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Step Back in Time on Gover Street, North Adelaide

Home > Adelaide > Places of Interest | Historic Houses | Free | Architecture | Walks
by Graeme Fanning (subscribe)
I'm a tour guide who is passionate about South Australia and love to showcase to locals and visitors. Visit my facebook page at
Published August 8th 2022
Take a glide down Gover Street
You never know what you are going to find when you wander down some of Adelaide's streets and I was pleasantly surprised recently to discover a treasured time capsule encompassed in Gover Street in North Adelaide.

Gover Street is one of the east/west facing streets in the grid of North Adelaide, traversing from Lefevre Terrace at one end down to Jeffcott Street at the other. The street, like many of the streets of Adelaide, was named after a person who had some connection to the establishment of South Australia as a province of Britain - in this case, William Glegg Gover (1783 - 1855).

Gover himself, born in England, had an enquiring mechanistic mind and a skill for inventing useful things. One of his interesting inventions in 1804 was a mechanism that enabled a Ship's Captain to steer very large sailing vessels. Another invention in 1845 involved a type of window sash.

At the time, the street naming committee were setting about naming all of the major streets in Adelaide, in 1837, it was deemed unusual that Gover should have been included as he had no connection to the Commission establishing South Australia, nor any of the parliamentarians at the time.

However, Gover was a good friend of Robert Gouger, our first Colonial Secretary and was a big believer in Wakefield's systematic colonisation theories. Hence Gover was very keen to invest substantially in what would hopefully be extremely successful ventures in the fledgling colony.

Gover acquired town acreage in Adelaide and then invested in mining leases around the area of the Adelaide Hills, purchasing land near Morialta Falls, due to the outbreaks of gold and copper being discovered up at Montacute, and lead at Glen Osmond.

Gover also became involved with the newly formed South Australian Railway Company in 1839, subsequently also being involved in the construction of Australia's first railway - the Goolwa to Port Elliot Tramway in 1854.

Villa style home c 1880s Gover Street North Adelaide
Villa style home c 1880s Gover Street North Adelaide

Here are some fascinating finds discovered along Gover Street:-

1. 1880s Two Storey Single Fronted Masonry Residence

One of the eye-catching elements of this property is the decorative verandah and cast iron balcony. The first known occupier of this house was Charles J Stevens,a Professor of Music in 1888.

During Steven's career, he at one point took on a young Peter Dawson, then 17 years of age as a pupil for singing lessons. With Charles Steven's encouragement, Peter Dawson left Adelaide to undertake further study in the UK.

Peter Dawson went on to become a world-renowned Baritone singer, and was one of the most prolific recording artists of the twentieth century, having recorded more than 1500 songs under his own name as well as pseudonyms. Dawson is credited with popularising "Waltzing Matilda", "Along the Road to Gundagai", "Song of Australia" and "Advance Australia Fair".

Charles Stevens himself was well known as a promoter of orchestral concerts featuring British music, and in 1904 conducted the Adelaide Orpheus Society in a historic concert at Adelaide's Jubilee Oval to mark the Australian Federation with a crowd of around 4,000.

Two storey c 1880s Gover Street North Adelaide
Two storey c 1880s Gover Street North Adelaide

2. Edwardian Residence c 1890

This asymmetrical roofed residence was typical of the kinds of homes being built around this period and has a strong association in its early years with a Curator and Pitch maker, Charles Checkett.

Checkett had been employed at Adelaide Oval since the early 1880s for around 30 years, finally retiring in the years leading up to World War 1. At the time of his original engagement, Checkett was employed on a 6 week trial, and having performed his duties in exemplary fashion, was then made permanent.

Charles Checkett went on to gain a worldwide reputation for the excellence of his wickets, their glossiness having been compared to a "well-ironed shirt front" and their solidarity and smoothness to a "carefully kept billiard table".

In January 1902, Checkett was busily preparing the pitch for the upcoming third test match at Adelaide Oval. At that time Checkett, when interviewed by the media, stated that there was a very short turnaround period from the time the football season ended to when the cricket season would begin. Hence there was little time to prepare the pitch. The soil for the pitch came from Athelstone, whilst the grass was a mixture of rye, clover and couch grass.

As you can imagine, a lot of water needed to be utilised to bring the pitch up to top-notch standards, and with the use of rollers and a scythe, the grass was in top condition ready for the test. Interestingly, in the event of rain on match days, the wicket would be covered with galvanised iron and weighted down, set up like a lean-to, with the back banked up with sawdust to keep the water off the pitch. All in all, Checkett was a true professional and applied true dedication to maintaining a superior pitch on the oval, as did later Curators including the legendary Les Burdett.

One of the other prominent residents of this house was educationist and peace activist, Graham F Smith. Smith was well known as a factory worker, teacher, education reformer, as well as a trade union leader in South Australia with a strong commitment to democracy, social justice and equality. A loyal member of the Communist Party of Australia, in his autobiography, Graham Smith wrote "I have chosen to contribute to our history by being an active participant in it".

During the 1960s, Smith was the prime architect of a successful campaign for wage justice for the teaching profession, including the introduction of equal pay for women.

He also revolutionised social studies in secondary schools with his textbook, which he insisted that "secondary schools and teachers had a responsibility to bring students into a critical interaction with their contemporary society".

Graham Smith passed away in 1989, having been a member of the Communist Party (CPA) since 1944.

Edwardian Residence c 1890 Gover Street North Adelaide
Edwardian Residence c 1890 Gover Street North Adelaide

3. Two Storey Georgian Semi-Detached Houses

These residences were built for architect and draughtsman William Percival after the original land had been granted to Captain William Wright. They were built in two stages - the eastern section between 1866 and 1868 and the western section between 1870 and 1873.

Percival's wife is believed to have run the property as a lodging house for some time until around 1880. It remained in the Percival family for over 50 years.

Two Storey Georgian style houses c 1860s Gover Street North Adelaide
Two Storey Georgian style houses c 1860s Gover Street North Adelaide

4. House and Shop c 1868

This is a great example of a shop with added residence, the original house on the site dating back to 1868. The property is quite distinctive with its red face brick as well as bluestone features. Samuel Kingsbury built the original house on the site and an extra room for use as a shop was added in 1929 by then owner John Hoskins.

A different time when many of these types of shops graced our metropolitan streets as the forerunners to grocery stores and supermarkets.

House and Shop c 1860s Gover Street North Adelaide
House and Shop c 1860s Gover Street North Adelaide

5. Bluestone and Limestone Gentleman's Residences c 1873

These residences were built by James Harrington, a Limeburner who ran a successful business from his own property in Prospect. In fact his very first assignment as a Limeburner involved pushing a wheelbarrow all the way from his kiln, which was located on the corner of Braund Road and Methuen Street, Prospect all the way to North Adelaide.

Harrington had arrived in South Australia aboard the "Katherine Stewart Forbes" ship in 1837 from Halstead, England.

Apart from his building expertise, Harrington also became a Real Estate Developer, and was a founding Councillor of the City of Prospect. In Prospect today, there is a street named after him.

During the 1840s Harrington had purchased around 4 acres of land including a small dwelling on the western side of what is today, Prospect Road (formerly Eliza Road, named after James's daughter. Harrington owned quite large acreages of land in Prospect, some of which eventually became Blackfriars Priory School. Harrington had originally acquired the land around 1867.

James Harrington also built and lived in an 1860s Regency style dwelling on the corner of Childers Street and Jeffcott Street in North Adelaide.

If you venture down a laneway off Childers Street today, you will be able to see evidence of what appears to be kilns which may have been used by Harrington in his job as a Limeburner.

In 1863 Harrington also built the original house which today forms part of St Ann's College, a tertiary residential college in Brougham Place, North Adelaide.

Gentleman's Residence c 1873 Gover Street North Adelaide
Gentleman's Residence c 1873 Gover Street North Adelaide

6. Former Horse Tram Offices

An important historic link to our early transport industry exists just off Gover Street, with a building which once housed the former Horse Tram offices.

The Adelaide and Suburban Tramway Co Ltd was formed back in 1876 and was the first company in Australia to successfully operate a horse drawn tram business. The men who started up the company at that time were two one time Mayors of Adelaide, William Buik and Edwin T Smith.

Did you know that Adelaide was the first city in Australia to introduce horse drawn tram services? South Australia's first horse tram was introduced even earlier, back in 1855 on the Goolwa- Port Elliot rail line.

It was soon after the Adelaide and Suburban Tramway company had commenced operations, in 1878 when the first services began from Adelaide to Kensington Park, utilising trams from John Stephenson & Co, from New York.

When the Adelaide and Suburban Tramway company first commenced operations, it started out with six trams, expanding eventually by 1907 to a total of 90 with the use of 650 horses.

The Adelaide to North Adelaide tram line was opened up in 1878 and other suburban routes were gradually added during the 1870s, 1880s and into the early 1890s. Back during that period, the trams travelled at a heady speed of five miles per hour (8 kms per hour) and some streets were widened in order to cater for the increase in transport routes, including Brougham Place in North Adelaide and Prospect Road.

It was interesting that most streets which accommodated tram lines were left unsealed deliberately because the horse's urine needed to be absorbed and hooves needed a soft surface for good traction.

It is believed that Adelaide was also the last city in Australia to discard the horse drawn trams which were still being used here as late as 1914, even though electric trams had been introduced from 1909.

Operations of the Adelaide and Suburban Tramway company finally ceased in 1908 when the company was taken over, and the lines electrified by MTT (Municipal Tramways Trust).

Former Horse Tram Offices off Gover Street North Adelaide
Former Horse Tram Offices off Gover Street North Adelaide

7. Bluestone Residence c 1879 - 1880

This asymmetrically fronted house was constructed for a P J Williams, an Engineer, who was one of Adelaide's earliest bicycle manufacturers.

An ad appeared in fact in the Quorn Mercury dated from 25th August 1899, which indicated the well established reputation and repute of William's bicycle enterprise.

The bicycle business was established in the early 1890s and Williams initially operated it from both this house and larger premises in Pulteney Street in the city.

To give you an idea of the quality workmanship that Williams prided himself on, one of his patrons at one time was Governor Sir T Fowell Buxton. Williams had won many awards for his engineering expertise dating right back to 1875 from the Adelaide Chamber of Manufactures.

One of P J Williams mechanics, John Bullock eventually decided to start up his own business and Bullock cycles became one of Adelaide's oldest cycle manufacturers in the late 1890s. This house remained part of the Williams family for around 73 years, with P J Williams passing away in 1933. The house transferred at that point to his children, who then eventually sold in the 1950s.

Bluestone Residence c 1879 Gover Street North Adelaide
Bluestone Residence c 1879 Gover Street North Adelaide

8. 2 Storey Victorian Residence c 1872

This substantial imposing residence was built for William King, the owner of nearby George Street steam sawmills and a notable figure in Adelaide's building industry.

King built both his impressive 5 bedroom home and an adjoining set of 4 newly attached terrace residences for rental. William King only lived in the house for a couple of years before also renting that out, his first tenant Diedrich Mahnke occupying the property until 1880.

Diedrich Mahnke was a baker by trade and had migrated to South Australia in 1848. Not long after his arrival he bought land on the corner of Tynte Street and Margaret Street in North Adelaide, establishing the first bakery on that site.

Today the site is occupied by well known renowned bakery, Perryman's. By the time Mahnke moved to Gover Street in 1875, he had established himself as a flour merchant and subsequently confectioner. King had moved to Hindmarsh Square in the city, but by 1878 it is believed King had retired, living on Port Road at Croydon.

It was a tragic end for Mr King, as in 1883 he was aboard his son's boat when it left Glenelg on a pleasure trip to Neptune Island, off the coast of Port Lincoln. The weather turned quickly into an unfavourable state, and sadly Mr King was washed overboard in heavy seas off Noarlunga and drowned. William King was 65 years of age. The house had changes made to the verandah during the 1920s.

Victorian two storey residence c 1872 Gover Street North Adelaide
Victorian two storey residence c 1872 Gover Street North Adelaide

9. Terrace Houses c 1869

These set of 4 attached terrace residences are quite imposing along Gover Street and these stand the test of time as an important example of terraced residential development, a type relatively rare in Australia.

These residences, built by William King and his sons, were designed for leasing, attracting tenants such as notable Adelaidians, Politician William Rounsevell, Architect Edward Woods, Merchant John Chapman and Miller John Dunn.

One of the other prominent tenants in either this complex or King's own house was Irish immigrant Mary Lee, most renowned for her involvement in the suffrage movement, and initiating the Working Women's Trade Union, which was all about improving conditions for women in the workforce during the 1890s.

Lee was also appointed Leader and Secretary of the Suffrage League, paving the way for South Australian women to be allowed to vote in 1894 (the second place in the world after New Zealand).

Mary Lee was also the first official female visitor allowed into the Adelaide Lunatic Asylum. When Mrs Lee moved into King's residence, she was already in her mid 80s. Sadly Mary Lee died impoverished after having suffered a bout of influenza in 1909.

Terrace Houses c 1869 Gover Street North Adelaide
Terrace Houses c 1869 Gover Street North Adelaide

So much history and interesting characters connected to Gover Street in North Adelaide.

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Why? An opportunity to step back in time and learn about history in North Adelaide
When: Any time of the year
Phone: 08 8203 9800
Where: Gover Street, North Adelaide, SA
Cost: Free
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Always fascinating ready about old buildings and their history.
by Mindo Koerber (score: 2|375) 47 days ago
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