A Place for a Church
The first settlers in the Murray District initially worshiped in a barn on George Bouglas’ farm, north of the Murray and Dandalup Rivers in the Ravenswood area. Bouglas’ farm was chosen as is was centrally located to the other settlers’ allotments. George Bouglas was a former servant of Thomas Peel, after whom the Peel region is named.
In 1840 the settlers lobbied the Colonial Secretary for a place of worship. Thomas Peel offered to donate 200Ha along with £50 towards construction of the church building. However, bitter rivalries with other settlers saw Peel retract his offer.
The Governor granted two allotments in the Pinjarra townsite on the banks of the Murray River. The first church was built in 1843 close to the location of the current church building. The original church was basic being constructed of whitewashed wattle and daub walls and a thatched roof.
By 1860 the church was dilapidated and a public meeting was held to replace the church.
Construction started in 1861 by local building contractor Anthony Cornish though was delayed by the winter flood of 1862. The flood was so bad that water rushed through the windows one side and out the other. Cornish had to be dissuaded from tearing down the near completed church and building it on higher ground. Interior wood work, window sashes and picket fencing were fabricated by convicts. The church was consecrated in 1863 by Bishop Hale, dedicating it to St. John the Evangelist.
The little Church was originally shingled, though was reroofed with tile in 1926.
Fires, Floods and Earthquakes
The St John’s Church building is lucky to be standing with all it has been through.
On New Years Day 1901 the Church was nearly destroyed by fire. Local store keeper, Miss Cooper, reported the fire to Police Constable Banfield. When PC Banfield ran to the Church, the porch roof was on fire. The fire was extinguished by the PC and local residents hauling water up from the river.
An investigation into the fire found that two old men, former prison convicts, built a fire to boil their billy for tea under the Traffic Bridge. It was hot and windy and embers flew into the grass, quickly lighting up the grass and then the Church. The two old men were arrested and charged with vagrancy.
Being built on the banks of the Murray River, the Church has been inundated several times (most notably 1862, 1945 and 1955). After the 1862 flood, the most significant flood came in 1945 with the water flooding the grave yard and rising 800mm up the Church wall. A tablet on the southern side wall records the flood height.
The Meckering Earthquake in August 1968 damaged the Church with plaster falling off and cracking of the walls.
Future of the Church
Until recently, the St John’s Church offered bi-weekly services and was a popular place for baptisms, weddings and funerals. Unfortunately the Church building is closed for all services until major conservation works are completed. All services are now held at the Parish Centre at 3 Murray Street.