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.