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Published April 14th 2013
The first concrete castle in SA
Benjamin Herschel Babbage Circa 1860 (Wikipedia)
Benjamin Herschel Babbage was quite an extraordinary man.
Born in England in 1815, he was the eldest son of Charles Babbage who was credited with inventing the programmable computer.
After training as an engineer he worked on railway projects in England and Italy before being sent to South Australia in 1851 to undertake a geological and mineralogical survey of the colony.
Babbage rapidly became involved in the growing colony's expansion and became Chief Engineer for the railway from Port Adelaide to the city. He was chairman of the Mitcham District Council, President of the Adelaide Philosophical Society, and was elected an MP - all within a few years.
From 1856 he spent years exploring the far north of SA from the Flinders Ranges to Lake Eyre.
By the 1860's Benjamin Babbage had purchased a large house and acreage south of Adelaide at St Mary's from the Daw family. Babbage established a vineyard, but his house burnt down around 1875 and he was determined to build a replacement that couldn't be damaged by fire.
Babbage's Wine Press in 1880 (State Library of SA B23398)
In 1876 Babbage started building a large 15 room mansion which he called "The Rosary" in a grand Italianate style. The building soon became locally known as the Babbage's Castle due to its size and grandeur.
A whimsical article in The Advertiser on June 29 1935 is well worth reading. It records in part:
A square central tower in front dominated the house. There were a tapering spire at each corner and two smaller spires over an ornate porch way in front. The walls were tessellated in places and the entrance doors domed and pointed. The style of architecture was the last word in baroque - part Italian, part Arabian Nights, and part Grimm's Fairy Tales.
No wonder that "The Rosary" was discussed far and wide and people came from all parts of the State to see it.
The Rosary Under Construction in 1876 (State Library of SA, B23397)
Babbage was so determined to prevent a fire that practically everything in the house was made of concrete except doors, windows, and fittings. One of the ceilings was made of concrete nearly two metres thick. A magnificent staircase was made entirely of marble.
However the building had one huge flaw - it was one of the first buildings in SA to be made of local lime concrete and it soon developed a major salt damp problem.
Until recently a 140 year old olive tree at number 6 Donald Street St Marys was the sole reminder of this incredible house and its gardens. It was a feature of Mitcham Council's St Marys Heritage Walk.
When I checked today the tree is no longer there and no trace of Babbage's grand past remains. The tree and adjoining house have been replaced by two homettes.
Great to finally find out the history of the castle. My grandparents owned the property. As a child I stayed in the little building on the end of the photo. I have the exact same photo in my possession. Kenn