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The Search for Land

Fleming's desire to erect a massive Cathedral in St. John's was met with much opposition and reluctance. Many people questioned the necessity of a large church in a small British North American colony. A Cathedral of this size would rival that of any North American colony and would be the largest undertaking to date in St. John's. Also, since Irish Catholics were a political minority within St. John's, many saw Fleming's efforts to acquire land to be futile. These factors, combined with Bishop Fleming's reputation as a difficult negotiator, would surely result in divisive relations between Catholics and Protestants in St. John's.

From 1834 until 1838, Fleming petitioned the British Government for a tract of land on "The Barrens", to the east of Fort Townsend, the highest ridge overlooking St. John's harbour, but the British Governor Prescott refused. What followed were four trans-Atlantic voyages to London by Fleming in order to secure the land. Nine acres was finally granted in May 1838 by the Board of Ordnance.

Having obtained the land, Fleming went to Europe for architectural plans. He consulted John Jones of Clonmel, Ireland, before settling on Joergen Schmidt (name source), the architect of the Danish Government at Altona-on-the-Elbe, outside Hamburg. With Schmidt's designs, Fleming could "complete a most extensive Cathedral, a House for the Bishop and Clergy, a convent, schools and at an expense far less than by the plans of the English or Irish Architects". At first, Fleming hired the Waterford builder Michael McGrath, but after a disagreement, replaced him with builder and stone-carver James Purcell.