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ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST'S,
Mother Church of Western
(BY HERBERT S. COOKS, B A )
It was a memorable occasion in the history of what are regarded as the western suburbs of Sydney when, on Wednesday, September 9, 1840, the Right Rev. W. G. Broughton, D.D., as Binhop of Australia, proceeded to Ashfield with becoming equipage to lay the foundation stone of a church to be designated St. John the Baptist. At the time there was no | church directly between Sydney and Parra- matta, and Ashfield, then a mere hamlet situated approximately half way, was selected as a centre for a church, so that St. John's claims the proud distinction of being "the mother church of the western suburbs."
It is recorded thal, at the laying of the foundation-stone Ihe Bishop was attended by eight of his clergy, and that there were be- tween one hundred and fifty and two hundred persons present. Mis. Elizabeth Underwood, the donor of the original piece of ground granted for the church, prior to the lowering of the stone placed a brass plate in a cavity, i with the following Inscription: "This founda-
tion-stone of a church dedicated to the honour and worship of Almighty God, and to be denominated the Church of St. John the Baptist, was laid the 9th day of September, 1840, by the Right Rev. Father-in-God, William, Lord Bishop of Australia, in the fourth year of the reign of Queen Victoria. Sir George Gipps, Knight, Governor; Rev. Joseph Kidd Walpole, Minister. Among those that are born of women, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he that is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he." (St. Luke vii., 28.) The location of this stone is unknown to the present authorities of the church.
"The Sydney Morning Herald," in its issue of Monday, September 14, 1840, gives further particulars concerning the function, and states: "The service for the day was read by the Rev. J. K. Walpole, who has for some time past been labouring in the district, and who is one of the missionaries sent to this colony by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The Bishop availed himself of the opportunity to give a Christian address to those present, in which he enforced the duty incumbent on all to support the practice of Protestantism, and also pointed out the necessity that existed for extending church accommodation in that quarter, and concluded the service by pro- nouncing the Apostolic Benediction on those present."
The work of completing the church was slow, and a portion of the building had to be re-erected owing to faulty workmanship, so that it was not licensed and consecrated by the Bishop of Australia till August 19, 1845. Subsequent enlargements and alterations have been effected by the erection of transepts and chancel in 1875, a choir vestry in 1885, and the Corlette Memorial Tower in 1900. More recently the old baptistry has been con- verted into a separate clergy vestry, and a new and handsome baptistry set up with a carved oak screen at the west end.
The church is fortunate in possessing ex- tensive grounds, consisting of over four acres, in an ideal setting typical of so many parish churches in England. During the 94 years of church life, the parish has had ten incum- bents, included amongst whom have been the Rev. Canon Corlette, D.D., for many years an honoured canon of the diocese, and Rev. Canon Hilliard, M.A., shortly to be consecrated Bishop of Nelson, New Zealand. The present rector is the Rev. H. S. Cocks, B.A., who was appointed to the parish nearly three years
The 94th anniversary celebrations will be inaugurated this afternoon, when the Most Rev. the Archbishop of Sydney will be present at a service of remembrance in the church grounds, and will also consecrate the ceme- tery. " To-morrow, special commemoration services will be held throughout the day, and the Archibshop will again attend at 11 am.