Victoria-Square

Theodore Bruce Auctions Pty Ltd, Australia’s oldest auction house, is to offer for sale by public auction a colonial South Australian plan drawn by Robert George Thomas, draftsman, for the Land and Survey Office circa 1839 in which the placement of the proposed cathedral (southern end of Victoria Square) is clearly shown and puts to rest the arguments and erroneous judgments made by the colonists and the Supreme Court of South Australia in 1855.

In 1847 Lieutenant Governor Robe affirmed an earlier proposal by Colonel William Light for selections of town acres situated in the heart of the city to be set aside for a cathedral and also a splendid House of Assembly.

The original survey drawings for the City of Adelaide and many of the early survey records were destroyed in a fire in 1839.  However, R G Thomas, draftsman for the Land and Survey Office at that period, recalls that the southern end of Victoria Square was designated as a site for a cathedral by the placement of a large black cross.

When, in 1851, member of the Legislative Council, Mr Dutton, proposed a motion for the return of all lands sold and grants of land gratuitously issued in the colony, the Victoria Square site became subject of a heated dispute among the colonists.

In public meetings held through 1853 as reported in the South Australian register, the appropriateness of the siting of a cathedral in Victoria Square was not disputed so much as which religious order had rights to the site.

Bishop Short, in an address to his congregation in 1847, clearly spelled out his understanding of the Anglican church’s entitlement to the Victoria Square site and furthermore backed up his claim by calling upon Lieutenant Governor Robe to reaffirm the land grant.

Lieutenant Governor Robe, who was appointed in 1845, granted much land to churches (Anglican, Roman, Scottish, Wesleyan and Lutheran), principally on the basis of the strength of congregation equating to the significance of site if granted.

By 1851 Governor Robe had left the State of South Australia and as a result the colonists endeavoured to return to the source of the original survey, but given that the documents had been destroyed in 1839, they resorted to writing to the original draftsman (Colonel William Light having died in 1839), R G Thomas, who was by this time resident in Newport, Monmouthshire.

R G Thomas replied to the people of South Australia through an open letter to the South Australian Register on 9th September 1853 (published Thursday 5th January 1854).  In it he states, “I find that the large map in the survey office is more than once alluded to (at the public meetings, 1853).  During my early days as an old colonist of South Australia, and when a youth of 17, I filled the situation of only draftsman in the survey office, under Colonel Light, the then Surveyor-General.  Amongst other things, I drew the plan in question, by desire of Colonel Light and Mr J.H. Fischer, the then resident Commissioner, and I believe my name is attached to it.  I recollect perfectly the subject of the cathedral shown in Victoria Square; I sketched it with Colonel Light’s permission – he having, as I can vouch, always intended that site to be kept for it – and such was always understood by the old colonists, and not disputed.  The style there shown may very possibly be somewhat unique, though whether in the Cockney Villa or otherwise, those who have an opportunity of inspection can describe better than I can; but most certainly a cathedral was intended, as I suppose the drawing sufficiently indicates.”

The plan to be offered by Theodore Bruce on Wednesday 26th February at 6pm is the sketch detail for the larger plan referred to in R G Thomas’ correspondence.

The page drawn with north/south aspect clearly breaks Victoria Square into four sections with the town acre to the southern section featuring a stylised gothic cathedral with the plan described, “Victoria Square, Adelaide, proposed site for cathedral”.

James Bruce, Managing Director of Theodore Bruce Auctions, observes that whilst it is too late to re-site Adelaide’s Anglican cathedral, perhaps a plaque commemorating Colonel William Light’s original intention for the site be erected and that the history of Victoria Square be rewritten to include the highly important plan now rediscovered.

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