The location of where one of the first Anglican services was conducted by Dr Alexander Thomson in March 1836 under a gumtree, St Paul’s Cathedral is situated at the North-east corner of Swanston and Flinders Street. Originally proposed as the site for the courthouse and gaol, and previously the site of a corn and hay market until 1848, on the application of Bishop Charles Perry, the land was granted for the building of Melbourne’s third Anglican Church. The building of St Paul’s Church began in September 1850 but due to the shortage of skilled tradesmen following the exodus after the discovery of gold, it was not completed until December 1852. It was consecrated the same year. The partly unfinished Cathedral would be used for nearly forty years until it was demolished to make way for the current building.
The second Bishop of Melbourne, Bishop Moorhouse, was responsible for initiating the erection of the grandiose structure, when he secured eminent yet temperamental English architect William Butterfield to undertake the design.
As work progressed during the 1880s, the sketches and photographs sent to Butterfield in England were negatively received. Butterfield strongly objected to, among other things, the use of different types of stone. In 1882 Butterfield resigned in disgust. He was, however, persuaded to continue, although still firmly refusing to visit Melbourne. After the supervising architects were dismissed Butterfield corresponded with the clerk of works until he too, was dismissed. Butterfield finally resigned from the project in 1884. Joseph Reed was appointed honorary architect in an effort to complete the structure, and on the 22nd of January 1891 the Cathedral was finally consecrated.
The tradition of daily choir Evensong began in 1891, St Paul’s being is the only Anglican Cathedral outside the British Isles to have a choral Evensong each week night.
The Cathedral also has one of the few peals of 13 bells outside the British Isles. The largest of the bells is almost one and a half metres in diameter and the total weight of seven tonnes made them the heaviest peal cast in the nineteenth century.
The Lectern, designed and made in England for the Melbourne Exhibition of 1888, was presented to the Cathedral by the Hon. William Cain M.L.C., member of the Building Committee and former Melbourne Lord Mayor. His daughter, who spent much time in the cathedral before she died in early childhood, is portrayed on the side of the Pulpit.