Arriving in the colony on December 28, 1847, Bishop Augustus Short, brought with him £1000 and plans to build a Gothic-style Anglican cathedral. The next year he was granted an acre of land in the centre of Victoria Square. However the Corporation of the City of Adelaide refused to recognise his title to the land. After much controversy, in 1855 the Supreme Court decided the grant was invalid. It would not allow the new cathedral to be built in the square.
In 1862, the church bought this land on the corner of Pennington Terrace and John Street (now King William Road) and construction began.
The original design was similar to William Butterfield’s for the cathedral in Perth, Scotland. Butterfield recommended building Adelaide’s cathedral in brick to keep costs down.
Local architect E.J. Woods worked from Butterfield’s plans. He made some modifications, mainly in the building materials. Butterfield’s design called for coloured banding and detail, thought very stylish in England at the time. However Bishop Short did not think this fitted the conservative nature of the cathedral and colonial society. Instead he chose a more uniform look in ashlar sandstone and limestone masonry.
St Peters Cathedral was built in stages from 1869 to the early 20th century. The first service was held in the finished sections of the sanctuary, choir, transepts and one bay of the nave on June 29, 1876. Building started again in the early 1890s but stopped when funds ran out. A bequest from Sir Thomas Elder in 1897 and Robert Barr Smith in 1901 allowed it to resume. The towers and spires were finished. Some of the stained glass windows, by London company James Powell & Sons, were also a gift from Robert Barr Smith.
Even though it was built over 40 years, St Peters is remarkably unified. It became the “gatepost” to North Adelaide and remains one of the city's landmark buildings.