Ebenezer Church came into being following the arrival in the colony of New South Wales of eight families on board the ‘Coromandel’ in June 1802. These families – Davison, Hall, Howe, Johnston, Johnstone, Mein, Stubbs and Turnbull – came to the new colony with a request to be settled together. Their wish was granted by Governor King and they moved to their 100-acre land grants at Portland Head (Ebenezer) on the Hawkesbury River early in 1803.
They were joined by seven other families – Arndell, Bushell, Grono, Cavanough, Jacklin, Suddis and Jones – and met regularly on Sundays for services on Ebenezer Mount or in the homes of settlers. One of their members, James Mein, led the group in prayers and hymns. These settlers were people of various denominations but they came together as one congregation.
In 1808 at a special meeting in the home of Dr Thomas Arndell, a surgeon who came out on the First Fleet, each family pledged itself to the building of a church and school. The total cost of £400 was to be obtained from voluntary subscriptions. There was no assistance by way of finance or labour from the government.
Pioneer Owen Cavanough donated four acres of land on which to build the church. Andrew Johnston designed the church and supervised its construction. George Hall swam his bullocks across the river to haul the stone to the site. Built of locally obtained materials – sandstone, cedar wood and hardwood – it was constructed in 1809.
Despite their general lack of agricultural background the settlers of Portland Head were to become successful farmers and were to make a major contribution to the Hawkesbury community and the colony. When Governor Lachlan Macquarie visited Portland Head by river on 4th December 1810 he was impressed with their progress for he recorded in his diary:
‘The farms on both banks, especially those on the left bank, are rich and well cultivated, and make a pretty appearance from the water, being generally interspersed with extensive orchards of peaches and other fruits.’
Under the leadership of Presbyterian James Mein, and also due to the influence of the Reverend John Dunmore Lang from Sydney town, Ebenezer Church became the first Presbyterian Church in Australia.
The building was originally divided by a cedar partition into two rooms, one used for church services and the other as a school. The school began in 1810 under schoolmaster John Youl and remained open with teachers such as John Anderson, an ex-convict transported for his involvement in the Scottish Uprising of 1820, and Matthew McFetridge until 1887 when a new public school opened.
The first ordained minister was Reverend John McGarvie who agreed to migrate to the colony from Scotland in 1825. Prior to this time they were led by ‘Pastor’ James Mein and intinerant preachers, especially Rowland Hassall and John Youl of the London Missionary Society.
Ebenezer Church, the oldest existing church in Australia, is still an active church today.