The fittings are typically well finished although restrained. This understatement of internal works was typical of other Anglican church interiors, where comparative simplicity is complemented by the nature of internal spaces and massing. The use of the Gothic style, again typical of Anglican preferences, reinforces the atmosphere of colonial conservatism where traditional detailing harked back to the readily understood and expected form of a cathedral. The cost of construction and fittings was borne not simply by Anglicans but by prominent Protestant members of the Adelaide Establishment.
Bishop Augustus Short arrived in the colony on 28 December 1847, bringing with him a promise of £1000 towards the erection of a cathedral. Other donations were made, and in 1848 Governor Robe conveyed to the bishop an acre of land in the centre of Victoria Square as a site for the cathedral. The bishop took possession of the site but the Corporation of the City of Adelaide refused to recognise his title to the land. Much controversy and litigation followed, and Bishop Short lost the case in 1855. In 1862 land just over one acre in extent was purchased at the corner of Pennington Terrace and John Street (now King William Road), and in 1868 Bishop Short announced that he had decided to begin the erection of the cathedral on that site.
The original design of the cathedral was evidently similar to the cathedral designed by the English architect William Butterfield for Perth, Scotland. Butterfield’s design was described as “cruciform with transepts not projecting beyond the aisles and a low pyramid capped central tower”. His design for a cathedral in Adelaide was for a building of brick to provide “character at the cheapest possible rate”. Butterfield produced two revisions of the scheme that were then modified in Adelaide by E.J. Woods of the firm Wright, Woods and Hamilton. Woods was also entrusted with supervision of the building work.
Bishop Short requested revision of the cathedral plans mainly due to the extensive use of coloured banding and detail, or polychrome work, which was then in vogue in England but rejected locally because of colonial conservatism and distance from the latest architectural developments in Europe. In order to be free to undertake the necessary design alterations Short purchased the plans, and the polychrome work and textural variety so favoured by Butterfield was supplanted by ashlar sandstone and limestone masonry. Internal dimensions of the first stage were given as 168 feet by 58 feet, with a height of 70 feet to the ridge. An estimate of the cost of construction was given as between £20,000 and £25,000.
Bishop short laid the foundation stone on June 29, 1869, although the building remained incomplete until the early 20th century. On June 29, 1876 the first divine service was held in the completed part of the sanctuary, choir, transepts and one bay of the nave. The main contractors were Brown and Thompson. In 1878 this section was duly consecrated and soon after, the font and reredos, designed by Butterfield, were placed in position.
In 1890 the work of completion, with J.J. Leahy as the contractor, was begun under Bishop G.W. Kennion, but it ceased in 1894 when funds had been exhausted. A bequest from the estate of Sir Thomas Elder of £4000 made in 1897 allowed work to proceed, and a donation of £10,000 from Robert Barr Smith in 1901 helped complete the towers and spires and provide an apse at the chancel end. W.C. Torode was the contractor for the erection of the spires. The consecration of the completed nave took place on July 14,1901.
The towers and spires were completed and dedicated on December 7, 1902. Mrs Alfred Simms helped fund the addition of a Lady Chapel in 1904. At this time the porch facing Pennington Terrace and the three windows at the apsidal end were consecrated. The windows were by the London company of stained-glass makers, James Powell & Sons, and the gift of Robert Barr Smith. There are several fine stained-glass windows, including the multi-light of 1926 by C.E. Kempe and Company of London, described as “perhaps the … grandest window in South Australia”. Several other windows in the cathedral by C.E. Kempe date from the period 1903-26.
The cathedral, the epitome of Anglican building activity in South Australia, remains a fine example of the mason’s craft and has been, in common with many parish Anglican churches, finely furnished and detailed. Despite a construction period of almost 40 years, the whole is remarkably cohesive, conforming to the master plan originally prepared by Butterfield.