Goulburn Cathedral

St Saviour's Cathedral is the cathedral church of the Anglican diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, Australia. The Cathedral is named after the Saviour Himself. The current Dean is the Very Reverend Phillip Saunders.


In 1840 a simple brick church to the designs of a Sydney architect/designer, James Hume, was erected. This Church of Saint Saviour was in the manner of English parish churches with a bold square western tower, and a simple axiality complimenting the Georgian town plan.

By the early 1860s, when the Diocese of Sydney could not functionally minister to the Goulburn area, it was decided that a new Anglican Diocese of Goulburn should be created. Accordingly, Bishop Mesac Thomas was consecrated in 1861, and the need for a cathedral church came to be considered.

When the brick church was taken down the bricks were reused in the floor of the current cathedral.


It was not until 1871, however, that cathedral plans came to be actively considered. Three years later, on 15 January 1874, the foundation stone of the Cathedral Church was laid. The Cathedral Church of Saint Saviour was designed by the then noted Colonial ecclesiastical architect, Edmund Thomas Blacket. Blacket had already had some involvement with the Church site at Goulburn. In 1843 he had designed a pulpit for James Hume's original brick church which was approved by Bishop Broughton and then installed.

Since Blacket's cathedral was to take ten years to construct, Blacket was also asked to design a smaller pro Cathedral Parish Sunday School. This building was completed in 1874, and still stands within the Cathedral precinct, to the west of the Cathedral. The first Anglican Church, St Saviour's, was completed in 1839, this later became the pro-cathedral. The first resident Anglican priest of that church was William Sowerby, who had been trained at St Bees Theological College in Cumberland, England, and moved to Australia in 1836 to answer the call for more clergy. Sowerby later became the first Dean of St Saviour's.

The Blacket Cathedral was one of the architect's greatest works. It was really the only cathedral he designed unencumbered by distance, financial stringency, and unsympathetic clients. It was a favourite building, and Blacket spent much of the last nine years of his life working on it. Blacket gave to the Cathedral a crucifix that he had carved in his youth; a controversial gift which the authorities hid away for many years. The Cathedral is unmistakably a Blacket church, on a grand scale, with nave, aisles, transepts, chancel, porches, and tower. tt has large and elaborate stone traceried windows and an impressive interior with a heavily carved hammer beam roof, clustered columns and foliage capitals, elaborately moulded arcades and chancel arch, and a striking use of figurative roundels in the nave, transepts, and chancel. The tower and spire, however, were never completed. The Cathedral cost 20,000 pounds at the time of its completion in 1884.

Many attempts were made subsequent to Blacket's death in 1883 and the completion of the Cathedral proper one year later, to complete the Cathedral's tower and spire but all these attempts were to no avail. In 1909, Edmund's son Cyril prepared documents for the completion of the tower and spire, and a commemorative stone was even laid within the tower base to signal recommencement of the tower building. But nothing more was done. In the 1920s, a Melbourne architect Louis A. Williams, was asked to advise the Diocese on the state of the tower footings. He reported that "...as a result of my examination of the structure and drawings, I can assure you that the present tower stump and footings are of ample strength to bear the proposed superstructure." Still no further work was undertaken.

Some ten years later, Williams and a Sydney architect, Sir Charles Rosenthal, produced a joint scheme for the new Cathedral tower and spire. Again, however, no work issued from all this activity. Perhaps this inactivity resulted from particularly pessimistic analyses of the tower foundations to carry the weight of the building. The stringencies imposed by World War Il also dampened enthusiasm, and restricted available monies. It was not then until 1984, and the introduction of the Australian Bicentennial commemorative program, that fund became available for the completion of the tower and spire. A grant of $1,000,000 was announced in that year by the Premier of New South Wales, and the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn agreed to provide additional funds.

The Tower Spire project
  • Architectural Drawing Of the New Tower, Peter Freeman & Partners Pty Ltd 1986

  • An Artist impression of what the completed Cathedral would look like

  • East Evevation of the Cathedral with Spire

A series of tasks were early identified as critical to the project's success. The first task was the undertaking of a thorough geotechnical examination of the existing tower founding material. This investigation showed quite clearly that the existing footings to the tower were not adequate to carry the load of the intended tower and spire. Nine metre bore holes were drilled through the existing foundations and a footing/soil profile was established. This soil profile showed that beneath the sandstone and lime concrete footings was a 1.5 to 2.0 metre band of sandy clay, and weathered sandstone, which was judged inadequate to carry the tower loads, particularly under the stress of wind and seismic loading.

As a result of this study, engineering documentation was prepared for the underpinning of the existing tower. This work involved the excavation of the interior of the tower base to a depth of 8.5 metres. For this excavation, 'drives' were taken out diagonally under each buttress for a length of four metres. These drives were then excavated clean and a reinforced concrete structure poured into the 'drive'. The drive was then sealed and an adjacent area excavated. This process was continued until the tower walls were underpinned. This underpinning work was made more complex by the requirement to preserve intact the grave of Bishop Chalmers, directly to the east of the tower wall. At the completion of underpinning, the tower core was filled with mass concrete. During the excavation preparatory to the underpinning work, considerable ground water was also encountered at the Cathedral sub-floor level. This ground water had followed the underlying rock strata and pooled at the Cathedral east end and tower walls. Drainage of this sub-floor water is part of the associated Cathedral conservation project.

A second task faced by the project team was the preparation of adequate 'base' drawings for the tower project, and for the related conservation project that was to proceed simultaneously with the tower. Fortunately, the team was aided in this work by the Australian Survey Office, who undertook the photo grammetrical survey of the entire Cathedral. Base plans had also to be produced of every stone course within the proposed building, to allow an early understanding of stone sizes and quantities.

A third task was the investigation of suitable stone types and sources for the proposed building. We were fortunate in having been left the demolished remains of a local stone bridge, the Fitzroy Bridge, which once spanned the Wollondilly River, just east of Goulburn. This stone, though plentiful in quantity and though from the same quarry source, was not adequate in quantity or dimension to fulfil the requirements for the proposed tower and spire. So we set upon a search for the original quarry. We eventually found it, just east of a little town called Marulan, some 30 kilometres east of Goulburn. The quarry, which had not been disturbed for almost a hundred years, was a wonderful archaeological site, but hardly suited to the extraction of stone in the quantities required by the project. The costs of re-opening this quarry were outside the resources of the project. Other sources were investigated and eventually an operational quarry north of Sydney was selected for the supply of stone to the project. This quarry, Central Coast Quarries, had the ability to provide the quantities of stone work required, and the capacity to produce profiled stone. The 'Fitzroy Bridge' stone was used for the 'rock faced' body work, being appropriately sized for that use. As soon as the project commenced, other sources were also made known to us, particularly another source of (original) Marulan stone left unused at another Goulburn church.

The final task of this first, investigative phase was for the consultant team to visit other bell towers and spires within Australia. Only one other 'completion' project of similar size and philosophical intent has been completed in Australia, That project, at Bendigo in Victoria, was visited by the consultant team and considerable data was exchanged with that project's architects.

On 1 August 1986, the stonemasons commenced work at the Goulburn site. The team had been assembled from Goulburn and environs, which had a rich and continuing tradition of stonemasonry work. The project manager and a specialist setter-out draughtsman were brought out from England to assist the project as no similar expertise existed within Australia.

Initially, the stonemasons were engaged in preparing the 'Fitzroy Bridge' stone for the rock faced work. The setter-out draughtsman commenced the preparation of stone 'shop drawings' for use by the masons. Working from our 1:100 scale plans and elevations, the draughtsman prepared drawings scheduling every stone within the building. Full size drawings were then prepared of architectural elements such as windows, string course, profiles, and friezes. From these full size drawings profiles for all stones were prepared, and isometric drawings for each 'special' stone were made available to the stonemasons. With the profile and isometric shop drawings, the masons prepared the worked stone for the project.

Parallel with this activity, engineering drawings were prepared for the concrete structure within the tower. This structure was required to stabilise the tower upper structure and support the thirteen bell bell-peal to be hung on the tower. Considerable work was done on the likely loadings imposed by the large bell peal and the concrete internal frame adopted as a result.

On 1 August 1986, the stonemasons commenced work at the Goulburn site. The team had been assembled from Goulburn and environs, which had a rich and continuing tradition of stonemasonry work. The project manager and a specialist setter-out draughtsman were brought out from England to assist the project as no similar expertise existed within Australia.

Building commenced in February 1987. The first work was to remove the existing Church of Saint Saviour's tenor bell, the existing (temporary) roof, and the weathered render to the top of the wall. During this work, the 1909 commemoration stone was discovered. It has always been a tenet of the consultant's work on the project that their building would resemble Edmund Blacket's original design as closely as possible. In accordance with this principal, it was decided very early that the tower/spire would be a mass masonry structure, with the concrete substructure introduced only as demanded by seismic and bell ringing loads. The mass structure employed was of face sandstone with 'through' stones as required, with a mass brickwork backing making up the rest of the wall. This dry press brickwork was to be laid integrally with the stonework in garden bond.

The spire was never completed.

The bells

St Saviour's has twelve bells. Eight of these were obtained from St Mark's Church, Leicester, UK. They were restored at John Taylor Bell Foundry at Loughborough, UK. The eight bells were baptised, in the grounds of the Cathedral, by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Runcie and installed ready to ring by October 1988.

The eight bells were named after the ships of the First Fleet. In increasing order of size, they are: Supply, Friendship, Lady Penrhyn, Prince of Wales, Charlotte, Scarborough, Alexander, and the Tenor bell Sirius, which is the largest bell at 21 cwt, or just over a tonne.

In 1985 a grant was received from the Bicentennial Authority to enable the completion of the tower and spire and to install the rest of the bells which were included in the original design by Edmund Blacket in 1871.

In 1993 two more bells, Golden Grove and Fishburn were added to the top of the bell ring to give the Cathedral a ring of ten bells. The final two trebles, Endeavour and Borrowdale, were added in May 2005, thus completing the Peal of twelve bells.

Ringing tower bells requires training for several months. The bells swing through a full 360° so that they can be rung in a specific order. The ringer must control the swing of the bell so that they ring in the correct place. Bellringers do not ring by a musical score but by numbers. Special sequences can be rung so that every combination of the bells are rung.

The Service Bell is named Mesac, after the first Bishop. It is the fourteenth bell in the tower but is not part of the full circle peal. The Mesac Bell is the original bell out of the St Saviour's Church and was created at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

St Saviour's belltower is the only regional tower in the Southern Hemisphere to boast a peal of 12+1 bells, this attracts many national and international ringers to the tower.

  • A diagram of the bells set up in the tower

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator
  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated a digital reference and added a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via OpenBuildings.com