Bagot was commissioned to select a special survey and in return received 1500 acres on the River Light that he called Koonunga. There his youngest son found copper ore in 1842, and Bagot and others started the Kapunda Copper Mine in 1844. It proved to be extremely rich and was one of the most significant advances in the economic fortunes of the new colony.
Bagot controlled the mine until 1857, then floated a company in London that held control until it closed in 1877. He was a nominee in the Legislative Council from 1844 to 1851 and the member for Light from 1851 to 1853, and held a seat in the Legislative Council from 1857 to 1859. He also supported “a host of philanthropic movements”, and had a leading role in the establishment of the Congregational church at North Adelaide. His wife Mary died in 1860 and Captain Bagot died at Nurney House in 1880.
In common with many of his contemporaries, having obtained land, set up his sheep run and made his fortune also as a mine-owner, Bagot retired to a mansion in Adelaide. He bought two town acres in North Adelaide bounded by Kingston Terrace, Lefevre Terrace and Stanley Street. In 1846 he enclosed the property with a wall of limestone dug from the land, with a carriage entrance on to Lefevre Terrace.
In 1846-47 he had a two-storey house built with an underground level, and soon afterwards added a single-storey eastern wing. He named this Nurney House after his original home.
The house was described as a mansion in the South Australian Register of March 1, 1848, and it was certainly one of the earliest built in North Adelaide. The Bagots made a home there for the widow of their son Christopher and her five children. Mrs Margaret Elizabeth Bagot and a daughter, Margaret, continued to live at Nurney House after the elder Bagots’ deaths. The house became a Bagot ancestral seat as it was passed from one generation to the next. When Margaret Bagot died in 1929, Captain Bagot’s eldest great-grandson, Walter Hervey Bagot, acquired the property. After W.H. Bagot’s death in 1963 it passed to his son, J.H. Bagot.
Walter Hervey Bagot was a renowned South Australian architect. He was deeply interested in Classical Italian architecture and his acquisition of Nurney House enabled him to put some features of it into practice. His thorough knowledge of the classical tenets of architecture often dictated his style and made him critical of modernistic trends of much new architecture in his lifetime. His wealthy family background allowed him to complete his architectural training overseas, which gave him a much broader theoretical knowledge than many other South Australian architects. On his return to Adelaide he was taken into partnership by E.J. Woods.
The firm of Woods, Bagot, Jory and Laybourne Smith designed many of the major public buildings in South Australia from the beginning of the 20th century, using a conspicuously traditionalist style.
Bagot’s dedication to the classical and traditional often took him to Europe. He was a great admirer of Italian art and architecture in particular. He lectured on Italian art at the Art Gallery of South Australia and founded the Australian-Italian Society. At the same time his colonial Establishment background “gave him a strong sense of his relationship with the leading pioneers of South Australia. He was always concerned to preserve the best of the past and to improve and beautify the state and city”. He was a commissioner of the Belair National Park, a governor of the Botanic Garden, and a supporter of plans to improve the parklands.
All of these skills and interests are reflected at Nurney House ,which Bagot substantially enlarged in 1930-31. The extensions incorporated the original house as the western wing, transforming it into an Italian villa with a portico entrance to Kingston Terrace, an “Italian” courtyard on the southern side, and a new eastern wing.
A pair of wrought-iron gates bought by Bagot in London provides access to the garden. They are of an identical design to those of the Palazzo Davanzati in Florence. Bagot’s courtyard garden is included in its own right on the Register of the National Estate. It includes many interesting sculptures, and incorporates an atrium that takes advantage of the similarity of climate between Italy and South Australia and acts as the central focus of the house.