The Council of Education was prepared to set up a school if enough parents responded to their advertisement. It received 33 names of potential scholars, and located temporary accommodation in a doctor’s two-storey residence in Franklin Street. The school was opened in Franklin Street on October 7, 1879 with Miss Jane Staines as headmistress.
Initially the school was the colonial government’s only contribution to secondary school education as there was no equivalent provision for boys until 1908. There were, however, some government scholarships available to take primary school boys to private secondary schools.
Another factor in the formation of the school was the opening of the adjacent Teachers’ Training College a few years before in 1876, which led to the need for more secondary-educated girls to train as teachers. As female teachers were paid far less than males, the administration looked favourably upon them. It was also a matter of the simple pressure of numbers, for when primary education became compulsory following the 1875 Education Act, schools were soon “clogged up at their top end (the 5th class) with girl students who had nowhere else to go to continue an education”.
The government intended that the school would support itself by charging fees, and this still applied even after the Act of 1891 introduced free education for primary schooling. The only planned expense was the construction of a school building, which was designed in 1890. Miss Rees George, who was headmistress for 22 years from 1885, advised on the planning.
The brick two-storey school was designed by the superintendent of Public Buildings, C.E. Owen Smyth, and built in 1891 for a contract price of £2533 by J.J. Leahy. It contained 11 rooms, with five classrooms and a dining-room. It was a functional building with high windows, surrounded in stone reveals, sills and corbel stones and is of no particular architectural significance.
Owen Smyth also designed the first part of the Art Gallery of South Australia and the north wing of the Museum. Like these two other buildings, the school was urgently needed but built during a period when government funds were hard to obtain. Owen Smyth designed what he considered the best building for the funds allocated.
In 1902 W. Ling and Son built a music room with a hipped roof over the ground-floor kitchen. Since then, the building has remained unaltered externally.
In 1908 the Continuation School for boys was established, occupying both school buildings to the west of the Advanced School for Girls. Later in that year the Continuation School and the Advanced School for Girls amalgamated to become the Adelaide High School. Although it was co-educational, boys and girls were still segregated.
The school remained wholly on this site until 1917 when increasing numbers of pupils created a need for extra accommodation. In 1917 it rented space from the Church of Christ, and in 1928 found further accommodation at the Printer’s Trade School on the corner of Morphett and Gouger streets. A year later several classes of boys used the ground floor of the Currie Street School. By 1931 the whole of Currie Street School was taken over as part of the boys’ school. In 1939 four more classes were located in “the factory”, as the Printers Trade School was sometimes known, opposite the former Grote Street Model School.
In 1951 the new Adelaide Boys’ High School was opened on West Terrace while the girls continued to occupy the three school buildings in Grote Street, known as the Adelaide Girls’ High School. In 1976 both schools were amalgamated under the former name of Adelaide High School. The first intake of girls began in 1977 and by 1979 the remainder of the girls’ school had been transferred to the West Terrace premises.