St Luke’s Church, Liverpool, NSW
Cnr Northumberland St and Elizabeth Dr, Liverpool, Sydney, NSW, 2170
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On the 7th November 1810, St Luke’s Church was conceived when Governor Lachlan Macquarie directed the acting surveyor to mark out a square at the centre of the proposed town of Liverpool as the site for the building of the new church.
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. St. Luke’s Day, the 18th October, is considered to be the anniversary of this historic church building.
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 centenary, 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.
Nathaniel Lucas’s Headstone Inscription
in the MEMORY OF
who departed this Life
the 28th day of APRIL 1818
Aged 54 years
He left a Widow and a large Family
consisting of Seven sons and Four
daughters to Lament the loss of a
Kind Husband (the rest is missing)
Please Note: Historical information and historical images gathered from the St Luke’s Website