Early Christian Ministry

On the 7th November 1810 Governor Lachlan Macquarie stood with a small band of colonists and discussed their hopes and requirements for the proposed town of Liverpool. The acting surveyor, Mr James Meehan was directed to mark out the ground for the town with a square at the centre for the building of the church. Such was the importance of the Christian church in the early 19th century.

Prior to St Luke’s Church Liverpool being built there are records that the Reverend Samuel Marsden, of St John’s Parramatta, had baptised children who had been born in the Liverpool District prior to 1810. The first entries in the original register bear Samuel Marsden’s name against: “Edward Fletcher, born 8th March, 1808, baptised 19th May 1811. Samuel Marsden conducted church services in Liverpool, as he was able. Church services were held in a Government building located in Bigge St. The building also operated as a school.

The first clergyman to be exclusively employed in Liverpool was the Rev. John Youll. In 1816 John Youll was appointed the Acting Chaplain at Liverpool until his residence had been built at George Town, Tasmania. He conducted the first marriage in Liverpool between Robert Burrow and Emma Goodwin, 23rd December 1816. John Youll served the Liverpool area for a period of three years.

Building the church

The founder of St Luke’s Church Liverpool was Governor Lachlan Macquarie. In a letter to Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated 4th April 1817 Macquarie writes,

“A man named Francis Howard Greenway, who came out here in 1814, and who is an architect of some eminence in England, having been recommended to me by Governor Phillip, I have employed him as civil architect. I propose to build a church at Liverpool. I shall give a contract for the building immediately, paying the expenses from the Colonial Fund. I have already had a very neat house erected in Liverpool.”

Francis Greenway, the architect of St Luke’s, had been found guilty of forgery in England and his death sentence was commuted to transportation as a convict to New South Wales to serve his 14 years sentence. Because of his qualifications as an architect he was soon given a ticket of leave and he set up an architectural practice in George St in Sydney Town.

One of the early references to St Luke’s in the Government Orders, Civil Department, 28/11/1818 is a statement regarding payment to William Stone for travelling expenses surveying churches at Liverpool and Windsor.

Nathanial Lucas, who was a convict in the First Fleet, was contracted to build the church at Liverpool. In the “Sydney Gazette” 14th February 1818, in the statement of public accounts it says, “To Mr. Nathanial Lucas, being the first instalment of his contract for erecting a church at Liverpool, £330.”

Given this statement in the Sydney Gazette, it seems that construction of the building had started prior to the laying of the foundation stone. Gov. Macquarie wrote in the April of 1818,

Tuesday, April 7th, 1818. Mrs. Macquarie and our dear boy went in a carriage from Parramatta to Liverpool with Secretary Campbell and Major Antill on horseback. Breakfasted and accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Moore and the Rev. and Mrs. Youll and principal inhabitants to the town, proceeded to the spot and after the ceremony, I laid the foundation stone.

In a later letter Gov. Macquarie wrote,

“This morning … I went through the ceremony of laying the corner foundation stone of the church, naming it ‘St. Luke’s Church’. My dear son Lachlan assisted me in a very active and manly manner to lay the foundation stone of St. Luke’s Church.”

A gift of three gallons of rum was issued to the contractors and workmen.

Francis Greenway had what might be best described as a difficult working relationship with Nathaniel Lucas and quarrelled with Lucas over the quality of the sandstone being used on the building. Greenway alleged that Lucas was much addicted to the bottle, and that he was using very poor stone at the church. During the construction of St Luke’s, on the 5th May 1818, Nathanial Lucas body was found laying in the mud of the river at Liverpool; his death as said, “to have proceeded from his own act, owing to mental derangement.” This claim, however, was never proven. He was aged 54. Nathanial Lucas’ headstone was removed from the first cemetary in Liverpool and is now located adjacent to St Luke’s bell tower.

The contract for St Luke’s was taken over by a Mr James Smith. Francis Greenway’s working relationship with James Smith was no easier. Greenway insisted that Smith’s unsatisfactory work be re-done. This insistence led to James Smith’s bankruptcy. The construction of the bell tower was marred with tragedy when a convict workman hanged himself and three other convicts, while sheltering from a storm in the half finished tower, were struck by lightening and killed.

A number of payments are recorded in the Government orders for the building of St Luke’s. The total cost of the building was £1570. The building was substantially completed during the last quarter of 1819 and opened for its first church service during October 1819. As such, St Luke’s claims to be the oldest standing Anglican Church in Australia.[1] St Luke’s Day, the 18th October, is considered to be the anniversary of this historic church building.


The design and furnishings

St Luke’s Liverpool has a Georgian design that was popular during the late 18th and early 19th century and characteristic of Early Australian Colonial architecture. It was built with convict labour and made out of locally produced sandstock bricks and mainly cedar timber.

The original design consisted only of a rectangular nave, a square bell tower and classical porch. The nave also included a wooden gallery, accessed from stairs in the bell tower, where convicts and orphans school boys where seated during services. Later when the gallery was demolished Spanish coins were found under the floorboards. It seems that the convicts and orphan boys gambled during church services.

St Luke’s very simple and classic style with the pulpit located centrally in the nave made St Luke’s a protestant preaching house, but during it’s history St Luke’s has seen a number of additions. The most significant addition is the chancel and vestry located at the front of the church. During the 1850’s the Oxford Movement, which maybe described as the Catholic revival of the Church of England, had a big impact on the additions to St Luke’s. During the 1860’s and 1870’s the new chancel and minister’s vestry were added. The chancel allowed for the Anglo Catholic emphasis on the sacraments, especially Holy Communion. Consequently the pulpit was moved to the side. Presently the pulpit has been moved back to the central position to reassert the central place of God’s word in the life of God’s people. 

Other changes include the choir vestry added on the south side in the 1890’s. The front porch has been changed twice; the present porch was added in 1923. The plain glass that filled the Georgian style half rounded windows has been replaced with stained glass memorials to early pioneers of the Liverpool district. On the interior walls of St Luke’s you can see a number of memorials to early families of the area including the Bossley and Ashcroft families. There is one memorial to Rachael Moore, wife of Thomas Moore, one of Liverpool’s earliest settlers. Thomas Moore would later become the benefactor of Moore Theological College where men and women train for Christian ministry.


Music at St Luke’s

In the early days of St Luke’s music was provided by a barrel organ that only played 10 tunes. Later this organ was replaced in 1878 with a single-manual, tracker action, with pedal board organ (pictured). The organ appeared to be an English make, but the builder was unidentified. In 1969-70 this organ was sold to Moore Theological College for $1000.

The pipe organ presently used in St Luke’s replaced the second organ. This third pipe organ was purchased from St Paul’s Redfern in 1969 when St Paul’s was sold to the Greek Orthodox Church. The present pipe organ continues to produce some of the great Christian hymns, but Christian music at St Luke’s has moved on from the organ and the procession of a robed choir to give voice to the Christian faith in the 21st century with the addition of piano, drums, guitars, and other assorted instruments.


An Awkward Start

The Rev. Robert Cartwright was appointed as the first Rector (Senior Minister) of St Luke’s Liverpool. Robert Cartwright was a member of the Evangelical Union in England and arrived in Australia in 1810. He first appointment in the colony of New South Wales was Green Hills, now Windsor. Due to financial challenges at Green Hills, he asked to be transferred to Liverpool. When Robert Cartwright arrived in Liverpool in 1819 the church still lacked plaster on the walls and furnishings. Robert Cartwright deemed the schoolhouse inadequate and so on St Luke’s Day, 18th October 1819 the church gathered at St Luke’s Liverpool. The church has gathered here ever since.

In January 1822 the Rev. Samuel Marsden wrote,

“I admit there is one church in the colony in which the litany is read and not furnished with pews and that is at Liverpool. The Rev. R Cartwright, without due consideration, entered that church without pulpit, desk or pews, when I was sent to New Zealand, but he has repented much, ever since for doing so … Mr. Cartwright has been obliged to carry his chairs out of his own house to the church for the accommodation of his people to this very day – if the Rev. R. Cartwright had been guided by the how and the Royal Instructions I have no doubt that he would have saved himself much trouble and anxiety.”

It seems that Robert Cartwright’s hasty start led to St Luke’s consecration being overlooked. In 1956, when Moore Theological College was celebrating it’s 150th anniversary, it was found that St Luke’s had never been consecrated. Archbishop Mowll subsequently consecrated St Luke’s on the 10th March 1956. A brass plaque in St Luke’s marks that occasion.

Since that awkward start on St Luke’s Day 1819 Christians have been gathering at St Luke’s Church. It needs to be said that the history of any church is neither the history of the building nor the history of the ministers who served God’s people. The history of any church is the story of God’s work in the lives of His people who gathered together to encourage each other to live as disciples of Jesus and reach out to others with the good news of Jesus Christ. St Luke’s is no museum piece locked into the early 19th century. St Luke’s Liverpool continues to be an active, growing Christian church for all people in the heart of the city of Liverpool.


Ministers in charge of the Liverpool District

The Rev. Samuel Marsden 1810-1816

The Rev. John Youll 1816-1819

Rectors of St Luke’s Liverpool

The Rev. Robert Cartwright 1819-1836

The Rev. R. Taylor 1837-1838

The Rev. J. Duffus 1840-1845

The Rev. James Gunther (Temporary) 1845

The Rev. F. W. Addams (Temporary) 1846

The Rev. James Walker 1846-1854

The Rev. Charles F. D. Priddle 1855-1895

The Rev. Joseph Shearman 1895-1910

The Rev. H. J. Noble 1910-1919

The Rev. E. Cowper Robinson 1919-1935

The Rev. R. Harley Jones 1935-1941

The Rev. Fredrick H. Meyer 1941-1951

The Rev. Gordon H. Smee 1950-1952

The Rev. Leonard J. Harris 1952-1956

The Rev. John Ross 1956-1981

The Rev. Jim Ramsay 1982-2000

The Rev. Stuart Pearson 2000-present

[1] Despite the fact that the corner stone at St Matthew’s Windsor was laid on the 11th October 1817, due to a number of delays due to the main walls having to be taken down and rebuilt, it was not completed until 1822.