The Society of the Brothers of the Christian Schools was founded in Waterford, Ireland, in the late 18th century by Edmund Ignatius Rice. It prospered to such a degree that it assimilated the Christian Brothers in France. By 1878 there were communities of Christian Brothers throughout Ireland, and in such outposts as Gibraltar, Newfoundland, South Africa, India and New Zealand, as well as in most of the Australian colonies. An estimated 50,000 boys attended Christian Brothers schools. By the late 1890s, 4190 pupils attended the schools in Australia, and the teaching staff numbered 110.
CBC in Adelaide was established soon after the State Education Act was passed in 1875 Many state schools were also built at the time. This was the first boarding school in the world run by the Christian Brothers.
The South Australian Register of August 16, 1878, reported the laying of the foundation stone for the first part of the college (the ground floors of the west and south wings). The site for the residence and schools was an acre at the corner of Wakefield Street “and a handsome edifice from the design by Mr E. Baver is to be erected on it”. Apart from the “convent”, there would be first be two schoolrooms, each with a classroom attached, arranged so that a future second storey could be added. Glen Osmond stone would be used with freestone dressings. About 400 people were at the ceremony, including the Catholic bishop and clergy of other denominations.
The school started in 1879 with 60 boys and three brothers. Brother Hughes was responsible for administration and construction. In 1880 the south wing fronting Wakefield Street was finished to a design by architects Bayer and Withall.
Substantial additions in 1892 provided four new classrooms, a laboratory and a music room. The classrooms were divided by roller partitions that could be raised if two classrooms were needed as a lecture hall, or for public entertainment. These partitions were noted as being similar to those used in London schools, but as being built for the first time “in the Colonies”.
The new building was reported to be handsome, its two storeys “in style late Gothic, built of Glen Osmond stone with freestone copings and carved finials, adding very much to the grouping of the original college buildings”. The architect was M.E Cavanagh and the contractors Mannion and Hudd.
The east wing, designed by Albert Conrad, was built in 1897 by J.J. Leahy. It enclosed a quadrangle in typical college fashion, and was constructed of Tapley Hill bluestone with Murray Bridge “freestone” dressings. There was a gymnasium, music room, boys refectory and several smaller rooms. “The second floor is supported by four mighty metal girders, which are also intended to support the pendant apparatus of the gymnasium, which will be the most modern and best.” There were dormitories for boarders, bedrooms for brothers in charge, wardrobes and shower baths. “The lavatory basins will have white polished marble tops, and will be supplied with patent nickel taps of the newest and most approved pattern.” The ceilings were mostly Oregon pine, arranged in panels, and polished. “All the doors will have transome lights in best cathedral glass and the large Gothic window in front will be in cathedral glass also.” A wide verandah ran the length of the building on the western side, opening out on the school playground.
The buildings were still largely original until 1963, when Ackland Street was widened for the extension of the new thoroughfare, Frome Street. This encroached on the CBC property and the west wing was demolished. Then in 1983 the east wing was gutted by fire. The complex is nevertheless still a good example of a private school of the 19th century.