Carclew was not the original house on the site. In the 1840s a two-storey house was built there and in 1861 it was bought from E.W. Wright, the architect, by James Chambers. Already a prosperous pastoralist, Chambers is perhaps best remembered for his sponsorship of exploration by Stuart. A plaque attached to the original southern wall that still encloses Carclew commemorates the most important result of that sponsorship: “Carclew occupies the site of the residence of James Chambers, Esq., whence the McDouall Stuart Exploring Expedition started on 25 October 1861, in the successful crossing of the continent of Australia. The members had lunch in the house and mounted on their horses, filed out of the north-western gate. The wall now surrounding the property existed at the time. Erected by the Adelaide City Council, 1928.”
The property passed to Hugh Robert Dixson in 1896. In 1901 he had the present building, named Stalheim, constructed. Dixson was born at Forbes in New South Wales in 1865 and became involved in the family business of Robert Dixson & Co., the largest tobacco business in Australia at the turn of the century. There were branches in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Fremantle and Adelaide, where Dixson’s father was manager. Hugh Dixson took over the local connection after his father’s death. He represented Gawler Ward in the City Council during 1888-89, and was a state member for North Adelaide. His other interests included mining, sport and music. Dixson changed his name to Dennison when he was knighted to avoid confusion with an uncle, a knight with the same name.
Dixson’s ebullient residence was designed by the architect John Quinton Bruce, who arrived in Adelaide as a child in 1865. Bruce also designed Electra House opposite the Town Hall, and as a partner in Bruce and Harral designed the Grand Lodge of Freemasons Building on North Terrace.
Marie Louise Frederica Bonython bought the mansion in 1908 and it was renamed Carclew, after a Cornish house of the same name that was once owned by the Bonython family. The Bonython family kept the mansion until 1965. It was a residence entirely appropriate to the status and power of her husband, the Honourable Sir John Langdon Bonython. The only major addition he made to the house was a single-storey library built in the north-west corner. He lived here until his death in 1939.
Born in London in 1848, Bonython arrived in South Australia with his parents in 1854. He joined the literary staff of the Advertiser at the age of 16. Promotion took him from reporter to chief of staff, editor and finally sole proprietor by 1893. A rival editor commented in the Quiz and the Lantern on May 16,1895, that Bonython did not form the usual friendships but “had assiduously cultivated the acquaintance of all public men who had taken or were likely to take a prominent part in the affairs of South Australia ... He was not above employing them as stepping stones leading to his advancement.”
Bonython’s successful speculation in mining shares helped him to buy into the newspaper business. His ambition, business acumen and journalistic ability turned the Advertiser into a prominent Australian daily newspaper, addressed not so much to conservative pastoral interests as to small businessmen and landholders: “It reflected the aspirations of the growing middle class ... and came to be identified with South Australia’s progress ... financial success can also be attributed to the prominence given to the small advertisement.” Above all, Bonython stressed that a newspaper should be full of news and its coverage as complete as possible.
Bonython was a strong advocate of Federation, and was elected to the first federal parliament and re-elected for the division of Barker three years later. His activities were not confined to journalism or mining speculation. He owed his knighthood in 1898 to services in the cause of public education. He was chairman of the Adelaide School Board of Advice, chairman of the Council of the Agricultural College at Roseworthy (1895-1902), a president of the Royal Geographical Society (1903-07), president of the Technical Education Board (1886), and a member of the Council of the University of Adelaide. He made generous donations to several of those institutions. Between 1902 and 1937 he gave £22,750 to the School of Mines and Industries (Institute of Technology), £20,000 to the University of Adelaide to endow a chair of law, and £50,000 for the erection of Bonython Hall.
Bonython’s most astonishing act of public generosity was the gift of £100,000 to build the new Legislative Council Chamber. This completed Parliament House, the first section of which had been opened 50 years previously (see Parliament House). The work was undertaken to commemorate the centenary of South Australia and was opened in June 1939, a few months before Bonython’s death.
Carclew remained in Bonython family ownership until 1965, when it was bought by the Corporation of the City of Adelaide. There was much debate soon afterwards about its use as the site for the state’s proposed Festival Hall. The state government bought the house in 1978 and in 1985 it finally became the Carclew Youth Performing Arts Centre.
Since 1976-77 the building has been extensively upgraded and renovated but without loss of integrity and, if anything, enhancing its impact at the summit of Montefiore Hill. The spacious grounds, stables, boundary walls and lofty palms add to Carclew’s dramatic effect.