In 1837, town acres 285 to 288 were granted to John Wright. The Kingston Map of 1842 shows a small wooden house on the part of Acre 288 where Bray House now stands.
James Bunce bought the property in 1850 for £290. By this time the timber house must have been replaced (or encased) as the city assessment of 1849 records that Bunce “owned” and occupied a brick cottage of five rooms. However in 1850-51 the property was described as coach house, stables and wooden house of five rooms. By 1852 the house had increased to six brick rooms, with three rooms of built of palings.
On September 29, 1852, Neville Blyth bought the property. He sold an eastern section along with parts of town acres 286 and 287 to Harry Lockett Ayers in 1867. In the intervening 15 years the house was extended, bringing it to the form seen in the Smith Survey of 1880. Certainly in 1853 there were major additions as the annual rate leapt from £65 to £125.
The noted architect George Strickland Kingston is said to have designed the slate-roofed section with the colonnade. However there seems to be no documentary evidence of this. The addition to Bray House in the 1880s has been confidently attributed toarchitect Rowland Rees. While this cannot be confirmed either, the ebullient detailing suggests that Rees may have been responsible.
While the course of its development and the architects involved remain obscure, the historical significance of Bray House and its former owners are beyond doubt.
Neville Blyth made an important contribution to the history of South Australia. A brother of (the Honourable Sir) Arthur Blyth, he was born in Birmingham in 1828. The family arrived in South Australia in 1839, and Neville and Arthur Blyth later began an ironmongery business in Hindley Street. The firm was successful and by the late 1850s the brothers were involved in the public life of the colony, becoming notable politicians.
Neville Blyth was a member of the House of Assembly from 1860 until 1878. He was briefly the treasurer, and was minister of education in 1877-78. He returned to England in 1878, was a member of the London Commission for the Adelaide Jubilee Exhibition of 1887, and died in Surrey in 1890.
The house that has become known as Bray House was sold in 1878 to John Cox Bray, later the Honourable Sir John Cox Bray, KCMG. His descendants lived in the house until the Corporation of the City of Adelaide bought it in 1973. It has since been refurbished as offices.
John Cox Bray was born in Adelaide in 1842. He was called to the bar in 1870, became the member for East Adelaide in 1871, minister of justice in 1875, attorney general in 1876-77, leader of the Opposition in 1881, and premier of South Australia from June 1881 to 1884. Bray was also chief secretary, treasurer and speaker, and was knighted in 1890. In 1891 he became a member of the Federal Convention. He was agent-general in England from 1892 until his death in 1894.