Sydney and Bishop Frederic Barker

We have been commenting this week on how varied our trip has been:

  • The beauty and yet the poverty of Malawi, visiting prisons, playing with undernourished children, worshipping in mud hut churches….
  • The mountains, cliffs, forests and amazing scenery of New Zealand, with wide open spaces, wild rugged places, and the opportunity to swim with dolphins and sail around the Bay of Islands.
  • And now the city of Sydney – the Opera House and Harbour Bridge certainly live up to their reputation, and to have some cultural input with visits to museums, the art gallery and to see The Barber of Seville at the Opera House, has been different this week, though the hot weather that The Bay of Islands and Sydney are renowned for still seem to allude us (and we hear that there is dreadful weather in Thailand and that it too has been rocked by an earthquake in next door Myanmar/Burma).

However, as I have mentioned before, the majority of our time here has been spent researching the life of Bishop Frederic Barker, my great great great uncle, who was for 27 years the second Bishop of Sydney, becoming Bishop in 1854. It was still early days in the life of this new colony and it took nearly 90 days to sail from England to get here, and reading the journal of his wife, Jane Barker, one morning they awoke to discover an iceberg only 1/2 mile away – if they had hit that in the dark……? Transport around his diocese was by carriage or horseback and often the roads were not navigable, and as the diocese when he arrived was the whole of New South Wales, he would be away for months visiting the far flung reaches.

Rev Barker visit 2011 003It was the time though when the colony was growing rapidly and in the first 7 years of his time here, he was responsible for raising the money and planting over 80 churches at the rate of a new church every month, and at the same time developing schools. We have visited one school named after him, and were given a grand welcome. Having been shown around the school, I was asked to speak in the chapel and in the afternoon, the school archivist gave us access to photos of and letters from the Bishop. We also heard about another school, St. Catherine’s which was founded by Mrs Barker for the daughters of the clergy, but which is now a well-known girls school in Sydney – we have arranged to visit on Monday. At Barker College, we had lunch with the headmaster followed by coffee served from the silver tea service, which has inscribed upon it “Presented as a marriage gift to the Rev Frederic Barker MA by the congregation of St. Mary’s Edgehill, Liverpool desirous that their minsiter might possess in the retirement of his home a small token of their esteem for his character, gratitude for his exertions and attachement for his person 15th October 1840”.

The Bishop, struggling to entice clergy to travel from the UK to minister in all these new churches and be chaplains at the new schools, founded quite quickly after his arrivel Moore Theological College, and on Tuesday we are visiting this, going to chapel there and sitting in on some classes.

We have also spent quite a lot of time looking at the archives in the State Library. There are diaries and journals and letters from both the Bishop and his wife, and we also discovered the most beautiful ‘illuminated’ address given by the clergy of the Diocese on the 25th anniversary of his enthronement as Bishop.

Sadly we have had less response from the Diocesan archivist and the cathedral wasn’t up to much, though in the cathedral school we found his portrait. However, speaking with the chaplain at Barker College, Bishop Barker was a man who had a great influence on the church in Sydney Diocese, the consequences of which are still widely felt, particualarly his evangelical heritage.

Another intereting aspect was that in looking through the state archives we found letters from and to Rev Samual Marsden and Mr George Clark- these two we had come across in New Zealand for they were the first missionaries to NZ, and landed at Keri Keri in the Bay of Islands, and we visited the first mission house. They both left Parramatta in Sydney to take the gospel to the Maoris and to those who had begun to settle in this newly discovered colony, and Samuel Marsden was very influential in the writing of the treaty that was signed between the British and the Maoris.

It is humbling and awe-inspiring to discover how, in days when travel and communication was so difficult, these men and women were willing to risk all for the sake of fulfilling the great commission. And to have seen photos of and held letters written by my ancestors over 150 years ago who were part of this, has been truly remarkable.

It has been strange celebrating both our birthday’s this week so far from home, and also missing the wedding of one of my nephew’s yesterday. But tomorrow we plan to worship at the local Anglican Church in the morning – 9.00am Family Service! – and then in the evening we are going with the woman we are staying with to her church called C3 – City Centre Church – not sure how big it is, but hear that there are over 1000 young people who are part of it!