John Macarthur returned to the colony from England with Spanish Merino sheep from the Royal flock in England.
John Macarthur purchased 5,400 acres containing the future sites of the Camden township and the St John's Church Precinct. Not all the Macarthur holdings were free grants, some of the lots were purchased.
The foundation of Camden town began with a petition in 1830 by the farmers of the Camden Park Estate seeking a police establishment at the Cowpasture bridge. John Macarthur was instructed by Governor Darling to grant 320 acres of his land holdings on the south bank of the Nepean River for the purpose of establishing a township. This request was declined owing to Macarthur's view that the township. “would greatly endanger the security of the whole establishment on that estate”. No town was founded on his land while he was alive.
Following John Macarthur's death in 1834, his sons James and William, who had contrary views on the matter, began preparations for a town by clearing eight hectares. In September 1835, the brothers informed the governor of their plans for a town that would include reserves for police, magistrate's court, post office and churches (Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian)
At the same time as clearing land for the new township in 1835, James and William began asking those who lived in the township to contribute towards founding a church. By September 1835, collections stood at £644, with the majority (£500) coming from the Macarthur's
In 1836, two years after the death of John Macarthur, his sons had a township surveyed.
The Macarthurs applied for a subsidy of £1,000 toward a total cost of £2,500 for the construction of St John's
Bishop Broughton, himself an experienced church designer, employed James Hume who had prepared the initial design for St. Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, to design in 1837 a “classical” style church for Camden.
We have been granted by the inspection of a design for are the proposed Village of Camden, the site for which has been most eligibly chosen on the able Land which overlooks the Nepean River, immediately in the vicinity of the Cowpasture Bridge, on the present line of the Razor Back Road. The greatest elevation of the adjacent hills, it is proposed to erect a Church, the situation of which will be highly picturesque and commanding, and in the plain below nearest to the new line of road, traversing the intended Village, did the wealthy proprietor will forthwith communicate and the reaction of a first-rate commodious hotel, for the reception of respectable families and travellers an acquisition of the greatest importance to this part of the country. The village allotments, one hundred in number, each contains half an acre, and they will be well suited for the erection of cottages and dwellings the resident mechanics and working tradesmen, for whose services, in this district, there is always ample remuneration. The Nepean River winds around the segment of a circle, within which the site of the village has been chosen, so that fresh water in the greatest abundance is in the immediate vicinity. Every consideration of salubrity and convenience appears, in short to be combined in the choice of the situation which has been made, whilst the lie biuc.of this part of the country, and its well known fertility, cannot fail to impart additional value to the village allotments, whenever brought forward for sale, which we understand, will shortly be the case.
Mr. Smart will bring to the hammer several Allotments in the Township of Camden. The Terms and conditions of sale, which will be liberal, will be made known with further particulars in a future advertisement, after the completion of the survey.
The construction of St John's commenced. The Bishop of Australia, Right Rev W. G. Broughton, laid the foundation stone of the church on 3 November 1840
Around this time James and William Macarthur announced the intention to sell thirty to forty lots within 2 to 4 miles of the Township of Camden.
The church is described as the finest example of the early Gothic Revival architecture in Australia. The site was levelled and footings laid over the winter months of 1840. The foundations followed in September. The Bishop of Australia, Right Rev. W.G. Broughton, laid the foundation stone of the church on 3 November 1840. Despite the fact that the church was to be consecrated as late as 1849, progress in the initial stages of the construction appears to have been rapid, as this sketch indicates the bulk of the exterior of the building had been completed by 1842:
The 1837 Hume design was abandoned above the foundation. The style changed to ‘decorated gothic’ with a new design by John Cunningham, an English architect known to the Macarthur family and in a style preferred by James Macarthur's wife Emily. Mr. Cunningham (1799-1873) received his training in the Edinburgh City Works Department, although he mostly practiced in Liverpool. A number of English churches in Gothic and Romanesque styles are known to have been by Cunningham. The Colonial Architect, Mortimer William Lewis, was appointed supervisor.
On 8 May 1841 the land grant for the church of 5 acres 3 roods and 24 perches was registered between James and William Macarthur and Bishop Broughton. The deed reserved the land, for ever, for the purposes of ‘the erection of a church or chapel for the performance of divine worship according to the rites of the United Church of England and Ireland (and) for the erection of a residence for a clergyman in holy orders and for a burial ground according to the use of the said United Church. ’. The grant deed also included 2 perches of land that is the Macarthur family burial vault.
The town allotments were initially offered for sale in July 1841. Sydney auctioneer Samuel Lyons described the village as:
street of the village, and the extent of traffic through this ‘main artery’ of communication would be scarcely credited unless witnessed. The distance from Sydney is only forty miles, from Parramatta and Penrith thirty, and Liverpool twenty miles; so that it is within easy reach of the best markets, either for the sale of produce, or the purchase of supplies. It is part and parcel of the well-known and highly improved Estate of Camden, on which from two to three hundred persons are now living, so that there is already a considerable population on the Estate itself.
An early road used to run through the lower portion of the cemetery. This road had been used extensively by the Macarthur family but was closed some time after c1849-1850, possibly at the same time that the Church was completed and consecrated. In 1889 the newly incorporated Camden Council gave some attention to re-opening the road, but did not proceed
Camden Church is now roofed in, and the stuccoing of its towering spire is being proceeded with, and will soon be ready as a place of public worship. The site is the gift of Mr. James Macarthur, who has in addition subscribed most liberally (report says £1500) towards defraying the expenses of the erection.
The first burial is believed to be that of a Thomas Budd of Narellan made in March 1843.
The bulk of the exterior completed
The first couple to be married in the parish were Joseph Ray and Jane Burnside, both of Camden on November 29, 1843.
At the consecration Bishop Broughton was attended by the Revs. Thomas Hassall and Robert Forrest as chaplains. The Rev. George F Macarthur read the sentence of consecration.
The font was the gift of Mr. William Buchan, “a talented mason and sculptor residing in the village,” in the early forties and was regarded “as a handsome gift from a poor man.” The stone came from the quarry at Denbigh
The altar rails were the gift of Dr. Broughton, Australia's first bishop
Bishop Broughton laid the foundation stone of the school on 1 July 1850. Public tenders for the construction of the building however were not called until February 1851
The rectory was completed in 1859. The cost of the construction, £1000, was donated by James and William Macarthur.
Following the closure, the schoolhouse was retained by the Church until the sale in 1906.
The chancel extensions completed
Mrs. Macarthur Onslow presented the clock and eight bells in 1897. The large tenor bell, weighing 14cwt, is inscribed with the doxology.
NSW Land Registry records show a transfer via an instrument, number 423789, from Camden Park Estate Limited on 15 February 1906 to the Church of England Property Trust. There were two separate pieces of land. One lot of 3 roods (0.3 hectares) located at Cawdor adjacent to the Cawdor School. The other lot of 3 acres, 2 rood and 3 perches (1.12 hectares) contained the Rectory. (Subsequent sales reduced the lot to the current remnant.) Strict conditions of use were agreed and are attached to the tile by a caveat (426177) dated 1 March 1906 which contains a Delcaration of Trust. The volume folio number of the certificate of title is 1671/126 .
The foundation stone of the hall was laid by the Bishop of Goulburn on 29 July of that year.
NSW Land title records show a transfer via an instrument, number 634895, dated 28 June 1911 to Church of England Property Trust. There were two separate pieces of land. The total area was 14 acres 3 roods 34 perches (6.05 hectares). One lot is the area between the Rectory and the Church (known as the horse paddocl) was 2 acres 2 roods 22 perches (1.07 hectares). The other lot from, extending from, the Rectory to the river was 12 acres 1 rood 12 perches (4.99 hectares). A caveat (634896) placed on the title contains a Declaration of Trust.
Friends and parishioners erected the beautiful lych gales in 1912 to Mrs. Macarthur Onslow's memory.
The church was electrically lighted in 1931. The floodlighting of the clock and spire is in memory of Brigadier-General George M. Macarthur Onslow. The memorial was given by the officers and men of his old regiment the 7th Light Horse.
The church sold 37.5 perches (.09 hectares) to the trustees of the local Methodist Church. The instrument of transfer (C252251) carried a covenant requiring construction of a brick/stone house with a tiled/slate roof with a minimum cost of £800. This detacted lot is currently known as 24 Menangle Rd.
The sale in 1968 of the parish's 20 acres of glebe land situated between the rectory and the Nepean River.
The hall was opened and dedicated on 25th March 1973 by the Archbishop of Sydney Most Rev Marcus Loane
Following the Coal Ownership (Restitution) Act 1990 the title for coal was re-vested in the Anglican Church Property Trust. Two titles were created 1/816287 for the Rectory lot (550/737448) and 2/816287 for the Glebe lot (56/239467).
Rectory schedule of work prepared
The Pittwater Online News published a history of St John's to mark the 176th and 167th Anniversaries of St John's
The precinct sale ordinances announced
Clive Lucas, president of the NSW branch of the National Trust, voices strong opposition to the proposed sale
The Sale and Trust ordinances passed by the Standing Committee of the Synod of the Diocese of Sydney
National Trust NSW Magazine article opposing the sale
On the 6 December 2017, the Heritage Council of NSW resolved to recommend to the Minister for Heritage that St John�s Anglican Church Precinct be listed on the SHR.
The date of a parish vote on the sale to the Moran Group announced
The yes vote was 81.3% (332 voted, 270 Yes, 61 No, 1 invalid)
The Parish Council unanimously passed a resolution formally accepting the conditional off of the Moran Group for the purchase of the horse paddock, Rectory and the Alpha Road property