Grandpa Pencil's
Australian Colonial


Religion in Australia to 1896

Records drawn from 'A statistical account of the seven colonies of Australasia 1895 - 1896': T. A. Coghlan

The progress of all matters relating to denominational Religion since the early years of Australasian settlement has been steady and remarkable.

Church of England

For the first fifteen years after the foundation of the colony of New South Wales only a single denomination was recognised by Government or possessed either minister or organisation - The established Church of England.

In those days the whole of Australasia was ecclesiastically within the diocese of the Bishop of Calcutta, of which is formed an Archdeaconry.

this continued until 1836, when the bishoprie of Australia was constituted and the Rev. William Grant Broughton, D.D. (formerly Archdeacon) was consecrated the first Bishop.

...Each colony preserves its autonomy in church matters, but the Bishop of Sydney is nominal head or Primate within the boundaries of Australia and Tasmania

In 1872 the ties between the churches in the various colonies under the jurisdiction of the Primacy were strengthened by the adoption of one common constitution.

A general synod of representatives of each of these colonies meets in Sydney every five years to discuss church affairs in general. New Zealand is excluded from this amalgamation and possesses a Primacy of its own,

Roman Catholic

In 1803 a grudging recognition was extended to Roman Catholics, one of whose chaplains was then placed on the Government establishment;

but it was not until 1820 that any regular provision was made for an adequate staff of clergy.

Until 1834 the Roman Catholics of Australia and Tasmania were under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Mauritius (the Rev. Dr. Ullathorn being Vicar-General from 1830 to 1834), but in that year Sydney was constituted a see and the Rev. John Bede Polding, D.D. was consecrated Bishop with jurisdiction over the whole of the continent and Tasmania.
In 1885 the Archbishop of Sydney was created a Cardinal and placed at the head of the Roman Catholic Church throughout Australia.


Among the first free colonists who settled the Hawksbury district of New South Wales was a small party of Presbyterians and one of the first places of worship erected in the colony was put up in 1810 at Portland Head by their voluntary exertions.Services were conducted there for years before any ordained minister of the denomination reached New South Wales.Indeed it was not until 1823 that the Rev. Dr. Lang and the Rev Archibald Macarthur, the first Presbyterian ministers, arrived in Sydney and Hobart respectively.


The first Wesleyan minister came to New South Wales in 1815 but it was not until 1821 that a Wesleyan place of worship was erected in Sydney.It was even later that the denomination was allowed to share in the Government provision for religion. The first Wesleyan Church in Hobart was established in 1820.


A Congregational minister arrived in Sydney as early as 1798 and in Hobart the Congregational Church was established in 1830.


The Baptist Church in the colonies dates from a much later period. The establishment of the first four Baptist Churches being as follows :-

  • Sydney - 1834
  • Launceston - 1839
  • Adelaide - 1840
  • Melbourne - 1841
Salvation Army

Leaving out of consideration of some churches with but a small number of adherents, the Salvation Army is said to be the youngest of the denominations in Australasia.

It commenced operations in South Australia toward the close of the year 1880.

The only denominations to ever receive State aid were the Church of England, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians and Wesleyans. Other denominations to which it was tendered refusing to accept it.

It is estimated that at the end of 1895 the number of adherents to each denomination was as follows :-

Church of England 1 664 717 Presbyterian 543 607 Congregational 89 193 Lutheran 85 668 Hebrews 16 821
Roman Catholic 896 290 Wesleyan 480 728 Baptist 96 075 Salvation Army 47 106 Others 318 164







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