The South Australian Register of February 28, 1849, described the need for providing relief to the sick and indigent, especially among newly arrived immigrants, and for promoting the moral and spiritual welfare of the recipients and their children. It went on to state that “It was formerly said there were no poor in South Australia. This was perfectly true in the English sense of the word; but there was always room for the exercise of private charity and now, we regret to say, owing to some injudicious selections of emigrants by the [Colonization] commissioners, and the uninvited and gratuitous influx of unsuitable colonists, who having managed to pay their own passages, land in a state of actual destitution, we have now a number of unexpected claimants for whom something must be done.”
The society identified immigrants who had used up their meagre funds buying what they needed in England for passage to the colony. Landing without means of support while they searched for work, they “were reduced to great distress by their inability to pay the exorbitant weekly rents demanded for the most humble shelters” . Often the society paid such people’s rent for a short time and this assistance, together with rations from the Destitute Board, “enabled many deserving but indigent persons to surmount the unexpected and unavoidable difficulties attending their first arrival in a strange land”.
Seldom making headlines, the society continued to provide cottage homes at a reasonable rent for the “battlers”, voluntary “dole” tiding over the unemployed until they received their cheques, grants to needy hospital patients and toys to children. It still performs its original role of bridging gaps in official services.
Funds from several well-known benefactors have enabled the society to build, buy and lease property to provide cheap housing for the needy. The annual report for 1898 noted that through the years, and including the legacy in his will, the society had received more than £170,000 from Sir Thomas Elder. Accordingly, its hall was named in his honour. It seems the architect was Daniel Garlick, who was a committee member for several years. The modest hall was completed in 1898.
This building is architecturally notable for the “gem-like” quality of its facade, tightly contained by bluestone rubble side walls. It resembles a single-fronted house, but has a small pediment bearing the society’s inscription and a parapet topped by a small finial. These embellishments lift the building’s domestic appearance. The interior is unchanged except for partitioning to create further office space.
Elder Hall’s location is as modest as the society’s public image. Morialta Street is very narrow and dominated by the rear wall of a modern multi-storeyed development. The hall is a surprising feature of this minor, almost forgotten street.