Kurrajong Heights Presbyterian Church:
some notes

St Davids Uniting Church

St David's Uniting Church, Kurrajong Heights, 2004
Built by subscription in 1867 on land donated by William Bowman

(Photo: Trish Downes 2004)


Scots wa' hae

    Rev James Cameron
Rev James Cameron, DD, 1826-19051

At auction in August 1841 William Bowman of Richmond purchased two allotments, comprising about 3½ acres, at Kurrajong Heights (then Northfield) from Joseph Douglass of Ivy Lodge.  In 1846, "being desirous to favour and promote the body of Christians residing within the Police district of Windsor aforesaid adhering to the Presbyterian form of Church Government and worship as contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and other Standards of the Church of Scotland",2 he donated the land to three trustees for the use of the Church.  The trustees were the district minister the Reverend Mathew Adam, William's brother George, and William's son-in-law Thomas Cadell.

The year before, George Bowman had built a Presbyterian church in Richmond at his own expense.  In 1846 the Church in NSW followed its Scottish parent by splitting into two factions, the Free Church (Synod of Eastern Australia) and the Synod of Australia (connected to the Established Church of Scotland).  George, whose sympathies lay with the Free Church, wanted the Richmond church to be part of the Free Church.  The Rev Mathew Adam adhered to the Established Church and while visiting Richmond from his base in Windsor, declined to preach in the new church, preferring instead to use the Wesleyan Chapel.3 

It seems William Bowman wanted to support the many Presbyterians in the Richmond/Kurrajong district who had remained with the Rev Adam in the Established Church and who now had no local church.  But the new Free Church minister the Rev William Lumsdaine and his successor the Rev James Cameron proved successful and popular incumbents, and eventually the the Rev Adam withdrew from Richmond to his Windsor parish which became a separate charge.  In 1865 the Church re-united, so the need for a second church in the Richmond-Kurrajong district lessened.

By 1865 the incumbent minister at Richmond was the Rev James Cameron, George Bowman's son-in-law.  James tells the story in his history of the Church:

Occasional services began to be held on the Kurrajong Heights, and by and bye the idea of getting a church erected began to be entertained.  In these days, while there was as yet no access to the Mountains by railway, the Kurrajong was a favourite resort in summer for visitors from Sydney and elsewhere.
  Comrie plaque in St David's church
  Plaques in the church commemorating the Comries and Rev Cameron
    Cameron plaque in St David's church
Instead of building a church merely, the idea was propounded of building a Clerical Sanatorium, to which ministers desiring change of air might resort with their families, the condition being that they should conduct service while resident on the Heights.  A prospectus4 was prepared of what was designated, "St. Luke's Clerical Sanatorium," and a suitable plan was obtained, which, while providing accommodation for a family, would contain a room large enough to serve as a dining room during the week, and a place for services on Sundays.  But as the idea of a sanatorium did not meet with much encouragement from those for whose benefit it was specially intended, the committee determined to expend the money collected in the building of a church.  Thus, the pretty little stone church on Kurrajong Heights came into existence, to which a room for Sunday school purposes was subsequently added.  In the early days, the use of the church was freely given for an Episcopal service to alternate with the Presbyterian, and the arrangement worked well until the Episcopalians erected a small church of their own.
In speaking of the church and school on Kurrajong Heights, we must not omit to mention the interest and liberality extended to them by the late Hon. James Comrie, J.P., of Northfield (a member of Council before representative government), and his late esteemed wife.  The influence emanating from Northfield through a long period of years contributed largely to the elevation of the moral and spiritual condition of the whole district.5

Sydney Morning Herald 19 May 1866

From the Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 19 February 1866 p.6

Another building, of a somewhat novel character, will shortly be commenced on Douglass Hill, Kurrajong, designs for which have been prepared by the same architect [Mr T. Rowe of Sydney]. It is to be called St. Luke's Clerical Sanatorium, and the use to which it is to be devoted is sufficiently explained by its name. The building is to be of wood, treated in the Gothic manner of timber constructions, and its appearance and fittings will be in every way adapted for the purpose for which it will be built and for its picturesque site.

From the Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday 23 May 1866 p.9

A small church, to accommodate 100 persons, and a comfortable cottage as a Presbyterian Church sanatorium, are about to be erected on Douglass Hill, Kurrajong. The objects of these buildings are to supply religious ordinances to the permanent residents on the hill and vicinity to furnish opportunities of Divine worship on the Lord's Day for the numerous visitors from Sydney and other places who repair to the locality in quest of health, and to provide for the ministers of the Presbyterian Church a sanatorium to which they and their families can betake themselves in turn for relaxation and health. Plans for the two buildings have been prepared by Mr. T. Rowe, architect, of Pitt-street.

George not only managed the subscription fund to build St David's church in 1867,6 but was a major benefactor.  According to historian Dorothy McLaurin in 1922, 'in the church are a number of well worn testaments inscribed - "Presented to the congregation of the Kurrajong Church by George Bowman of Richmond for use in the Church only, Feb 16/68"'.7

When the manse and sanatorium project was cancelled, George purchased the adjacent Ivy Lodge estate in 1868, probably with the idea of using those buildings instead.  In 1875, in his final years, he transferred the complex to his daughters Eliza and Mary Ann and their husbands Rev James and Dr Andrew Cameron.  Mary Ann and Andrew, both ill, lived in "Douglass cottage" and died in 1876, after which Rev James and his wife used the cottage in conjunction with their pastoral duties on the Heights, where James preached every second Sunday.

When on 4 January 1875 the residents petitioned the Postmaster-General for a post office, they wrote in support:

The locality possesses a Denominational School which is fairly attended, and a place of worship, a stone building, used alternately as a Church of England and Presbyterian Church, with a Sunday School attached.8

From The Windsor and Richmond Gazette, 21 June 1905:

Rev. Dr Cameron and family have been spending holidays at the Big Hill for the past fortnight, and returned this week.

And from the same paper, 4 March 1905:

Rev. G. Gordon, Presbyterian minister, was taken suddenly ill after service on Sunday last.  We are pleased to say he is a little better, but is still very weak.  Rev Mr and Mrs Gordon are spending a holiday in Dr Cameron's cottage on the Heights.

After the death of Dr Cameron in 1905, the new owner, Mr Thomas Walker, kept up the association with St David's church.  From The Gazette of 18 April 1908:

A splendid programme has been arranged for the open air concert in connection with the Kurrajong Presbyterian Sabbath School, to take place on Easter Monday night, in the grounds adjoining Mr Walker's cottage on the Heights, which have been kindly lent for the occasion.  The North Richmond Glee Club will assist with solos, quartettes, &c.  All the best local talent will help.  Mr J. Smith is hon. treasurer, and Miss N. Douglass hon. secretary, so that the affair is in good hands.  Given a favorable night it should be a charming concert.

The report the following week (25 April 1908) shows how wide was participation in the church and district's activities   Because so many names are mentioned, it is worth quoting in full:

Concert at Kurrajong Heights.
The Presbyterian Sabbath School at Kurrajong Heights held their annual picnic on Monday last in the church grounds, there being a good muster of the children and friends.  Mr Joseph Smith, the assiduous superintendent, was in charge, and was ably assisted by Mr W. Douglass and the Misses Douglass, who devoted themselves to the entertainment of the scholars and everybody else who attended during the day.  In the afternoon the Rev W.R. Milne arrived, and the company having assembled in the school hall, he presented the prizes won for the past year.  The superintendent read the annual report, which pointed out that the work of the new year had been entered upon by the same officers and teachers who had carried out the work in the past; they had attended regularly when in health.  The school had been open each Sunday, and, except on three occasion, the superintendent had been present, absence being through illness.  The teachers, Misses N. and G. Douglass, had always attended when weather and health permitted, the latter giving her services as organist during the year, for which thanks were expressed.  Reference was also made to the kindness of these two ladies and Mr J. Lewis in giving a service of song during the year in aid of the Sabbath School funds.  A satisfactory credit balance was reported.
    Douglass cottage 2004
  Douglass cottage, former residence of, inter alia,
George Bowman, James Cameron and Thomas Walker

(Photo: Trish Downes 2004)
In the evening an open-air concert was held in the grounds of Mr Walker's cottage, adjoining the church grounds.  The night was a glorious one, and as a result the attendance was well up to expectations.  The lawn was illuminated with Chinese lanterns, and the side verandah served as a platform.  The chairman was the Rev W.R. Milne.  Some very good tableaux, wand exercises and club swinging were given by the pupils under the able direction of the Misses Douglass, who were, indeed, very much in evidence throughout.  The following pleasing programme of music and mirth was rendered:—  Tableau, Pupils;  recitation, Mr S. Boughton;  song, "The old soldier", Mr P. Biddle;  recitation, "Only a pin", Mr G.H. Adam;  song, "Home, boys, home", Mr J.M. Evans (encored);  duet, the Misses Mitchell;  song, "The wishing cap", Miss Matheson;  wand exercises, Pupils;  duet, "A.B.C.", Mr and Miss Matheson (encored);  gramaphone selections, Mr Lord;  tableaux, "Joan of Arc" and "Floral tableau", Pupils;  song, "The sleeping camp", Mr H. Matheson; recitation, "A case of snake bite in harvest time", Mr S. Boughton (encored); trio, "A little farm well tilled", Messrs Biddle, Matheson and Evans (doubly encored);  song, "I'se going back to Dixie", Mr J.M. Evans;  club swinging, Pupils;  recitation, Mr G.H. Adam;  song, "Doreen", Mr P. Biddle;  song, Miss Mitchell;  male chorus.  Several of these items won great favor with the audience, especially the trio by Messrs Biddle, Matheson and Evans, in which the flights and falsetto and the ludicrous renditions of other fine points of harmony and inharmony were a revelation.  A number of the contributors were members of the North Richmond Glee Club, while Messrs Evans and Adam were from Marrickville.  Mrs Alwyn and Misses Matheson and Douglass gave valuable assistance as accompanists.
At the conclusion of the programme, on the motion of Mr W. Douglass, a vote of thanks was accorded the various contributors to the evening's entertainment, those who had assisted in the work of organisation, the chairman and the press.  Mr Douglass explained that this was the first occasion on which a representative of the press had attended a function of this nature at the Heights. A GAZETTE representative responded.
The gathering dispersed after 10 o'clock, and many expressions of full appreciations of the hospitality of the people of the Heights were ventured by the visitors.


  1. Cameron, James: Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales. Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1905. p.1
  2. NSW Department of Lands: Register of Deeds. Book 12 No 408 of 7 Dec 1846
  3. Cameron, James: Op cit p.250
  4. St. Luke's Clerical Sanatorium. Prospectus of a clerical sanatorium, to be erected on Douglas' Hill, Kurrajong. Undated, but stamped "The Free Library Sydney - Bequeathed by Justice Wise 1865".  Mitchell Library, 208/P57
  5. Cameron, James: Op cit p.250
  6. Will Douglass to Henry Selkirk 24 Jan 1926, RAHS archive M69.  Will Douglass states the church was built in the same year as Belmore Lodge.
  7. McLaurin, MD: Outline History of Kurrajong Heights, from facts collected during March 1922. (Royal Australian Historical Society (RAHS) archives.)
  8. National Archives of Australia: SP32/1, Kurrajong Heights Post Office file, 1875-1914.

© 2004 Patricia Downes

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