St Paul’s Cathedral is built on the site where the first public Christian services in Melbourne were led by Dr Alexander Thomson in 1836. Soon afterwards a small wooden chapel was built elsewhere, and the area became a corn market until 1848, when it was made available for the building of the bluestone St Paul’s Parish Church. Consecrated in 1852, this Church was used until 1885, when it was demolished to make way for the present Cathedral. The decision to build on the site of the existing church was made because of its proximity to the railway and soon to be completed cable tramway service. The Swanston Street and Flinders Street corner is one of Victoria's busiest intersections today, and the Cathedral remains very much at the heart of city life.
The Cathedral is built in the neo-Gothic transitional style, that is, partly Early English and partly Decorated. It was designed by the distinguished English architect William Butterfield, who was noted for his ecclesiastical work. The foundation stone was laid in 1880. Butterfield steadfastly refused to visit Melbourne and the building program was beset with all the problems that arise from management by remote control. He resigned from the project briefly in 1882 and finally in 1884, and the building was completed under the supervision of Joseph Reed, who designed many of Melbourne’s public buildings. Nonetheless, St Paul’s remains Butterfield’s final masterpiece.
On 22 January 1891 the Cathedral was consecrated, although it was not the building we see today. The construction of the spires did not begin until 1926, and then to the design of John Barr of Sydney rather than using the original design of an octagonal central tower and gable west end towers of Butterfield. In the 1960s extensive work was carried out on the exterior, and in 1989 a major National Trust appeal to enable the restoration of the Cathedral’s magnificent organ. More recently, and completed in 2009, extensive restoration works were carried out under the leadership of the Very Revd David Richardson, 13th Dean of Melbourne, to the exterior and interior of the Cathedral.