NSW Governor Philip Gidley King, Tolerator of Catholics

By Jordan Grantham, 14 June 2017
Governor King and Old Government House, Parramatta. Images: State Library of NSW and Wikimedia Commons (respectively)

Philip Gidley King was the third Governor of New South Wales, in office from 1800 to 1806. Governor King also oversaw governance of New Zealand at that time, which was part of the Colony of New South Wales until 1841.

He was the first Governor to permit celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Colony of New South Wales, under strict conditions.

According to the St Patrick’s Cathedral website: “On 19th April 1803 at Government House Parramatta, Governor King’s proclamation was read to the assembled Catholics permitting Rev Fr Dixon to say Mass on a rotation basis at Sydney, Parramatta and Hawkesbury. Parramatta’s first Mass was said on 22nd May.”


To be observed by the Rev. Mr. DIXON, and the CATHOLIC CONGREGATIONS in this Colony.

FIRST. They will observe, with all becoming gratitude, That this Extension of liberal Toleration proceeds from the Piety and Benevolence of OUR MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN, to Whom, as well as our Parent Country at large, we are (under

Providence), indebted for the Blessings we enjoy

SECOND. That the Religious Exercise of their Worship may suffer no hindrance, it is

expected that no Seditious Conversations that can any wise injure HIS MAJESTY’s

Government, or affect the Tranquillity of this Colony, will ever happen, either at the

Places prescribed for their Worship, or Elsewhere. But that they will individually

manifest their Gratitude and Allegiance, by exerting themselves in Detecting and

Reporting any impropriety, of that or any other nature, that may fall under their ob-


THIRD. As Mr. Dixon will be allowed to perform his Clerical Functions Once in

Three Weeks at the Settlements at Sydney, Parramatta, and Hawkesbury, in Rotation,

the Magistrates are strictly forbid suffering those Catholics who reside at the places

where Service is not performing, from resorting to the Settlement and District at

which the Priest officiates for the day.

FOURTH. The Catholic Service will be performed on the appointed Sundays at 9

o’clock in the morning.

FIFTH. No improper behaviour, during the time of Service, is to be allowed by the

Priest, who will be responsible to the Magistrates for his Congregation’s going regularly and orderly to their respective homes, after the Offices are ended.

SIXTH. And to the end that strict Decorum may be observed, a certain, number of

the Police will be stationed at and about the places appointed, during the Service.

SEVENTH. Every Person throughout the Colony will observe, that the Law has sufficiently provided for the Punishment of those who may Disquiet or Disturb any

Assembly of Religious Worship whatever, or Misuse any Priest, or Teacher, of any

Tolerated Sect”

Source: (The Sydney Gazette, 24 April 1803)


Old Government House in Parramatta was the country residence for the first ten governors of New South Wales. It is a stunning Georgian house and world heritage site in Parramatta.

Governor King made a significant contribution to the construction of the present day building. According to the Federal Department of Environment and Energy,

“By 1799, the original small house built for Governor Phillip had fallen into disrepair, was condemned and replaced by Governor King with a larger two-storey building, in classic Georgian style.”

The celebration of Mass had a calming effect on the early convicts, which pleased Governor King. He wrote in a letter to Lord Hobart on the 12-month old decision to grant Catholic toleration:

“Your Lordship’s indulgence has had the most salutary effects on the number of Irish Catholics we have, and since its toleration there has not been the most distant cause for complaint among that description, who regularly attend divine service.”

Governor King withdrew permission to celebrate Mass in 1804, following the Vinegar Hill Rebellion in Castle Hill.

Turbulent relations with the Army Officers marred Governor King’s time in New South Wales.

One of Governor King’s daughters, Anna Maria, married Hannibal Macarthur, who would play host to Charles Darwin, subject of another article in Catholic Outlook’s Historical Series.



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