St John the Baptist Church, Reid

St John the Baptist Church is an Australian Anglican church in the Canberra suburb of Reid in the Australian Capital Territory. The church is located at the corner of Anzac Parade and Constitution Avenue, adjacent to the Parliamentary Triangle, and is the oldest surviving public building within Canberra's inner city and the oldest church in the Australian Capital Territory.[1] It has been described as a "sanctuary in the city",[1] remaining a small English village-style church even as Australia's capital grew around it.[2][3] Over time, it became a focal point for Australia's governors-general, politicians, public servants and military leaders,[3] and has hosted royalty on numerous occasions.[4][5]

St John's Anglican Church
Church of St John Canberra-1 (39648211152).jpg
Exterior in 2017
LocationCorner of Anzac Parade and Constitution Avenue, Reid, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
DedicationSaint John the Baptist
Consecrated12 March 1845 (1845-03-12) by William Broughton
Years built1841–1873
Number of spires1 (in 1878)
Bells8 (2m., 16 sp. st., 3c., tr.)
DioceseCanberra and Goulburn
RectorPaul Black
Assistant priest(s)Margaret Emil, Kevin Stone
Organist/Director of musicSheila Thompson OAM
Music group(s)St John's Choir
SacristanMargaret Rodgers

The church remains an active place of worship and a Canberra landmark, although it has now been surrounded by offices and residential buildings. The bells of St John's, cast from the same foundry as the National Carillon,[6][7] are audible from Lake Burley Griffin. St John's Care, a local charity, emergency relief and community organisation affiliated with Anglicare,[8] is based in the church precinct, as is the parish's musical group, the St John's Choir.[9] An annual community fair has been held in the church grounds since the 1930s, with participation from local schools, bands and arts organisations.[10] In March 2020, the church celebrated its 175th anniversary since its consecration in 1845.[11]


West facade with tower
East facade with the east window

St John's is oriented east-west, with the nave to the east and the main entrance (with choir loft and organ above) to the west. The site was chosen by Robert Campbell in 1840, with the support of William Grant Broughton, the first Bishop of Australia.[11] Campbell was a generous supporter of the then Church of England in Australia, despite being Presbyterian. He also wanted a place for the local community to congregate and was willing to donate his own land to this cause.[2] Bishop Broughton's ambition went further: he sought to establish the Church of England as "the national church, established in law, charged with the care of all subjects of the Crown, apostolic in its doctrine and government".[3] St John's was a product of these efforts. The foundation stone was laid in on 11 May 1841 by the Revd Edward Smith, Rector of Queanbeyan, and the church was consecrated on 12 March 1845 by Bishop Broughton.[12]

The building was constructed over a period of several years and was completed in three stages in the Victorian Free Medieval and Victorian Gothic Revival styles:[13]

The church's sandstone walls were quarried from the base of Black Mountain and Quarry Hill (located in the suburb of Yarralumla).[14]

The original 6-metre (20 ft) church tower was erected in 1845 but developed a one-metre (two-foot) lean, was deemed unsafe and was dismantled in 1864. The present tower was designed by Edmund Blacket and erected during the period 1865–1870. Sandstone for the tower's window mouldings was hauled by bullock from the Camden-Bargo district, a distance of 161 kilometres (100 mi).[13] The spire was completed in 1877,[12] making the church on a hill a prominent countryside landmark.[2] The tall trees, many planted by long-serving Rector of Canberra Revd Pierce Galliard Smith, formed another landmark.[15][16]

The church and associated schoolhouse museum were added to the (now defunct) Australian Register of the National Estate on 21 October 1980.[17][18][19] The church, churchyard and Schoolhouse Museum are now listed by the ACT Heritage Council, which notes, in particular, that the east and west lychgates at St John's are a rare example of this type of structure in Australia.[16]


Chancel and east window depicting scenes related to Saint John the Baptist

Memorial plaques to parishioners cover the interior of the nave, from earlier pastoral families to eminent Australians after Australia's federation.[3] Prominent memorials include those for Sir Robert Garran, Sir Littleton Groom, H. V. Evatt, Sir William McKell, Major General Sir William Bridges and General Sir Brudenell White.[11][12] Extensive use of stained glass is evident in the chancel, the nave and within the tower. The chancel's east window was added between 1872 and 1874,[12] and depicts biblical scenes related to Saint John the Baptist, after whom the church is dedicated.[20] The east window was designed by William Macleod and made by the Sydney firm of John Falconer. It is one of the earliest Australian stained glass windows and was a prize-winning window at the Sydney Exhibition in 1973 before its installation at the church.[1][15]

The Royal Military College and St John's have long been associated with each other. Both are situated on land originally owned by Campbell. The historical ties between the church and the college are recognised by the military colours (flags) which are "laid up" beneath the organ gallery: one of the Werriwa Regiment and the other of the Royal Military College.[11]

In the side chapel on the north edge is a small bamboo cross with the words "Reconciliation and Repentance". The cross was presented to the church by the presiding bishop of the Anglican Church in Japan, Bishop Michael Yashiro, on 9 June 1950 in the years following the Second World War.[1][21][22] It serves as a memorial to Sister May Hayman, a staff member at the Canberra Hospital and a parishioner at St John's. Sister Hayman was killed by Japanese soldiers in New Guinea whilst serving as a missionary and nurse during the war.[23] In September 2014, the Bishop of Kobe (Andrew Yatuka Nakamura) attended a service at St John’s in memory of Sister Hayman and to celebrate the modern Australia-Japan relationship.[23][22]


St John's has had several organs installed throughout its history. The present pipe organ, built by Ronald Sharp and installed in 1981, is the builder's last major instrument. It is a 2-manual tracker action instrument located in the west gallery, with a case made of Western Australian jarrah and tin facade pipes.[24] Sharp built many other significant Australian pipe organs including the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall organ and organs at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, the Canberra School of Music, the Perth Concert Hall and Knox Grammar School.[25] In the mid-1970s, the work was undertaken to extend and strengthen the gallery in order to accommodate the new organ.[26]

St John's first organ was an English-built, single manual tracker, installed around 1862. It is now located at St Luke's Anglican Church, Deakin. A second instrument was built in 1933 by Hill, Norman & Beard had five extended ranks with electro-pneumatic action. It was sold in 1979 to a private owner.[24]

St John's Choir is a four-part volunteer choir which sings at the traditional Book of Common Prayer services of Mattins and Evensong.[9] The choir is usually accompanied by the organ at Sunday services. At special occasions such as weddings and church festivals, accompanying instruments can include the flute, trumpet and keyboard.[26]


The peal of eight church bells were donated by Governor-General William Sidney, 1st Viscount De L'Isle and mark his term of office (1961–65).[6] They were presented as a memorial to his wife Jacqueline. The bells were cast by John Taylor & Co—the same foundry at which the bells of the National Carillon were cast[7]—and were installed in 1964. They range "in weight from 13 to 2 hundredweight and in diameter from 3 feet 4.5 inches to 1 foot 9 inches".[6] The bells are rung in the English change ringing tradition, but are not swung full circle. Instead, the ringers pull ropes attached to the bell clappers, which strike the inside of the bells, with two ringers ringing four bells each. The bells are rung at selected Sunday services, for weddings and funerals, and for special occasions. When required, hymns and other melodies can also be rung.[6]

Church precinctEdit

Cemetery and churchyard


St John's churchyard contains Canberra's original cemetery. The first burial in the churchyard was on 3 May 1844.[11][27]

Grave (left) of the widow of Major General Sir William Bridges, the first Australian Chief of the General Staff

The mortal remains of many pioneers of the Canberra district are interred at St John's. They include the church's long-serving 19th-century rector, the Revd Pierce Galliard Smith, and Colonel John George Nathaniel Gibbes, who occupied Yarralumla homestead from 1859 until his death 14 years later. Gibbes was reputed to be the illegitimate son of a royal duke. Coincidentally, lying close to Gibbes' grave is the final resting place of another person with a link to the British throne, albeit one greatly separated in time and circumstance from that of the colonel. That person is Viscount Dunrossil, a former Governor-General of Australia, who died in office in 1961.[27]

Also interred in the churchyard are the remains of Colonel Gibbes' wife, Elizabeth, his son Augustus Gibbes (Yarralumla's proprietor from 1859 to 1881), his grandson Henry Edmund Gibbes, and his great-grandson, the Australian air ace Bobby Gibbes DSO, DFC and bar—as well as St Christopher Battye and members of the pioneering McDonald, Guise, Shumack and Campbell families. The McDonalds are of Cranachan, Inverness Shire, Scotland, the same lineage as Flora Hannah McKillop (McDonald), mother of the Australian saint Mary MacKillop. This information is drawn inter alia from the definitive guide to all known burials at the site, Jean Salisbury's St John's Churchyard Canberra.[27]

On 12 November 1845, a local Canberran, Sarah Webb of Tidbinbilla, was buried in the churchyard after dying in childbirth.[28] The epitaph on her headstone reads, "For here we have no continuing city but seek one to come", a reference to St Paul's letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 13:14). Webb's headstone became known as the "Prophet’s Tombstone" and became a magnet for travellers when Canberra was announced as Australia's future capital city.[12]

The churchyard was closed to new burials in 1937 unless exclusive rights to a plot were held.[29]

Schoolhouse museumEdit

St John's Schoolhouse Museum

Canberra’s first school opened in 1845, the same year that St John's was consecrated.[28] It was sponsored by the Campbells. The schoolroom was surrounded by five other rooms and served as the schoolmaster's residence. The schoolhouse's rubble and bluestone were quarried locally, with a shingle roof and thick walls to shelter against the harsh Canberra climate. The first students arrived in 1845 and it was the only school on the Limestone Plains until 1880 when the first public school was opened.[15] It was built to educate local settlers children,[30] including the Blundell children who lived in nearby Blundell's Cottage, another surviving remnant of Canberra's past.[2]

The schoolhouse closed in 1907 and reopened in 1969 as a museum containing records and artifacts from Canberra's rural and recent past.[2] These include schoolhouse artifacts, photographs, letters, newspaper cuttings and other heritage items, serving as tangible evidence of the lives of early European settlers in the region.[16][15][31]


The rectory, the residence of the rector of Canberra, lies in the southeastern corner of the church precinct, opening onto Anzac Parade. It was completed in 1923.[13] The original rectory of St John's was built in 1873 in what is now Glebe Park in inner Canberra. The first occupant was the Revd Pierre Galliard Smith, who surrounded the rectory with poplars, elms, willows and hawthorns.[32][33] The survivors and descendants of those trees remain in today's Glebe Park. From 1926 to early 1928 the old rectory was leased from the government by an Anglican religious order, the Community of the Sisters of the Church, or the Kilburn Sisters, to found St Gabriel's school which later became the Canberra Girls' Grammar School.[13]

Church hallEdit

Mural painting in church hall

Adjacent to St John's is the church hall. The hall has a mural painting at its southern end which depicts people and events from the life of the church and the region. Rendered in a simplistic style, the mural depicts subjects as diverse as a theodolite, a microscope, an Australian aborigine man, Bogong moths, Merino sheep, liturgical symbols, the Guides Australia logo and a girl in the uniform, a Boy Scout, Old Parliament House, early ministers of the church and settlers. Campbell and his nearby house, "Duntroon", are also depicted; Duntroon is now part of the Royal Military College, Duntroon. The church hall provides a facility for events and meetings and also houses the office of the parish of Canberra.[34]

Contemporary referencesEdit

Queen Elizabeth II emerges from St John's after a service on 23 October 2011
Queen Elizabeth II talking with the rector, the Revd Paul Black, and Prince Philip with the Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn the Rt Revd Stuart Robinson

Today, St John's holds both traditional and contemporary worship services. Traditional Book of Common Prayer (17th century language) services are held at 7:00 am, 8:00 am and 11:15 am on Sundays. Contemporary services are held at 9:30 am and 6:00 pm. Once a month, a choral evensong service is held at 5:00 pm.[35] There are also weekday services held from Tuesday to Friday at 8:30 am, along with a meditation service on Wednesdays at 5:00 pm.[36] The building is open every day for private prayer, visitors and tourists.[15]

Former Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, and his wife, Thérèse Rein, regularly attended the church during 2009–2010. Rudd and Rein had been married in St John's, and their eldest son had been baptised there. Rudd took the opportunity to address the assembled media and television cameras after Sunday services and field and answer questions on topics of the day.[37][38][39]

During the visit of the Queen of Australia in October 2011, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip attended St John's for the 11:15 am service on 23 October 2011. She was welcomed by the rector, the Revd Canon Paul Black, and the Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, the Rt Revd Stuart Robinson. Kevin Rudd and Thérèse Rein were among the 120 guests at the service. The visit was Queen Elizabeth II's sixth to St John's;[5][40] her first was in 1954.[30]

On 29 September 2018, a service was held at St John's to celebrate the 70th anniversity of the first Ukrainian Orthodox service in Australia. That service was held at St John's on 26 September 1948. St John's continued to accommodate Orthodox services until a Ukrainian Orthodox church was built in 1959. Bishop Daniel Zelinsky of South Bound Brook, New Jersey, celebrated the Divine Liturgy and preached in Ukrainian and English.[41][42]

On 15 March 2020, St John's celebrated its 175th anniversary since its 1845 consecration. A special 10:00 am choral service was held, attended by the Governor General, David Hurley, and the Ambassador of the United States, Arthur Culvahouse. The sermon was delivered by the Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, the Rt Revd Mark Short. St John's was described as "an English village church and through a quirk of history they literally put the national capital around us".[11][30] The service was the last to be held before the church closed temporarily as a result of the 2020 worldwide coronavirus pandemic, with services being recorded and distributed online.[43][44]


The Revd Canon Paul Black is the current incumbent of St John's and rector of Canberra.[45] The first incumbent, the Revd Edward Smith, was rector of the Queanbeayan parish (which preceded St John's). The longest serving incumbent was Pierce Galliard Smith, who served as rector for 51 years from 1855 to 1905.[11][33]

The following have served as incumbents:[11][12]

  • Edward Smith (Rector of Queanbeyan) (1845–1850)
  • George Gregory (1850–1851)
  • Thomas Wilkinson (1851–1854)
  • Pierce Galliard Smith (1855–1905)
  • Arthur Hopcraft (1905–1909)
  • Arthur Champion (1909–1913)
  • Frederick Ward (1913–1929)
  • Charles Robertson (1930–1949)
  • Robert Davies (1949–1953)
  • Robert Gordon Arthur (1953–1960)
  • Frederick Hill (1960–1972)
  • Owen Dowling (1972–1981)
  • Ian George (1981–1989)
  • David Oliphant (1989–1995)
  • Allan Ewing (1996–2003)
  • Gregory Thompson (2004–2007)
  • Paul Black (2008–present)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Wilson, Randall (2012). Sanctuary in the city : the Anglican Church of St John the Baptist Canberra. The Anglican Church of St John the Baptist, Canberra. ISBN 9780646574455.
  2. ^ a b c d e W, Sue. "St John's Church & Schoolhouse Museum". Weekend Notes. Weekend Notes. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d Allbrook, Malcolm (2015). "History of Canberra's oldest church". Australian National University Reporter. 46 (2).
  4. ^ "Royalty Attends Wedding". British Pathe. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Queen meets Rush, attends church service". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 22 October 2011. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d "The Bells of St John's". St John's Church. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  7. ^ a b "National Carillon". ACT Government. 8 May 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  8. ^ "St John's Care". St John's Care. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  9. ^ a b "St John's Choir". St John's Choir. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  10. ^ "Fair". St John's Church. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h A Service to Celebrate 175 Years of Christian Worship on the Limestone Plains. St John's Anglican Church Canberra. 15 March 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d e f "Take a step back in time and get in touch with Canberra's early history". St John's Canberra. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  13. ^ a b c d Body, A. H. (1986). Firm Still You Stand. St John's Parish Council.
  14. ^ Robinson F. W. (1924). Canberra's First Hundred Years. WC Penfold & Co Limited.
  15. ^ a b c d e "St John's Church". ACT Government. 11 October 2016. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  16. ^ a b c "20019. St.John the Baptist Church and Churchyard (Entry to the ACT Heritage Register)" (PDF). ACT Heritage Council. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  17. ^ "St Johns Church and Churchyard, 1 Anzac Park West, Reid, ACT, Australia (Place ID 13265)". Australian Heritage Database. Department of the Environment. 21 October 1980. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  18. ^ "St Johns Schoolhouse Museum, 45 Constitution Av, Reid, ACT, Australia (Place ID 13264)". Australian Heritage Database. Department of the Environment. 21 October 1980. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  19. ^ "St Johns Church Precinct, 1 Anzac Park West, Reid, ACT, Australia (Place ID 13263)". Australian Heritage Database. Department of the Environment. 21 October 1980. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  20. ^ "St John's Stained Glass Windows". St John's Church. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  21. ^ "Our magnificent East Window". St John's Church. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  22. ^ a b Warden, Ian. "The Bamboo Cross at St John's Canberra". Anglican Historical Society Journal. 59 (April 2015).
  23. ^ a b "Sister May Hayman". Sydney Morning Herald, cited on the St John's Church website. 10 June 1950. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  24. ^ a b Hastie, Kelvin. "The Sharp Organ in the Anglican Church of St John the Baptist, Canberra". Sydney Organ Journal. 12 (6): 31–33.
  25. ^ "St John's Anglican Church, Reid, Canberra". Organ Historical Trust of Australia. 2006. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  26. ^ a b "Choir and Pipe Organ". St John's Church. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  27. ^ a b c Salisbury, Jean (2000). St John's Churchyard Canberra. Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra Inc.
  28. ^ a b "Discover our territory". Canberra History. Canberra & District Historical Society. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  29. ^ "St John's Churchyard". St John's Canberra. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  30. ^ a b c Danielle, Nohra (3 July 2019). "New roof for Canberra's oldest church". City News (Canberra). Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  31. ^ "St John's Schoolhouse Museum". St John's Church. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  32. ^ "Plaque commemorating opening of Glebe Park, photograph of the plaque available at the URL". Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  33. ^ a b Wardle, P (1976). Smith, Pierce Galliard (1826–1908). Melbourne University Press.
  34. ^ "Venue Use and Hire". St John's Church. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  35. ^ "Sunday and weekday service times". St John's Church. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  36. ^ "Christian meditation". St John's Church. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  37. ^ Uhlmann, Chris. "Rudd squanders chance to practise what he preaches". ABC News. Australia. Retrieved 22 October 2009.
  38. ^ Rudd, Kevin (4 June 2019). "Church-going folk aren't political property of the Tories". Australian Financial Review.
  39. ^ "More than just a light on the hill". Sydney Morning Herald. 22 December 2007.
  40. ^ "Queen cheered at church". The Canberra Times. 23 October 2011. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  41. ^ "Ukrainian Orthodox Celebrate 70 Years". Ukrainian Catholic Church, Australia, New Zealand and Oceania. 4 October 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  42. ^ "Ukrainian Orthodox Liturgy". St John's Church. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  43. ^ Evans, Steve (30 March 2020). "Isolation diary: Free at last ... to do what?". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  44. ^ Evans, Steve (9 April 2020). "Coronavirus: churches move to online innovations ahead of Easter". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  45. ^ "Ministry Team". St John's Church. Retrieved 11 April 2020.

External linksEdit