Ayers House

Ayers House

Ayers House is an imposing landmark on eastern North Terrace. A gracious bluestone mansion, it is the last of its kind on the terrace, apart from Government House. The house is named after its most famous resident, Sir Henry Ayers, KCMG, who was a pre-eminent public figure in colonial South Australian life.

Ayers came to South Australia in 1840 soon after the colony was founded. He worked at first as a law clerk then moved into financial circles. He was secretary, then managing director, of the South Australian Mining Association of Burra, and chairman or director of several banks.

Ayers enjoyed a political career spanning almost 40 years. He was a member of the Legislative Council from 1857 until 1893, and was premier and chief secretary several times during the 1860s and 1870s. His home was the venue for significant social functions connected with his public life, including some renowned parties and two balls each year.

Ayers’ daughter, Lucy Josephine Bagot, recalled those social events: “The Ball Room had folding doors of solid cedar, and other similar doors allowed four rooms to be made into one, so that there was ample space. The floor of the Ball Room was also of cedar and had such a wonderful spring in it that I would not have blamed all the parsons in Adelaide if they had danced on it every Sunday night. Before dances were given the whole floor was washed with milk, which gave it a smooth surface.”

The origins of the house date from about 1846, when it was first built of brick. Ayers transformed the premises into an elegant bluestone mansion with circular-fronted rooms and Kingston-style porticoes.

The first record of the original house appeared in the Corporation of the City of Adelaide’s first rate assessment book for 1846. This mentions a brick dwelling with a well on the western half of Town Acre 30, which had been purchased by Robert Thornber on March 15, 1845. Thornber appears to have built the house then sold it to William Paxton on August 21,1846.

Paxton extended the house during his occupation. The assessment book of 1849 recorded that additions were being made to the five-roomed dwelling. By January 1852 it was described as a nine-roomed brick house with verandah, domestic offices, stables and coach house, with two and three-quarter acres enclosed as garden and paddocks. Its assessed rateable value had risen from £63 (in 1848) to £270.

Henry Ayers moved into the house through an informal agreement on July 13, 1855, officially leasing the property from Paxton from July 15, 1861. The two men seem to have reached an agreement that Paxton would pay for the improvements Ayers decided upon. In his diary for January 1858, he wrote, “commenced addition of Library and Bedrooms to House, North Terrace”. The basements were probably also built then.

In August 1859, Ayers “commenced extensive alterations and additions to House”, including a large drawing room, and other rooms, to the east. The South Australian Register of November 19, 1859, mentioned that Mr Farr was carrying out these works. Ayers House then began to take on its present form, with bluestone additions entirely shrouding the original brick house.

Ayers finally bought the property, house and the whole of Town Acre 30 on June 13, 1871. Still not content with the size of his mansion, he engaged architect George Strickland Kingston to design and oversee the construction of a coach house and stables, plus other additions. He added an upper floor with bedrooms, and also built the western bow-fronted dining room to complement the eastern wing. The coach house and stables were of the same material and grand proportions as the mansion.

Gavin Walkley described the architectural merits of the final mansion: “The rooms, particularly those for entertaining, are of fine, generous proportions, suitable to the status of the owner. There is a Georgian elegance in the semi-circular fronts to the east and west wings, but the heavy, almost crude porches are in marked contrast. Mouldings and other architectural details reveal Kingston’s lack of basic training. But the building as a whole commands respect by reason of its honesty of construction in massive bluestone and for the distinguished part it played in the Colonial Adelaide scene.” Ayers died in 1897 and the house was vacant until about 1918.

In 1901, the Duke of York’s entourage stayed there briefly during a visit to Australia for the Fderation celebrations. The Governor’s wife, Lady Audrey Tennyson, described it as a beautiful house, the best in Adelaide, conveniently close to Government House. The entourage paid £100 for the week’s use, but she said everybody was angry at the charge as the several owners under trustees would each get only a small amount and they were all rich. She wrote: “The old grandfather, Sir Henry Ayers, who left it to be sold among his children, dropt all his h’s and left £700,000 to be divided, so they might have given it for the week. It has been empty four years ever since his death.”

Between 1918 and 1926 the property was used variously for the rehabilitation of returned servicemen, and as offices and clubrooms by the Returned Servicemen’s League. The western “paddock” was let to the promoters of a dance hall, the Palais de Dance or Palais Royal. The government bought the mansion in 1926 and it was used to accommodate Royal Adelaide Hospital nurses.

In 1972-73 the government renovated and redeveloped the property as headquarters of the National Trust of South Australia, and as a restaurant complex. Five rooms in the mansion were converted into an elegant formal restaurant known as Henry Ayers Restaurant. The stables, coach house and harness room became a bistro, originally called Paxton’s Restaurant but changed in 1985 to The Conservatory after a conservatory was added by Danvers Architects, now known as Henry's bistro.

The National Trust operates the Ayers House Museum in the Western side of the building, including the magnificent State Dining Room. The Ayers House Museum is open daily for guided tours.


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Ayers House is extreme in it's significance, particularly in association with it's owner, Henry Ayers, as well as the use of the house by the Returned Servicemen's League. The house is a beautiful example of Regency style and has been sympathetically redeveloped for use as a museum and restaurant complex.

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From Wikipedia

Ayers House
Ayers House, Adelaide 2015.JPG
General information
Architectural style Regency
Address 288 North Terrace
Town or city Adelaide, South Australia
Country Australia
Coordinates 34°55′18″S 138°36′34″E / 34.92167°S 138.60944°E / -34.92167; 138.60944Coordinates: 34°55′18″S 138°36′34″E / 34.92167°S 138.60944°E / -34.92167; 138.60944
Construction started 1846
Completed 1876
Design and construction
Architect Sir George Strickland Kingston (attrib.)
Official name Ayers House and former Coach House/Stables and Wall
Designated 24 July 1980
Reference no. 10849

The Ayers House is the modern name for an historic mansion in Adelaide, South Australia located on North Terrace. It is named after Sir Henry Ayers, five times Premier of South Australia and wealthy industrialist, who occupied it from 1855 until 1897. It is the only mansion on North Terrace to have survived. The house was listed on the South Australian Heritage Register since 24 July 1980.[1]


Plans for the historic two-storey mansion, which for the greater part of its existence was named Austral House,[2] were developed in 1846 for William Paxton, an Adelaide chemist. It is constructed of local bluestone and is Regency period in style. The mansion is thought to have been designed by George Strickland Kingston. It was one of the first properties in Adelaide to be fitted with gas lighting.

In 1855, Sir Henry Ayers leased the property when it was a 9-room brick house. He transformed it into a 40-room mansion over a number of years during the 1860s and it was finally completed in 1876. The architect was Sir George Strickland Kingston who interpreted the work of Robert Kerr, a leading architect of the period in Britain.[3]. Internally, the rooms of the mansion feature hand-painted ceilings, stencilled woodwork and contain memorabilia from the Ayers family, demonstrating the wealth of the owners at the time it was built. Ayers also commissioned the building of a basement to allow him to escape the hot Adelaide summers. During Ayers' parliamentary service, the house was used for Cabinet meetings, parliamentary dinners and grand balls.


In 1897 Ayers died, and in 1909, following an Adelaide Club ball at the house, Henry Newland proposed the club purchase the property and plans were drawn up then abandoned. Eventually, it was sold in 1914 to Arthur John Walkley and Henry Woodcock's company Austral Gardens Ltd. They built a dance hall "The Palais Royal" on its western side and entertainment areas to the east.[4] Since then, the mansion has had many functions including a club for injured soldiers (from 1918 to 1922) and an open-air cafe (from 1914 to 1932). The State Government bought the property in 1926 to house nurses and to house a nurse training facility (it was opposite the Adelaide Hospital). Further dormitories were added in 1946 and were removed in 1973. Austral House was closed as a nurses' quarters in 1969.

In 1970 Premier Don Dunstan overrode his Cabinet colleagues[citation needed] to save the historic building from being demolished. With his tourism brief he moved to renovate the mansion as a tourist and cultural centre with a museum and fine dining and bistro restaurants. In additional much of the house was conserved to original condition and today on display in the museum are costumes, silverware, artworks and furniture, as well as a 300-kilogram (660 lb) chandelier and the original gasoliers. The bedrooms became the famous "fine dining" Henry Ayers Restaurant, and the stables a bistro. Today there are 4 private event rooms, and for the last 45 years it has been used as a wedding and event centre.



  1. ^ "Ayers House and former Coach House/Stables and Wall". State Heritage Register. Government of South Australia. 24 July 1980. Retrieved 21 September 2017. 
  2. ^ Gunton, Eric Gracious Homes of Colonial Adelaide published by the author 1983 ISBN 0 959 2094 0 9
  3. ^ Ayers House Museum Accessed 2017-08-29
  4. ^ Historic Houses of Australia Australian Council of National Trusts (1982) ISBN 0 949155 26 8

External links

Images of Ayers House

  • Flickr Error ( Photo not found ): PhotoID 13711579474
  • Ayers House - North Terrace - Adelaide.JPG
  • Ayers House IMG_7828
  • Ayers House Museum: High Tea in the Ballroom
George Kingston
Building materials
Stone, Bluestone
Architectural styles
1 Old Colonial Period (1788–c. 1840), 1.2 Regency
1846 -  

Additional Works

East Bow and Porch

Construction commenced
Construction completed

West Bow and Porch

Construction commenced
Construction completed
Architecture and design features
Bow Window, portico
Engineering features
East End
Council Ward
Alternative Addresses
Town Acre
Planning Zone or Policy Area
Original owners
Henry Ayers
Original occupant
Robert Thornber
Later occupant/s
Purposes and use
Dwelling, Mansion
AS2482 classification
11510 - Business House - Offices
Public Access
Business/trading hours
State Heritage ID
ACC Reference No.
DPTI Heritage No.
Certificate of Title No.
CT 5927/883 D61170 A500
NTSA file exists
Heritage Status
State Heritage listed
State heritage listing
State Heritage listed
Date of State heritage listing
Local heritage listing
Date of Local heritage listing
NTSA listing
NTSA classified
Date of NTSA listing
Section 23 (4) crtiteria
Risk status
Historic Themes
3 Developing a City Economy
3.1.3 Discovery of Copper
3.3 Financing Adelaide
3.3.2 Banking
Australian Curriculum references
Year 5: The Australian Colonies


Further reading

External links

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