St James' Anglican Church was originally built on a crown grant site on the corner of William and Little Collins Streets. The foundation stone was laid by Charles La Trobe, Superintendent of the District of Port Philip, on the 9th November 1839. The new church replaced an original interdenominational timber church.
La Trobe had also brought a gift from Queen Victoria to the new colony, a baptismal font from St Katherine's Abbey, London, which remains the font at St James' today.
Mr Robert Russell, a London architect and surveyor, designed the building in Colonial Georgian style, inspired by Francis Greenway's work at St James' King Street in Sydney. The foundations are of bluestone, and the main walls of a sandstone found in various local quarries. The unfinished building was opened for worship on the 2nd October 1842 and completed in 1847.
The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne was founded in 1847 and on the 29th June that year Charles Perry was consecrated in Westminster Abbey as Melbourne's first bishop. Upon arrival in the colony, he was enthroned at St James' on 28th January 1848 and St James' became the Cathedral church of the new diocese. It was not consecrated, however, until 1853.
Much more expressive of the ambitions of "Marvellous Melbourne", then the wealthiest city in the world, St Paul's Cathedral was built during the 1880s and opened on 22nd January 1891, whereupon St James' reverted to the status of a parish church. Congregations at St James' dwindled. Since St James' occupied a substantial amount of valuable city land, and its modesty was something of an embarrassment to proud Melburnians, plans were made to demolish it in the early 20th Century. A revolt by the key Pioneer families of Melbourne, perhaps the first movement for historical preservation mounted in Melbourne, saved St James' and an agreement was struck to move it stone by numbered stone to a new site on King Street, opposite Flagstaff Gardens. It was reopened at the new site on the 19th April 1914. Minor modifications were made, most noticeably to the third level of the belltower which became square instead of octagonal (highlighted in the pictures above), but the church is substantially in its original form.
Visiting today, many are struck by the beauty of the well-maintained symmetrical interior, one of the finest examples of a Colonial Georgian aesthetic in Australia today. A fuller sense of the history of St James' can be attained by a visit to the church. Entry is free and tour groups are welcome if organised in advance. A more detailed history can also be purchased at St James'.