Ochiltree House was built in 1882 and sits in the fashionable section of South Adelaide at the corner of East and South terraces. Ten years previously, Rounsevell had built himself a large 20-room mansion in Hutt Street now known as the Naval, Military and Air Force Club. Perhaps he chose to have another large mansion built so soon because of his personal tragedies: three of his four wives predeceased him.
John Rounsevell came out to Australia in 1839 when he was three years old and his career spanned the same coaching business and pastoral interests as his father’s. In the 1850s he entered his father’s business, W. and J. Rounsevell, the principal coaching operation in South Australia, later taken over by Cobb and Co. and then Hill and Co.
Rounsevell’s coaching business in Pirie Street assumed gigantic proportions, securing contracts for carrying nearly all the mails in the province, with about a thousand horses in harness. John Rounsevell gained quite a reputation when it came to showing off his skills with horses: “Always a famous whip, he made a striking figure behind some of the best horses ever seen in harness in Adelaide. During a visit of Burton’s Circus, Walter Burton was announced to drive 12 horses from Bay Road (now Anzac Highway) through the streets of the city. John Rounsevell in a spirit of emulation, drove nearly double that number over the same track and created quite a sensation by the skilful way he handled the reins.”
Rounsevell took up the 756-square mile Mooloolroo Station near Blinman in 1871, and later Cowarie north-east of Lake Eyre, Anabama in the north-east, and Taunta on the Coorong.
He held public office in several capacities in his long career, among them on the Mount Crawford District Council and the Adelaide City Council. He was also a member for the seat of Light and Gumeracha.
In 1920 Ochiltree House passed into the ownership of Violet Betsie Ritchie, who had married into a family of Murray River steamboat owners. Her father-in-law James and his four sons, James, John, George and David, were all river masters and owners.
Ochiltree House is unusually decorative and flamboyantly detailed. The combination balcony and projecting veranda, and the mansard roof, highlight the main entrance, which is set between the two large bow- windows. The building is distinguished from many other town houses of the same period, yet epitomises that boom period and the upward social mobility of the wealthy pastoralists who built these grand mansions.
The architect was possibly G. Jaochimi, as his tender appeared on January 2, 1882, the only one for the erection of a large villa within an eight-month period for East or South terrace. Despite a number of additions to the side and rear, the architectural quality of the complex has been upgraded to suit the subdivision of the house into individual residential units.