|Historical notes: ||The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora.
With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population.
An Anglican Church school was built on the south eastern corner of what is now Oatley Road and Oxford Street during 1847, although it seems that Church services were held within the nearby Victoria Barracks. On 29 January 1856 a number of Paddington’s Anglicans made a deputation to the Lord Bishop to discuss the best means of opening the school as a place of divine worship. The first divine service to be conducted in the Parish of St Matthias was held on 17 February 1856 in the school (also known as Keeley’s school). It was dedicated as a church by the Lord Bishop a week later. Although it was intended to enlarge the building the costs proved beyond the means of the parishioners and so the last service was held in the little church on 3 May 1857. The land on which it stood was resumed by the Water Board as part of the reserve for the Paddington Reservoir, but the school continued to operate as a Church of England establishment until 1881. The site was sold to one Harry Zions and by 1886 the Grand View Hotel was standing on it.
On 2 November 1857 trustees were elected to make application for another grant of land for the purposes of building a new church. Their method of appointment was declared illegal and new trustees were appointed on 24 May 1858. Land was given (though apparently not formally granted at this time) to the Church in exchange for the earlier property and was formerly part of the Sydney Common. The Sydney Common was proclaimed on 5 October 1811 and dedicated on 5 October 1866 under the Sydney Commons Improvement Act, which appointed the Municipal Council of Sydney trustees. The Act empowered the Council to sell a portion of the Common lands. The money raised was to go towards improving the remainder of the Common, renamed Moore Park in 1871. The affected land was (and is) contained by Oxford Street, South Dowling Street and Moore Park Road.
On 14 December 1858 Edward Bell, a member of the church committee, produced drawings and a specification for St Matthias Church. Bell (1812-1875) was born in England and trained as an engineer. He gained a diverse range of professional experience in places such as New York, Amsterdam and Egypt. He established his own practice in 1840 and worked extensively on railways, docks and waterworks. He supervised improvement of navigation on the River Volga in Russia in the first half of the 1850s. Imprisoned during the Crimean war, on his return to England his health had deteriorated to the extent that he immigrated to New South Wales, arriving in Sydney in January 1856. He was quickly appointed City Engineer and then City Surveyor. He resigned due to disputes with the Municipal Council and set up his own practice around 1871. However, his health further deteriorated and he subsequently returned to England where he died.
Bell offered his services without charging for them, as a way of making a donation to the church building fund. Work seems to have commenced shortly afterwards. The foundation stone was laid on 24 March 1859 by the Lord Bishop. In July or August 1859 Bell resigned after an altercation with the committee but withdrew his resignation after rather less than two weeks. He finally resigned later that year and the committee appointed James Cowlishaw as architect. The church was duly completed, the first service being held within its confines on the day it was opened by Bishop Barker on 26 May 1861.
The organ in St Matthias’ was built by J W Walker & Sons in London, in 1876-77. This famous firm exported about 40 instruments to New South Wales in the 19th century, all treasured for their high mechanical quality, solid materials and forthright sound which made them very effective in their main role of supporting congregational singing. (Materials included well-seasoned oak, mahogany and pine, as well as cast iron and ivory). The firm of J W Walker was founded by Joseph William Walker in 1828, and rapidly developed to become one of the most successful and significant firms in the United Kingdom. Still in existence today (at Brandon, Suffolk), the firm exported more organs to Australia than any other, eclipsing their major rival - Hill & Son - of Sydney Town Hall fame.
The Paddington organ (the firm’s Job Number 1084) arrived in August 1877 on the ship Hawkesbury, and was installed in the church by the local organ builder William Davidson. It was a small instrument of 2 manuals and pedals of only 12 stop and 2 couplers.
The prominent and influential architect Edmund Blacket was approached by the committee at the end of 1862 to provide an opinion as to the cost of proposed alterations and eventually designed and supervised construction of a porch and turret on the northern side of the church, which appear to have been completed by October 1863.
The ministry at St Matthias was taken over in 1868 by the historically significant Reverend Zachary Barry (1827-1898). Of Irish birth, he had first arrived in Australia in 1853, where he served as a government chaplain in Western Australia. For reasons of health he returned to Ireland but was persuaded to return to Australia and arrived in Sydney during 1865. He was chaplain at Victoria Barracks and maintained a popular, well run ministry at Paddington until 1893. Barry was an effective public speaker, a militant protestant and a major proponent of secular education in New South Wales. In 1874 he assisted in the foundation of the Public Schools League, which contributed to the passage of the Public Schools Act of 1880.
The church land appears to have been formally granted to William McCarthy, Frederick Oatley, Prosper Matthews and Richard Westaway (presumably trustees for St Matthias) on 1 June 1872. There were two grants - 3 roods were granted for the erection of a church and 1 rood was grated for the site of a rectory. In 1915 the title to the land was registered in the name of the Church of England Property Trust Diocese of Sydney.
A Rectory is thought to have been designed by architect Benjamin Backhouse and completed around 1873. Backhouse (1829-1904) was born in England and immigrated to Victoria in 1852, where he practised as a builder then as an architect at Geelong and Ballarat. He returned to London then came back to Australia where he established an architectural practice in Brisbane. In 1868 he moved to Sydney and established a large office, with branches in Bathurst and Newcastle. Backhouse served as secretary of the Institute of Architects of NSW in the years 1871 to 1873, joined the City of Sydney Improvement Board in 1879 and was its chairman between 1880 and 1892. He also helped to form the Sanitary Reform League in 1880.
In June 1874 it was moved to complete the nave of the church, which was apparently designed by an architect by the name of Mr Dave. Some years later Benjamin Backhouse was engaged once again, this time to design the Church Hall, which was built circa 1882. This followed from the decision made the previous year to sell the school house in Oatley Street. During the 1870s and 1880s Backhouse received a number of commissions for churches and church halls. Perhaps his finest church was All Saints Anglican Church in Petersham, completed in 1871. His church halls seem to have been fairly standardised - the hall at St Matthias is similar to his earlier St Peters in East Sydney (1872).
St Matthias must have played an important role in the lives of many of Paddington’s residents, for by 1890 just under half of the suburb’s population was Anglican. In 1895 or the first quarter of 1896 it was reported that the majority of branches associated with the church were growing and "more vigorous now than ever before". Part of this was reflected in renovations made internally and externally to the building and the installation of “modern seats of the most approved pattern”. Gas lighting was also installed, and the renovated church reopened for services on 30 August 1895.
A stone fence and memorial gates were designed by Arthur Blacket, son of Edmund Blacket, to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII and the consecration of the church in 1902. The fence and gates were erected along what was then the northern (Oxford Street) boundary of the site.
The Church of England Property Trust Diocese of Sydney became the registered proprietor of the property around 1915.
To meet the requirements of a larger congregation, the organ was enlarged in 1919 by Sydney builder Charles W. Leggo, to its present size of 16 speaking stops and four couplers. This was C.W. Leggo’s first major contract, after severing his partnership with G.C. Griffin, and was thus an important milestone in this builder’s output, which spanned almost three decades to 1945. Leggo was the most significant Sydney organbuilder between the two World Wars and he completed some 33 contracts during this period. Leggo applied tubular-pneumatic actions to sections of the organ (notably the pedal), and the casework was rebuilt to incorporate the original Walker façade pipes. The work was done in a totally sympathetic style, retaining all Walker pipes and virtually all the original console components, including keyboards, keycheeks, music desk, stopknobs (with original hand-engraved ivory discs), pedalboard, swell control and iron composition pedals. Owing to heavy wear from constant use for services, weddings, funerals, concerts and civic services, the organ required an overhaul, carried out in 1946 by J.F. and M.D. Stephen. No changes were made to the organ at this time..
A new rectory was designed in 1927 by architect A W S Mowle. The proposed works comprised a substantial two storey brick building with a steeply pitched slate roof and a single car garage designed to harmonise with the rectory.
In February 1940 the eastern end of the church grounds, including the original Rectory, was sold to Dr Cyril Mackintosh, then in May 1961 the title to a strip of land extending along Oxford Street was transferred to the Commissioner for Main Roads. Meanwhile, during the 1950s part of the Hall was occupied by the Post Master General’s Department. The Church Hall suffered the destruction of its façade, which was rebuilt with the loss of original detailing. The 1902 fence and gates were also a casualty of the road widening.
Owing to its excellent tonal qualities, the organ was recorded by Michael Dudman (Organist of Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle) in 1982 for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, as part of the series, "Historic Organs of Sydney". One work, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott BWV 680, from the Clavier-Übung III, was later transferred to compact disc under the Walsingham Classics Label AAD, in the Great Organs of Australia Series.