Before the official settlement at Adelaide in 1836-37, an association was formed in England to assist future colonists by providing for public worship in “the doctrine of the Church of England (Anglicanism)”. It took measures to secure “the erection of a Church, a residence for the Clergyman, and a school in the new settlement”.
Following the survey of the City of Adelaide, the first selection of town acres was made in March 1837. The town acre donated for the erection of an Anglican church and parsonage was given priority and the surveyor-general (Colonel William Light) selected Town Acre 9, the present site on North Terrace.
This site was close to trade routes and water (the River Torrens), as well as building activity, commerce and social life – Hindley Street and North Terrace being the city’s hub in the early days of the colony.
South Australia was founded on radical principles of religious equality between Anglicans and non-Anglicans. Unlike in Britain, only minimal state support was provided to the Anglican Church by way of the appointment of an Anglican colonial chaplain.
The first chaplain was Charles Beaumont Howard. Appointed in England in 1835, he arrived on the Buffalo in December 1836. Prefabricated structures dispatched from England with him were proposed to be erected on Town Acre 9.
These buildings included a church to seat 350 persons, and a parsonage house. However, on July 21,1838, the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register published an article headed “Wooden Houses ¬– Caution to Emigrants”, which observed: “The only part of the wooden church that exists .. is a strange sort of extinguisher, dignified, we believe, as the steeple. The other portions did not fit, or were not supplied, or were splintered or rotten. It was found impossible, in short, to put the rubbish sent out together, and a stone building has been erected by subscription.”
The foundation stone of that building was laid by Governor Hindmarsh on January 26, 1838. John White completed the building by August of that year.
If it were not for Howard’s efforts, Holy Trinity Church probably would not have been built as he partly sustained its costs and debts. At the same time, as colonial chaplain, he was expected to conduct marriages and burials for anyone who asked, and until 1840 he was the colony’s only Anglican clergyman.
Illustrations of the church appear in the margin of the Kingston map (1842), and in views of the late 1830s that show the church as the most substantial building in the area. It was such an important landmark that a clock made by Vuillamy, clockmaker to King William IV, was installed in its tower. Holy Trinity Church is one of the few surviving buildings in Adelaide that is a physical link to the city’s earliest years. It has been on its site since 1838, playing a significant role in the social life of both the city and the state. There were so many applications for pews that the church was enlarged in 1839. In 1844 it was declared unsafe, closed for repairs, and partially rebuilt by R.G. Bowen. The building was given higher walls, and a new octagonal turret with a colonial slate face for the clock. A stained-glass window dated 1836 and bearing the monarch’s name, W IV R (King William IV) is the only remaining relic of the original prefabricated building, while the tower and the lower part of the nave walls appear to have been retained from the first stone building.
The church was reopened in 1845.
Charles Howard had died in 1843 and James Farrell, first dean of Adelaide, had become the incumbent of Trinity Church, marrying Howard’s widow, Grace.
When the colony’s first Anglican bishop arrived in 1847, Holy Trinity was given the title Cathedral Church pro-tem. Many of the pioneer clergy were ordained within its walls by Bishop Short, and throughout the 1840s the church attracted large congregations, including the Anglican governors and other “principal persons of the colony”.
It was also the church for the military, whose ranks filled the galleries. The central square pews were occupied by notable pioneer families, whose feature on early memorial tablets.
In the 1880s the architect Edward John Woods designed alterations, which were carried out by the builder Codd. The old roof was taken off, the walls raised, and the tower increased in height and surmounted by pinnacles and a vane. A chancel was added and the flat ceiling was replaced by the present timber structure. The walls and tower were stoutly buttressed and dressings were made in cement. Sandstone for the new work was used for its colour match with the original mellow-hued Adelaide limestone, although this has since been darkened by soot.
E.J. Woods completely transformed the church’s appearance, and it stands today largely as a church of his design.