The hotel is located in what has been known as the “red light” district of Adelaide. The early practice of subdividing town acres into tiny sections, often no larger than 20 feet by 60 feet, produced low land prices that attracted buyers and lessees of limited means. Low rents and rates also attracted some less desirable elements, and the area was described as “infected with brothels and soliciting prostitutes”.
Amid such notoriety, the hotel prospered, being well known as a place of entertainment from as early as 1852. Assessments for that year stated that the hotel (the Billy Barlow) was an “eight-room, two-storey brick and stone house with cellar yard and pale stable and large pale building used as a circus”.
When known as the Shamrock between 1854-88, the hotel was described as having “one of the principal Music Halls of England and the Colonies”, having been fitted as a theatre and concert hall. It was renamed the Colonel Light in 1888 and retained this name until 1923.
Many Adelaide hotels were rebuilt in the period 1870-85. This one is somewhat unusual in that it was rebuilt much later, during the 1890s depression. Between 1887 and 1898, owners Makinson, Fox and Heydon required lessees A.W. & T.L. Ware to “erect according to elevations and specifications to be approved in manner therein described upon the land thereby demised at the lessee’s own expense a good and substantial building for the purpose of an hotel with outbuilding and conveniences, and for that purpose to pull down the existing building and to complete substituted buildings by the 1st day of December 1898 and to spend in such erection the sum of £1500 at least”.
Although assessments of 1898 confirm that the hotel was rebuilt at this time, to date no architect has been found. The State Heritage Branch report of January 10, 1985, for the hotel states that “a comparison between two photographs at the hotel taken in 1911 and the late 1920s respectively shows that the verandah was a later addition, probably during the 1920s”.
The hotel has variously been known as the Sir Robert Peel (1849-50), the Billy Barlow (1850-52), the George and Dragon (1852-54), the Shamrock (1854-88), the Colonel Light (1888-1923), the Hotel George 1923-36), the Hotel Gambier (1936-70) and the Colonel Light Hotel (1970- ).