On the corner of Bligh & Hunter Streets in Sydney lies Johnson Square. Within it stands a monument marking the location of the first church building and commemorating the first church service held in Australia on February 3, 1788.
Sadly, only five years after its opening in August 1793 the church building was burnt to the ground. Allegedly a group of disgruntled convicts angered by decree from Governor Hunter requiring all residents, including officers and convicts to attend Sunday services, had set it alight.
Although it was made of wattle and daub construction with a dirt floor, thatched roof and plank seats the building could seat 500 and was the culmination of years of frustration by the first Christian minister in Australia.
Richard Johnson, an Anglican priest, was appointed chaplain of the prison colony at New South Wales in 1786 largely due to the influence of evangelical Anglican reformers Newton and Wilberforce. Keen to have a committed evangelical Christian as chaplain in the colony, they recommended Johnson who at the time was working in London as an itinerant evangelical preacher.
A kind, generous and devout man, Johnson found life in the penal colony very difficult.