St Thomas' Church is situated on what was known as Church Hill, a large block of land overlooking the city centre of Port Macquarie. The Church presents itself as a simple structure in both form and fabric. The building is of classical orthogonal form with symmetrical facades, rectangular tower with battlemented parapet, and pointed arch windows. The construction is of Flemish bond convict-made bricks, timber windows and doors and a tiled gable roof. The overall form is deviated only by the vestry to the south, itself a simple smaller version of the nave - a rectangular brick structure with tiled gable roof. The scale of the Church is grand yet gentle in its surrounds overlooking a spreading landscape. St Thomas' may be described as old Colonial Gothick picturesque. Key style indicators at St Thomas; include the symmetrical faade, tower, battlemented parapet, pointed arch motif and timber tracery.
Georgian in style, rectangular in plan with a square tower at the west end. Roof to tower is a flat membrane, with battlemented parapet. Constructed of Flemish Bond face brickwork with lanclet windows. Gabled roof form is in terracotta tile. Distinctive convict markings (such as frogs, and tally bricks) can be seen in the brickwork adjacent to entry door. Copper gutters and downpipes. Cedar joinery throughout interior.
The finger and barrel organ is of one manual, five stops, pedals permanently couples to the manual keys, with mechanical (tracker) action. The organ has a keyboard compass of 54 notes and a pedal board of 20 notes.
Refer to Conservation Management Plan for details of movable heritage.
The immediate landscape of the Church grounds is dominated by several Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla), in various stages of maturity. The site's landmark setting is enhanced by three large Norfolk Island pines planted c.1860 by the three stepsons of Reverend Kemp, as his memorial. (Heritage Office, 2003). Other trees include several large Norfolk Island hibiscus (Lagunaria patersonae) and many Umbrella trees (Schefflera actinophylla) along western boundary. Several eucalypts and some palms line the boundary to Murray Street and various native shrubs and trees line William Street. Original access paths. Convict retaining walls. Rolling lawns.
Colonial Chapel of Christ the Healer (former Dispensary/School Hall)
A single storied rectangular brick building with hipped metal roof and double hung multipaned windows.
The Office (former Surgeon's Residence and Rectory)
A single storied brick house with hipped metal roof with a verandah on three sides. It was substantially altered in 1937 and a new masonry verandah wall and portico added while the second storey was demolished.
Note: for detailed descriptions please refer to the Conservation Management Plan prepared by Suters Architects Snell P/L:1999.
1818 - Hastings River discovered by Oxley.
1821 - Port Macquarie established as a peal settlement.
1821 - Dispensary (now Colonial Chapel) and Surgeons Residence (now Parish Office) built.
1824 - Captain Rolland dies and buried in the nave, laying of the foundation stone.
1827 - Church building completed.
1828 - Church opened for public worship, nave used as school.
1830 - Port Macquarie opened to free settlers.
1832 - Tower flooded.
1839 - Church partially destroyed by hurricane.
1844 - Gallery added.
c1844 - Vestry added.
1846 Original brick floor tiles replaced with paving bricks brought from Woolloomooloo.
1847 - Surgeon's residence and Dispensary transferred from Crown to Church
1854 - Shingle roof destroyed by hurricane and replaced.
1857 - Lath & plaster ceiling replaced with cedar boarding.
1857 - Walker organ installed.
1858 - Gallery extended across western windows.
1883 - Shingled roof replaced with corrugated iron.
1897 - Church badly damaged by hurricane.
C1900 - Gale unroofed Church
1905 - Aisles cemented.
1906 - Leadlight window depicting St Thomas donated.
1923 - Roof pitched higher, fitted with terracotta tiles
1924 - Chancel floor concreted
1962 - Wurlitzer organ gifted to Church by Dr R and Mrs Lane
1970 - Gallery rebuilt to its original design and Walker organ relocated to Gallery.
1970 - Spiral staircase built in tower. Wurlitzer organ sold.
1977 - Platform in SW corner of nave built.
1983 - Illuminated cross installed on tower
1984 - Hailstorm destroyed terracotta roof tiles (totally replaced)
1987 - Stained glass window of St Thomas damaged by vandals
1988 - Tower clocks donated and installed. Conservation works to northeast quadrant of box pews.
1999 - Remaining three box pews restored.
(Suters Architects Snell P/L: 1999 pp22) (History of St Thomas' Church revised version 2000)
Physical condition of Church is generally good. Archaeological potential is high.
The town of Port Macquarie was discovered by the Surveyor-General John Oxley in 1818. Lachlan Macquarie, then Governor of New South Wales, was impressed by reports of the area noting its valuable timber reserves, its suitable farm lands, and its seaboard location for ready passage by ship to and from Sydney, and thus established Port Macquarie as a penal settlement in 1821. It was one of only two places for secondary punishment of convicts in New South Wales outside Sydney.
The site for Anglican worship in the newly established penal settlement was reputedly chosen by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, although it seems that Governor Brisbane believed that this would not be a permanent arrangement when he wrote that 'the Church was to be so constructed that it could be used for other purposes when no longer required as a place of worship.'
A simple ground plan and elevation of St Thomas' exist and are believed to be 'progress drawing' of the Church. The drawings are signed by the Lieutenant T.H. Owen, Engineer and Inspector of Works in Port Macquarie from January 1825 to September 1827. Little is known about T.H. Owen or if he actually designed the building.
The Church foundation stone was laid by Lieutenant GR Carmac, Acting Commandant also Engineer and Inspector of Public Works, on the 8th December 1824, at a service conducted by the Reverend Thomas Hassall who had been appointed as Chaplain to the settlement in August of the same year.
The building was constructed by convict labour under military supervision and although was completed in February 1827, the first public service of worship was not held in the building until February 1828 upon the arrival from Windsor of the Reverend John Cross. At the time the population stood at 820 souls of which only 153 were free. This began the long and faithful ministry of 'Parson Cross' as he was familiarly known, not only to the people of Port Macquarie but to all who resided on the Hasting, Wilson, Macleay and Manning Rivers for such was the extent of the parish until new ecclesiastical districts were established in 1858 and 1860 respectively.
Just prior to the laying of the foundation stone the Commandant Captain John Rolland had died of sunstroke on 16 November 1824. It has been reported in several old publications 'that if his body was buried in the local cemetery. They (the convicts) would tear it up, as he was so much detested.' Although other reports suggest Captain Rolland was one of the wisest, most competent, kind and enlightened administrator to serve the Colony. The true story appears to be that, as there was no dedicated burial ground in existence at that time (the first burial ground at Allman Hill overlooking the mouth of the Hastings River having been closed prior to Captain Rolland's death and the 'Historic' Cemetery in Gordon Street not opened) the only hallowed ground in the settlement, namely the Church, was considered to be the rightful place in which to lay him to rest. The Commandant was subsequently buried in the precincts of the Church to be, and his grave stone is to be found in the nave under the southeast box pew.
Two other buildings stand within the grounds of St Thomas', namely the Military Surgeon's Residence and the Hospital Dispensary which were also erected by convict labour under military supervision between the years 1821 and 1823. By 1847, both buildings were transferred form the Crown to the Church.
Under the supervision of the Reverend Thomas Hassall, a Church School was established and by May, 1825 it was reported to the Archdeacon of the Colony, Thomas Hobbs Scott, that Gamaliel Farrell was schoolmaster with 56 pupils. When St Thomas' was opened in 1828, the school moved into the nave of the Church and later into the surgeon's dispensary when it ceased to be used by the government medical officer.
A storm in 1839 resulted in the partial destruction of the Church. As the Government would not provide funds, reconstruction of the Church was carried out by local labour with gifts from the community.
In 1840 a seraphine was purchased and no doubt was used in the conjunction with the orchestral instruments. This organ was moved from the north-east corner of the nave into the Organ Gallery which was constructed at the western end in 1844.
In 1854 the shingle roof was destroyed and was reshingled in 1855. In 1856 the existing pipe organ was purchased in London from Walker Brothers in December 1856 and arrived at St Thomas' on 11 June 1857 and placed in the organ gallery. The shingles were replaced with galvanised iron in 1883 which was replaced in 1923 by terra cotta tiles after the roof was re-pitched 4 ft, higher.
In 1897 a hurricane severely damaged the eastern wall of the Church and an extensive appeal to raise funds was held.
Daughter churches of St Thomas' were built and opened at Kempsey in 1858, taree in 1860, Beechwood in 1880, Ennis in 1888, Rollands Plains in 1895, Telegraph Point in 1900, Wauchope in 1900, Rawdon Island in 1906, Ellenborough in 1907 and Pembroke in 1923. Church schools were operated in Port Macquarie from 1824, Taree from 1857, Kempsey from 1858 and Rollands Plains from 1862.
In 1988 the tower clocks were donated and installed and conservation works to the northeast quadrant of box pews completed, with three other quadrants restored in 1999.
Note: for detailed history please refer to the Conservation Management Plan prepared by Suters Architects Snell P/L:1999 and History of St Thomas' Church (revised version 2000).
2002/3 Federal Heritage CHPP grant of $69,883 awarded for works to the site.