The earliest church music in the colony

The earliest church music in the colony
3a Rev_Richard_Johnson_1On the 3 February 1788 the first Divine Service was held in Australia and to mark the anniversary we hear a lost tradition of grass-roots sacred music that may have been amongst the earliest church music heard in the colony.

In the years before organs and robed choirs came to dominate Anglican worship in the 19th century, there was another tradition of sacred music known as west gallery music. This was the music of the gallery bands found in English parish churches of the late 18th century. It was a grass roots music played by local parishioners in the western galleries of their churches using instruments like bassoons, cellos, flutes, serpents and vamp-horns. There was an enormous repertoire of west gallery music, most of it now forgotten, but it deserves to be better known in Australia where it was amongst the first church music of the fledgling colony. These are the sacred songs that built a nation.

It was a tradition that came with the First Fleet. Divine service was first celebrated in New South Wales, “under a great tree”, on Sunday 3rd February 1788 by the chaplain Rev Richard Johnson. What was sung that day isn’t recorded, but it’s likely the music was provided by the drummers and buglers of the Marines. For the next forty years, regimental bandsmen along with convicts and settlers continued to provide music both sacred and secular in the new colony using their own instruments, well before pipe organs arrived in the 1820s. Most of the church music was Anglican (with a strong Methodist influence) and consisted of metrical psalms, hymns, Christmas carols, and music for Church festivals. The performance style though came directly from the English gallery band tradition.

Source – ABC Radio National, Encounter: Sacred songs that built our nation: Duration 48:30 minutes

Image source and further information:

Australian church music — then and now

Refer also
Richard Johnson:

National Christian Heritage Sunday – the first Sunday in February each year:


Leave a Reply, comments are welcome.

This entry was posted in Further material. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s