South Australian Harbors Board Building

South Australian Harbors Board Building

Only the facade and one room in depth of this once exquisite building are left today. The facade was the subject of a unique engineering feat for South Australia in 1979 when it was moved to its present site 34 metres to the north of the old to make way for the SGIC building.

The four-storey building was originally built for the National Mutual Life Assurance of Australia (NMLA) in 1884. It reflected the financial optimism of the period, just before South Australia plunged into a depression. The NMLA company had opened in Melbourne in 1869 and begun operating in Adelaide in 1878.

The Victorian elegance of this building still attracts attention. The classical design by Cumming and Davies and construction by James Shaw was described at the time as “Italian”. The roof is unique to Adelaide, “a French roof ... with a large square dome in the centre, covered with lead cut to fish-scale pattern, and surmounted by handsome cast-iron cresting and finials surrounding a look-out”.

The high standard of the stonework was also much admired. The stone was imported from New South Wales, although it is not certain whether it was “freestone” from Mossman’s quarries in Sydney or Hawkesbury sandstone.

There was also much attention to the interior, which boasts wide, handsome archways and a magnificent “hanging” spiral staircase of Kapunda marble. Before the move in 1979 this was dismantled by the Public Buildings Department and placed in storage.

The building is best known as the original headquarters of the South Australian Harbors Board (now the Department of Marine and Harbors). It was bought for that purpose in 1914, soon after the Harbors Board was established under the provisions of the Harbors Act of 1913. This act marked a significant expansion in state government functions. It provided for public acquisition of wharves, water frontages and other waterfront property and vested control of all harbours in the board.

Three-storey extensions were added to the rear of the building in 1914, followed by further extensions in 1945. The Department of Marine and Harbors moved to new headquarters at Port Adelaide in 1979. The building is now used as Government offices.


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The building is architecturally significant for its elegant Victorian detailing.

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Images of South Australian Harbors Board Building

  • South Australian Harbors Board Building
James Cumming, Edward Davies
James Shaw
Building materials
Iron, Cast iron, Stone, Sandstone
Architectural styles
2 Victorian Period (c. 1840–c. 1890), 2.9 Italianate
1884 -  

Additional Works


Construction commenced
Construction completed

Extensions and lift installed

Construction commenced
Construction completed
Architecture and design features
finial, dome, french roof
Engineering features
Victoria Square- Tarndanyangga
Council Ward
Alternative Addresses
Town Acre
Planning Zone or Policy Area
Original owners
National Mutual Life Association
Original occupant
Later occupant/s
Purposes and use
Commercial, Office
AS2482 classification
11510 - Business House - Offices
Public Access
Business/trading hours
State Heritage ID
ACC Reference No.
DPTI Heritage No.
Certificate of Title No.
CT 5986/806 D42896 A2
NTSA file exists
Heritage Status
State Heritage listed
State heritage listing
State Heritage listed
Date of State heritage listing
Local heritage listing
Date of Local heritage listing
NTSA listing
NTSA classified
Date of NTSA listing
Section 23 (4) crtiteria
Risk status
Historic Themes
3.3 Financing Adelaide
3.3.5 Company Headquarters
Australian Curriculum references
Year 6: Australia as a Nation


  • Department of Environment, Report No. 622, 1978 (Heritage Unit); Baulderstone Hornibrook photograph collection; MLSA, Bierbaum files for Marine and Harbors building, Historical photographs (Town Acre 267); Morrison, W.F., The Aldine history of South Australia, Vol. 2,
  • 1890, p. 772; Observer, 31 May 1884; South Australian Register, 21 March 1884, 31 May
  • 1884; South Australian directories, 1902-05; South Australian Yearbook, 1966, p. 269.

Further reading

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