St. John's Anglican Cemetery | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


St. John's Anglican Cemetery

Item details

Name of item: St. John's Anglican Cemetery
Other name/s: First Fleet Cemetery; Saint Johns Cemetery; St Johns Cemetery
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Cemeteries and Burial Sites
Category: Cemetery/Graveyard/Burial Ground
Location: Lat: -33.8168671389 Long: 150.9983974290
Primary address: 1 O'Connell Street, Parramatta, NSW 2150
Local govt. area: Parramatta
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Deerubbin
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT5 DP1023282
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
1 O'Connell StreetParramattaParramatta  Primary Address
O'Connell StreetParramattaParramattaSt JohnCumberlandAlternate Address

Statement of significance:

Containing First Fleet Graves.
Association with notable events or people - Monuments. Site possesses potential to contribute to an understanding early urban development in Parramatta and to an understanding of religious belief and burial customs in early NSW.
Date significance updated: 18 May 05
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Construction years: 1790-
Physical description: The cemetery faces O'Connell Street on its eastern side, its only street access. It is surrounded by a high (c.3m) wall of convict-made bricks with an angled 'peak' top, constructed in 1820s AZP Cross Reference: PC 134.

A wych gate with roof frames the entry gates in the centre of the eastern wall.

The cemetery 'floor' is grassed and almost devoid of trees. Three upright conifers - book leaf cypresses / Chinese arborvitae (Platycladus (syn.Thuja) orientalis) frame the central path - in what would have been two pairs.

To the south a large jacaranda (J.mimosifolia) tree and a mature bottlebrush (Callistemon sp.) are the only other trees.

The graves are arranged in rough 'quarters' with a central path and perpendicular side paths.

A single central

A wide range of grave stones, table graves, and monuments mark the cemetery, from the very grand to the very modest. Some grave fencing survives around more grandiose monuments, but generally there is an absence of fencing (Stuart Read, pers. comm., 5/8/2013).
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Physical condition is reasonable although some monuments are in poor condition. Archaeological potential is high.
Date condition updated:17 Jun 16
Modifications and dates: 1820's - cemetery established
Current use: cemetery
Former use: Aboriginal land, colonial cemetery


Historical notes: Parramatta:
The Indigenous people who inhabited the Parramatta River and its headwaters consisted of a number of clans, hordes or families known generally as the Darug Nation. At the head of the river were the Burramattagal clan (or Barramattagal) whose tribal lands included the area of the present day city of Parramatta. The country was highly suitable as a place to live with its ample fresh water, prolific plant and animal life and temperate climate.

European settlement of Parramatta dates from 2 November 1788 with Governor Phillip's settlement of convicts and soldiers at Rose Hill (on the south bank of the Parramatta River, within present day Parramatta Park) to clear and cultivate land to ensure food supplies for the infant penal colony. On 2 June 1791, to celebrate the birthday of King George III, Phillip named the Rose Hill settlement Parramatta, after the Barrumatta clan, noting that the name signified the 'head of a river'. While there seems to have been little conflict between the new settlers and the Indigenous inhabitants at this time in the Parramatta area (unlike Sydney Cove) the Barrumattagal clan were devastated by introduced European diseases, including the 1789 smallpox epidemic. By 1830 there were no known survivors of the Burramattagal clan (Kass, Liston, McClymont: 1996: 4-6, 14-16, 26; Parramatta Council riverside interpretation).

The Anglican Church in Parramatta:
The Chaplain of the First Fleet, Rev Richard Johnson, conducted the first Christian worship in Parramatta on 28 December 1788. Johnson visited Parramatta fortnightly and held services under a tree on the river bank near the present day ferry terminal at the end of Smith Street (St John's, 2005). The service on Christmas Day 1791 was held in a carpenter's shop near Governor Phillip's residence in Parramatta (St John's, 1988, p 5).

Church records from 1789 are kept on-site at the cathedral. The original records are held for baptisms (1789-present), marriages (1790-1823 and 1828-present) and burials (1790-present)(Parramatta Sun Magazine, 2013).

The Rev Samuel Marsden came to live in Parramatta in 1794 and in 1796 he dedicated a makeshift building of two old timber huts at the corner of George and Marsden Streets (the site of the present day Law Courts) as the first church building in the settlement. In a letter dated 17 September 1796 at Parramatta Marsden wrote "A convict hut is almost now ready for me to preach in at Parramatta, the first building of any kind that has ever been appropriated for that sacred use here since I came to the Colony" (Elder, 1932; St John's, 2005).

On 14 September 1798, Marsden wrote about his first service in this church, attended by 12 worshippers (HRNSW, 3, p 487). This reference has caused confusion to historians due to an editor's note (most likely erroneous) which states that this temporary church was "Built where St John's now stands".

The Rev James Samuel Hassall was born in Parramatta in 1823 and lived there during his childhood, being educated at The King's School. He was the eldest son of Rev. Thomas Hassall (1794-1868) and a grandson of Rev. Samuel Marsden (died 1838). Both James Hassall's father and grandfather were in Parramatta during its earliest days and undoubtedly James would have heard about these times from them both. In his reminiscences James twice mentions the old timber church "There had been a church, built of timber, at the corner of George and Macquarie (sic) Streets, but it was gone in my time, and a Court-house built upon the site" and "At Parramatta, the services were held in a carpenter's shop or in the open air, until, on the first Friday in August, 1796, Mr. Marsden opened a church built out of the materials of two old huts. This temporary place of worship stood at the corner of George and Marsden streets" (Hassall, 102, p 11).

Hassall did not name the streets correctly in the first quote with George and Macquarie Streets being parallel and not intersecting. But the additional information that a court house was later built upon the site shows it to correctly be the corner of George and Marsden Streets, as named in the second quotation (pers. comm., Pearce, 2009).

This is likely to be an authoritative location given Hassall's long-term familiarity with Parramatta and his connection to Marsden, his grandfather, who established this first (temporary) church and died when Hassall was 15 (pers. comm., Pearce, 2009).

Services continued to be held every Sunday in this temporary timber church until the first permanent brick church (on the site of the present St John's Cathedral) was opened in April 1803 (pers. comm. Pearce, 2009).

Governor John Hunter was a religious man and was concerned that there were no proper churches (Collins,1975 orig 1798, vol 2, p 260n). On 1 November 1798, Hunter reported he had laid the foundation of a small church at Parramatta (HRA, 1, 2, p 237, 722). It was later claimed that the foundation stone of St John's, the first brick church in Australia, was laid on 5 April 1797 (Hassall, 1902, p 146).

Foundations were also laid for a stone church at Sydney to measure 150 feet long and 52 feet wide. Preparations for 'making a similar building at Parramatta of smaller dimensions' were reported (Collins, volume 2, p 96). A Return of Public Works since October 1796 showed that by 25 September 1800, Hunter had 'Erected an elegant church at Parramatta one hundred feet length and forty-four feet in width, with a room of twenty feet long raised on stone pillars intended for a vestry or council room' (HRA, 1, 2, p 561). The Church was open but not complete in 1800 (Collins, volume 2, p 260n). In 1802, David Collins published a 'Plan & Elevation of a Church Built at Parramatta [sic] New South Wales during the Government of John Hunter Esqr 1800' (Collins, volume 2, p 223).

Governor King proclaimed the two first parishes in the colony on 23 July 1802 being St Phillip's, Sydney and St John's, Parramatta. On 9 November 1802 he declared that the church being built at Parramatta would be named as St John in honour of the former Governor, John Hunter (HRA, 1, 3, p 631). The new St John's was opened on 10 April 1803 when Rev. Samuel Marsden performed Divine Service for the first time, with a service based on 2 Chronicles c. 6 v.18. The church was described as being sizeable, handsome and well finished though the pews were to yet to be installed (Sydney Gazette, 17 April 1803, p 3). The original Church was stuccoed brick.

Governor King reported on 1 March 1804 that when he took control the church at Parramatta 'was just covering in' [i.e. being roofed] but was now complete (HRA, 1, 4, p 471). A sketch of the Parramatta Church in the Banks' papers from 1807 apparently sent by Governor Bligh was inscribed 'Parramatta Church, built of brick and in a very bad state; unfinished in the inside - Stands in a Swamp' (Banks Papers, volume 22, ML A85, p 277). The last notation may explain why there were problems with the stability of the church. Construction of a brick barrel drain from the 1820s onwards from the market place opposite the church (now the site of Parramatta Town Hall) to the river greatly improved the drainage of this vicinity (Higginbotham, 1983, pp 35-7). Continuing problems with the church were reported over the next few years (HRA, 1, 6, p 98, 125, 170).

Andrew Houison claimed that the vestry fell down though did not know when this occurred (Houison, 1903, p 124). No other reference to this event can be found but on 1 August 1810, Macquarie instructed Lt. Durie, Commandant at Parramatta, to detail Richard Rouse to make temporary repairs to the church as directed by Marsden that could be completed 'with little labour and Expense' (SRNSW 4/3490C, p 142). Durie instructed Rouse to do this within the next few days (SRNSW 4/1725, p 322). In 1812, James Harrax was paid (Pounds)110 for 'Repairs' to the church (Wentworth Papers, ML D1, p 29). From 1 October to 31 December 1813, repairs to St John's to the value of (Pounds)431/3/4 were completed (Sydney Gazette, 5 Feb 1814, p 2).

Between 1817 and 1819, twin towers were added at the western end where the vestry had been. The towers were a copy of those at the 12th century Saxon Church of St Mary's at Reculver Church, Kent, England. A campaign to save that church was raging when the Macquaries left England (Kerr & Broadbent, 1980, p 39). Mrs Elizabeth Macquarie showed Lieutenant John Watts, Aide De Camp of the 46th Regiment a watercolour of the church and asked him to design some towers for the church (Macfarlane, 1992, p 38). A watercolour of Reculver Church in the Mitchell Library has a note in Macquarie's hand that he laid the foundation stone on 23 December 1818. Mrs Macquarie chose the plan and Lt. Watts was responsible for implementing the design (ML D337).

The 1803 church and the 1819 towers were both most likely constructed by convict labour.

When listing achievements in the colony, Macquarie noted that at Parramatta, he had ' The Old Church repaired, new roofed, lengthened and greatly improved, inside and out, new Chancel and Spire being added thereto, the Outer Walls stuccoed in imitation of Stone, and the Church Yard enclosed with a neat Paling' (HRA, 1, 10, p 689).

St.John's Cemetery:
Australia's oldest surviving cemetery dating back to 1790. It is the most historic and important cemetery in Australia with graves from the 1788 First Fleet and of well known pioneers, including Governor Phillip's manservant and gardener, Henry Dodd, The Reverend Samuel Marsden, his wife Elizabeth, land holder D'Arcy Wentworth and family, land holders and farmers the Blaxland family and colonial bridge builder David Lennox.

Church records from 1789 are kept on-site at St.John's cathedral. The original records are held for baptisms (1789-present), marriages (1790-1823 and 1828-present) and burials (1790-present)(Parramatta Magazine, 2013).

Charles Fraser, soldier and colonial botanist, who was appointed the first superintendent of the Sydney Botanic Garden by Governor Macquarie in 1816, is buried in St. John's Cemetery, he died in 1831 (Davies, G., 2004, paraphrased by Stuart Read, 9/8/2013).

A new group, Friends of St.John's Cemetery has formed to rejuvenate the graveyard (Adoranti, 2016, 5).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Convict-Activities relating to incarceration, transport, reform, accommodation and working during the convict period in NSW (1788-1850) - does not include activities associated with the conviction of persons in NSW that are unrelated to the imperial 'convict system': use the theme of Law & Order for such activities Burying convicts-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Stone Wall-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages 19th century suburban developments-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Religion-Activities associated with particular systems of faith and worship Practising Anglicanism-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Birth and Death-Activities associated with the initial stages of human life and the bearing of children, and with the final stages of human life and disposal of the dead. Crematoria-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Birth and Death-Activities associated with the initial stages of human life and the bearing of children, and with the final stages of human life and disposal of the dead. Erecting and visiting monuments and memorials-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Donald Gazzard, Architect-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Rev. Samuel Marsden, archbishop of colony-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with David Lennox, Superintendent of Bridges, engineer-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
This item historically significant.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
This item is aesthetically significant.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
This item is socially significant.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
This item is technically or scientifically significant.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0004902 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Icons Project Nomination for SHR listing  21 May 04   
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0004926 Mar 82 461335
Local Environmental Plan  27 Feb 97 20 
Local Environmental Plan  21 Jul 89 844635
Register of the National Estate  21 Mar 78   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
City of Parramatta Heritage Study1993406Meredith Walker  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Electronic  St John's Cemetery Official Website View detail
WrittenAdoranti, Kylie2016'Revival of oldest cemetery - community group forms to help restore the decaying graveyard'
TourismAttraction Homepage2007St John's Anglican Cemetery View detail
WrittenC. Rapp, J.Pearce, J.Roe1988St. John's Parramatta
WrittenDavies, Gillian2004Charles Fraser, 1791-1831: First Colonial Botanist, First Superintendent, Sydney Botanic Gardens', in 'Browned off - Old Gardens in a New World' View detail
WrittenFriends of St.John's Cemetery (group)2016  View detail
WrittenHeritage Division1990Paper File: S90/4090 - St. John's Anglican Cemetery - Parramatta
TourismParramatta City Council2006Cemeteries - Tourism Information View detail
WrittenParramatta Sun Magazine2013Iconic St John's Anglican Cathedral
TourismSt. Johns Anglican Cathedral2006St. Johns Anglican Cathedral View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5051395
File number: H04/91;EF12/6507 H12/6790

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