What is significant?
St James Old Cathedral was constructed on a Crown grant site of 5 acres of land bounded by Collins, William and Bourke Streets with the foundation stone being laid on 9 November 1839 by Charles Joseph La Trobe, Superintendent of the District of Port Phillip. A simple timber pioneer church which preceded it was built with funds largely subscribed by Presbyterians and other denominations who made up the small community. Opened on 11 February 1837, St James was designed by Robert Russell, a London architect and surveyor who had arrived in Melbourne from Sydney on 5 October 1836. The Colonial Georgian building was constructed on bluestone footings of locally quarried sandstone. The unfinished building was opened for worship on 2 October 1842, and it was completed in 1847.
The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne was founded in 1847, and on 29 June 1847 Charles Perry was consecrated in Westminster Abbey as Melbourne's first Bishop. He was enthroned in St James on 28 January 1848, and St James became the first Cathedral church of the new diocese, although it was not consecrated until 1853. When St Paul's Cathedral opened for worship on 22 January 1891 St James reverted to the status of a parish church. The diminished congregation, pressure of occupying valuable city land, and maintenance problems resulted in the church narrowly escaping demolition. It was relocated stone by numbered stone to its present site under the direction of Messrs Thomas Watts and Son, architects, re-consecrated by Archbishop Lowther Clark, and re-opened for worship on 19 April 1914. Changes made to the original design at the time of relocation include reorientation from east west to north south, the tower shortened by one stage, the main ceiling lowered a little, the sanctuary shortened by a few inches, the space between the main gallery remodelled to form a lobby and two vestries with passage and gallery stairs behind them.
Two side entrances were constructed to serve the new passage.
How is it significant?
St James Old Cathedral is of historical and architectural significance to the State of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
It is of historical importance as the first Cathedral in Melbourne, the earliest surviving church in Victoria, and one of Melbourne's earliest surviving buildings.
It is of architectural importance as a rare example in Melbourne of a Colonial Georgian style building of simple design and pleasing proportions with Greek detailing at the doorways, and the only known surviving work of architect Robert Russell. Although he worked in London with eminent English architect John Nash, the style reflects his experiences in Sydney, especially the work of his contemporary Francis Clarke as well as of Francis Greenway.
The interior is important for rare and unusual features for Victoria, such as the traditional box pews of cedar, side galleries or Vice-Regal boxes originally for the use of Governor La Trobe and the Chief Justice, Baptismal font with the white marble bowl probably dating from the 17th century and coming from St Katherine's Abbey on the banks of the Thames, two mahogany pulpits presented by the ladies of the congregation in 1847. The World War 1 honour board carved by well known master wood carver Robert Prenzel and the World War 2 honour board which was copied from the earlier honour board. The stained glass windows are also of note with the 'east window' being possibly by the Melbourne firm of Ferguson and Urie, and the five windows by Christian Waller, wife of artist Napier Waller.
Six bells were first rung in early 1853 and now eight are still rung.
They were symbolic of the growing status of Melbourne.
They are an integral part of the Church fabric - tenor of 13cwt and total bell metal weight of 3 tons designed for English style full circle ringing.
They were responsible for the redesign of the tower on relocation in 1913.
They contribute to the outreach of the Church into the community and add to its cultural life such as weddings, funerals, public occasions.