The stone restoration to the tower of the St James Old Cathedral in West Melbourne is nearing completion.

At least six different stone types have been identified in the tower construction, by James Mann, Dimension Stone Testing Specialist from South Australia. These include the unusual and unique ferruginised sandstone, possibly quarried within or near the Melbourne Botannical Gardens. Information on this quarry has been supplied by Professor Miles Lewis, including the early drawing below which shows the quarry converted to a fern gully.

A white sandstone is likely to have been quarried near Kangaroo Point in Tasmania, which was imported into Melbourne from c1840. Other sandstones, ranging from yellow, green and brown, would have been quarried within the Melbourne environs and out to Bacchus March.

Further investigation exposed recycled and inverted stone blocks from other buildings, with carved patterning such as coin moulding and fluted columns (shown below).

Construction of the former cathedral began c. late 1830s and was originally located on the corner of Williams and Little Collins Streets, replacing an earlier modest timber church building.

Two architects are associated with the building, Robert Russell and Charles Laing. It is the only building designed by Robert Russell to survive. He was the government architect and surveyor during the early development of Melbourne. It is one of only a few major buildings in Melbourne from the pre-gold Rush era (prior to 1851) and the only remaining example of the Regency church style.

The ST Gill drawing above, from 1857, illustrates that the original location of the cathedral and tower (in the red box) was a very visible landmark on the Melbourne skyline of that era.

In 1912, the building was condemned by the Health Department, which prohibited services from being held on the valuable site. Members of the Anglican community rallied to preserve the stone building and it was relocated to the current site c.1914 with some alterations, especially to the tower. This is probably when the recycled blocks were incorporated.

01 March 2012

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