Lt Gov David Collins abandoned Port Phillip and sailed to the River Derwent in the ships Lady Nelson and Ocean and took command of the settlement which was relocated to Sullivan’s Cove founding Hobart Town in February 1804. The Reverend Robert Knopwood was the expedition’s chaplain and was the sole chaplain of Van Diemen’s Land. Colonel William Paterson sent from New South Wales in the Lady Nelson to settle at York Town on the west arm of the Tamar River to command Bass Strait from the south side arrived in early November 1804.
Lt Gov David Collins died 24 March 1810 and was buried at St David’s burial ground (now St David’s Park). St David’s Church constructed of wood was erected over David Collins’ grave as a temporary place for public worship. Within a few months it was blown down in a gale. From 30 June 1812 the seat of government of the whole of Van Diemen’s Land was located in Hobart Town, still responsible to New South Wales.
In February 1813 Lt Gov Thomas Davey gained approval from Governor Lachlan Macquarie of New South Wales of plans for erection of the second St David’s Church. On 19 February 1817 the foundation stone of the second St David’s Church was laid on the corner of Murray and Macquarie Streets by Thomas Davey to perpetuate the memory of the late David Collins. The Church was a long time in building and on 9 January 1823 St David’s Church was consecrated by the Reverend Samuel Marsden, Senior Chaplain of New South Wales, who visited Hobart Town under Commission of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
On 7 January 1835 the steeple of the Church was declared unsafe, and taken down and on 18 March 1835 a tower known as the Pepper Pot was erected in its place. In 1836, Hobart Town was declared a City and St David’s Church became St David’s Cathedral. Bishop Nixon was enthroned in the old St David’s on 27 July 1843 by the Senior Chaplain, Dr William Bedford. On 17 January 1862. St David’s Cathedral and land on the corner of Murray and Macquarie Streets was granted by the Crown. The design architect for the new St David’s Cathedral was George Frederick Bodley. Bodley was a leading exponent of Gothic Revival in ecclesiastical architecture in England during the 19th century, however he never visited the Hobart site.
On 8 January 1868 the foundation stone of the present St David’s Cathedral (the third St David’s Church) was laid by HRH Prince Alfred the Duke of Edinburgh in the presence of Governor Thomas Gore Browne, Premier Sir Richard Dry and a large group of clergy. The supervising architect for the building was famous Tasmanian architect Henry Hunter. The builder for the project was James Gregory. On 3 February 1874 the nave of the new St David’s Cathedral was consecrated. A procession took place from the old St David’s which was still standing to the west door of the new Cathedral. In September 1874 the old St David’s Cathedral was pulled down. On 12 January 1892 the foundation stone of the new Cathedral tower was laid by the Primate of Australia with Bishop Montgomery conducting the service in the year of the 250th Anniversary of the discovery of the Island by Abel Tasman.
On 18 January 1894 the Cathedral Chancel and the Nixon Chapel were consecrated by Bishop Montgomery. In August 1908 work on reconstruction of the Chancel began as it was in danger of collapse. The work of reconstruction was completed in April 1909. Work did not commence on erection of the tower until 1929 when an anonymous legacy of £7,000 plus other gifts started the Tower and Cloisters Fund. Work progressed under supervision of architect Alan Walker with contractor H W Pease. On 1 March 1931 (St David’s Day) the cloisters and the base of the tower were opened and consecrated by the Bishop of Tasmania. Completion of the Bell Tower on 28 October 1936 finally saw completion of the plans originally drawn by George Bodley, 68 years after commencement.
There are stones in the museum dating from the 6th century. There are also very old flags dating from the time when Tasmania stopped being a convict settlement. There are also stained glass windows depicting saints, knights, kings and biblical characters. Along the walls there are small memorial plaques dedicated to deceased members. The cathedral's distinctive features also include an arcaded entrance with a large west window and buttressed turrets; a square tower made of Oatlands stone; and a space on the southern side with old trees.
The building sits on the corner of Macquarie and Murray Streets and forms one quadrant of what is considered to be the finest Georgian streetscape in Australia. The cathedral choir offers sacred music both classical and contemporary in worship and in concert. The organ, considered one of the superior organs of Australia, is played by quality organists. The acoustics and 650 seating capacity demand frequent concerts.
The building is on the register of the National Estate. The cathedral has reached a time in its life where substantial work is required both to maintain it – replacing failed materials such as roofing and stonework – and to present it as a vital and contemporary part of the city – upgrading services such as lighting, heating and providing for a wider range of uses of the building.
Over its life, work has been undertaken to maintain and improve the building. This has included adding the bell tower and cloister and various changes around the site and within the building. However the building now requires a major works program to ensure that it will continue well into the future as the principal place of Anglican worship in Tasmania and as a key part of the civic life of Hobart. It also needs a regular and ongoing maintenance program to maintain its condition into the future.
This said, the cathedral still exudes a majesty and scale of size that is comparable to any cathedral in the world. The interior is a 'must see' as it is exceedingly beautiful and a credit to the original vision of the architect.