Old St. David’s Church Of England Arncliffe

by Peter Orlovich

The following article, from the researching pen of Mr. Peter Orlovich, M. A. , a member of our Society, deals with certain phases of the early history of Old St. David’s Church of England at Arncliffe, and also throws light on the pioneering Hannam family who were amongst the early settlers of the area. The article was initially prepared for the congregation of, shall we say, New St. David’s, located at Forest Road, Arncliffe. Through the kindness of the Rector, the Rev. N. G. Robinson, our Society has been permitted to republish the article, which has great historical value. So little information has survived in relation to Old St. David’s, a circumstance brought about by the loss of relevant minute books and a somewhat chequered existence under different administrations. A further article, to be published by the Society, is in course of preparation.

The story of Old St. David’s Church of England, Arncliffe, might be said to commence with the conviction and transportation of Reuben Hannam alias Richard Hannam to New South Wales in 1811. Reuben Hannam, a brick and tile maker by calling, and a native of Somersetshire, England, was convicted at the Somerset Assizes on the 31st March, 1810, and sentenced to transportation for life. He arrived in Sydney on the convict transport “Admiral Gambler” on the 29th September, 1811, and in due course was employed as Overseer of Brick Makers in Sydney.

Rueben Hannam’s Cottage (Wolli Creek)

In August, 1813, Reuben Hannam addressed a Memorial to Governor Macquarie, in which he stated:-

“That the Memorialist is a Prisoner of this Colony, and arrived in the Ship Admiral Gambier, having much reason to consider that his Term of Transportation is during his natural Life. That the Memorialist left in England, a Vhf and Children for whom he has entertained a Serious affection, and whom, he has most lamentably to reflect, must be under extreme hardships in their native country as they are bereft of their only succour a Husband and a Father. That the great and compassionate goodness of his Most Majesty extended tcr your poor Memorialist that mercy which continues to him a blessing of existence, so that he might cordially repent of his past Errors, and regenerate in this distant Region, under Your Excellency’s benign authority, wherefore, your Memorialist, conscious that the power which interposed in lengthening the days, had no less in view, the promotion of the happiness of your Memorialist, should his conduct render him worthy of the favourable charge, he entertains a hope that through the Medium of Your Excellency’s humane Representation and interposition, his Wife and Family may be permitted to follow his footsteps and to share his Destinies, which Memorialist is assured his forlorn partner would very gladly do. The Memorialist therefore supplicates Your Excellency in this behalf; that he may share in the bounty which has extended itself so generally for the good of the Unfortunate, most humbly prays as the greatest blessing he can derive on Earth to see his Dear Wife and Children once again, and believe great and good Sir, that his tears and theirs gratefully flow in praise of your goodness &c

Reuben Hannam”

This Memorial, together with a certificate signed by the Rev. William Cowper (Assistant Chaplain) and Isaac Nichols (Principal Superinten- dent of Convicts) testifying to the good conduct of Reuben Hannam in the Colony, was transmitted by Governor Macquarie to Under Secretary Goulburn on the 20th August, 1813 with a request that the documents be submitted for the favourable consideration of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Earl Bathurst, and recommending him to- order a passage for Hannam’s wife and children “in one of the first Convict Ships coming out to this Colony.” (Historical Records of Australia, Ser. 1, v. 8, p. 78-79)

As a direct consequence of Reuben Hannam’s Memorial, his son David embarked on the “Lady Northampton” about the same time and sailed for New South Wales, his age then being about 8 years. David Hannam settled in the colony, and on the 15th November, 1825 was ordered or promised 60 acres of land by Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane. The land was soon thereafter occupied by David Hannam in the Parish of St. George, County of Cumberland, although the grant was not made until the 31st August, 1833 by Governor Bourke, on the condition that 16 acres be cleared and cultivated, or buildings or fences erected, or other permanent improvements made to the value of £10. Reuben Hannam was granted 100 acres on the same date adjoining his son’s farm.

David Hannam married Mary Masterson of the Airds district on the 17th March, 1828 at St. Peter’s Church, Campbelltown. David was then aged 23 and his wife was 17 years old. They resided apparently on the farm at “Cook’s River”, with John Masterson, aged 12 years, and three assigned or emancipated convict labourers.

In 1857, David and Mary Hannam had a family of twelve, Reuben (28 years) John (25), Elizabeth (23), Mary (21), Phillis (18), David (16), James Australia (14), Charlotte (12), Sarah Jane (10), Catharine (8), Lydia (6) and Louisa Ruth (born 6th April, 1857).

Reuben Hannam died on the 14th December, 1852 aged 73 years, his wife predeceasing him at the age of 62 years on the 5th February, 1852. David Hannam died at the age of 67 years on the 5th September, 1872 at his residence on the “New Illawarra Road” at Cook’s River. He was survived by his widow, four sons and eight daughters.

Old St David’s, Arncliffe

The site of Old St. David’s Church, Arncliffe is located within the primary grant issued to David Hannam. There were clearly two churches erected on the site. The earlier of the two appears to have been erected early in 1861, and a reference to its construction was made in The Church of England Chronicle, vol. 5, No. 5, March 7th, 1961. p. 36:-


“A small School-house has lately been built for the benefit of a numerous and scattered population south of the Cook’s River Dam. Half an acre of land was kindly given by Mr. D. Hannam several years ago, and some money collected, the work was begun, but soon failed; and a traveller through the retired bush between Woolli Creek and the Eastern Wollongong Road, would have stumbled suddenly on grass-grown ruins of rubble work, half raised between rough hewn corner posts. During the last few months a sub- scription has again been set on foot and carried out with praise- worthy zeal by wives of two respectable cottagers, so that on the whole £42 has been raised. The building was recommenced, the front and two end walls of good stonework, the back wall of slabs, in the hope of afterwards adding two rooms for a Teacher’s residence. The roof is of galvanised iron for security against bush fires; the ceiling and slabs inside neatly covered with calico; the floor of Asphalte, which will, it is hoped, combine a constant dryness with freedom from white ants. The building is 22 feet long, by 14 feet wide, and 8 feet high under the eaves, and the whole presents a pleasant appearance. A neat pulpit and forms (to seat about 40 persons) complete the furniture inside. The whole cost is £43.

On Sunday afternoon, February 24th, the first service was performed by the Rev. A. H. Bull, M. A. , Minister of the district of St.. Peter’s, who purposes to attend there on alternate Sunday afternoons.

A collection was made after the service amounting to £1.11. lOd. , to complete the funds required.

Mr. Charles Kellett has undertaken the charge of the school., which having no aid from Government, must at least for the present depend on local resources.


St David’s Church of England (circa 1875)

The second church -, the. present structure – appears to have been built sometime between 1875 and 1892, for in 1875, the Rev. Stanley Howard, incumbent of St. Peter’s, Cook’s River, recorded his observations of the original School-house and church in a letter to a relative, a copy of which was published in the Church of England Messenger, Arncliffe of August, 1934. (See attached copy).

The Town and Country Journal of the 27th August, 1892 featured an article on the churches of Christ Church, Bexley and St. David’s Arncliffe, including sketches of both, and the latter is quite clearly the present Old St. David’s. “It has not much pretension to architectural beauty, but is not unpicturesque”, noted the observer .. . . “St. David’s is a much older building than Christchurch, and what there is of architecture is of an early English character. The weather stained shingle roof gives a good bit of rich brown grey., and the primitive belfry is, in its way, not uncomely.”

There are, however, two main questions which I consider essential to a more rounded history of the Church, but which I regret I have been as yet unable to answer:

(1) When, and what form of legal title to the land occupied by the Church was actually granted to the Church or its trustees?

(2) When the present structure was built?

I regret I could not undertake the research to establish these points at present. I trust this information supplied will be of some benefit.”

“St. Peter’s Parsonage,

St. Peters, nr. Sydney, N. S. W.

Monday, 22nd August, 1875.

I have long contemplated a day’s riding in the bush with my good neighbour, Mr. Done, over the River, to view his parish. We agreed to do it this day: so I provided myself with a bag full of edibles not to be despised even by a dainty appetite; and we met at the dam at 10 o’clock. First we rode for about a mile and a half to Arncliffe Church, which was certainly a remarkable edifice. I hardly ever tried to sketch in my life before, as you will suppose when you see the accompanying attempts; but I feel I must try and put a few lines together to give you an idea of the reality; and I think I have partly succeeded. Someone who visited it said they must certainly not destroy that when they built another, but leave it as a “fossil remains.” The attempt at the sketch inside is the least successful, because I can’t manage the shading — but I must send it. The Vestry you see is an old clothes horse done up with canvas and whitewash. Over the desk is a. hole in the ceiling — for ventilation I suppose — from which frequently appears a large green snake, hanging down over the preacher’s head. On the walls are tacked pieces of bent tin supporting “patty pan” to hold the candles. A very old-looking table and a few clean benches completes the ecclesiastical furniture of this Cathedral Church I must confess that it looked clean enough in spite of the rest.

St Davids, Arncliffe – 1875

From this we rode through the bush, along roads which were often the merest tracks, to Belmore. We occasionally got on a good road for a while, and passed nice cottages with pretty orange trees loaded with fruit in the gardens. Then we would suddenly dive into the forest again, and ride through tall, thick bush, among which the acacia was most lovely, in full blossom, so rich and golden. Belmore Church is better than my sketch represents. We heard the children read. Then we rode to Connelly’s Creek, and, borrowing a “billy-pot” and cups (yes, and she actually gave us saucers and spoons, which quite spoilt our bush tea, as it requires to be stirred with a stick to give it its true flavour), we found a sheltered place at the foot of two big gum trees and lit our fire, and thoroughly enjoyed our lunch. It was great fun Mr. Done is an elderly gentleman, but full of spirits, and a most genial as well as spiritually minded companion. I believe he felt as much as a boy as I did The spot will not soon be forgotten by me. If I were a sketcher I would send you a pencil representation of it. I need hardly say that it was (as George used to express it when we went for expeditions together ) “sanctified by the word of God — – it was John xvii — and prayer.”

Then we rode up a slope on the opposite side of the little creek, and dived again into a very pretty piece of regular forest, amongst which the rays of the afternoon sun shone softly and richly. After a few miles we came to Lord’s Forest Church, which I had not time to put on paper, but I send you an extract from an inscription. We reached Mr. Done’s house at Rocky Point — a small but very substantial new parsonage which he has had great difficulty in raising — at sunset. I could not stay to touch the neatly prepared tea, but hastened home, having thoroughly enjoyed the 26 mile ride.”

This article was first published in the February 1970 edition of our magazine.
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