South Australian Museum - Armoury and Archway

South Australian Museum - Armoury and Archway

The Mounted Police Barracks and the Armoury complex include some of the earliest surviving government buildings. Associated with the South Australian Police Force, they date almost from the colony’s establishment. Both were purpose built as part of a group surrounding a large quadrangle that was entered by two iron swing gates surmounted by arches.

They are built of Adelaide limestone extracted from the quarry between the present Torrens Parade Ground and the Adelaide Railway Station and which ceased operation in the mid-1850s.

Soon after the foundation of South Australia, settlers asked for a modest police service to protect them from Aborigines and escaped felons from New South Wales. However, there was some confusion as to whether this was to be a military or a civilian role.

On April 28, 1838, Governor Hindmarsh established the police force, which also performed some military functions such as “pacifying” Aboriginal warriors on the frontiers. As colonists began to settle further away from Adelaide, police were sent to establish stations in different regions, gradually expanding in numbers and activities.

There were two significant buildings at this North Terrace complex. One was the two-storey barracks for the mounted police and the other the Armoury and inspectors’ residences. The barracks building was originally a single storey built of limestone and brick with a slate roof. In 1882 the building was extensively modified with the addition of another storey. As many as seven different building stones, including bluestone and sandstone, have since been detected in the building.

The other surviving building, the Armoury and inspectors’ residences, although built for the police force, became associated with South Australia’s military history. It was from this building that contingents to the Boer War were organised. A local military force was first deemed necessary during the Crimean War when a voluntary Military Forces Act, 1854, was passed. South Australia’s first permanent force was an artillery unit created in 1878.

When the mounted police vacated the barracks in 1921 the premises became a teachers’ training college until new premises were built for them in 1927. The ground floor rooms were then used as the Children’s Library and afterwards by the South Australian Museum as stores and offices.

Like the nearby Destitute Asylum, the buildings of the Mounted Police Barracks were grouped around a large quadrangle, in this case a parade ground. Tenders were called in 1850 by Captain Freeling, the colonial engineer who prepared the plans. J.H. Walker the contractor completed the barracks in 1851. In 1854 additions were built consisting of an armoury and residential accommodation. The additions were designed by W Bennett Hayes and the building works were undertaken by W. Lines.

The Observer, 10 March 1855 described the new barracks and “lofty” armoury, which held “a considerable stand of old heavy flint firelocks, with bayonets, cross belts &c., belonging to the police. These are now being cleaned and fitted up for the temporary use of the Volunteer Infantry, who regard the ponderous old-fashioned weapons, the stiff cross-belts and their accompanying pipe-clay with little veneration.”

The east and left wings were occupied by inspectors Hamilton and Strong, each building being described as “a plain, substantial and commodious bachelor’s residence”.

On the eastern side of the quadrangle were the quartermaster’s quarters, a troop-room and other offices. On the western side were troop-rooms, mess-room and kitchen. On the northern side was a stable with 22 roomy stalls and two loose boxes. In front was “a well-arranged lavatory”. The powder magazine was isolated at the north-western corner, while a well with a force-pump occupied the centre of the quadrangle.

The Armoury was also a single-storey building, but it was very tall with a steep roof and was easily divided into two floors in 1857. As a specially built armoury, the building is unique in South Australia, its scope (and the large cache of arms it held) indicating the strength of the colony’s mounted police in the early decades of settlement. Continuing its description, the Observer reported that the “quadrangle is entered by two large iron swing gates on the eastern and western sides, surmounted by arches which were probably intended to be ornamental, though their style of adornment is rather too heavy to strike the eye agreeably. Upon the top of each are three messy stone structures, which if they look like anything resemble dog- kennels.”

Between 1985-87 the Destitute Asylum buildings and the Mounted Police Barracks and Armoury were extensively renovated to form part of the museum complex.


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The buildings are very historically significant as the earliest implementation of the South Australian Police Force.

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Images of South Australian Museum - Armoury and Archway

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Captain Freeling
J H Walker
Building materials
Brick, Stone, Bluestone, Limestone, Sandstone
Architectural styles
2 Victorian Period (c. 1840–c. 1890)
1850 - 1851 

Additional Works


Designed by W Bennett Hayes and built by William Lines
Construction commenced
Construction completed

Additional storey to barracks

Construction commenced
Construction completed
Architecture and design features
quoins, courtyard, slate roof, arch
Engineering features
Cultural Precinct
Council Ward
Alternative Addresses
Town Acre
Planning Zone or Policy Area
Original owners
South Australian Police Force
Original occupant
Later occupant/s
Purposes and use
Civic, Police
AS2482 classification
13020 - Museum
Public Access
Business/trading hours
State Heritage ID
ACC Reference No.
DPTI Heritage No.
Certificate of Title No.
CR 5759/681 H105100 S561
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
Date of NTSA listing
Section 23 (4) crtiteria
Risk status
Historic Themes
2.2.1 Early Colonial Settlement
5.2 State Government
5.2.2 Law and Police
Australian Curriculum references
Year 5: The Australian Colonies


  • Department of Housing and Construction, Plan Room, HD 266-73; Donovan and Associates, The history and significance of the Mounted Police Barracks complex, 1982-3, pp. 3, 5, 7; Observer, 10 March 1855; PRO, GRG 24/6/No. 420/1851, 24/6/15,10,1855, 38//,/22.2.1851.
  • 38/7/2/25.8.1851; Pike, D., Paradise of dissent, 1967, p. 283; SA Museum, redevelopment heritage study, 1980, p. 17; Spry, A.H., 'South Australian Museum redevelopment - materials survey' in AMDEL Report, No. 1339, 1980, pp. 25-30.

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