GATHERED on October 11, 1817, on the hill top in the centre of a paddock in Windsor, an animated group of people, some colourful and serious in their military dress, and others swishing excitedly in silks and cottons in the fashions of the time, waited for Governor Macquarie to arrive.
It was a swelteringly hot Monday so the foundation stone ceremony was to be conducted just before sunset iamong the graves which had begun to creep up the hill on both sides of the space left in the centre for the church.
Around the foundation stone at the foot of what was to be the church’s tower, were Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the Lieutenant Governor James Erskine, Engineer Captain John Gill, Hawkesbury magistrate William Cox and the architect Henry Kitchen.
The large foundation stone stood ready-chiselled with the government arrow, and after placing a holey dollar coin which was currency of the time (worth six shillings and threepence sterling) under the stone, the Governor said the words “God prosper St Matthew’s Church”. He struck the stone three times with a mason’s mallet, and the others did likewise.
That same evening when the official party had retired for drinks to Windsor’s Government Cottage (on the Peninsula), the money was stolen. Two days later the party returned to the site with the governor and re-laid the stone. This time the Reverend Robert Cartwright placed another holey dollar beneath the stone. A few nights later, rogues again stole the coin.
The parish clerk recorded these events in the new parish register, fuming: “This infamous species of Theft could not have been practiced only through the neglect of the Contracting builder not having prepared materials to immediately work over the Stone. It is supposed that the Corner Stone was thrown down each time and the Money Stolen by some of the indigent Convicts, employed at the Public Works in the Town of Windsor.”
In November 1817 it appears a third attempt was made to formally re-lay the stone but there are no details and the governor appears not to have persisted with the holey dollar.
Macquarie’s laying of the holey dollar under St Matthew’s foundation stone will be re-enacted by Richmond Players this Saturday at McQuade Park at 11.30am. Sean and Ann Duff will play Governor and Mrs Macquarie, with Harry Terry playing the parish clerk narrator, Joseph Harpur.
There will also be a shuttle bus from the park to displays on the church’s history at Hawkesbury Regional Museum and the Deerubbin Centre. The museum’s display includes a wedding dress worn at the church in 1839.