Exploring Sydney: St James’ Church, King Street

St James’ Church, Sydney, Australia

Immediately after building the Hyde Park Barracks, its architect, Francis Howard Greenway (1777-1837) was commissioned to build St James’ Church, King Street (1824) directly opposite.

It’s a classical Georgian design, essentially a preaching box with a tower and spire, repeatedly adapted in keeping with the classical dignity of Greenaway’s intention.

Though it’s not as old as St Philip’s Church, York Street (founded 1793, current church by Edmund Blacket, 1848-56), St James’ is steeped in Sydney’s history and its monuments tell powerful stories of lives lived and lost.

Indeed, it’s described as the “Westminster Abbey of the South”.

The first significant memorial was executed in England by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841) to commemorate Captain Sir James Brisbane (1774-1826), who died in Malaya and was cousin to the Thomas Brisbane (1773-1860) who gave his name to the Australian city. 

Other wall-tablets relate early episodes in the violent conflict between the British invaders and the indigenous Australians, which led to the deaths of –

  • Captain Collet Barker of His Majesty’s 39th Regiment of Foot “who was treacherously murdered by the aboriginal natives on the 30th of April 1831 while endeavouring in the performance of his duty to ascertain the communication between Lake Alexandrina and the Gulf of St Vincent on the South West Coast of New Holland [ie, Australia]”
  • John Gilbert, ornithologist, “who was speared by the blacks on the 29th of June 1845, during the first overland expedition to Port Essington [in the far north of what is now Northern Territory] by Dr Ludwig Leichhardt and his intrepid companions”, accompanied by the motto “Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Scientia Mori
  • Edmund Besley Court Kennedy, assistant surveyor, “slain by the aborigines in the vicinity of Escape River [near Cape York, Queensland] on the 13th of December AD 1848” and Jackey Jackey (d 1854), “an aboriginal of Merton District who was Mr Kennedy’s sole companion in his conflict with the savages and though himself wounded tended his leader with a courage and devotion worthy of remembrance, supporting him in his last moments and making his grave on the spot where he fell”

Because of its proximity to the law courts and centre of government in Sydney, St James’ Church has always played a major part in the life of the city.

It contrasts with Sydney’s Gothic Revival St Andrew’s Cathedral (Edmund Blacket, 1868) and the magnificent St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral (William Wilkinson Wardell, begun 1868, completed 2000).

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