Sydney Architecture Images- The Rocks



Edmund Blacket


20 Grosvenor Street Church Hill, Sydney (on the corner of York, Jamison and Clarence Streets)




Victorian Academic Gothic English Gothic Perpendicular




In January 1788 eleven ships and their companies, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip RN, and carrying 759 people arrived on the east coast of what is now Australia to establish a penal colony. The Chaplain of this, the First Fleet, was the Rev Richard Johnson and he conducted the first Christian service in Australia on 3 February 1788. 

The wattle and daub church built by Johnson in 1793 was burnt down in 1798. A new stone church named St Philip's was opened in 1810, and this was replaced by the current building in 1856. Captain Philip's second in command, and the third Governor of New South Wales, Phillip Gidley King had proclaimed the Parish in 1802.

Although the parish was established in 1802 the foundation stone for St Philip's Church was laid in mid 1848 with the church being consecrated by Bishop Fredric Barker in 1856. The church is located on what has come to be called Church Hill. 

The first two incumbents to minister to the people from the Church were William Cooper, followed by his son William Macquarie Cooper, who served the parish for a total of 60 years. 

Items of interest in the Church are the memorial tablets dotted around the walls; the organ that was installed in 1874; the beautiful seven-light east stain glass windows; and the graceful tower raising 102 feet (31.1 metres) which was a notable Sydney landmark for many years. 

The Historic Perspective

As the original Parish Church of the City of Sydney , St. Philip's has seen the city grow from an English penal settlement into the vibrant, bustling, world city it is today.

For over two centuries those who have worshipped at St Philip's have witnessed incredible change. Not only has the face of the city altered - its buildings, its means of transport, its streets and thoroughfares - but also its people, and their ways.

One only has to read of the ministry of the parish when meeting the needs of a penal colony; its links to the beginnings of the education system; its early work with aborigines and its role in the establishment of law and representative government in New South Wales .

St Philip's was there during the gold rush, the depression of the 1890s, the Boer War, and at Federation. The Parish saw her sons march off to war in 1914 and again in 1939. She buried her parishioners during the great influenza pandemic that followed the First World War. The schools established by St Philip's have educated the city's young.

St. Philip's also watched as people moved out of the city and into the suburbs only to visit the city as workers in the office blocks and to shop.

Now the church is in its third century of ministry the role is changing again. The city remains, tourists come and go and people are returning to the city to live. Where offices stood, now we see apartments.

St. Philip's has shared much of the life and times of Sydney... and the people and families it serves. St Philip's - a living, vibrant place, bringing Christ to the city it calls home.

The Original St. Philip's

Sydney's first church was a wattle and daub chapel built at what is now the corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets. It was in this building that Australia's first Christian service in a building took place on 25th August 1793.

A T-shaped building, with a thatched roof and an earthen floor, it could seat 500. During the week it served as a schoolhouse where the Reverend Richard Johnson, the colonial chaplain, and his wife, Mary, taught between 150 and 200 children.

Chaplain Johnson took the Word to the aboriginal people and the convict population held him in deep affection. Yet on the evening of 1st October 1798 his chapel was burnt down.

Later that month the Governor, John Hunter, initiated work on what he saw to be a substantial stone church. It was to rise on land at Church Hill in what is now Lang Park. Just across the road from the present church.

On 1st October 1800, prior to his being sworn in as the new Governor, Captain Philip Gidley King laid the foundation stone on what was to become the first St Philip's. In 1802 he proclaimed Australia 's first two parishes as St Philip's ( Sydney ) and St John's ( Parramatta ).

'Old' St Philip's served Sydney from this date until 27th March 1856 when the present church was consecrated.

The first St Philip's (1798 - 1856) was built on what is,
today, Lang Park

Image from the book "Sydney in 1848"

Education became a State responsibility in 1880 however St Philip's continued the work commenced by Richard and Mary Johnson in the wattle and daub chapel. St Philip's Church School opened in 1812. As well, the church commenced 'ragged schools' for orphans and in 1845 an evening school for young men. St Philip's Grammar School opened in 1850.

And in passing, the original church had become the first church building to be lit by gaslight in Australia in 1841.

The Current Building

New South Wales ' fourth Governor, William Bligh, worked hard for an early completion of the church - which was dedicated to the memory of St Philip the Apostle. It is a strongly held view that Bligh would not have been deposed had the colony's then Principal Chaplain, The Rev Samuel Marsden, been in Sydney at the time. He wasn't; for he was in England recruiting clergy for the colony.

The choice as the Assistant Chaplain, who was to become the first (and only Rector) of 'old' St Philip's, was the 28 year-old The Rev William Cowper.

Cowper arrived in Sydney on 18th August 1809, with his second wife (his first having died shortly before his appointment) and four young children. He preached his first sermon in St Philip's on 20th August, within 48 hours of his arrival.

Rev William Cowper, who was Rector of St Philip's for 49 years. His son -William Macquarie Cowper - the first clergyman to be born in the colony followed him as Rector for 11 years.

In the chancel of the current church there is a tablet to the memory of the Venerable William Cowper, who in his 49 years as the Rector of both the first and second St Philip's is remembered as one " who gave himself wholly to the work of the ministry".

Among his distinguished children were Charles Cowper (later Sir Charles), five times Premier of New South Wales and the Very Reverend William Macquarie Cowper for 44 years the Dean of Sydney and the second Rector of St Philip's.

Map showing the relationship between the old and new St. Philip's

St Philip's - Birthplace of a Nation's Faith


The modern-day St Philip's can justify its claim to be the finest example of Gothic architecture in any parish church in Australia.
The foundation stone of the current St Philip's was laid on 1st May 1848, by the Rector, Reverend William Cowper.

Work was delayed during the gold rush, when the workers forsook their tools for the goldfields in 1851. However, Bishop Barker, Bishop of Sydney and Archdeacon Cowper consecrated the new church building on 27th March 1856. It had cost sixteen thousand pounds, entirely raised by the congregation.

The church's architect was Edmund Blacket, in fact it was the last church to be designed by him in the classic English Gothic Perpendicular style, a style also to be used, by him, for Sydney University and St Andrew's Cathedral. It has been said St Philip's has an impressive homogeneity whereby everything from the window tracery to the mouldings on the base of the columns being correctly 15th Century in style.

The current building was consecrated in 1856.
This picture taken, we believe, in the 1890s or early
1900s, shows the once extensive churchyard setting.

It is thought that Blacket made the main body of the church's stained glass windows. Whilst the East Window was imported from England and cost 200 pounds.

1873 saw the arrival of a new organ, to replace the original item mounted in the west gallery Blacket placed the new organ in a separately roofed organ chamber on the northern side, near the choir.

1890 saw great renovations at St Philip's. In that year the pews were modernised and the chancel and aisles tiled, at the same time the current pulpit and reading desk were installed along with a Gothic reredos (which replaced the original commandment boards which can now to be in the west porch).

The tower has ten bells.   The original peal of eight was donated by the Hon. John Campbell in 1872, a ninth bell was added in 1888 to commemorate the centenary of the founding of the Colony of NSW.   The tenth being installed 1898 in remembrance of Charles Moore.   If you would like to know more about the White Chapel Foundry then
click here.

The current church in more recent times - the city is closing in.

Number six bell being replaced on 10 April 2001 , this bell was made by the same foundry as the originals - The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London , UK . This company is said to be the oldest bell manufacturer in the world, and Britain's oldest company in continuous existence, dating from 1570)

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