Fremantle Stuff > churches > St John's

Anglican Church of St John the Evangelist

3 Adelaide St, St John's/Kings Square, 1882

The first St John's church, opened in 1843 by George King when WA was in the diocese of Adelaide, stood in the middle of King's Square, facing the Roundhouse Gaol at the other end of High St. The current St John's was built on one side of High St, with the Town Hall on the other, and was opened in 1882. Victoria Hall, 179 High St, was the parish hall of the original church.

Hitchcock: On April 6 [1842] the foundation stone of the old St. John's Anglican Church was laid by Governor Hutt. That church stood in the centre of King's Square, which comprised the block of land bounded on the south and west by Newman Street and William Street, and on the north and east by Adelaide Street and Queen Street, the site of the old church being that portion of the existing High Street which lies between the present church and the Town Hall Chambers. The High Street of that day, therefore, had a church at one end and a gaol at the other.
Mysterious Loss of Territory
The mystery of how the church acquired possession of King's Square was a subject of much controversy in bygone times. Both King's and Queen’s Squares were originally set apart as breathing spaces for the people, but somehow it came about that a church was built in the centre of the former. Eventually it was decided to bisect both squares and run High Street through them. The Church of England claimed and established ownership over the whole of King's Square, and had to be bought out. When the erection of a new church was contemplated, the town bought from the church all that portion of the square south of the present church enclosure, retaining part of it for the extension of High Street and a site for the Town Hall, and selling the triangular portion east of the Town Hall, on which shops were later built. Hitchcock: 28.

Wikipedia: The new church was designed by William Smith in London and built by Joshua James Harwood who was an architect and Chief Inspector of works. James was also a church warden at St George's Cathedral in Perth. His company, J. J. Harwood and Son, used limestone from a quarry in Cantonment Street. The foundation stone was laid by the second Bishop of Perth, Henry Parry, in 1878. Harwood had the church ready to be consecrated in July 1882. Six years later an organ was installed. The bell turret was a later addition to the building in about 1906. Wikipedia.


This is a 2017 photo of a stone to the right of the church door with the date 1879, suggesting that it is the foundation stone and that it was laid in that year, not 1878 as in the Wikipedia entry.


Just around the corner to the right of the above foundation stone is this broad arrow - usually indicating government property - cut into a flagstone. Thanks to Mary Yates for pointing it out.

The first St John's church in the middle of Kings Square, in SM Stout's c1864 photo, RWAHS 3553.

The Church of Fremantle was opened for divine service on Friday last, the 4th instant, amid the thankgivings of hundreds of our brother settlers, many of whom came from distant parts of the colony to be present on this joyful occasion. It was a deeply interesting ceremony, not merely on account of the proceedings of the day, although these were, to the secluded inhabitants of this part of the world, both novel and striking, but with reference also to the future effects of that day's work; effects which we trust and believe will be beneficially felt throughout our little community for ages to come. Among those who testified by their presence the interest they took in the ceremony, were many of our very oldest settlers ; men who remember what Fremantle was fourteen years ago; and who, looking back upon the days when all around them was an unknown and mistrusted desert, must indeed have found their hearts glad at the glorious change, and in thus witnessing the highest proof of civilization and improvement that can be offered by man— the erection, viz., of a place of worship to his Creator. The present edifice, too, is the first Episcopal Church — properly so to be called — that has yet been completed either in Fremantle or Perth, and this, no doubt, served to make the occasion even more than commonly important and imposing. In the much to be lamented absence of the Bfchop, there was of course no attempt at consecration, the procession set out from the house of the Government Resident of Fremantle, headed by the Churchwardens Messrs. Bateman and Davey. Next came the Governor, supported by R. McBride Brown, Esq., the Resident, and followed by the Clergy in full canonicals. A vast number of persons collected together from all parts of the colony brought up the procession, and in this order they reached the Church, which, although containing seats for nearly three hundred persans, was soon crowded to excess. The worship of the day was conducted by the Reverends J. B. Wittenoom, J. H. Wollaston, W. Mitchell, and G. King; the responses being audibly and feelingly pronounced throughout the densely crowded pews. We can not better express our own feelings on this occasion than by here reciting the words of the Rev. G. King, the officiating Chaplain at Fremantle, as they occur in a letter which that gentleman has written to us since the ceremony. Mr. King thus writes : — "Never did I feel more powerfully the pathos of that simple, rapturous exclamation, "Lord, how delightful 'tis to see a whole assembly worship thee," and then the beautifully sublime expression of our venerable liturgy, in spirit and in purity, as in the establishment of its divine and comprehensive adaptation, exhibiting not merely the impress of its heavenly founder's mould, but, carrying out the design conceived in its heavenly founder's first grand model formulary, seemed to inspire our souls with that devotion the Apostles felt, which is still the birthright of the Church of Christ, when "they lifted up their voice to God with one accord." O, if the worship of the Church were received in the spirit, as well as in the letter of her sanctifying service, there would be no scene in the created universe to equal the assembling of ourselves together in the holy sanctuary." The form of prayer consisted of the Church morning service, with the exception of the litany, for which was substituted a variety of prayers proper to the peculiar occasion. These being concluded, the Rev. G. King preached an excellent sermon on the text "Know thou the God of thy fathers" ; in which, after observing how much his gratification at the success of that high moment was mingled with a knowledge of the responsibility that now attached to him, he pointed out, in a forcible and feeling manner, the divine origin of our church establishment, and the great claim it had upon our regards. The building itself is very chaste and pleasing, and reflects great credit on the skill and taste of Messrs. Davey and Harwood, the contractors for the work. The internal arrangement is very complete, and approaches as near the old ecclesiastical design as circumstances would permit; the chandelier is a carving of native mahogany and cedar, presented to the church by Mr. B. Von Bibra. Externally, the structure presents a peculiarly modest yet harmonious form, and the justly-proportioned dome, surmounted by the triumphant emblem of our redemption, smiling back upon the wilderness beyond, strikes upon the eye, as well upon the mind, with a pleasing and salutary effect. The site of the church has been well selected. Standing in the centre of King's-square, it commands the entire view of the main street of Fremantle, at the extremity of which the majestic "Arthur's Head," with the various buildings on its summit, full in view, forms a prospect only to be surpassed by that which the beautiftul church itself exhibits when viewed from the same bold headland. To the ladies and gentlemen forming the choir of the Perth Church, by whose exquisite performances the service of the day was admirably sustained, the warmest acknowledgments are due. Several very beautiful hymns were sung during the service, and one in particular, the celebrated "Denmark Hymn," we never expected to have heard so well executed in a choir having such small means at its disposal. Neither, assuredly, must we forget to record the disinterested and praiseworthy conduct of our fellow townsmen Messrs. Gray, Morton, and Dyer, in equipping and sending forth some half-dozen boats for the gratuitous conveyance of the visitors from Perth, and others living at a distance from Fremantle. Such acts as these, done by comparatively poor men, are indeed grateful evidences of the right feeling that was awakened by the occasion, and richly deserve a place in our humble records. The offerings collected in the Church amounted to £46 0s. 4d., which will be appropriated towards the discharge of the debt incurred in the building. The new church is to be called St. John's. We cannot conclude our notict of this most gratifying event without expressing a fervent hope that the great success which has thus attended the exertions of our friends at Fremantle may operate as a stimulus in hastening the completion of the new Church in Perth. Disguise it from ourselves as we may, we may rest assured that the want of a church in the metropolitan town of the colony is a national disgrace ; a disgrace to us as colonists and as Christians. By the word church, we of course mean a proper and sacred edifice exclusively set apart for the worship of God. Episcopal churches have been raised even in the most remote parts of the colony; but in Perth—while the Wesleyans have their proper and sacred place of worship— the Church of England is driven to take shelter where it may and its followers, all numerous and influential as they are, are still content to assemble in a building which, six days out of the seven, reverberates with law quibbles, and even with more unholy echoes. How long will our brother settlers consent that this worse than heathen neglect shall remain as a reproach to us! Latterly something more of activity has been shown, but much remains to be done, and many sacrifices to be made, before the inhabitants of this town can participate in the same pure joys as those which our friends at Fremantle now experience. Inquirer, Perth, Wednesday 9 August 1843: 3.

St John's Church Choir in 1914. They are sitting beside St John's Anglican Church, Melbourne Road, Perth, which later became Milligan Street. Motor House was later built on the site.
Fremantle Library photo #5383; thanks to Pam Harris for identifying the church.

An archeological dig in St Johns Square on the site of the old church was conducted 15-21 January 2018. I think some indications of the results have been left in the paving.

References and Links

Hitchcock JK, 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council: 28.

Wikipedia page, whence the top photo, and some of the text above.

Garry Gillard | New: 24 September, 2014 | Now: 20 January, 2021