St John the Baptist Church is the oldest church in Canberra, Australia, and also the oldest building within Canberra's city precinct. It is sited at the corner of Anzac Parade and Constitution Avenue in the suburb of Reid.
St John's is an Anglican church, and is oriented east-west, with the nave to the west and the main entrance (with choir loft and organ above) to the east. The foundation stone was laid in 1841, with the church being consecrated on 12 March 1845 by William Grant Broughton, the first and only Bishop of Australia.
The building as it stands today was constructed over a period of several years and was completed in three stages:
- The original church erected by Robert Campbell (1841–45)
- Nave extension by George Campbell
- Chancel by John Campbell (1872–73)
Sandstone for the church was sourced from quarries located at the base of Black Mountain and Quarry Hill (located in the suburb of Yarralumla). The original 20-foot church tower was erected in 1845 but developed a two-foot lean, was deemed unsafe and was dismantled in 1864. The present tower was designed by Edmund Blacket and erected during the period 1865-1870. Sandstone for the tower’s window mouldings was hauled by bullock from the Camden-Bargo district, a distance of a hundred miles. The spire was added in 1878.
The church bells were donated by Governor-General William Sidney, 1st Viscount De L'Isle and mark his term of office (1961–65).
A practice hall for the Canberra Boys' Choir is also housed within the church complex.
The church's pipe organ, built by Ronald Sharp, is the builder's last major instrument. It is a sibling to many other significant Australian pipe organs built by Sharp including the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall organ .
The church hall has a mural painting at its southern end, depicting people and events from the life of the church and the region. Rendered in a simplistic style, the mural depicts subjects as diverse as: a theodolite, a microscope, an Australian aborigine man, Bogong moths, Merino sheep, liturgical symbols, the Guides Australia logo and a girl in the uniform, a Boy Scout, Old Parliament House, Canberra, early ministers of the church and settlers including Robert Campbell and his nearby house "Duntroon" (also shown) that is now part of the Royal Military College, Duntroon.
St John's picturesque churchyard contains Canberra's original cemetery and was also the location of Canberra's first school, which now houses the Schoolhouse Museum. The burials in St John's churchyard date from 1844 onwards.
The mortal remains of many pioneers of the Canberra district are interred at St John's. They include the church's long-serving 19th-century rector, the Revd Pierce Galliard Smith, and Colonel John George Nathaniel Gibbes, who occupied Yarralumla homestead from 1859 until his death 14 years later. Gibbes was reputed to be the illegitimate son of a royal duke. Coincidentally, lying close to Gibbes' grave is the final resting place of another person with a link to the British throne, albeit one greatly separated in time and circumstance from that of the colonel. That person is Viscount Dunrossil, a former Governor-General of Australia, who died in office in 1961.
Also interred in the churchyard are the remains of Colonel Gibbes' wife, Elizabeth, his son Augustus Gibbes (Yarralumla's proprietor from 1859 to 1881), his grandson Henry Edmund Gibbes, and his great-grandson, the Australian air ace Bobby Gibbes DSO, DFC and bar — as well as St Christopher Battye and members of the pioneering McDonald, Guise, Shumack and Campbell families. The McDonalds are of Cranachan, Inverness Shire, Scotland, the same lineage as Flora Hannah McKillop (McDonald), mother of the Australian Saint Mary McKillop. This information is drawn inter alia from the definitive guide to all known burials at the site, Jean Salisbury's St John's Churchyard Canberra.
Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, and his wife, Thérèse Rein, regularly attended the church during 2009-2010. Rudd took the opportunity to address the assembled media and television cameras after Sunday services and field and answer questions on topics of the day.
2011 visit of Queen Elizabeth II
During the visit of the Queen of Australia in October 2011, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip attended St John's for the 11.15am service on 23 October 2011. She was welcomed by the rector, the Revd Paul Black, and the Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, the Rt Revd Stuart Robinson. The service was also attended by Kevin Rudd, Thérèse Rein and Sir Zelman Cowen.
- Body, A.H. (1986). Firm Still You Stand. St John's Parish Council.
- Robinson FW (1924), Canberra’s First Hundred Years, WC Penfold & Co Limited.
- "Ronald Sharp", Wikipedia, 5 April 2018, retrieved 15 November 2019
- Salisbury, Jean (2000). St John's Churchyard Canberra. Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra Inc.
- Rudd squanders chance to practise what he preaches, Chris Uhlmann, ABC Online, 2009-10-22
Media related to St John the Baptist Church, Reid at Wikimedia Commons