfortunately most were standing
jokes and seen as ‘a regular ninny’.
Most of the early Anglican clergy engaged in secular pursuits, buying
land and running sheep and cattle. The Presbyterians especially tended
to become full-time or part-time graziers.
These secular activities aroused considerable scorn and condemnation
both within and outside the church. The landless Lang denounced the practise
because it gravely compromised the Church in the eyes of the people.
“It identified the worship of God, Th the estimation of the infidel
and the scoffer, with the most severe idolatry of Mammon – the show of
piety with the practice of extortion.”
Numerous ex-clergymen and ex-missionaries became graziers, cattle dealers,
merchants and speculators. Variety of motives:
lost their vocation lost their ‘flocks’
resigned for health reasons
family commitments snared by Mammon
forced to fend tor themselves
During the 1820’s, bond and free sat separately in all Anglican
churches which were regarded as the church of the aristrocracy, of government
officials and of the high and mighty. Many of the clergy, especially Anglicans,
moved in same social world as the gentry.
By this time the convicts and ex-convicts had no interest
in the doctrines and liturgies of ‘Old England’; they felt no need to come
to God in prayer; and they had no desire to wash away their sins in Christ’s
precious blood. There were exceptions, but mostly they were sustained
by mateship. (What a heavy burden of accountability sits on the early
church in Australia….)