Strong Foundations: 141 Years Later

13 April 2021 marked the 141st anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the Cathedral, on the site of the former St Paul’s Church. The ceremony began at 3pm, involving Anglican clergy, Chapter members, Diocesan Council members, the Bishop, the Mayor, the Governor, and around 100 choristers.

With around 5,000 people attending to witness the occasion filling the surrounding streets, buildings, and roofs, the excitement would have been terrific. Being a construction site, seats were arranged for the governor, the dean, and the bishop on an enormous stone that would form the base of a pier in the nave.

The ground had been prepared in advance, with a small leaden casket containing ‘suitable memorials’ placed underneath, and the nine-ton stone lowered following the liturgy. Upon being set in place, the Governor, the Marquis of Normanby, tapped the stone with a mallet and declared it ‘properly laid’.

It was around that same time 138 years later that the Metro Tunnel rail project began laying foundations of their own, and initiated some of the biggest archaeological projects in Victoria’s history across Melbourne. These included the current construction sites in Federation Square, City Square, and next to Young and Jackson’s.

The archaeology projects uncovered everything from jewellery, coins, and upholstery tacks to a collection of human teeth left over from a dentistry practice.

Meeting regularly with the Dean and members of two Cathedral committees, Metro Tunnel have been diligently monitoring the integrity of the Cathedral for any sign of movement and submitting detailed reports every month. Now that the tunnel boring machines have finished their work across the city, and the risk to heritage buildings is lessened, it is difficult indeed to overstate how much work and care has been put in to preserving the history of Melbourne during the project

Image: A wood engraving published in the Illustrated Australian News, 1880, depicts the laying of the foundation stone.
Image courtesy of State Library Victoria

This article was originally included in the June edition of Notes & News. You can read the full edition by clicking here.