Subscribe      List an Event or Business      Invite a Writer      Write for WN      Writers      Other Locations
list an event      1 million Australian readers every month      facebook

9 Little Known Facts about North Terrace (East) Adelaide

Home > Adelaide > Architecture | Family | Historic Houses | Places of Interest | Walks | 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
Published November 20th 2020
Fun discoveries on North Terrace East
The section of North Terrace, which runs between King William Street and East Terrace, is referred to as our "Cultural Boulevard" for obvious reasons and advantages which have most of our cultural institutions, such as State Library, SA Museum, SA Art Gallery and University precinct, all adjacent to each other.

It is always an enjoyable experience to wander down and admire the architecturally magnificent structures whilst relishing the shade of a seemingly ongoing grove of Plane trees along a wide spacious boulevard.

Apart from the well known visited spots along this section of North Terrace, there are other less visited and interesting places that reveal some fascinating snippets of information which would lead us to cry out " I didn't know that". Here are 9 little known facts that I have discovered over the course of time.

Brookman Hall
Brookman Hall

1. Botanic Hotel

One of Adelaide's iconic pubs, the Botanic Hotel stands on the corner of East Terrace and North Terrace, which is currently up for sale for a cool $3.65 million. The distinctive Italianate style of architecture, built with Glen Osmond stone, dating from the 1870s, can be attributed to one of South Australia's early architects, Michael McMullin, who was not necessarily South Australia's best architect nor best remembered, but he did make a solid contribution to Adelaide's infrastructure.

McMullin was also responsible for the adjacent Botanic Chambers, which today are apartments built along with the pub for Richard Vaughan, the businessman who started up the original East End Markets during the 1860s, which went on to trade right up until 1988, upon which time they then moved out to Pooraka.

The tiered balconies were added during the 1890s, with the completed structure said to have resembled a three-tiered wedding cake. In its heyday, the pub boasted 25 rooms and I can imagine its location would have been a drawcard for many travellers seeking to rest their weary bones.

In a nutshell, McMullin was always viewed as a builder who picked up architectural skills as he went along but managed to add his style and charm to the city.

Some other fine examples of his work (as a builder) in Adelaide and South Australia have included parts of St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Victoria Square (1859/1860), the former Royal Jubilee Exhibition Building (1859) and the former Royal Adelaide Hospital East Wing (1867).

McMullin's final work here in South Australia was mainly ecclesiastical and in 1885 sold up and moved to Melbourne. Sadly he died at the age of 56 in 1887.

Botanic Hotel and Chambers
Botanic Hotel and Chambers

2. Victorian Grand Dwellings

There are very few examples of grand terrace mansions left on North Terrace, perhaps the most notable and a great example of wealth, prestige and luxury living being Ayers House. It was built during the 1850s as a 9 roomed cottage for William Paxton, a chemist and extended/expanded over a 20 year period up to the 1870s by the Ayers family (of Ayer's Rock/Uluru fame). This expansion of the property saw it become in its peak period a 44 room mansion, occupied by the Ayers family up until the 1890s when Henry Ayers died.

Today the property is split into a function centre, once comprising a Ballroom, Library, Book Room and Family Bedrooms, and then the Museum, which made up the rest of the spacious living, including a State Dining Room, Family Dining Room, Kitchen, Butler's Pantry, Servery, Drawing Room and Guest Rooms, as well as a cellar including a Summer Sitting room. The Museum, due to COVID restrictions, is open from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays only currently and well worth a visit to marvel on what it would have been like to live in Victoriana times in Adelaide.

North Terrace in its early years with its wide boulevard was home to many residential terrace style housing occupied by the wealthy including doctors, lawyers and prominent businessmen and politicians.

Apart from Ayers House, there are some other less noted examples a little further down North Terrace heading in a westerly direction. Once you arrive at Numbers 261 - 262 and 263-265 North Terrace, you can't help but notice Victoriana style dwellings built in the 1870s for a Dr John Fisher as professional doctor's rooms, combining substantial residences with surgeries.

One of the early doctors who operated from the site was a Chinese specialist, Dr Lum Yow, who advertised his "cure-all" tonic, which was a regular feature of newspapers from 1909 until 1934. Dr Yow's memorial is one of the largest in West Terrace Cemetery, but unfortunately, the facade of the memorial in bluestone has been cleaned too thoroughly, removing most of the colour of the stone.

Yow was involved in rather a sensational court case in 1923 relating to a patient suing Yow for 5,000 pounds damages, following Yow's claim that he could cure cancer without requiring an operation. The patient was prescribed a herbal medicine (tea) which did little or nothing to alleviate symptoms as well as the condition as a whole.

Dr Yow died aged 64 years.

Ayers House Museum
Ayers House Museum Chandelier

3. Grand Freemason's Lodge

This grand edifice on North Terrace dates back to 1927 and was built as the principal headquarters for freemasonry in Adelaide, which had been practising in South Australia since the fledgeling years of our colony back to 1838.

Today the site is still the headquarters of the Grand Lodge of South Australia and Northern Territory. Originally the design of the building envisaged construction of cut stone and granite, however, due to budget constraints, it was ended up being built in the main with reinforced concrete, a relatively new type of lighter weight material being utilised.

The Latin phrase on the outside of the building is Audi Vide Tace, a shortened version of a proverb meaning "Hear, See, Be Silent, If you would live in Peace". This was the motto of the Grand Lodge until the 1950s.

The six-storey building houses offices, meeting rooms, three lodge rooms, kitchens, reception rooms and banqueting rooms, as well as the Great Hall, the Adelaide Masonic Centre Museum and the Masonic Library.

Little is known about the work in which the charitable arm of the Masonic Lodge is involved in, known as the Masonic Charities Trust. Over recent times, they have raised money for items such as a new wheelchair accessible bus for the Riverland Mallee Coorong Local Health Network, donating $170,000 as well as $312,000 to fund a rescue vessel named "Freemason" and a new boat shed at Milang. This rescue vessel will be instrumental for Milang Marine Search and Rescue Squadron whilst plying the waters of Lake Alexandrina.

They have also raised crucial funds for fire fighting equipment utilised during the deadly bushfires around SA earlier this year and have donated to the Starlight Children's Foundation for some time now.

In recent times, a cafe has opened in the basement of the building, with the entrance off North Terrace. The indoor part of the cafe was once used as a lounge/bar for masons and hired out for different functions. The indoor part of the cafe was also set up as a bar during the filming of the movie, Hotel Mumbai, recreating part of the luxury hotel in India.

Grand Freemasons Lodge
Grand Freemasons Lodge

4. Brookman Building

One of the more noticeable and striking buildings along North Terrace is the Brookman Building, part today of the University of South Australia, on the corner of North Terrace and Frome Road. Built for George Brookman in 1903, a prominent South Australian businessman who had made a lot of money from the goldfields of WA during the 1890s, the original occupants of the structure were the School of Mines and Industry.

Some of the interesting features within the building relate to stained glass, with some brilliant colourful displays in the windows facing North Terrace as well as in the large auditorium.

Examples of the fine stained glass within include those of the Empire window within the auditorium, which symbolises the patriotism of South Australians at the turn of the 20th century. Part of the display depicts King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra as well as the Prince and Princess of Wales. The royal family is surrounded by wildlife from their tour of Britain's former colonies, including an Ostrich (South Africa), a Kangaroo (Australia), a Tiger (India) and a Beaver (Canada). The window on the western side displays the coats of arms for each Australian state whilst the eastern windows show the shields of England, Scotland, Ireland, NZ, Fiji and British New Guinea.

The other interesting stained glass windows are much more in keeping with the original use of the building and are known as the Scientific windows and can be seen on the southern side of the building facing North Terrace.

The upper windows portray a number of eminent British scientists and engineers including James Watt (Steam Engine inventor), Sir Isaac Newton (Gravity), George Stephenson (Father of Railways) and Henry Bessemer (Manufacturer of Steel).

The lower windows images are of William Thomas Kelvin (Kelvin Scale of Temperature), Michael Faraday (Electromagnetism), Christopher Wren (Architect) and John Dalton (Atomic Theory).

The bay window depicts the coat of arms of the Governor-General of Australia, the Lieutenant Governor, and the President of the Council to the School of Mines when first established (Sir John Langdon Bonython). There is also featured the coat of arms for South Australia, for the City of Adelaide and those representing the country of Wales as well as the County of Cornwall.

Both Welsh and Cornish arms are acknowledgement of the contributions of communities to the South Australian Mining industry.

So next time you are wandering past the building and it is open, feel free to go in and check them out.

Scientific Windows Brookman Hall
Scientific Windows Brookman Hall

5. Former Jubilee Royal Exhibition Building

Many of us when visiting Melbourne have viewed the magnificent Royal Exhibition Building within Carlton Gardens which still stands as a sentinel to a golden era. Some of you may not realise that Adelaide also had a very similar building along North Terrace which was originally built during the 1880s to commemorate Queen Victoria's Jubilee (50th year of reign) as a temporary Exhibition building.

As an exhibition space, it would showcase produce from all over the world, and once electricity came into being, nighttime events could also be held there, including performances by that great Australian opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba. During the exhibition in 1887 - 1888, within the structure could be found ballrooms and theatres and more than 2,200 displays of objects and materials from 26 different countries around the world, with around 790,000 visitors viewing the exhibition.

Later uses of the building included as space for the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Show as well as the School of Mines and Industry. The site was also used as a makeshift hospital during the time of the Spanish Influenza Epidemic at the end of World War 1 and even a shelter for homeless men during the Great Depression and would you believe, for a short time as a roller skating rink.

Behind the once iconic building was once the site of the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds right up to 1925, when they moved out of the city to Wayville, their current location today.

Sadly, the building was demolished in 1962, after many years of neglect to make way for the current Napier Building and an underground carpark within the grounds of the University of Adelaide.

All that remains of the building today is a stone staircase at the rear of the Napier Building built of masonry with slate capped steps. Two other features within the grounds of the complex were removed some years ago, namely 2 beautiful Victoriana fountains, one of which is located now outside of Adelaide Oval and the other, in Rundle Mall outside of Adelaide Arcade.

Sadly a big part of our heritage lost but never forgotten!

Royal Jubilee Exhibition Building c 1903
Royal Jubilee Exhibition Building c 1903 Courtesy State Library SA

6. Queen Adelaide Club

Adelaide, like many other locations around the world, has had a long-standing gentleman's club since the 1860s known as the Adelaide Club, which is still operating today. There has been much controversy over the years, especially with advances in gender equality about their place in today's society, when it appears that women are excluded from membership.

However, in Adelaide, we have had a women's club since 1909, started up by a lady by the name of Margaret Box at that time. It was only 15 years after South Australian women gained the vote, being only the second place in the world for this to occur.

Mrs Box, at the time, gained the support of Adelaide's more eminent women. It was originally established as an exclusive residential club for "social and non-political purposes".

The club today is no longer residential with the neighbouring Adelaide Club offering this option for both sexes. Just as very few people have known what the men's club have been up to behind the doors, the same could be said for the Queen Adelaide Club.

They are located on the eastern corner of Stephens Place and North Terrace, still functioning at the same premises as when the club was established back in 1909.

Queen Adelaide Club c 1935 Courtesy State Library SA
Queen Adelaide Club c 1935 Courtesy State Library SA

7. Verco House

Across from the Queen Adelaide Club, on the western corner of Stephens Place and North Terrace, lies Verco House, dating from 1912. At the time it was built, it was for over a decade the tallest building in the city, and our very first skyscraper, until the late 1920s when adjacent buildings were erected taller.

It's difficult to imagine today with many surrounding buildings towering over it, but at the time it was built, it was seen to be one of the state-of-the-art buildings in Adelaide, using reinforced concrete as its material, a lighter weight substance and once completed, it boasted an electric lift.

The name of the building relates to Dr Verco, who helped finance the erection of the structure. Multi-skilled, Dr William Alfred Verco was not only a physician but also a property developer.

Prior to the Verco building, there stood a house owned by a Dr Campbell, who helped establish the Adelaide Children's Hospital (later to become the Women & Children's Hospital). Verco bought the land and property from Campbell and then proceeded to build Verco House.

The building was originally going to be even taller, with plans for a 7 storey building but budgets saw it omitting the extra floor. It was completed in two stages, the first in 1912 and the final in 1915.

Today the building is occupied by some office space and is part of the original Myer Centre redevelopment.

Verco House c 1915
Verco House c 1915 Courtesy State Library SA

8. Former Liberal Club Building

Whilst only the facade remains following the 1990s redevelopment of the Myer Centre, this 1920s building at 175 North Terrace when completed, was the home of the Liberal Club in Adelaide.

The architect was very conscious of the need for ventilation and good light, so the design of the building was reflected with 6 light areas and glazed partition walls. One of the other interesting features of the original structure was the assurance of equitable temperatures by means of cavity walls and a "super" roof which consisted of a concrete ceiling over the top storey.

The State Heritage listed 7 storey building at the time of its completion boasted clubrooms on the first level with billiard tables, a card room, a reading and writing room, a ladies lounge and a balcony. On the ground floor was housed a public hall with a dance floor and seating for 150 people.

In the basement for many years, tea rooms were utilised, being known as Piccadilly Tea Rooms up to the 1930s and then Wentworth Tea Rooms.

Some years after completion, the Liberal Club leased out the upper floors to doctors for consultation purposes. Permission was given for these doctors to perform "light operations" on their patients, and for some time, it was common to see patients out on the balconies recuperating from their procedures.

These balconies still exist today.

Former Liberal Club Building
Former Liberal Club Building

9. Former Mounted Police Barracks

One of our gems in behind North Terrace at the rear of the SA Museum is the former Mounted Police Barracks, utilised from the 1850s through to the closing stages of the first World War.

The site could be described as "architectural eye-candy" with its brilliant stonework as well as slate roofing, which prior to the SA Museum being built in the 1890s, fronted on to North Terrace.

If you have a good imagination, at one time the rear section of the complex was in the form of a quadrangle, with the Armoury (or weaponry) and Inspector of Police quarters on the southern side, Troop rooms and Mess rooms on the eastern and western sides, and Horse Stables and Gaol Cells on the northern perimeter.

Unfortunately, the buildings are not open to the public these days as they are occupied by Museum staff, however, there is some interpretive signage around the complex and you can easily wander around exploring what is on offer.

We have always prided ourselves in South Australia as being the only major Australian colony without transported convicts, hence the colonial authority's decision that we would not need a police force, and in fact, our first police did not form here until 1838. At the time of our initial settlement, it was also decided we would not need a gaol nor a justice system. Oh, how things changed within those first two years!

The original security force for the colony were the Marines(soldiers) who reported to the Governor of the colony (at the time Hindmarsh). Not a lot of confidence was gained when some of those Marines loved drinking their rum so much, that they were ordered by the Governor to be chained to gum trees so as to sober up. Then they would be let loose to continue their role.

The first police force comprised 20 men, 10 mounted and 10-foot police, and ironically today we are seen in South Australia as having the second oldest police force in the world (after the London Metropolitan Police) and the third oldest organised police force in the world (after London and Dublin).

All manner of crime was breaking out in South Australia by 1838, including tension between the Aboriginal people and the white settlers, general crime as well as escaped convicts from the eastern colonies. The argument exists even though we were traditionally a non-convict settlement that we had as much if not more crime breaking out than the convict colonies.

Another interesting fact is that South Australia can boast we were the first place in the British Commonwealth to have women police, ours commencing as early as 1915. The female police force was established by Kate Cocks and soon grew in numbers.

The SA Police Historical Society located at Thebarton Police Barracks, Gaol Road, Adelaide houses a lot of information about the history of our police force along with memorabilia, well worth a visit. Unfortunately due to COVID-19, the museum at the site is currently closed. However, it will re-open in due course.

Former Mounted Police Barracks
Former Mounted Police Barracks

North Terrace is always an interesting place to wander down at any time, and it never ceases to amaze me what can be discovered if we delve a little below the surface.
Help us improve  Click here if you liked this article  113
Share: email  facebook  twitter
Why? A chance to discover little known facts on North Terrace
When: Any time of the year
Phone: 08 8203 7203
Where: North Terrace Adelaide
Cost: Dependent upon your plans
Your Comment
Some great heritage buildings in the terrace Graeme. Let's hope developers don't get their hands or sledge hammers onto them.
by Neil Follett (score: 3|3191) 337 days ago
Re North Terrace East - A cottage was built on the south-eastern corner of North Terrace by Charles Burton Newenham, Auditor General and then Sheriff of South Australia 1839-1857. He then built Springfield House before returning to England. His daughter and son-in-law lived in the cottage while their home, Hartley Bank, was built in Mitcham. This was Alfred Hardy, Town Surveyor for the building of the first City Bridge. Charles Newenham is my husband's 3xgreat-grandfather and Alfred Hardy is his 2xgreat-grandfather.
by yfacy (score: 0|4) 332 days ago
Top Events
Popular Articles