The Tower was added to the church in 1847. Its designer was James Blackburn, a surveyor cum architect cum engineer whose future in the early 18th century held much promise in London’s Islington. He developed sewage systems in the area just a couple of miles north of St Paul’s cathedral. In the 1830s, Blackburn was also an entrepreneur building houses in Islington on the pretty Lloyd Baker Estate which still survives. He would build them then sell them on. He also lived in one of them.
But in 1833, Blackburn could not sell the houses so suffered a severe cash flow problem. His furniture was taken and he was threatened with the loss of his home.
His response to his desperation changed his life forever. In what seems to be a temporary lack of judgement, he forged signatures on a bank cheque worth £600 which resulted in his conviction. Although he had many character witnesses from eminent colleagues at his trial, he was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for life. He arrived in November 1833 on the Isabella. His wife and children followed later.
His skills were highly sought after to help develop the colony. So the Government put him to work with John Lee Archer, the colony’s engineer, in building 130 miles of roads, many bridges (including designing two across the Derwent), watchhouses and a number of churches including adding the tower on St George’s. He had a hand in the design of a number of significant buildings including the Treasury and the Bank of Australia. He was responsible for the Launceston water works, and worked for the Governor’s wife, Lady Franklin, on the 1840 plans for Government House (stopped for financial reasons but completed with adapted plans). He ultimately received his freedom in 1841 with the support of glowing testimonials about his work and character.
The recession in Tasmania in 1846 meant that development slowed so his skills were less in demand. The Blackburn family moved to Campbell Town where James turned his hand to flour milling. But a brighter future in Melbourne beckoned so he and his family moved there in 1849. With four businessmen, he developed the first piped water for the city at a reasonable cost. He was then appointed as Melbourne’s Surveyor.