Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson (1753 – 1827) Church of England clergyman
On 26th January 1788 the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove. At 10am on Sunday 3rd February 1788, Richard Johnson, Naval Chaplain, conducted a Christian Service. As far as we know this was the first Christian Service held on Australian soil.

On the 25th January 1788 the first fleet sailed into Port Jackson. On Saturday 26th January, early in the morning, Arthur Phillip along with a few dozen marines, officers and oarsmen, rowed ashore and took possession of the land in the name of King George III. At 10am on Sunday 3rd February 1788, Richard Johnson, Naval Chaplain, conducted a Christian Service. As far as we know this was the first Christian Service held on Australian soil.

For twelve years Richard Johnson worked and ministered in the colony. He engaged in regular ministrations in Sydney, Toongabbie and Parramatta as well as making a visit to Northfolk Island. I noted in one record dated 1792, that to that date there had been 226 baptisms, 220 marriages and 854 burials. Richard Johnson also took part in short exploring expeditions, was a successful market gardener and founded the first school in the nation.

Richard Johnson was a compassionate and devout servant of Jesus Christ and to all sections of the colony. He was loved and respected by many of the convicts and aboriginals to whom he ministered. At the first service he preached on the text from Psalm 116, what shall I render unto to the Lord for all his benefits to me? Regrettably we do not have a record of what he said. In fact none of his spoken sermons have survived.

Fortunately we do have an extended tract that he wrote in 1792. The number of settlers and spread nature of the colonial community made it impossible for him to personally minister to everyone. Richard Johnson was concerned that those in the colony know how to become and live as Christians. So he wrote a message that could be read by all. The tract gives us an insight into the message and fervour with which he would have preached. I want to share a portion of the contents with you.

Source, including Richard Johnson’s message :

The first Church and Christian School in Australia – Rev Johnson :
– and the location of the church (Corner of Hunter and Bligh Streets -Richard Johnson Square) viewed on Google Maps,151.21011&z=19&t=h

Refer also :

Richard Johnson (chaplain) :

Further information on the Rev Richard Johnson (and images of the Monument in Richard Johnson Square, Sydney) can be found at:

National Christian Heritage Sundaythe first Sunday in February each year

The first fleet Bible
On Sunday 3 February 1788, the first Christian Service in the colony of New South Wales was conducted by the chaplain, Richard Johnson. Johnson’s text came from Psalm 116, beginning ‘What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?’ The Bible was the large leather-bound King James Version which Johnson carried with him on the First Fleet. Johnson’s Bible, and his Book of Common Prayer, foundational documents in the formation of Australia, now reside under the care of St Philip’s York St Anglican Church in Sydney. The current rector of St Phillip’s, The Reverend Justin Moffatt, considers Johnson’s KJV to be one of our greatest treasures.

The earliest church music in the colony

Also Australia Day :

Mary Johnson (1752 – 1831) Wife of Richard Johnson :
William Wilberforce, the Clapham Cabinet, and ‘Liberating the Captives’ in Australia


You will know of the world renowned hymn “Amazing Grace” written by the Rev. John Newton in 1772. However, few people will know that this same Rev. John Newton (a former shipmaster on British slave ships), approached the Rev. Richard Johnson in England on the 23rd September 1786 with a visionary proposal to be the chaplain and missionary on the first fleet to the “Land Down Under”.

John Newton was crystal clear about the cost involved to embark on such a grand journey, and the call required to undertake such a glorious mission. He wrote “A minister who should go to Botany Bay without a call from the Lord, and without receiving from Him an apostolic spirit, the spirit of a missionary, enabling him to forsake all, to give up all, to venture all, to put himself into the Lord’s hands without reserve, to sink or swim, had better run his head against a brick wall.”

Rev Johnson accepted Newton’s proposal, and the rest is Australian history.

Richard Johnson wrote the first work to be published for an Australian audience. The booklet published in England in 1794, Johnson wrote in Australia in 1792, and his intention was to distribute it throughout the entire colony. It is reprinted on the following website in its entirety because of both its historic importance and its timeless message.

Refer –
– and

On 15 November 1786, John Newton wrote to Wilberforce:

To you, as the instrument, we owe the pleasing prospect of an opening for the propagation of the Gospel in the Southern Hemisphere. Who can tell what important consequences may depend on Mr Johnson‘s going to New Holland?

The National Alliance of Christian Leaders (NACL) has supplied a list of books sent out on the First Fleet with the Rev Richard Johnson:

100 Bibles
25 Common Prayer books
75 Common Prayer books
50 Testaments
100 Testaments
250 Testaments
500 Psalters
200 Church catechism books
100 Osterwald’s Necessity for reading the Scriptures
100 Christian Monitor
25 Plain Exhortations to Prisoners
50 Synge’s Religion made easy
25 Kettlewell’s Office for the Penitent
200 Sermon’s on the Mount
12 Wilson’s Instructions for the Indians
100 Wilson’s On The Lord’s Supper
200 Exercise against Lying
50 Woodward’s Caution to Swearers
500 Stonehouse’s Administrations
100 Stonehouse’s Administrations
100 Stonehouse’s Most Important truths
200 Child’s First Book – 1st part
200 Child’s Book – 2nd part
50 Lewis’s Catechisms
200 Christian Soldier
100 Burkett’s Help and Guide
20 Burrough’s Devout Psalmodist
100 Exhortations to Chastity
25 Daniel Hurley’s Conversion
50 Life of God in the Soul of Man
50 Porteus on Good Friday
100 White’s Dissuasives from Stealing
100 Stonehouse’s Advice to a Penitent
50 Stonehouse’s Spiritual Directions
100 Dixon’s Spelling Books
6 Worthington on Self Resignation
6 Gastrell’s Institutes
1 Greenwood’s Harmony
1 Osterwald’s Arguments
2 Secker’s Lectures
2 Whole Duty of Man
2 Green’s Discourses
6 Great Importance of a religious Life
1 Nelson’s Companion
6 Nelson’s Directions
1 Woodward’s Rise and Progress of Religious Societies
1 Bishop Mann on the Gospel
6 Stebbing on Prayer
1 Talbot’s Christian Schoolmaster
12 Manual Devotions
1 set of Society’s Tracts

That totals well over 4, 000 books!

The case of the disappearing chaplain: Reverend Richard Johnson’s ‘missing years’.
In 1801-1803, Johnson was fresh back from the ‘mission field’, well aware of the needs in New South Wales, enjoying a little fame among the citizens of Hull for being the first missionary ever sent to the South Seas, and moving in exactly the same circles as William Cowper, now keenly preparing for a major change in life direction. It is interesting to speculate how much influence Johnson may have had over Cowper’s life during those two years. When Samuel Marsden visited Johnson at Bunwell, seeking advice about recruits, was the young man Cowper still fresh in Johnson’s mind, and did he therefore suggest his name to Marsden as an able person to be next in their succession? When Marsden proceeded to Hull and placed his hand upon this young man’s shoulder, did Cowper respond so readily because, some time previously, Johnson’s had already been laid firmly upon the other?
Source :’s…-a0214998501

Society for promoting Christian knowledge
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2 thoughts on “Richard Johnson”

  1. Thank you. This is important. History is important, especially Australia’s story. The record suggests Richard Johnson was a very faithful minister of God as he ‘planted’ Australia’s first church.

  2. A fascinating story – what an exceptional man Johnson was. Should have greater recognition.

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