Prefabrication was important to the expansion and consolidation of British colonial outposts and St Luke’s, although a late example of prefabricated building construction, is historically significant as it represents this important tool of colonisation used by the Anglican Church.
The need for a church in the south-western corner of the city was recognised by 1853. During Reverend James Pollitt’s term it was decided to erect a church to seat 450 persons on the present site which was provided by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The Bishop of Adelaide, Dr Short, then in England, purchased an iron church on behalf of the Building Committee. However, when the committee was notified that the cost would be £2000, it was decided to erect a cheaper stone structure designed by Edmund Wright. In the meantime, however, the bishop had ordered an iron church to be fabricated and forwarded to South Australia.
In September 1854 it was stated that an iron church “expected soon to arrive” had been purchased for £750. With the cost of erection and other disbursements, that figure would effectively double.
Little more was reported on the erection of the church until June 30, 1855, when the following somewhat optimistic report appeared in the Observer, hinting at the lack of co-ordination between the efforts of the Building Committee in Adelaide and those of the bishop in England: “It may be added for the satisfaction of those who take a special interest in the ministrations connected with the intended edifice, that a sufficiency of stone for the foundations having already been placed on the ground, that portion of the work will be proceeded with immediately after the arrival of the Madawaska. In order to obviate the possibility of delay consequent upon any want of experience, a skilful artisan, fully acquainted with all the details, and who is a passenger on board the expected ship, has been engaged to superintend the erection. The materials for completion of the interior comprise sittings for more than 450 persons.”
The Building Committee attempted to press on with a stone church and in 1855 resolved “to retain, for the present, the site in Whitmore Square” and to sell portions of the iron church, now landed at the port. However, parts of the iron church were so damaged by saltwater that it was condemned as unfit for erection and unused portions were sold by public auction to Charles Farr for the benefit of the underwriters. Not to be deterred, the foundation stone of the church, the basis of which remains today, was laid on September 11, 1855, by the Governor Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell, assisted by the bishop. The new bluestone church was constructed, incorporating sound timber and much of the ironwork from the imported iron church. The new church was consecrated on February 14, 1856, the building having been erected under the superintendence of Thomas Hall.
An iron rectory was constructed in Sturt Street and rebuilt in 1860 after a fire in 1857. In 1874, this rectory was sold and the present residence erected next to the church. The new rectory was designed by E.J. Woods, who was responsible for the design and execution of many ecclesiastical buildings. Of rather standard form, however, it is representative of many of the asymmetrical bay-windowed villas erected during these prosperous years. The Smith Survey of 1880 shows a simple villa. It has since been extended, most notably to the rear and the Sturt Street frontage, where a rectangular bay has been added.
St Luke’s Church served a parish that was mainly residential and working class. In the 1920s and 1930s, when the economic depression created much hardship, the church involved itself in local missionary work, as did St. Mary Magdalene’s Church on the western fringes of the Young Ward, which was built as a mission church. Mission work at St Luke’s continued after the Depression in the form of various social services. One of the early services was the setting up of Grey Ward Boys’ Institute by the Reverend D.J. Knox. Now owned by Anglicare SA, the former rectory has been a night shelter for homeless youths and is currently a boarding house for low income tenants.
In the mid-1860s a schoolroom was erected, and in 1868 a pipe organ was installed in the church. In 1878 a new organ was purchased and the gallery enlarged, and in 1880 the church was renovated and redecorated. In 1884 a new hall was built and in 1890 the organ chamber was erected. Because of decay a new chancel was built in 1899 to E.J. Woods’ design. It was consecrated by Bishop Harmer on 27 July 1899. In the 1920s damage by white ants was remedied, and because of fretting to the stonework the exterior was cement rendered.
Although little is now visible of obviously imported materials, the clerestory structure can be seen quite clearly, and the attenuated columns and naively detailed timber Gothic arches also allude to a structure other than masonry. The building is dominated by constructional compromises and naive detailing, although internally it is remarkably cohesive and reminiscent of timber mission churches where the visual weight of materials is lighter than those buildings of masonry construction. Externally the rendering of surfaces has reduced the impact of the building.