CHURCH, COLONY & THE HODDLE GRID
BY ADRIAN STAVOVY
There is an abundance of historically significant churches and cathedrals in Melbourne. It is an attractive city made even more so by the many gothic-style churches which abound throughout the city streets, particularly within the boundaries of the ‘Hoddle Grid’.
The stories built into the stone of these buildings reflect the stories weaved into the layers of the city, and they offer a fascinating entry point and rich historical observation of Melbourne’s social, political and (to a lesser extent) religious diversity.
MELBOURNE was founded in 1835. It was incorporated as a Crown settlement in 1837 and officially declared a city by Queen Victoria of England in 1847. The Gold Rush of the 1850’s temporarily turned Melbourne into one of the world’s largest and wealthiest cities in the world; Melbourne served as the nations interim seat of government from Australia’s federation in 1901 until 1927, when the Government moved to the newly built capital, Canberra.
In 1837 at the behest of the Governor of NSW Richard Bourke, Government Surveyor Robert Hoddle laid out the plan for the city which was later to become known as the Hoddle Grid. The grid is a rectangular shape of large city blocks that covers the area from Flinders St to Queen Victoria Market and from Spencer St to Spring St and is still very much the heart of Melbourne today.
Wherever Colony went the Church was never far behind (if not already leading it with missionary zeal) and there is a multitude of stories that connect Melbourne’s history with the older religious buildings we see. Prior to the Gold Rush, most of Melbourne’s constructions were made of timber, but two of the first stone buildings, which are still standing today, were churches.
One of the founders of Melbourne, John Batman, financially contributed to the construction of the first church, St James Old Cathedral. The foundation stone was laid by the first Governor of Victoria (1851), Charles Latrobe, in 1839, the church opened in 1842 and completed in 1847. St James, an Anglican Church, is the oldest church in Melbourne, built only four short years after Melbourne’s founding and originally situated on the corner of Collins and Williams St.
The Anglican dioceses moved to St Paul’s Cathedral (corner Flinders and Swanston) when it was completed in 1891 and the congregation of St James consequently dwindled. Land values had risen and plans for its demolition commenced. Original pioneer families mounted a challenge to save it and by 1914 the church had been moved, brick by brick, to its present location on King Street opposite Flagstaff Gardens. Today the church still supports a small parish.
The other church constructed before the beginning of the gold rush and still standing is St Francis Catholic Church (corner Lonsdale and Elizabeth St). Founded in 1841 and completed in 1845, St Francis is centrally located and by far the city’s busiest church, having up to 10,000 worshipers each week.
The Victorian gold rush, which lasted about 9 years, was the catalyst for the construction of many a prominent Victorian era buildings still standing today. Some of the edification begun during this period include Parliament House and the University of Melbourne in 1855, the State Library in 1856, the Treasury Building in 1858, and Trades Hall in 1859. All of these sites still maintain an important visual and cultural presence in Melbourne today.
The gold rush saw a massive influx of people arrive in Melbourne and Victoria over a very short lapse of time. While the population prior to this period had grown to approximately 75,000, by 1852 it had doubled, and by 1861 it’s estimated that around 540,000 – almost half of Australia’s 1,115,000 people – were living in Victoria.
The gold rush brought in a large overseas influx, particularly comprised of Irish, German and Chinese, bringing their expertise, hopes and religious beliefs. The majority of Germans who immigrated were Lutheran and subsequently the Trinity Lutheran Church, opposite St Patrick’s Cathedral, was consecrated in 1854. The final building which we see today was completed in 1874 and still serves the Lutheran population today.
Within the Hoddle Grid lie nine significant church heritage buildings, all built during the colonial Victorian era before the turn of the 19th century. Just outside the grid stand four more notorious churches, including St Patrick’s Cathedral, Australia’s largest cathedral and consecrated as a ‘minor basilica’ by the Vatican. Another of those four is St Mary Star of the Sea, located at 33 Howard St in West Melbourne, and considered having the most ‘ornate’ and outstanding of church interiors in Australia.
All these churches range in size, from small constructions now tucked away among modern skyscrapers, to the grand, awe-inspiring Cathedrals shaping the city skyline. They are significant not only for their Gothic and Romantic architectural styles, which add to Melbourne’s aesthetic appeal, but also for the history they represent and weave through our collective city memory.
For the early pioneers of Melbourne, religion was a significant and inseparable part of the social and political fabric. That may not be the prevailing modern attitude, but when you look closer at the stories of these churches, you see the story of Melbourne and its people, attaining a better appreciation for how the city looks today.
Adrian Stavovy is a local photographer with a keen interest in our city’s history, architecture and social development. You can see more of his photography work at Eyes Wide Open Photography.