HOW OLD IS ST JOHN'S?
On 23rd July 1802 St John's was declared an Anglican parish by Governor King.
Before this, great Christian men such as John Newton and William Wilberforce determined that the new colony of NSW should not be without a witness to Jesus Christ and so through their vision and work, the Reverend Richard Johnson was sent to the NSW Colony as Chaplain to the first fleet. As part of his duties, he travelled up the Parramatta River from Sydney on a fortnightly basis and held a service under a tree on the riverbank.
Before this, indeed before creation itself, God determined that there would be Christian men and women in Parramatta who would bear witness to Him and His Son Jesus.
Today, the cathedral complex houses a community of Christians who are proud of their history and their Anglican heritage. Today we worship in four languages; English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Farsi.
While the Reverend Richard Johnson, Chaplain to the First Fleet, came to Parramatta on the fortnightly basis to conduct a service on the banks of the Parramatta River, Reverend Samuel Marsden was the first resident minister of St John's. In 1796 he dedicated a makeshift building of two old huts at the corner of George & Marsden Streets as the first church building in Parramatta. These huts no longer exist.
The original church building on our present site in the Church Street Mall, was opened in 1803 but as the needs of the church family changed, so did the building. The twin towers which stand today were constructed by 1818 making them the oldest surviving part of any Anglican Church in Australia. They are built from handmade sandstock bricks, possibly by convicts, and overlaid with a stucco render giving the appearance of stone. The choice of design is attributed to Elizabeth Macquarie, the wife of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who was inspired by a ruined church in Reculver, Kent in England.
The church building of the early 1800s, except the towers, was demolished in the early 1850s after a severe storm and subsequent deterioration meant that the building was no longer fit for use.
The new building was opened in 1855 and by 1882, the church family had expanded so much that the building needed to be enlarged. The well-known architect firm of Blacket and Son was commissioned to design transepts which completed the building as it is seen today.
The original St John’s church building pre-dates Governor Macquarie but it underwent many changes during his time as Governor. It was re-roofed, lengthened and the twin towers were added as part of his building program.
When Governor Macquarie decided to build the towers he instructed Lieutenant Watts to prepare designs, one of which was copied from a ruined church at Reculver on the coast of Kent in England. Elizabeth Macquarie, wife of the governor, was given the task of selecting the tower design and she chose the Reculver design. The twin towers were built by 1818 and were left intact when the original building was demolished in the 1850s.
The twin towers house the mechanism for the tower-clock (north tower), installed around 1823, and the memorial bells (south tower), installed in 1923.
The cemetery is entered through a lych-gate in O'Connell Street Parramatta (opposite Aird Street). The cemetery is the oldest existing European burial ground in Australia. It is enclosed by a brick wall that dates to 1820.
From the earliest years to late Victorian times the cemetery has seen a huge variety of funerals from the poorest to the most showy and elaborate. Local and Sydney papers of the time tell us that:
" the funeral of D'Arcy Wentworth Esquire took from one o'clock until four o'clock to wend its way from Homebush to the graveside"
and that the Reverend Samuel Marsden was buried
"in his own churchyard at Parramatta and upwards of sixty carriages formed the mourning procession."
For more information about the cemetery download our brochure and self-guided tour notes. The Parramatta Heritage Centre is also a wonderful resource for information on the grave-sites.
Extensive church records from 1789 are kept on-site at the cathedral under appropriate environmental conditions. The original records are held for baptisms (1789 to present), marriages (1790 -1823, and 1828 to present) and burials (1790 to present). Unfortunately the St John's Cemetery trust and the archives hold no information regarding unmarked burials in the cemetery.
Due to the fragile nature of these registers they cannot be photocopied or photographed and are not available for public viewing. On application, our honorary archivist is able to provide a transcript of a particular entry.
It is important to note that information from our registers can only be provided in accord with the provisions of the Federal Government Privacy Act (1988) and the NSW Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act (1998).