CQ Family History Association Inc.

Rockhampton Churches by J.T.S. Bird

Rockhampton did not stand very high as a religious community in the early days, but this was not from any neglect on the part of ministers of the gospel. Soon after the colony of Queensland was proclaimed, systematic efforts were made to establish the various religious bodies, not only in Brisbane but in other towns.

The Right Rev. Edward Wyndham Turnell was ordained the first Anglican Bishop in 1859, and soon after came to his new home. His successor was Bishop Hale who was followed in 1885 by Dr. Webber, who died in July of last year. The first Anglican clergyman sent to Rockhampton was the Rev. Thomas Jones, whom the irreverent always good-naturedly spoke of as "Tommy". Mr. Jones, who is now pastor of the Indooroopilly Church, Brisbane, came to Rockhampton in 1861. Till a church was built service was held in the Court House, which stood where the Lands Office now is, and the same building was used by the other denominations. The first Anglican Church was erected in 1862. It remained in use till 1883, when the present church (now known as St. Paul's Cathedral) was completed. It was built by Mr. George Sanderson, of Stanwell, who himself laid every stone of the entire edifice. The church was consecrated by the late Right Rev. Dr. Hale. The See of Rockhampton was established in 1892 and the Right Rev. Dr. Dawes, D. D., was elected bishop. Dr. Dawes was the first bishop consecrated in Australia. The first incumbent, the Rev. T. Jones, did not remain long in Rockhampton. He left at the end of 1863 or the beginning of 1864, and was succeeded by the Rev. W. Wright, who was soon followed by the Rev. J. R. Black. Since then there have been many changes of clergymen, the two retaining the position of the longest period being the Rev. W. A. Diggens and the Rev. A. Richards. The present rector is the Venerable Archdeacon G. D. Halford, who was appointed in  1902.

The Presbyterians were actually the first in the field, the Rev. Samuel Kelly arriving in 1861, a little earlier in the year than Mr. Jones. Mr. Kelly soon gathered a good flock, who quickly built a church. It was a wooden building, standing in Derby Street, and remained in use till the present brick building was erected and opened in 1893. The wooden building is still standing, and is now used as a Sunday school. The Rev. Mr. Kelly retired in 1863 and was succeeded by the Rev. A. C. Smith. There were one or two other changes between then and 1876, when the present minister, the Rev. A. Hay, D. D., was appointed. Dr. Hay is now the senior clergyman not only of Rockhampton but of Central Queensland.

In 1861, within a few days of the arrival of the English Church minister, the Rev. Samuel Savage came here in the interests of the Congregationalists, and soon had a church built in Bolsover Street, where the John Knox Presbyterian Church now stands.

The Baptists also made a start in 1861, service being held by them first in the house of Mr. W. H. Buzacott. The Primitive Methodists held services occasionally in the open air, or in such buildings as could offer accommodation. The same practice was followed by the Wesleyans. By 1864 all these denominations had churches built, and at the beginning of that year the late Rev. Robert Hartley opened the Primitive Methodist Church on the site in Fitzroy Street, where the business premises of Messrs. James Miller  and Co. Used to be. Mr. Hartley remained in Rockhampton till his death, and lived to see it become a flourishing town. A harder working minister than Mr. Hartley surely never lived. He took great delight in what may be termed pioneering work, and visited the various gold diggings regularly, and in all weathers. He often had to put up with poor fare, and hard bed, and perhaps, worst of all, very little encouragement, but he was always cheery.  Such a man soon endears himself to everyone, and after passing the allotted span of human life, he passed away full of years and of honours, all classes following his remains with sincere respect to the cemetery.

Bishop Quinn, the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Queensland, arrived in Brisbane in May, 1861. The same year he sent Father Scully to Rockhampton, who, like the other clergymen conducted service in the Court House, pending the erection of a church. Father Duhigg succeeded Father Scully in 1862, and was himself succeeded  the following year by Dean Murlay, a man who remained for many years and was beloved by all classes. Dean Murlay is now stationed at Gladstone. One of the most consistent supporters of the Roman Catholic Church in Rockhampton - consistent alike in life and service - has been Mr. T. Kelly, who was a schoolfellow of Father Duhigg in Ireland. Among those still living in Rockhampton who attended service in the Court House are Messrs. T. Kelly, J. Forest, C. Dallon, and P. Doheny. The first Roman Catholic Church was built of wood at the corner of Alma and Derby Streets in 1863, and remained in use till October, 1899. The first Roman Catholic Bishop of Rockhampton was Bishop Cani, who himself laid the foundation stone of St. Joseph's Cathedral, but did not live to see it opened. The cathedral was consecrated in 1899 by his successor Bishop Higgins, the present bishop, and was opened by Cardinal Moran.

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