The first bell tower in Australia outside of the state capitals, started to be constructed in Bathurst in 1848 following the construction and consecration of the first All Saints’ Church.
In 1850, after a number of years of public fund raising, six bells were ordered from the London foundry of Warner Brothers. Five years later, in December 1855, after many months of high adventure they were installed in All Saints’ Bell Tower. The six bells reached Sydney docks in March 1895, but no funding appears to have been made for their onward journey to Bathurst. Carriers at this time were in peak demand supplying goods and facilities in support of the NSW Gold Rush at Sofala, Hillend and Ophir. Moving over a ton and a half of church bells across the mountains, down Victoria Pass and out across the plain to Bathurst as an act of goodwill, would have had little attraction for many carriers.
However God moves in a mysterious way and by November 1895 all six bells appear to have safely reached Bathurst. By mid December they had been hung in the bell tower where they awaited the final fitting of wheels and ropes. At this very moment news reached Bathurst from Europe that the allied armies, fighting in the Crimea, had achieved a substantial victory at Sevastopol. It was nearly Christmas and the receipt of this overseas news encouraged a local celebration. During the festivities that followed some of the revellers broke into the bell tower determined to ring the bells. They were eventually ejected by the local constable and several church wardens, but not before damage had been inflicted on one of the smaller bells. The installation was completed in 1856, and the damaged bell later returned to England for repair. Then for just over twenty years the change ringing bell of Bathurst became a normal part of the soundscape of this growing community. In 1870 Bathurst became a city, the new Anglican diocese of Bathurst was established and All Saints Church became a Cathedral.
By the early 1900’s, after nearly 25 years of change ringing activity, extensive structural cracking was becoming evident around the base of the tower. Engineers attributed this cracking to tower movement while bells were being rung, together with the fact that the church, like much of the town, had been built on a very reactive clay sub soil. Change ringing had to cease. The bells remained in place but their use was limited to occasional gentle tolling. Structural cracking continued to develop regardless of the inactivity of the bells, and as time passed, it gradually became accepted by Clergy and Parish Council that one day the Cathedral would have to be rebuilt.
Two world wars and a long period of financial crisis deferred serious consideration of this action. It wasn’t until 1969 that sufficient fund raising had been achieved to enable the work to start. In 1970 the original Cathedral building was demolished and construction started on the hexagonal brick structure that constitutes the present Cathedral. The new building did not include a bell tower and the bells were grounded in the rear yard of the Court House.
In the years that followed, a movement to rehouse the bells was gradually able to develop sufficient support within the local community and the National Association of Bell Ringers – support that was also backed by the State Heritage Authority – to encourage the Bathurst Council to address the situation. In 2002, under the Chairmanship of the Dean, a community committee with Council encouragement was elected to raise funds to enable a new bell tower to be constructed. The tower would become a community tower, and the six bells in storage would be augmented to create an octave peal of eight together with a tolling bell.
The local community, together with state and federal authorities, responded to the fund raising appeal in a highly positive and generous manner and construction work was able to start late 2007. The tower was finally completed in October 2009. The original six bells have been registered on the State Heritage Register for NSW.