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8 Historic Stately Homes in South Australia

Home > Adelaide > Afternoon Tea | Architecture | Historic Houses | Indoor | Places of Interest | Lists
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 www.facebook.com/Down-to-Earth-Tours-1491827191071798/
Published April 2nd 2022
Behold South Australia's grandeur
A visit to some of our historic stately homes around South Australia will reveal an era of former grandeur and some of the wealth of their previous owners.

It's always fascinating to know about the backgrounds of the people who once graced the rooms of these fine old homes including politicians, prominent business people, painters, governors, and pastoralists.

Here are 8 which I have visited worthy of mention. This list is by no means exhaustive, with others not covered in this article.

Entry Hall of Martindale Hall
Entry Hall of Martindale Hall


1. Cummins House

If you haven't ventured down to Novar Gardens, a western beachside suburb and visited Cummins House, you have truly missed an important residence associated with the prominent Morphett family.

John Morphett originally bought around 134 acres of land bounded by Pine Avenue, Anzac Highway and Morphett Road, near the present-day Morphettville Racecourse.

In 1840, Morphett was granted title to the land which he named "Cummins Estate" after his mother's Devonshire farm in England and kept sheep and cows, as well as planted fruit trees, vines and olive groves.

Being a horse lover, Morphett kept a stud and was involved in horse racing, hence in 1847 he was one of the original directors of the Morphettville Racing Club, founded that year.

Cummins House itself was designed by early colonial architect and deputy surveyor-general to Colonel William Light, George Kingston. It was sited on the Sturt River and began its life as a simple 5 roomed red brick cottage.

Throughout the 19th as well as 20th centuries, the home was extended several times.

Five generations of the Morphett family lived in the house up until the 1970s.

It wasn't until 1977 when the State Government purchased the property to ensure its survival. Immanuel College then leased Cummins from the government, with the aim of restoring the property for use as a pioneer museum, and as an exhibition and performance centre. The original lease to the college was for an initial 5 years and with the assistance of the Cummins Society, West Torrens Historical Society as well as the National Trust of SA, the school set about the enormous task of restoring the house from its empty shell.

At the end of this 5-year lease, the State Government offered the lease to the West Torrens Council, which maintained the property right through to 2019, when the lease was offered to the Cummins Society, which still manages it today.

Sir John Morphett was one of the early advocates for the establishment of South Australia as a British colony/province based upon Edward Wakefield's systematic colonisation scheme.

Once arriving in SA in 1836, Morphett was one of the men, together with Lieutenant Field and Sir George Kingston, who discovered the River Torrens. It was Morphett who advised that Kangaroo Island was not a suitable place for the main settlement, it should be somewhere on the mainland.

Morphett also believed that South Australia was more suitable for wool growing than for agriculture, based upon his Mediterranean previous experience. Some of the roles which Morphett held in the colony of SA included treasurer for Adelaide's municipal corporation in 1840, local director of the South Australian Banking Company as well as other committees.

Morphett also entered politics and served many years in the Legislative Council (Upper House) including as Speaker of the House and as President.

Today you can visit Cummins House on the first and third Sundays in the month for public tours, from 2 pm until 4.30 pm. The cost is only $10 for a guided tour, including a welcome Devonshire tea at the end of the tour.

Due to current COVID restrictions, numbers are limited, so booking is required.

You will find Cummins House at 23 Sheoak Avenue, Novar Gardens.

Cummins House
Cummins House


2. Carrick Hill

The marriage of two prominent Adelaide families led to the creation of Carrick Hill, which was built between 1937 and 1939 up at Springfield, an Adelaide foothills suburb.

Edward (Bill) Hayward was the son of a wealthy merchant family, with various generations running the iconic John Martin's department store for over 100 years.

Bill's bride, Ursula Barr-Smith was the daughter of an even wealthier family of Scottish descent, whose involvement in mining and pastoral activities was very important in the development of South Australia.

Ursula's father gave the newly married Hayward's (1935) acreage of land on which Carrick Hill now stands.

Whilst in England on their 12-month honeymoon, the Hayward's acquired much of the 17th and 18th-century interior fittings for Carrick Hill, including panelling, fireplaces, doors, windows as well as a grand staircase from the demolition sale of Beaudesert, a Tudor mansion in Staffordshire owned by the Marquess of Anglesey.

Whilst Carrick Hill had the appearance of a 17th century English manor house, within, many of the modern conveniences were added relating to the 1930s. For example, oak panelling, pewter light fittings, heated towel rails, ensuite bathrooms and electric bell buttons to summon servants.

Ursula set about designing the garden and after Bill's WW 2 service in the army, serving in the Middle East and the Pacific, the couple began filling the house with fine antiques, paintings and furniture, some being a mixture of Georgian and Victorian pieces.

Many of the artists depicted in the paintings hanging in the house were friends of the Haywards, including Sir William Dobell, Sir Russell Drysdale, Sir Hans Heysen and his daughter Nora.

Carrick Hill was only one of 4 homes that the Hayward's owned - the others being a country property at Delamere, on the Fleurieu Peninsula, a beach house of Port Willunga and a townhouse in Mayfair, London.

Bill Hayward was also involved in Polo, was a great motoring enthusiast and bred Poll Hereford cattle. Ursula was the first female trustee of a public art gallery when she joined the board of the Art Gallery of SA in 1953, a position she held right up to 1969.

Bill was also on the board and founding Director of the Adelaide Festival of Arts, the first festival of its kind in Australia, initiated in 1960.

Today the property spreads across approximately 40 hectares of land, including 26 hectares of native bushland.

Carrick Hill was bequested to the people of South Australia by the Hayward's and the SA Government accepted the bequest in 1983. A trust was established and the grounds including the house were opened to the public in 1986.

The house is quite eye-catching with its local Basket Range stone that was used to construct it.

The gardens are magnificent with the formal or inner-garden comprising of splashes of coloured roses, elm trees, lawns and two flower gardens.

The herb garden was planted to garnish many meals presented for the family and guests through the Hayward's love of entertaining.

Currently, due to COVID, daily guided tours of the house have been suspended, however, if you are part of a group booking, tours are still running. The groups would need to be a minimum of 10 people.

Guided group tours of the formal garden can only be arranged via prior appointment.

You can thankfully still visit the grounds and perhaps partake in some light refreshment at the Carrick Hill Cafe, situated in what was the old garage of the house. Currently, the cafe is open from Wednesdays to Sundays from 10 am until 4.30 pm.

Ursula's Table is also open Friday nights during the coming winter months.

Examples of the cafe pricing and food choices include a Picnic platter for two ($55) which comprises Middle Eastern Fried Chicken, Mushroom and Truffle Arancini, Cheese, Chutneys, Pate, Cured Meat, Olives, Sourdough Bread and Fruit.

All-day breakfasts will set you back between $25 and $28 per person.

You will find Carrick Hill at 46 Carrick Hill Drive, in Springfield.

Carrick Hill House and Gardens
Carrick Hill House and Gardens


3. Urrbrae House

The name of the house - Urrbrae, together with the associated suburb south of Adelaide is comprised of Scottish words - "Urr" referring to the name of the home parish in Scotland where the original owner, Robert MacGeorge came from, and "brae" meaning a slope or hillside, especially near a creek or river.

MacGeorge bought the original acreage in 1846 and by 1850 a single storey house occupied the site.

Peter Waite acquired the property in the mid-1870s with the assistance of Thomas Elder. Together with his wife, Matilda, a new double-storey bluestone mansion was built in 1891.

The new house was designed by C H Marryat and E J Woods, built by Nicholas Trudgen, with the interior decorations designed by Aldam Heaton, a contemporary of William Morris.

After the death of Aldam Heaton, his company would go on to design much of the interior of the Titanic, which tragically sank with much loss of life in 1912.

Urrbrae House was Heaton's only commission in Australia, and was the Waite's family home until Peter and Matilda's death in 1922. The University of Adelaide were handed the property by the Waite's daughters in 1923.

From 1924 until the end of 1973 the house was the residence of Directors of the Waite Agricultural Research Institute and their families. During part of the 1970's and 1980's part of the house was also used for the Waite Staff Club and the Waite Refectory/Cafeteria.

Major renovation work occurred during the 1990's to both the house and gardens, and today it is well established as an accredited museum.

Upon arrival in South Australia in 1859, Peter Waite joined his brothers on a pastoral property near Terowie in the mid north of SA. A few years later, Thomas Elder offered Peter the lease of a nearby property, and after one of his brothers, James died, Peter took over both stations.

By 1864 Peter had established himself as a pastoralist and property manager and the "Paratoo" homestead had been made comfortable. Only 15 years after his arrival in SA, Peter Waite was overseeing large acreages carrying 260,000 sheep.

Interestingly Urrbrae House was the first house in Adelaide to have electric light in 1891, upon its completion and also the first in Adelaide to have a refrigeration system installed (in 1895).

Peter Waite had a keen interest in the arts and possessed 31 paintings purchased from Arthur Streeton, a renowned Australian painter. He also had a big interest in horses and was a member of the Adelaide Hunt Club.

Business-wise, Peter became increasingly involved in the administration of Thomas Elder's companies and in 1883 he became Chairman of Elder's Wool and Produce Co Ltd.

The Waites had a total of 8 children, but tragically 4 children died (one after only 12 days, one after 2 months, one at age 12/13 from diptheria, and a son, who in 1913 went missing following a ship journey to the United Kingdom via South Africa.)

The legacy of the Waite's is still strong today, with the University of Adelaide's Agricultural college, as well as Urrbrae Agricultural High School.

Urrbrae House is open to the public and can currently be accessed on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as guided tours of the house and Arboretum on the first Sunday of each month. The exceptions are Public Holidays when the house and gardens are closed.

You will find Urrbrae House on Waite Road at Urrbrae.

Urrbrae House and Gardens
Urrbrae House and Gardens


4. Kingston House


If you fancy a seaside stately home, then you can't go past Kingston House, the former home of the Kingston family ie George Strickland Kingston (deputy surveyor to Colonel William Light as well as architect) and his family, including Charles Cameron Kingston (one time Premier of South Australia).

The house is one of the great examples left over from our early colonial days, having been built originally in 1840. It is viewed today as one of South Australia's oldest remaining houses.

The house is perched up on the cliffs overlooking the Kingston Park Caravan Park, situated on a 3 acre reserve, offering magnificent views of the coastline.

Originally Kingston senior granted a man by the name of Robert Bristow permission in 1840 to build an inn on the property. The idea was the inn would cater for workers from the nearby quarry as well as sailors landing on our shores.

The original three rooms were pre-fabricated timber panels brought out from England, with a verandah built around them.

A farmer, Samuel Oakley then leased the property from around 1850 and in 1851 George Kingston finally returned to take up permanent residence. The house was then extended with the two storey eastern wing. The property stayed in the Kingston family until 1919 - upon the death of Charles's widow, Lucy.

The South Australian government purchased the property during the 1920's and it was restored due to popular demand in 1983.

The great news is that you can immerse yourself in the house and surroundings by booking a Devonshire Tea on a Sunday, with current sittings being either between 2pm and 3 pm or 3.15 pm to 4.15 pm.

The season operates from March through to November of each year. Bookings are essential.

Special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, and other events can also be catered for at Kingston House.

You will find Kingston House at 5 Cameron Avenue, Kingston Park, a south-western beachside suburb of Adelaide.

Kingston House
Kingston House


5. Carclew


As you leave the city heading up into North Adelaide along Morphett Street, you will reach an imposing house on the corner of Jeffcott Street in North Adelaide, which today is known as "Carclew".

Its distinctive turret and architecture dominates the landscape in the area and has been used as a backdrop over the years for made for TV mini series and movies, including Anzac Girls filmed in 2014.

The house which today is the headquarters for the Youth Performing Arts Centre, was not the original house on the property.

There was an original house on the site, built in the 1840's for James Chambers, who sponsored most of John MacDouall Stuart's 6 major expeditions north from Adelaide to Northern Territory and to the Indian Ocean back in the 1860's. Chambers was a wealthy pastoralist who owned much property around South Australia, grazing both sheep and cattle.

During Stuart's down time from his exploration, he stayed at the house with Chambers. Stuart honoured Chambers during his expeditions with place names such as Chambers River, Chambers Pillar, Chambers Gully as well as Chambers Bay near Darwin.

Chamber's second daughter was also acknowledged by Stuart with the naming of Katherine, in the Northern Territory.

There is an historic plaque on the wall surrounding Carclew today, which acknowledges where one of Stuart's expeditions left from the gates of the historic North Adelaide property.

What it won't tell you on the plaque, is the story leading up to the departure of Stuart and his party in October 1861. Apparently Stuart and his crew had been invited to lunch with Chambers before they were due to leave with all of their 72 horses and equipment on their epic journey up north.

Unfortunately the lunch went a little longer than expected, and when Stuart and his party emerged from the house, they were evidently drunk and kept falling off their horses. At one stage Stuart's horse slammed down on the top of Stuart's hand, with initial talk of the hand being amputated. However luckily for Stuart, his hand was saved.

This event delayed their epic journey by 1 month!

The property passed to Hugh Robert Dixson in 1896, who was involved in the largest tobacco business in Australia at the turn of the twentieth century.

Dixson demolished and re-built the house as we see today, and named it Stalheim, designed by architect John Quinton Bruce, who also designed Electra House in King William Street in the city of Adelaide, and as a partner in Bruce and Harral, also designed the Grand Lodge of Freemasons Building on North Terrace, also in the city.

It was not until 1908 that the Bonython family bought the house and re-named it Carclew after a Cornish house of the same name in England once owned by the Bonythons.

Sir John Langdon Bonython, together with his wife Marie, lived in the grand home and hosted many of South Australia's influential political and business identities. Bonython was closely involved with "The Advertiser" newspaper and turned it into a prominent Australian daily publication. By 1893, Bonython was its sole proprietor.

Bonython also was a true philanthropist who donated monies to complete Parliament House on North Terrace in the city, finally completed in 1939 and also donated a University Hall during the mid 1930's - Bonython Hall.

The mansion remained in the family until 1965, when the property was purchased by the Corporation of the City of Adelaide.

At one stage this site was mooted for the building of Festival Hall, one of the strongest supporters for this being our former Labor Premier, Don Dunstan. However as we all know, the idea remained an idea, and what we know today as Festival Theatre was built on the south side of the River Torrens.

The state government bought the property in 1978 and in 1985 it finally became the Carclew Youth Performing Arts Centre, who still operate on the site today. The organisation, in 1991 was re-named to Carclew Youth Arts Centre Inc.

Today the organisation is simply known as Carclew. Programs are run for schools, artists, children and youth.

You will find Carclew up at 11 Jeffcott Street at North Adelaide.



6. The Cedars

One of the must-see houses in South Australia relates to landscape artist, Sir Hans Heysen - the Cedars, up at Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills.

Renowned as an iconic Australian painter, Hans Heysen was born in Germany and migrated to South Australia in 1884 with his family as a young boy.

By the age of 14, Hans had already picked up his first paint set and later began formal art lessons with James Ashton.

One of the members of one of Adelaide's prominent families assisted Hans with fees to study at the Gallery's School of Design - Robert Barr-Smith.

In late 1899, four prominent Adelaide citizens further provided 400 pounds for Heysen to study in Europe. Having studied in Paris and travelled home via Italy, Heysen returned to SA and set up his studio initially in the Adelaide Steamship building.

This was where he met his future wife, Sally Bartels, who was one of his students. They married in 1904 and then 4 years later moved to Hahndorf.

The property known as "The Cedars" came up for sale and the Heysen's bought it in 1912, on 36 acres of land just outside of Hahndorf.

Hans Heysen's legacy was the recognition of being one of Australia's greatest artists, but also his immense love for the natural environment and his strong conservation beliefs and actions.

Not only did Heysen capture so well the landscape around The Cedars, but also around the Adelaide Hills, as well as further afield in the Flinders Ranges, where he had visited some 11 times between 1926 and 1949.

Heysen was seen as the first Australian painter to focus on eucalyptus trees as an artistic subject.

Equally renowned was his artistic daughter, Nora Heysen , who lived at The Cedars from 1912 until 1934, after which she moved to London to study art.

In 1938 with her portrait of Madame Elink Schuurman, Nora became the first woman to win the Archibald prize. During WW 2, Nora became the first woman appointed as an Australian war artist and captured many moving images relating to Australian participation in the various conflicts, with over 160 related works now in the Australian War Memorial collection.

Nora's favoured subjects for her art work included self-portraits, portraits and still lifes, especially flowers.

In order to walk the hallowed rooms with strong connection to the Heysen family's time in The Cedars, there are various options for tours at the property.

Self guided tours can be taken which incorporates the studios of Nora and Hans Heysen, the Artists Walk, the Artist's Garden, and the Coach House. The cost is currently $17 for adults, with concession $15, Children 5 - 15 years, $5 and a family $40.

For guided tours, it will set you back another $5 for adults, which also will include a guided tour of the family home.

One of the highlights I think for the tour, is to review Heysen's iconic landscapes out around the property, with the backdrop of the associated bush scenes that relate to the paintings.

House tours are available at 11 am and 2 pm Tuesdays to Sundays as well as Public Holiday Mondays.

If you are simply interested in exploring the garden, it will cost you $5 and you have the option of bringing your own picnic and staying all day!

All visitors to The Cedars will need to show proof of double COVID vaccinations before entry. Where do you find the place? At Heysen's Road, Hahndorf.

Heysen's Art Equipment
Heysen's Art Equipment


7. Martindale Hall

Martindale Hall is one of the truly recognisable stately homes around South Australia and Australia, having once been used for the making of the Australian movie "Picnic at Hanging Rock" back in the 1970s.

The 32 room Georgian mansion was built by Edmund Bowman Jnr, a pastoralist who grazed around 4,000 sheep on the property after it was built between 1879 and 1880 at a cost of 30,000 pounds.

Martindale Hall was one of various properties which the Bowman family owned and managed, including Mount Bryan and Wandillah.

For those of you who remember visiting Ayers House Museum in the days when it was open, you may remember the magnificent Osier chandelier (1850s) which hung in the hallway as you walked in. That chandelier was sold off to the Bowman family at Martindale Hall for a nominal sum (around 50 pounds) and was then eventually donated back to National Trust SA for hanging back in Ayers House. Sadly the chandelier is now in storage following the museum closure in September 2021 after 50 years of stewardship.

During Edmund's time in the house, he added a polo ground, a racecourse, a boating lake as well as a cricket pitch, where the English 11 played at least once. A true recreation of a life once carried out in England!

The Bowman's suffered misfortune with financial collapse during the early 1890's and William Tennant Mortlock then bought the property in 1891.

As well as being a sheep grazier, Mortlock also entered politics as a Member of the Lower House and also had a keen interest in horseracing and owned several horses for that purpose.

Mortlock senior died at the age of 55 years in 1913, and one of his 5 sons, John Andrew Tennant Mortlock continued to run Martindale Hall and the property. Mortlock junior was very active as a pastoralist and also he and his wife Dorothy were involved in philanthropy, with much of their legacy today still supporting the Waite Institute as well as the Mortlock Library as part of the State Library of South Australia.

During the 1920's John Mortlock donated 2,000 pounds to the Waite Agricultural Research Institute and then during the 1930's donated together with his mother, a massive sum of 25,000 pounds in order to establish the Ranson Mortlock Trust for research into soil erosion and pasture regeneration.

John married his wife Dorothy in 1948 after he had already found out that he had cancer, and only lived until 1950. Part of his estate provided not only for his surviving wife but also to various cultural organisations and charities. The balance of his estate was to be divided between the Waite Institute and the Libraries Board of South Australia. The Mortlock library, as we know today, being one of the top 20 beautiful libraries in the world, would never have came to be if it hadn't been for the generous legacy of John Andrew Tennant Mortlock.

In its heyday when the Bowmans as well as the Mortlock's owned Martindale Hall, the evidence of the life of a wealthy pastoralist was well and truly on display, with the house boasting at one point, a rumoured 14 servants.

As Martindale Hall was bequeathed to the public of South Australia and has been in government hands, there is continual fear that the property will be sold off to developers, and if that is the case, the property could well end up being a private concern, with no more access for the public.

National Trust SA have been fighting for some years to "Save Martindale Hall" and keep it in public hands, and the fight continues.

Currently, the house is open for tours every day from 10 am to 4 pm except for Tuesdays, when it is closed.

Martindale Hall is one of those places which you need time to explore, so a great idea is to make the most of the area, by spending a couple of days soaking in the beautiful Clare valley area incorporating Clare and Mintaro.

Martindale Hall is located at 1 Manoora Road, Mintaro in SA's mid-north.

Martindale Hall
Martindale Hall


8. Old Government House

In South Australia, early governors who were appointed were looking to escape the hot summer days of the Adelaide Plains, so vice-regal summer residences were built in the Adelaide Hills, one such being Old Government House at Belair.

This former vice-regal residence was built and utilised by early governors of South Australia between 1860 and 1880, including former governors, Richard MacDonnell, Dominick Daly and William Jervois.

Following that period, an even grander vice-regal residence was built in 1880 - Marble Hill, which became the succeeding place for summer retreats for governors (sadly burnt down via bushfire in the 1950's but is being lovingly restored currently).

The original government house at Belair was constructed of sandstone with the distinctive red brick quoins sourced from the local Blackwood brick works as well as a native timber shingle roof.

The residence's unusual indoor plunge pool was reportedly the first in the colony.

During the 1960s the site was finally opened as a museum, and as recent as 2002-2003, the house was restored to its former grandeur.

When you walk around the gardens, they are now designed in what is classified as mid-Victorian style, with a wide range of plants and trees, including an eye-catching collection of heritage roses.

The opening times are from 1 pm - 4 pm on the 1st, 3rd and if applicable 5th Sundays in the month, plus Public Holidays apart from Christmas Day and Good Friday. You will need to book if you require a tour.

Old Government House lies within Belair National Park and entry to the Park is free if you are visiting the house. Entry to the house is via donation ($5 per adult) with children under 12 years of age, free.

Afternoon tea will set you back $10 per head and the kitchen closes at 3.30 pm.

If you want to transport yourself back in time and find out how our early governors lived, then this is the place for you to visit.

If you are a special interest group, weekday tours are also available with morning tea available. Guides from the Friends of Old Government House conduct the tours.

Old Government House is located in Belair National Park, approximately 11 kms south of Adelaide.

Old Government House Belair
Old Government House Belair


We are so fortunate to still have these sentinels to a grander time still standing and in most cases, accessible to the public.

If you haven't visited at least some of these homes, well worth the effort! National Trust SA also maintain several other stately homes around South Australia. Check out their website to find out which other ones are available to visit and admire!
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Why? An opportunity to view some magnificent grand homes from a former age
When: Any time of the year
Phone: 08 8202 9200
Where: South Australia
Cost: Dependent upon which home you visit
Your Comment
Adelaide certainly has a beautiful collection of buildings. I particularly wanted to have a cup of tea from that tea set
by Gillian Ching (score: 3|5401) 180 days ago
Great article Graeme. Hearing about the homes history add to the visual enjoyment of them.
by Neil Follett (score: 3|4384) 181 days ago
You can have a fantastic garden wedding behind the buildings.
No confetti. Only rose petals. It is a very cold windy spot in what is cool weather in other areas nearby.
by r.eng (score: 2|818) 139 days ago
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