Commission Member Publishes Book on John Saunders

John Saunders:Baptist pastor and activist, Sydney, 1834–1848

John Saunders

John Saunders

by Ken Manley and Barbara Coe

397 pages, 2014

Rev. John Saunders (1806–59) was the pioneer Baptist pastor in Sydney from 1834 to 1848. As well as establishing the first Baptist Church at Bathurst Street in 1836 he became a leading figure in the religious and moral life of the colony. A prominent activist in the temperance movement at a time when alcohol was still a major scourge, he was also a courageous and outspoken critic of the treatment of Aborigines by many British settlers at the fevered time of the trial of white men for the Myall Creek murders.

The special feature of this book is that it not only tells the full story of Saunders’ numerous activities on behalf of missions, philanthropic, scientific and moral issues, but for the first time publishes a comprehensive and carefully edited collection of his fascinating letters, written whilst he was travelling as chaplain to female convicts aboard theGeorge Hibbert and after his arrival in Sydney. Other lectures and sermons, including his famous denunciation of the treatment of Aborigines, are included. Saunders also contributed to contemporary debates about crucial topics such as general education for children and the transportation of convicts. Whenever possible, the authors have allowed Saunders to speak for himself on the key issues that helped shape the colony during the crucial years of his ministry. The detailed notes about all who feature in his letters and papers are of special value.

During Saunders’ 13 years in Sydney, he came to love his new home. Following his death in London in 1859, his headstone revealed that he had become ‘one whose energies were devoted to the best interests of that bright land’.

Ken Manley and Barbara Coe have brought together original documents, commentary and research to produce not only a Baptist history, but a history of Sydney during these significant years.

This is a wonderful piece of writing incorporating biography, marvellous descriptions of colonial Sydney and exhaustive historical research into how Rev John Saunders tackled the burning issues of the early settlement in Australia’ (Rev Tim Costello, AM).

Published by Baptist Historical Society of NSW.