On Sunday, February 3, 1788, the first Christian service was held in Australia, when the Reverend Richard Johnson, chaplain to the First Fleet, preached a sermon on the text: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me?” (Ps. 116:12). Richard Johnson had been nominated to William Pitt, prime minister, by William Wilberforce, emancipator of the slaves, as a suitable candidate for the post of chaplain. Wilberforce was deeply concerned that an evangelical should be appointed as chaplain to the infant colony, and the name of Johnson was suggested to him by the Eclectic Society. This society, an association of devout evangelicals, numbered among its members Charles Simeon, John Newton, and William Cooper. It was this same group that was responsible for the foundation of the Church Missionary Society in 1799.

The early beginnings were inauspicious and unpromising. The new arrivals numbered 1030, of whom 736 were convicts. “It is a shameful and unblessed thing,” wrote Bacon, “to take the scum of people, and withal condemned men, to be the people with whom you plant.” It is not surprising that the First Fleet was provided not only with Bibles and Prayer Books, but also with 200 copies of Exercises Against Lying, 50 copies of Caution to Swearers, 100 Exhortations to Chastity, and 100 Dissuasions from Stealing. Nevertheless from these humble beginnings the Commonwealth has grown.

Australians have been described as “a people singularly independent in thought, restless in action, and impatient of restraint.” This is due to two historical circumstances: first, that Australia began as a prison for convicts; and secondly, that the gold fields were opened in 1851. The subject of transportation is never mentioned in ...

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