St James' Cathedral

Townsville Queensland Australia

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    Dean Rod MacDonald

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History

A History of St James’ Anglican Cathedral

Introduction

Pastoralists had pushed the frontier of European settlement north as far as Rockhampton by the late 1850s. In search of additional productive runs, pastoralists continued moving north along the Queensland coast and inland. The land had been divided into pastoral districts to facilitate administration, and a new district in north Queensland, the Kennedy, was opened for pastoral development.

Cleveland Bay, at a point on the coast in between Bowen and Cardwell, was recommended to the Queensland government as a suitable site for a port by two pastoralists, Robert Towns and John Melton Black. The site was also part of Black’s pastoral holdings, and it was here that the city of Townsville was established from late 1864. Land was sold from 1865 when the town was proclaimed a port of entry and a small settlement developed. Gold discoveries in the late 1860’s brought thousands to North Queensland and Townsville quickly grew.

As Townsville developed in the early years the first signs of a community emerged. A post office and customs house were established, and officials were appointed to the town to administrate government business. By 1866, Townsville supported banks and hotels, wharves and stores, and a local newspaper. Mr James Gordon was appointed as the Police Magistrate.

Apart from these important commercial activities, other matters were pressing. The Church of England was already present in the town of Bowen to the south. In the late 1860s Townsville was visited periodically by Anglican ministers from Bowen. In between these visits, Anglican services were held in the Courthouse under the auspices of James Gordon.

In 1870 a Church Committee was formed in Townsville to ask Dr Baker, Bishop of Sydney, to send a clergyman to North Queensland. There were then only 700 people in Townsville, 2000 in Ravenswood and Charters Towers, 1500 at Georgetown with others at Gilberton, Capeville, Dalrymple, Cardwell and various sheep and cattle stations. The stipend was £120 pounds to which Dr Baker added another £80 from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel funds. The Rev James Adams, a deacon only a month out of Moore College, subsequently journeyed northwards by steamer and arrived in Cleveland Bay on Sunday, July 17th, 1870.

In his Reminiscences, Mr Adams recalled,

“I arrived in Cleveland Bay on Sunday morning, July 17th. The Church Committee with Mr Gordon, the Commissioner of Townsville district, came out by boat and welcomed me… .I held two Services, morning and evening, in the Courthouse. There were a goodly number of Church people and all non-Romans attended. There was no Roman Catholic clergyman and no Church or Clergyman north of Bowen. I soon settled down to work, and obtained a small, two-roomed cottage to live in.” His salary was £200 but his parish was huge. It covered a large area of the colony—to Cape York and the Gulf of Carpentaria and then out west to the outlying settlements.

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St James’ Church is Begun

Services continued to be held in the Courthouse but steps were taken by the Anglican members of the town to build a church. James Gordon, who was to be a long-standing member of the Anglican community in Townsville, was embarrassed that at the time the town had two theatres but no church. At a meeting held on August 11th, 1870 “a Committee was formed to take steps for the erection of a Church. The parishioners were ready and willing to assist and we purchased the site [on Melton Hill] for the Church and Parsonage” at the inaugural sale of Crown Lands. James Gordon, Frederick Walker and William Aplin acted as trustees.”

Construction of the church began when the first pile was put in place by James Gordon on 24th May, 1871. The Cleveland Bay Express reported the ceremonies thus:

The Sunday School Children assembled at the Court House at 9.00a.m. when they were decorated with a short piece of blue ribbon. After a short service they formed into marching order outside and with banners flying proceeded round through Wickham, Flinders and Denham Streets to the ground chosen for the new Church. The Service commenced by singing a hymn. The 118th Psalm and the 14th Chapter of Ezra were read. The Jubilate was chanted and the Service to the end of the Third Collect read. A parchment recording the names of the Committee, and a copy of the Cleveland Bay Express were put into a bottle and sealed and then placed in a fob in the bottom of the block. Mr J Gordon then lowered the pile into its position, and giving it the usual taps with a mallet which had been presented to him declared the pile to be well and truly laid, and the name of the Church to be St. James’, the name chosen by the ladies of the congregation. After the singing of a hymn, Mr. Gordon made a speech – ‘This is the day I have anxiously looked forward to, for so long as we had two theatres but no house dedicated to the worship of God, it was a standing reproach to us all.”

By September 1st, Rev. Adams stated

“I was very busy arranging for the opening of the Church. I was anxious that it should be dedicated to S. John, but the parishioners asked that it should be S. James.

This first church was a simple and unpretentious building, constructed of timber weatherboard with a shingled roof and, like all buildings of importance, was surrounded by a ‘goat-proof’ fence. It cost £400 and was opened free of debt. The Interior was ‘varnished’ and parish records note that particular care was taken to maintain the ‘Ten Commandments’ Tablet. Mr. Gordon’s mother presented a stained-glass rose window which was positioned above the central entry porch, and a bell tower was located at the front of the church along the ridge line. The Churchwardens reported in 1871 that
“a neat and substantial church has been erected …best thanks of the congregation are due to the ladies, who have given their services (as well as put themselves to considerable expense) in furnishing the chancel and other parts of the church.” Thanks also to “Mr. Chandler for his valuable and gratuitous services in presiding at the harmonium and conducting the choir.”

At a meeting of the congregation on April 2nd

“the advisableness of at once constructing a parsonage was fully discussed, and considered necessary….as only a just due to the Rev. J. Adams, who from the first has been most zealous in his ministrations here as elsewhere.”

It was constructed behind and above the church. The original wooden St James’ building had been enlarged with an extension to the nave and north and south aisles were added in 1880. It was also equipped with an organ in 1884, the gift of Miss Holland. When poor health forced Rev. Adams to resign in 1873, the Reverend John Done was already looking after Ravenswood and Charters Towers, and was transferred to Townsville in 1875.

The only time a Bishop of Sydney made the 2,500km journey to this distant part of his diocese was in 1876 when Dr Frederic Barker visited Bowen, Ravenswood, Charters Towers, Townsville and Cooktown. He addressed public meetings to promote the establishment of a separate Diocese and committees were formed to raise the necessary endowment. The parish became a diocese in 1878 when Dr Frederic Barker, on a trip to England, found the man for the job of Bishop: George Henry Stanton, Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, St Giles-In-the-Fields, London. Stanton accepted the challenge and was consecrated Bishop in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, on 24th June, 1878.

Most of the ministers in North Queensland opted to remain with the Diocese of Sydney, and by December 1878, when John Done left, only Mackay still had a clergyman. Bishop Stanton sent new clergy ahead of him, including his Chaplain, the Reverend Henry Alfred Mason, formerly curate of St Thomas, Stepney, who took charge of Townsville in December 1878. Bishop Stanton arrived in May 1879 and on the 21st was installed in St James’. The next day was Ascension, and there were 12 communicants. A children’s service the following Sunday recorded an attendance of 236. Mason’s tenure at St James’ lasted only until 29th June 1879 when he returned to London and was succeeded by the Reverend Henry Plume, a Cambridge graduate with four years service in a London curacy.

St James’ Cathedral is begun

A start was made on a new Cathedral on Sunday evening, 5th August, 1883 when, the minutes record, “a meeting of church members and others was held in St James’ Church to initiate the movement for raising the necessary funds for the erection of a Cathedral Church.” Earlier that day, the Bishop (“more than usually eloquent”) and the Rev. S. H. Child of St Thomas’, North Shore, Sydney had preached special sermons on the subject.

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The Bishop presided, and Mr Morey recalled

“a meeting held about a year previously in the School of Arts, which was both large and unanimous as to such a movement…” Archdeacon Plume “referred to the condition of the present building, pointing out that a new church was an absolute necessity.” The motion, “That immediate steps be taken to raise funds for the erection of a Cathedral Church in Townsville, the details to be left to a Committee appointed for the purpose” was carried unanimously.

Synod in 1884 authorised the building of a substantial Cathedral and the foundation stone was laid in 1887. Bishop Stanton set about raising funds for his diocese and one of the results was a gift of £200 from SPCK towards the Cathedral. While momentum for building St James Cathedral gathered pace, a succession of fine priests continued to serve in the pro-Cathedral building.

William Frederick Tucker, more than any other man, fought for the erection of the Cathedral, which he conceived as a place of beauty and scholarship, surrounded by its libraries. His speeches in Synod spurred the Diocese to action. Alfred Edwards was described as unworldly, humble, sympathetic, devoted, fearless and intensely reverent and his death in 1898 at the age of 45 was received with a “remarkable outburst of grief throughout the whole of the North.” Ernest Augustus Anderson came to Australia shortly after his graduation from Cambridge University in 1882 to be ordained by Bishop Stanton. He was assistant curate of the Cathedral until becoming Rector of Mackay in 1883 and he was also a Canon of St James’ Cathedral.

The second Diocesan synod in 1884 appointed a Cathedral Building Committee. The Committee decided that an eminent Australian architect should be chosen to design a permanent Cathedral of “sufficiently large and handsome” proportions. The initial preference was for Mr Horbury Hunt. However, the committee met a leading Sydney architect, Arthur Blackett, who was holidaying in the north and this resulted in Blackett’s being authorised to draw up plans for a suitable Cathedral. Blackett designed many churches and fine buildings in NSW, as well as St George’s Cathedral, Perth. He was the son of the famous Edmund Thomas Blackett, who had St Andrew’s Cathedral amongst the scores of notable buildings to his credit. Blackett noted that there were three major problems to be faced. “The first being the ground itself as, although the site is a good one because of its commanding position, and the good foundation obtainable; yet its limited size, peculiar shape and irregularities of level are disadvantages.”

The second problem was Townsville’s climate, and his solution to this was thick walls to keep out the heat, and an air conditioning plant. The final difficulty was a suitable building material. Blacket urged that “brick not be used because it does very well for stores but it is not church-like and certainly not “Cathedral-like”. I suggest that the Church open its own quarry in a spot some 150 miles from Townsville recommended by Mr J Philp, which is identified as a source for an excellent sandstone with a reddish grey tinge. The internal columns will be grey granite. The designs Blacket submitted in 1885 showed a nave 37 feet wide, with the length of the interior from the back of the chancel to the front of the tower approximately 115 feet long. The transepts were 24 feet wide and it would hold 1000 people. It would cost £24,000. Newspaper articles of the time followed the progress of the cathedral closely, giving detailed descriptions of the design and generally approving of the ambition of the diocese. One paper observed that in:

“…a very short time the inhabitants of this place will be enabled to substitute the term commercial city for Cathedral city.., the undertaking is a great one for so small a community.4

Other articles went into great detail about the proposed design. As planned the cathedral had the traditional church orientation, with the main entrance at the western end and the chancel and sanctuary at the east, with north and south transepts. Blacket himself described the design in the following way:

…a cathedral in the semi-Norman style, of cruciform plan with two towers, one at the west end to carry a peal of bells, and one squat tower at the intersection of the transept for ventilation purposes. The east end terminates in a semi-circular apse with aisles continued outside of it to be used as vestries.., to permit a free current of air… The main entrances are at the west end and are reached by a flight of steps, the objects in lifting this building up so high being that firstly we do not have to cut away so much ground… On the north side is the chapel house which communicates with the cathedral, as well as having an entrance from outside. The vestries all have separate external entrances, as well as doors of communication with one another… The roof is double, the outer skin being covered with sawn shingles, whilst the inner roof which is seen from below, is lined with sheeting, leaving a space between for free movement of air, which enters through louvres on one side, on the principal (sic) of a tent and fly. The large central tower has a flat ceiling with four large self activating ventilators in the space above, which will draw all the heated and foul air from the upper part of the building, to be discharged into the outer air through the louvre windows. The whole of the floors are to be concrete, to be covered… with tiles… The building will seat comfortably some 1,000 people in the nave and transepts, about fifty in the choir, and about fifty more in the western gallery… with a total seating accommodation of about 1,200… The entire building excluding the chapter house, will cost about £23,300, not making any allowances for pulpit, throne, organ, or coloured glass windows, as these will probably be all gifts.

However the plans had to be changed as the Bishop wrote in December 1885 to say:

difficulty and delay have arisen from a certain amount of experimenting to suit the climate. We find that cooling depends much more on direct current of air through our buildings, or air in motion, than on roof ventilators. If doors and windows face each other and the latter are made to open we seldom find the heat troublesome… We all agree decidedly in favour of Tower No. 1. It cannot be improved. It resembles Magdalen College Tower, the Queen of Towers… Its severity is its recommendation. It has dignity, which the others seem to want. For the sake of current of air and other reasons, we prefer doors in the Transepts provided that the Rose Windows are still bolder… However, the Central Tower has been strongly objected to and I am inclined to endorse the objections. Externally it is very unsightly… the Lantern would… give a terrible, short, stunted appearance to the Cathedral from the west door. I doubt whether its ventilating properties are worth the sacrifice of architectural beauty… I wish we could… conform the Plan to that of a good Norman Church. The air shaft that you have so cleverly devised, the windows made to open, the doors wide and possibly the introduction of a cold air apparatus in the crypt will certainly provide sufficient ventilation for us…”

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At the annual Easter vestry meeting of St James’ parishioners in 1886, Archdeacon Plume reported:

“The erection of the Cathedral which formed the burden of my last address has hitherto been delayed on account of the difficulty in deciding the exact plan. Every alteration has caused three months’ delay and, as the plans have been revised three times, the greater proportion of the year has slipped by without any perceptible advances in the erection of the Cathedral being made. The final plan, as approved, is now in the lithographer’s hands.”

Nearly a year more was to pass before the Bishop telegraphed Blacket on 21 February 1887:

“Calling Tenders Wednesday to close on March thirty, four o’clock. Contractors to give sureties or cash deposit five per cent.”

When St James Cathedral was begun in 1887, the city was growing as an important port and service town. At the time Townsville had a population of more than 11,000, supported the burgeoning pastoral and mining industries inland and was the main rail head for the northern goldfields of Charters Towers and Ravenswood. The North Queensland Telegraph of Thursday, March 3, 1887 saw the Cathedral as an important stage in Townsville’s development:

“Before many months have elapsed another great undertaking will be started in North Queensland. Already the wilderness has been cleared for the passage of the iron horse; our sea coast has been properly marked for safe navigation; towns have sprung up in all directions, and a city is now showing its head above the village. Townsville is rapidly coming to the front… Thanks to the spirit of energy existing among the clergy and devoted laymen the cathedral… is no longer in doubt…“The undertaking is a great one for so small a community” but we have faith that “once under way the resources of the people will rescue it from any chance of failure.” We commended the Cathedral for “the importance it will give to the proposed new colony together with the improved means of gaining spiritual knowledge it will supply.”

The Cathedral chapter was formed by Canon, comprising the Bishop, Dean (Rev. H Plume), Archdeacons and four Canons and that “canons, stationed in their respective parishes, indicating the un-local and un-Townsville character of the foundation, may be expected to lend effective aid to the laborious task of raising funds.” While the “leading Brisbane paper” had called the proposal “rashly premature”, the Bulletin expressed every confidence that Bishop Stanton would “carry his scheme to a successful conclusion. He is of those who know ‘no such word as failure’…” We admit that “A Cathedral to cost £24,000 seems, to use a cant phrase, ‘a large contract”’, especially for “such a newly settled country as North Queensland” but are confident that with £3,000 already found by nine contributors “there is no room for doubt that the rest of the money will be forthcoming as it is required” and we hope that “pride in the birds will influence us to provide a worthy cage for them.”

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On the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, 27th June 1887, Bishop Stanton finally laid the foundation stone. The foundations were completed in November at a cost of £2,000 and there work stopped, not to be resumed until 1891 after further alterations to the plans and the installation of a new Bishop of North Queensland. Despite the third Bishop of the Diocese, Christopher George Barlow, having conducted a series of art unions, the cost was too great, and cement took the place of marble and the sandstone proposal was modified by the building committee to local red brick. Even with this cost cutting, only half the Cathedral was completed by the time work halted in 1892 when funds ran out.

When the completed half of the cathedral was consecrated in 1898, the roof was a temporary one. It suffered only minor damage when Cyclone Sigma struck on Sunday, 26th January 1896. But Cyclone Leonta, on 9th March 1903, did a more thorough job, unroofing the Cathedral and causing damage worth some £800. Leonta wreaked enormous havoc over a wide area. Total estimates of damage to church property in the diocese were £6,250, a sum of enormous magnitude. Bishop Frodsham had only been six months in the diocese. He had found it in dire financial straits, and the whole country in the midst of extreme economic depression. Within the fortnight, the Bishop set off around Australia and New Zealand, and later to England, to raise money. He was successful. When re-roofing was considered it was decided to do the job properly and erect a permanent roof according to the original plans at a cost of £2,500. It took a year to set the Cathedral back to rights and the official restoration service was held on Tuesday, 7th June, 1904.

St James’ Cathedral is Completed

No further building was done until 1953 when Bishop Ian Shevill revived the project. The completion of the Cathedral was a very big undertaking and made some major changes to the building. The two chapels were known as the Lady Chapel (on the city side) and the Warrior Chapel. The back walls of the chapels extended across and there was a tiny little fibro porch as the main entrance to the Cathedral. There were doors on either side as well. A ‘said’ service was held each Sunday at 6am in the Lady Chapel and many nurses from the hospital would attend before their shift. The 7am service had hymns. When St Anne’s was run by the Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Advent and was situated in the city, the boarders would walk from the school to the Cathedral for this service. There was a 10am ‘sung’ service and Sunday School, which boarders from the Grammar School would attend — it was then compulsory for them to attend church while at school.

An adequate exercise in completion was ultimately conceived by Louis Williams of Melbourne in consultation with local architects and the architect of S. Alban’s Diocese in England. Louis Williams was also responsible for the design of Holy Trinity, Ingham and All Saints, Ayr. Blackett’s design had a strong Byzantine flavour, with its magnificent pointed arches and the apsidal east end, and at one stage of the design he envisaged having a dome above the nave. Williams, on the other hand favoured Gothic, which was a popular design for churches up to the end of the 1960’s. Louis Williams was a notable Australian ecclesiastical architect, and the major casualty of his ‘adequate exercise was the Blacket Tower which could have delayed completion by another century! The simple bell tower, about 25 meters high, is topped by a spiring cross that adds another 5.5 meters to its height and contains a single bell.

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In his autobiography, “Half Time’, Bishop Shevill wrote of the completion of St James’ thus:

The Cathedral was a depressing monument to decay without change. It was originally conceived by that great Australian architect of the 1880s, Edmund Blackett (actually Arthur Blacket, his son), who hoped it would be built in stone. An adequate exercise in completion was ultimately conceived by Louis Williams of Melbourne in consultation with our own architects and the architect of S. Alban’s Diocese in England. The new plan included adequate vestries, which I had tried to insist upon in all new churches, together with a facade which soared into the sky lifting men’s eyes above the rising temples of commerce in the city.

We managed to have three parties for the foundation stone. The first was for the Bishop of Coventry who blessed the stone, the second was for the Princess Alexandra who brought a cross of nails from the old Coventry Cathedral which had originally hung in her bedroom and which was incorporated into the stone, and a final party for the Primate who laid the stone in 1960.”

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St James Cathedral is widely acknowledged as an important building. It is a major landmark on Melton Hill, being seen from many places around the city. It is entered in the Queensland Heritage Register maintained by the Department of Environment, and it is also listed by the National Trust of Queensland, and is entered in the Register of the National Estate maintained by the Australian Heritage Commission. Obviously the Cathedral has a strong and special association with the Anglican community in Townsville and maintains its role as the centre of the North Queensland diocese. But apart from being used for regular worship, the Cathedral also has a connection with the Townsville community and with the army and the air force who are based in the city.

Church buildings are silent witnesses to the presence of Christ in a particular place, and they are houses of prayer where the followers of Jesus gather together to worship God and sing His praises. They are also silent witnesses to the Christian tradition, and they take us back to those who have gone before. St James’ Cathedral is no exception, and is not only a spiritual home for the Diocese and the Parish, but a house of memories where the visions and dreams of many people through the decades are preserved in art, architecture, wood-carving and music. Many have left their stamp on the building: bishops, deans, clergy, wardens, canons, choir masters, architects, builders, artists, wood carvers, organ builders, glaziers, and the countless worshippers through the years. They have all brought life and beauty into the building, as future generations will also continue to do. Unlike museums, which are full of lifeless artefacts of the past, our Cathedral is a living, vital place in which the past, present, and future are wonderfully blended into a fitting home for the children of God.

On the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, 27th June 1887, Bishop Stanton finally laid the foundation stone. The foundations were completed in November at a cost of £2,000 and there work stopped, not to be resumed until 1891 after further alterations to the plans and the installation of a new Bishop of North Queensland. Despite the third Bishop of the Diocese, Christopher George Barlow, having conducted a series of art unions, the cost was too great, and cement took the place of marble and the sandstone proposal was modified by the building committee to local red brick. Even with this cost cutting, only half the Cathedral was completed by the time work halted in 1892 when funds ran out.

When the completed half of the cathedral was consecrated in 1898, the roof was a temporary one. It suffered only minor damage when Cyclone Sigma struck on Sunday, 26th January 1896. But Cyclone Leonta, on 9th March 1903, did a more thorough job, unroofing the Cathedral and causing damage worth some £800. Leonta wreaked enormous havoc over a wide area. Total estimates of damage to church property in the diocese were £6,250, a sum of enormous magnitude. Bishop Frodsham had only been six months in the diocese. He had found it in dire financial straits, and the whole country in the midst of extreme economic depression. Within the fortnight, the Bishop set off around Australia and New Zealand, and later to England, to raise money. He was successful. When re-roofing was considered it was decided to do the job properly and erect a permanent roof according to the original plans at a cost of £2,500. It took a year to set the Cathedral back to rights and the official restoration service was held on Tuesday, 7th June, 1904.

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Information supplied by Diocesan Archivist – Anne Watkins

 

 
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