Although the Cumberland Arms is a recognisable Adelaide pub with chamfered corner and verandah/balcony typical of boom period architecture, it is essentially an elaborated version of a corner Victorian commercial building. Its external detailing and originality, particularly at ground floor level, expresses the confidence of the boom period of the early 1880s.
The ebullient detailing recalls the designs of architect Rowland Rees, however a tender notice in the South Australian Register, 16 October 1882, gives the architect as H.C. Richardson.
The hotel is of further historical significance because of its association with Edwin Thomas Smith (knighted in 1888), having been rebuilt for his brewery.
E.T. Smith was born in England in 1830 and arrived in South Australia in 1853. He entered the brewing industry and was soon at the head of such a large flourishing concern that in 1888 he was able to retire from active business management and devote himself to public life. He was mayor of Adelaide from 1879-82 and 1886-88. He was elected to the House of Assembly representing East Torrens from 1871-93. From 1894 to 1902, he served the Southern district in the Legislative Council and attended the coronation of King Edward in 1902 as the state’s representative.
For more than 50 years E.T. Smith was associated with major national and civic public movements. The statue of Queen Victoria in Victoria Square was his gift to the city. Smith also actively promoted the Jubilee Exhibition, contributed to many sporting organisations and recreation grounds, and was involved with commercial bodies such as the AMP Society and the Savings Bank of South Australia. His philanthropy extended to sponsorship of the Adelaide Hospital, the Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institution, Elder Workmen’s Homes, the Benevolent and Strangers’ Friend Society, the Queen's Brigade and a Boys' Home.