Robert Taylor was born in 1834, and after emigrating with his wife Elizabeth in 1855, he was one of the earliest students to study at Moore College in Liverpool.
After serving at St Barnabas and St Paul’s Castle Hill, he was appointed Rector of St Stephen’s Newtown in 1866, where he stayed until his death in 1907. He also served as Chaplain of Camperdown Cemetery and Prince Alfred Hospital.
Robert oversaw the construction of the present church building in the same grounds as Camperdown Cemetery, a location which required an Act of Parliament, the Camperdown Cemetery Trust Bill. Underneath the foundation stone was placed a scroll with the details of the church, a copy of the SMH and the Australian Churchman*. Objecting to the usual methods of fundraising, such as bazaars and fetes, Rev Taylor insisted that prayer alone would furnish the necessary money. This approach was quite controversial and became a local topic of debate, with one workman overheard to say, “If my head never aches until that church is built, I shan’t have a headache for many a year to come.”** However, free-will offerings flowed in and the sum of 12,500 pounds was raised. Robert was nicknamed “Sanctification Taylor” due to his strong evangelical convictions.
The building was designed in the Gothic Revival style by renowned architect Edmund Blacket and was consecrated in 1874.
Robert’s second wife Mary Schleicher, was Australia’s first deaconess, ordained in 1886. Robert was also the founder of the Church Lad’s Brigade in Australia, a different organization from the Boys’ Brigade, still existing in the UK as the Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade. There is also some evidence that St Stephen’s hosted possibly the only Australian branch of the American Episcopal laywomen’s religious order ***.
Robert and Elizabeth’s second son Stephen followed in his father’s footsteps, not only in becoming a clergyman but also serving in the parish of St Stephen’s Newtown. He studied mathematics at Corpus Christi College Cambridge, as well as preparing for holy orders, with his tutor describing him as ‘a steady and regular student…of blameless life and high character^’ He had a lot to live up to with his father’s reputation, as a teacher at Sydney Grammar described him as “the son of one of the hardest working & most respected clergy of this city.^^”
Stephen took up an active role in the Sunday Observance and Social Reform Committee.
His protests in the newspapers about breaches of Sabbath rest provoked a response from the NSW Chief Secretary and Minister of Public Health. In a letter dated 10th May 1915, Black makes the observation that “the laws for Sunday observance are broken by everyone in the community: by churchgoers and clergymen who use vehicles…by the officers of the churches who ring bells and open doors…^^^”
Other complaints received a more sympathetic response. When Stephen notified the Newtown municipal council that children were seen playing in a public park on a Sunday, the Town Clerk replied on 12th August 1913, that the incident was “without the sanction of the Council” and that “instructions have been given that swings and other forms of amusement are not to be made available for the Sabbath.^^^^
The Committee also concerned itself with more serious matters such as regulating the sale of alcohol, obscene literature and prostitution. Stephen also served as editor of the Australian Church Record from 1916-1926, and was briefly lecturing at Moore College in 1910.
*Gledhill, P.W. St Stephen’s Newtown. Sydney, 1934.
**Taylor, R. How the church was built. Sydney, n.d., page 3.
***Order of the Daughters of the King, & St. Stephen’s Church. Daughters of the King / St. Stephen’s Newtown. Newtown: St. Stephen’s Newtown, 1900.
^Moule, C.W. Testimonial 8/12/1890 Series 040/4, Papers of Stephen Taylor, Samuel Marsden Archives.
^^Newbery, William. Correspondence 8/3/1889. Series 040/4, Papers of Stephen Taylor, Samuel Marsden Archives.
^^^Black, G. Correspondence 10/5/1915 Series 040/6, Papers of Stephen Taylor, Samuel Marsden Archives.
^^^^Series 040/6, Papers of Stephen Taylor, Samuel Marsden Archives.