Holy Trinity Anglican Church

Holy Trinity Anglican Church

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.


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This church was the first Anglican church in South Australia. It is also the state’s oldest church. The three stages of construction and enlargement, in 1838, 1845 and 1889, illustrate the establishment and expansion of Anglicanism in South Australia as well as the consolidation of colonial settlement as a whole.

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See also

Images of Holy Trinity Anglican Church

  • Holy Trinity Anglican Church, 2014
John White
Building materials
Stone, Limestone, Sandstone
Architectural styles
1 Old Colonial Period (1788–c. 1840)
1838 -  

Additional Works

Renovations by R G Bowen

Walls raised and new turret
Construction commenced
Construction completed

New roof, walls raised, chancel added.

Designed by Edward Woods and built by Codd
Construction commenced
c. 9/4/1880
Construction completed
Architecture and design features
stained glass window
Engineering features
West End
Council Ward
Alternative Addresses
Town Acre
Planning Zone or Policy Area
Original owners
Anglican Church
Original occupant
Later occupant/s
Purposes and use
Religious, Church
AS2482 classification
15500 - Religious Building
Public Access
Opening hours only
State Heritage ID
ACC Reference No.
DPTI Heritage No.
Certificate of Title No.
CT 5799/241 F181469 A627
NTSA file exists
Heritage Status
State Heritage listed
State heritage listing
State Heritage listed
Date of State heritage listing
Local heritage listing
Date of Local heritage listing
NTSA listing
NTSA classified
Date of NTSA listing
Section 23 (4) crtiteria
Risk status
Historic Themes
2 Peopling a city
2.2.1 Early Colonial Settlement
6.3 Worshipping
6.3.1 Places of worship/Churches
Bishop Short, James Farrell, Vuillamy
Australian Curriculum references
Year 5: The Australian Colonies


  • Dickey, B., Verbal information, 1987; Hilliard, D., Godliness and good order, 1986, pp. 3-7; Jensen, E., & R., Colonial architecture in South Australia, 1980, p. 626; Jose, G.H., The Church of England in South Australia, Vol. 1, 1937, pp. 4, 8, 10, 12; MLSA, Historical photographs (Town Acre 9), RN 470; Pike, D., Paradise of dissent, 1967, Chapter 15; South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register, 21 July
  • 1838; South Australian
  • Register, 7 February 1845.

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