St Matthew's Church

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The History

St Matthews

A Short History of
Saint Matthew’s Church
The only garrison church in Western Australia

St Matthew’s was the first church to be built in the Swan Parish, although originally it was not consecrated at St Matthew's. It was a rectangular mud-brick church, measuring 40ft x 20ft x 11ft high, built on land donated by Governor James Stirling on his Woodbridge estate, at the east end of Terrace Road next to where Guildford Grammar School Chapel now stands. 

Governor Stirling laid the foundation stone on September 6 1836 and it was opened a few months later before it was finished. It wasn’t completed until 1839.  The church was built for the Mission Society and had one door at the west end with a little porch to give protection. The roof was of shingles.

In 1842 the area was surveyed for a school, which was built next door at the beginning of York Road. This was an octagonal building not dissimilar to the building erected on the Colonial Church Society land in Middle Swan, later to become St Mary's Church.

St Matthew's was consecrated on November 23 1848 by Bishop Short from Adelaide when he was travelling through Western Australia blessing and consecrating a large number of churches that had been built for Anglican worship. Western Australia at that time was part of the Adelaide diocese.

St Matthew’s became the separate parish of Guildford in 1854. At that time the school was abandoned and moved to Market Street, Guildford. The octagonal building was given to the Roman Catholic Church in 1854.

The second St Matthew’s Church was built on the present site in Stirling Square and was consecrated by Bishop Hale on September 21 1860. The original church in Terrace Road was later demolished, leaving only the graveyard which still remains. The new brick building with a roof of shingles was destroyed in a hurricane in 1872 during a baptismal service. No-one was hurt but only the harmonium and a few books could be saved.

Destroyed church

Parishioners immediately started a rebuilding programme and the present (third) church of St Matthew was consecrated on October 15, 1873.

St Matthews became the only garrison church in Western Australia when the 38th Battery Field Artillery of the Australian Army marched into Stirling Square on 1st November 1913.  The Battery was housed as South Guildford, across a suspension bridge on the Helena River.  Britain announced it was at war on 5th August 1914 and the 38th Battery was combined with the 37th Battery to form the 8th Field Battery of the 3rd Australian Field Artillery Brigade, based at South Guildford.  Men trained at Blackboy Hill (Swan View) and lived at Guildford.

The 8th Field Battery embarked for the Mediterranean and was among the first to see action at Gallipoli in 1915.  Reinforcements continued to be trained at Guildford and these men made St. Matthew's Church their spiritual home.

On 21st September 1919, when the troops had all returned home, a special service of remembrance and thanksgiving was held at St. Matthews Church.  At this time the battle flag of the 8th Battery was suspended over the chancel.

National Flag at St Matthews

The flag remained in place until 1982 when it had to be taken down for renovations to the building.  Unfortunately the silk disintegrated when it was handled and the remains of the flag were burnt in accordance with military tradition. The respository of the ashes is at the Royal Australian Artillery Association of Western Australia chapel in the Buckland Hill Leighton Battery Heritage site.

Today the North transept of St, Matthews Church is the Soldiers Memorial Chapel.  Various plaques and honour rolls adorn the church to commemorate those involved in the garrison church.

On 07th May 1926 the church building suffered fire damage as a result of a general clean up for the wedding of Mary Dawson and Percy Gaisford which was scheduled for the following weekend. Leaves and other debris from the gardens had been piled up and set fire, but the fire was too close to the building and ignited the wooden roof shingles. For the next year the church met in the adjacent hall, the church reopening on Whitsunday 05th June 1927 with a new roof.

2013 commemorated the 140th anniversary of the present church building and the 177th anniversary of St Matthew’s in the Guildford area.

On 03rd November 2013 the Talbot Hobbs Gates (see photograph below) were installed to commemorate the 85th Gunner's Day in the centenary year of the Royal Australian Artillery.

If you would like to know more about the Royal Australian Artillery Association of Western Australia Inc., please go to



From A History of the Swan Parish
by H.S.Wilson,
published 1997.
Additional notes on 8th Field Battery from Centenary of Artillery in Guildford
by Barbara Dundas, published 2013.
Historical photographs from State Library of Western Australia

St Matthews