St John’s Anglican Church, Reid, Canberra.

St John's Anglican Church, Reid, Canberra.

Life sentences: Canberra's oldest church

MALCOLM ALLBROOK explores the history of Canberra's oldest church.

There's a place in Canberra that evokes the appearance and atmosphere of an English country parish.

The churchyard at St John's Anglican Church in Reid has an attractive steepled building, an old school house and rectory, lychgates and a graveyard.

And, as we might expect of such a place, it wears its past proudly.

The monuments, gravestones and stained glass windows connect it directly to generations of Canberra's Anglican churchgoers and speak of the important place the church has had in their lives.

Consecrated in 1845, St John's signified the harmony and order of the small Limestone Plains settlement.

As Nicholas Brown writes in A History of Canberra, around the church's "modest stones" grew an agglomeration of "largish stations, long established and prosperous", including Duntroon, Yarralumla and Lanyon.

There was "a substantial sprinkling" of small farmers, tenants or freeholders.

The most powerful and influential of these settlers was the Campbell dynasty, many of whom are buried in St John's graveyard.

The prominent colonial merchant and philanthropist Robert Campbell (1749-1848) grew up as a devout Presbyterian but became one of the most generous benefactors of Anglican activity in NSW.

In William Broughton (1788-1853), the first (and only) bishop of Australia, Campbell found a willing ally in his scheme to establish a Church of England presence at Limestone Plains.