The laying of the foundation stone in May, 1851, was reported in the Sydney Catholic newspaper The Freeman's Journal :
On Monday last, the first stone of a new Church at Petersham was blessed by the Right Rev. the Bishop Coadjutor, assisted by the Clergy and Choir of the Cathedral. The Church is to be dedicated under the invocation of St. Thomas of Canterbury. It will be of simple but strictly correct architecture in the Early English style, with nave, chancel, sacristy, and, we believe, a tower, and spire.
The old church was not very large, but fine in its proportions and charming in its appearance. All its Gothic detailing was "correct" and well built. It comprised a nave and separate chancel, both made from stone, and roofed with slate. It had an entrance porch on the northern side of its nave, in the usual position for small churches of this design. A two-room sacristy with pitched-roofs projected from the southern wall of the chancel. Evidently one of these rooms was also intended to provide accommodation for the resident or visiting priest. No details have been uncovered of the appearance of the church's interior, but it is certain that the nave ceiling would have been of open-timber work, as all the pioneering Sydney churches were.
This photograph of an old English
church shews a twin-gabled
bellcote similar to the one which
surmounted the western facade
of old Saint Thomas' church.
Old Saint Thomas' did service as the parish church for only 37 years before it was replaced by a larger stone church built a very little distance away. In those intervening years, however, a very large graveyard grew around the church containing the remains of around 4000 pioneering Catholics. Australia's first Catholic bishop, John Bede Polding OSB, was laid to rest in this cemetery in 1877. Many other pioneering Benedictine monks and secular priests were also buried in that ground, some of whom remain buried in the precinct.
Old Saint Thomas of Canterbury's church, Lewisham, as it appeared in the late 1870s.
Surrounding the church is the cemetery in which burials commenced from around 1865.
Copyright of the Saint Bede Studio.
Over the intervening years, all but a handful of those gravestones have disappeared, along with the handsome structure of Old Saint Thomas'. When it was demolished in 1939, its stonework was re-used to make substantial fences around the church ground which are everywhere in evidence today.