Treasures at Moore College

A travel Communion set used by the Rev. Nathaniel Jones, principal of Perry Hall in Melbourne • From Moore College’s website

By John Martin

Moore College, the Sydney-based Anglican seminary, has launched a campaign to preserve a major collection of Australian Christian history held in its library. It includes a copy of the first book distributed in Australia, an ancient Hebrew parchment, a first edition of the King James Bible, and rare photos of the Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction.

The project, due for completion in 2017, will enable display of these treasures in the college’s new library. “Some of Australia’s priceless national heritage is found in the Moore College library — not surprising, since the college is one of the oldest tertiary educational institutions in the country and it became the repository of special books and artifacts from the earliest days,” the Rt. Rev. Peter Jensen, Moore’s former principal (1985-2001) and Archbishop of Sydney (2001-13).

One of the items of deepest historic interest is the “Address to the Inhabitants of the Colonies” by the chaplain of the First Fleet, the Rev. Richard Johnson. It was printed in England in 1794, with editing by the slave-trader-turned-evangelist John Newton. It is the first book conceived and distributed in Australia.

The collection houses many iconic pieces from the first years of the colony, including a volume of Captain Cook’s Voyages (1785) and one of the few books that arrived on the First Fleet: a concordance given to Richard Johnson by a member of the Clapham Sect.

Johnson passed that book along to his successor, the Rev. Samuel Marsden. The library holds 98 of the second chaplain’s handwritten sermons and, as Marsden was the first missionary to New Zealand, there is also an early Maori New Testament.

“Friends in England wanted to ensure that the infant church in [New South Wales] was provided with the resources of the Christian tradition and they gave generously,” Jensen said. “So our library links us directly with such famous leaders as Newton, Wilberforce, Henry Venn, and John Henry Newman. In fact, it contains about 70 books from the very first lending library in Australia.”

There are various papers and artifacts from elsewhere in the South Pacific, including some possessions of the Rev. Charles Christopher Godden, killed in what is now Vanuatu in 1906, the first graduate of the college to be martyred.

As well as Australiana, significant pieces of ancient and Reformation history will be housed in the new library. There is a Hebrew parchment used by Deaconess Sophie Newton, who was a CMS missionary in China in the early part of the 20th century. The fragment was rescued from a synagogue in Jerusalem in 1922.

Reformation documents include a Greek New Testament from 1549, a Hebrew Bible from 1608, a first Book of Common Prayer (1549) and a first edition of the 1611 King James Bible, famous for a mistake at Ruth 3:15, in which she became he.

Among more modern artifacts are photos taken by the Rev. Frank Cash. He documented the construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge in more than 10,000 photographs.

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