Townsville was established in the 1860's and prior to building a church, the  Church of England (Anglican) parishioners met at the court house and were part of the Diocese of Sydney.


 On November 19th, the Bishop  of Sydney, Bishop Tuffnell, held the first Anglican confirmation service in the township. The silver communion service used at this service was donated to the parish of St James by the Bishop .


1871 - St James' Church

The first Church of England building was built in Townsville on land on a hill at that time called Constitution, Prospect, or Black Hill or Ca-boor ( the Aboriginal name recorded by Charles Price in 1885) The land was purchased at a sale of crown lands, with the aid of parishioners and the hill was later gazetted as Melton Hill . Work began on 24th  May 1871 by builders Meldrum and Driscoll. It was a very plain gable-roofed structure set on low blocks, with a side entrance porch, topped with a small tower in the front. It was surrounded by a ‘goat-proof’ fence and cost £400. It was opened, free of debt, on October 1st, 1871 for Divine Service.

1878 - The Diocese of North Queensland created

It was based at St James’ Church in Townsville.  The new diocese’s first bishop George Henry Stanton was appointed on 24th  June. Bishop Stanton did not immediately go to Townsville but spent several months in England, trying to raise funds and attract clergy for the new diocese. He finally arrived in Townsville in May, preaching his first sermon on 21st of May. 

The initial intention was to have the cathedral designed by John Horbury Hunt but Arthur Blackett of Sydney, son of Edmund Blackett (the New South Wales colonial architect) was commissioned to design a building to be erected on the church land behind the existing weatherboard structure.

1880 - St James' Church enlargement (Pro-Cathedral)

Having become the Cathedral of the new diocese, St James’ Church was enlarged. The chancel was lengthened to accommodate the choir, and north and south aisles were added over the next few years. 


Townsville population 

4,000 people 


Plans for the new and larger Cathedral began when members of the first Synod formed a committee to raise the funds


The proposal to build a cathedral was approved by a church synod and the Cathedral Building Committee was appointed. 

An organ, donated by Miss S.E. Holland (an English friend of Bishop Stanton), was added to the church.

Arthur Blackett of Sydney, son of Edmund Blackett (the New South Wales colonial architect) was commissioned to design a new cathedral. The initial designs called for a cathedral constructed of sandstone with granite columns which would hold 1000 parishioners. The nave would be 37 feet (11 m) wide, transepts would be 24 feet (7.3 m) wide and the total interior length from chancel to bell tower would be 115 feet (35 m).


Many features of these designs were rejected upon review by the diocese and three revisions were necessary before a final plan was approved. 

The final design was for a church built in stone, with a low wide central tower which would act as a ventilation shaft, and a single tower at the northern door. It was to cost £24,000 but was built in sections.  

The diocese called tenders for the construction of the Cathedral.  The first sod was turned on the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria on June 22nd.



The building was erected by Townsville contractors MacMahon & Cliffe. Subsequent financial constraints forced changes to the design, and the Cathedral was constructed in brick, with concrete facings, a temporary roof and no towers. 

 Townsville population grew to 13,000 by 1891.


This first stage of the Cathedral was consecrated on October 27th by the second Bishop of North Queensland, Christopher Barlow. 

North Queensland Register 02 Nov 1892 - OPENING OF ST. JAMES' CATHEDRAL, TOWNSVILLE. - Trove (nla.gov.au)





On 26 January, Cyclone Sigma struck Townsville; however, the Cathedral was relatively unaffected by this.


On March 9th, Cyclone Leonta struck Townsville, destroying the 1871 St James’ Church and the temporary roof of the Cathedral. The Cathedral was promptly rebuilt with higher walls and a more permanent roof at a cost of £2,500. 

In 1922, when electricity became available, the gas lights seen here were replaced.


until 1959


The second stage of the Cathedral was designed in 1955 by Melbourne architect Louis Williams, with Townsville architects Black and Paulsen responsible for the building between 1959-1960.  


Although Blackett’s design had a strong Byzantine flavour, with its magnificent pointed arches and the apsidal east end, at one stage of the design he envisaged having a dome above the nave.  Williams favoured a Gothic design, which was popular for churches up to the end of the 1960s. The nave and the Western façade with the bell tower and statue of St James were all added
Evidence of the extension can be seen as although the brick makers, Scott Brothers, reopened the original clay pit to make new bricks for the extension, a slight difference of colour can be seen due to the aging of the bricks.  Evidence can also be seen in the ceiling where the original rough sawn, lapped timber was replaced with machine sawn, tongue-in-groove timber.



 On August 20th the Foundation Stone was blessed by the Bishop of Coventry. 


August 29th HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent visited the Cathedral during construction and presented a Cross of Nails to be set into the stone. The Cross is made of medieval nails collected from the bombed ruins of St Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry. Similar nails have been sent to a number of churches around the world.


June 12th The final foundation stone was set by the Primate of Australia marking the completion of the Cathedral 


March 17th Archbishop Ramsey visits St James



Meets Mayor, Alderman Angus Smith


 On the 23rd of October, the Prime Minister of Australia, the Rt Hon Harold Holt and                                                                                               the US President Lyndon B. Johnson attended a service at St James 



The Cathedral could not be consecrated until June 24th because the Bishop advised that "the difference between the funds received and the contact price for the building is £22,000”

Address by Dr Philip Cole on the occasion of the 130th Anniversary of the opening of St James Cathedral, 27th October, 1892
Address by Dr Philip Cole.pdf
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