Our History

A history of St John’s Anglican Church

Church building

After the death of John Macarthur in 1834, the first registered land title for the new Camden township was for the nominal sale by his sons, James and William, in May 1841 of 2.4 ha to the Bishop of Australia, Rev William Broughton, for the erection of a Church, a residence for a clergyman and a burial ground.

The colonial government contributed £1,000 towards this early ‘Church Act:’ building, the plans being drawn in 1837 by James Hume of Sydney for a ‘classical style’ building. However, his design was abandoned above the 1840 foundation courses in favour of the then contemporary ‘decorated gothic style’ design provided by John Cunningham, an English architect known to the family. The Colonial Architect, Mortimer Lewis, was appointed supervisor. The economic agricultural depression of the 1840’s set back construction, delaying consecration by Bishop Broughton to June 1849.

The now iconic local brick building comprises the western tower with needle spire 38.7m high, nave and chancel, extended in 1874 to the design of Gilbert Scott of London and supervised by prominent Sydney architect Edmund Blacket. The window stone tracery and the floor flagging were cut from a local quarry. The cusped hammerbeam roof trusses were cut from local ironbark trees.

The Church has many fine dedicated stained-glass windows, those earlier are from England, and include two remaining of the original design; later windows are of local design. The prominent east window (Clayton and Bell, London) was installed in 1874 and depicts the Transfigured Christ framed by a Latin inscription ‘This is my Son—my Chosen—Listen to Him’.

The Organ

The organ and choir gallery to the design of Blacket was built in 1861 by J. Le Fevre. The Organ made c. 1860 by Bates and Son in London is single manual with tracker action, seven ranks of pipes and was originally hand pumped. It is housed in a delightful gothic case having gabled towers with pinnacles and is the only Bates organ in NSW.

This single manual Bates & Son organ is the only one known to remain in NSW and is housed in a delightful gothic case of gabled towers with pinnacles and featuring seventeen dummy gilded pipes. Over the years a number of modifications and changes have been made to the organ.

The music for the earliest services was provided by three flautists – Thomas Cook, Thomas Richardson and William Henry Simpson. In 1855 a Crown Pedal Organ, made by Geo. P. Bent Company of Chicago USA, was installed; this Pedal Organ is now an exhibit in the Camden Museum.

William Macarthur would complain about the quality of the music. The gallery for the organ and choir, at the west end of the nave, was built in 1861 by John Le Fevre to the design of Edmund T. Blacket, and paid for by public subscription. The organ was purchased in England about the same time and was a gift of Emily Macarthur, the wife of James Macarthur. Henry Pollock Reeves, the schoolmaster, was the first organist and continued for 33 years.

The Clock and Bells were dedicated in 1897 as a gift from Elizabeth Macarthur-Onslow. The chiming clock with three 1.8m dials and 1.5m long bed frame was made by Gillett and Johnston of London; originally hand wound but now automatically wound by electric motors.

The peal of 8 bells, the largest weighing 710 kg was made by Mears and Stainbanks of London. The bells can be played by two hands pulling numbered ropes on an ‘Ellacombe’ frame.


The contract for alterations to the tower was given to James Downie Rankin, builder of Camden who also served as an Alderman on Camden Council. His place of business was at the rear of Clifton Bros in Argyle Street. Rankin had arrived in Camden in 1887 and was not only a builder but also the undertaker and later a publican in Camden and he also had a timber yard.

The clock was made by Gillett & Johnston, Steam Clock Factory, & Church Bell Foundry, of Croydon, London. The bells were cast by Mears & Stainbank of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

Based on these recommendations, in 1896 Elizabeth Macarthur-Onslow purchased the turret clock and peal of eight ringing bells of the best metal and quality of sound, and perfectly harmonized.

The dedication service for the clock and bells was held June 21, 1897 in the presence of a large congregation. The date of the dedication was especially chosen to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and her 60 years upon the throne. The service commenced at 11:00 a.m. and was conducted by the Rev. Cecil John King who preached on “loyalty”. The clock was made ready to start and then the pendulum was stopped by tying it to the side with a long cord which reached from the clock chamber down into the church. The honour of cutting the cord and starting the clock was given to James Kinghorne Chisholm of Gledswood who was one of the church wardens. As 12:00 noon approached he cut the cord allowing the pendulum to start swinging. The clock chimed noon for the first time, and at the same time a loud peal of bells rang out.


In 1895, whilst staying at Send Grove, Send, Surrey, England, the ancestral seat of the Onslow family, Elizabeth Macarthur-Onslow employed Fred G Knight of Great College Street, Westminster to act as the London agent for the Camden Park Estate in the purchase of both the clock and bells and the forwarding of the materials to Camden. Prior to her departure for England she had commissioned Sulman & Power of Mutual Life Buildings of George and Wynyard Streets, Sydney to thoroughly examine the church tower and report on its strength and suitability. Sulman & Power, the leading architects of the day, reported that the tower would support a 60 cwt. peal.

The full peal of bells are rung by hand by means of a separate set of internal clappers with the operating mechanism being the Ellacombe (a frame to which the eight bell ropes are attached) located on the first level of the tower on the raised platform behind the organ.

Each of the bells is inscribed –

  • F (Treble) 4 3 25 (253kg): John & Elizabeth Macarthur “Te Deum Laudamus”
  • E 5 1 6 (269kg): Children of John & Elizabeth Macarthur “They have but left our weary ways to live in memory here in heaven by love and praise”.
  • D 5 3 17(300kg): James & Emily Macarthur “Whose faith and works were bells of full accord”
  • C 7 0 11 (361kg): Arthur Pooley & Rosa Onslow “Content to fill a little space if Thou be glorified”.
  • B Flat 8 0 4 (408kg): Arthur Onslow “Ring in the love of truth and right. Ring in the common love of good”
  • A 8 2 0 (432kg): Children of Arthur & Elizabeth Onslow “Blest angels, while we silent lie, your Hallelujahs ring on high”.
  • G 10 2 12 (539kg): “For peaceful homes and healthful days, for all. The blessings Earth displays, we owe thee thankfulness and praise , Giver of all”
  • F Tenor 13 3 26 (710kg): “Praise God from whom all blessings flow: Praise Him, all creatures here below, Praise Him above, ye heavenly host – Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost”.

Gates and Fences

The Lych Gate and Picket Fence at the Menangle Road entry to the grounds was given in 1912 as a memorial to Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur-Onslow.
The Gates and Boundary Fencing of some 550 metres, were given in 1935 by Mrs Faithful Anderson.

The flight of Steps and iron Railings leading up from John Street were given in 1935 by General J.W. Macarthur-Onslow.

The electric Luminaire specially made of copper, was erected over the steps in 1935 as a memorial (now lost).

The Sundial originally made for Riley’s property at Glenmore in 1861 was purchased in 1922 by Brigadier-General G.M. Macarthur-Onslow and later donated to the Church in 1953, and fully restored in 1996.

Columbarium and Cemetery

The group of columbarium walls includes a memorial garden dedicated in 1964. The historic Cemetery, now closed, dates from 1844. The location of the 900 grave sites and nearly 1900 interments is detailed in a 185 page book ‘If Gravestones Could Talk’ by J. Johnson. You can visit our cemetery onlinehere.

The Rectory

The Rectory and Coach House were built in 1859 by James and William Macarthur. The two storey Georgian Style Rectory has an attached single storey kitchen wing, and shuttered 12 pane sash windows and French doors; the roof is slate. A recent extension provides a large family room and the original east front veranda has been reinstated. The Rectory is a private residence and not open for inspection.

In 1906, the Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd, gave the Rectory and 2.4 ha of surrounding lands, now 0.9 ha, to the Church Property Trust. The 1 .1 ha grass slope between the Rectory and the Church was acquired in 1911 and was used as the Rector’s horse paddock.