First Fleet - Richard Johnson

Richard Who?

7 February 2023

2.8 MINS

We were on holiday in Sydney.  My wife and I had a week in the big city in 2014, before attending a friend’s wedding in southern New South Wales.

While in Sydney, I wanted to visit a particular site of historical significance.  However, it was not marked on the tourist map in our hotel room.

The Harbour Bridge and the Opera House were clearly marked. There were directions to Kings Cross and Oxford Street. Various art galleries and museums were listed. The Rocks was marked, and an aquarium in Darling Harbour. And there were instructions on how to get to Bondi Beach.

But there was nothing about the historical site that I wanted to visit.

A Source of All Knowledge for Tourists?

One morning, I spotted a Tourist Information Centre. That’s it, I thought.  They’ll know for sure where I can find the site I’m looking for.Richard Johnson Square

I went in and approached the counter.  A young woman in her early 20s — one of the Millennial generation — smiled beautifully at me and asked how she might be of assistance.

The conversation went like this…

“I’m looking for a particular historical site here in the heart of Sydney,” I said.

“What is it called?” she asked.

“I’m looking for Richard Johnson Square,” I answered.

I guessed that the woman’s blank facial expression was not a consequence of failing to understand the word “Square”. It had to be linked to the name “Richard Johnson”, so I added…

“You know, Richard Johnson.  He was the chaplain on the First Fleet… in 1788.  He built Sydney’s first church and conducted Sydney’s first school.”

There was a flicker of recognition at the words “First Fleet”, but that young woman — a product of our modern education system — had little awareness of churches and chaplains, and absolutely no knowledge of Richard Johnson.

“Sorry,” she said.  “I’ve never heard of him, and I don’t know where that place is.”

‘Airbrushing’ Out Faith

Richard Johnson

Print of Richard Johnson by Garnet Terry, 1787.

Richard Johnson was a godly man. He was one of the few individuals who chose of his own free will to leave Britain in 1787 to journey to the Great Southland.  He cared for the officers, sailors, soldiers, and convicts of the First Fleet. He conducted the first recorded service of Christian worship on Australian soil on 3 February 1788. He built the first church building in Australia, and paid for its construction out of his own purse. He opened the first school in Australia, catering to any child regardless of social class or ethnicity whose parents would send them along.

Now, we are a nation that allows raucous hate-filled protests outside the funeral of a leading churchman. Now, we are a nation where state governments introduce laws to undermine the distinctiveness of Christian schools. Now, we are a nation that seeks to celebrate ‘diversity’ in all aspects of society, except when ‘diversity’ features someone of Christian faith.

How tragic it is when a nation forgets God and ‘airbrushes’ faith out of its history!

It was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian philosopher and writer, who stated in his Templeton Lecture of 1983,

More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

Since then I have spent well nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval.

But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

Australia, do not forget God! Remember Richard Johnson, and all those like him, who sought — and are seeking — to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the peoples of this country.

PS: We eventually found Richard Johnson Square, thanks to ‘Mr Google’.


Image: Frances Holman, The Borrowdale from the First Fleet (1786)/Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Jennifer Mok 7 February 2023 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    Yes it is so simple isn’t it.

  2. Kaylene Emery 7 February 2023 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    I could never have imagined that being a member of our Christian community would be such an enjoyable experience. …though at times challenging. Nor could I envisage how hungry I would be to learn and understand the Scriptures, which cant really be achieved in isolation.
    When it came to learning the history of my own Nation again I had pretty much to start from scratch so I did, and here I am. So happy to know who Richard Johnson was and what he put in place for those of us he would never meet.
    Thank you for contributing to my educational journey Brian and for your love of Jesus Christ because this makes you salt and light, for me.

  3. Jim Twelves 7 February 2023 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this contribution. I am a retired Christian school principal, if you had asked me, I could have taken you there! So so sad that our education system is failing to educate so many. I am thrilled to know that this monument is still there, in the light of so many statues being ‘removed’ to clean up our history. Let’s pray that this one is preserved for future generations and never dismantled or dis-informed.

  4. Ian Moncrieff. 7 February 2023 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    Great article Brian. History is His story, and Jesus was well represented by Australia’s first Chaplain – spreading the Gospel and making the colony a better place because of his ( Richard Johnson’s) Christian faith in action. Schools and Churches.
    Thank you Brian.

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