South Australian Museum - North Wing

South Australian Museum - North Wing

The North Wing of the South Australian Museum is an integral part of the museum, although opinion varies on the quality of its architecture as it does not match the grand dressed stone museum and library wings flanking it. However, it is a good example of C.E. Owen Smyth’s ability to produce the best that money could buy when treasury funds were tight.

This “temporary structure” was built in brick because of the meagre funds available. Despite its modest red brick form, it has a sense of functional significance among North Terrace public buildings. Although the glass front added to house large mammal bones has detracted from its original modest character, most South Australians readily identify this building as part of the museum regardless of its architectural deficiencies.

The wing, desperately needed because of lack of space, was a compromise until finances would allow the originally planned cut stone building to be built. Superintendent of Public Works C.E. Owen Smyth designed it, and it was built by T. Gregg for a modest tender of £8500. It was opened in 1895.

In 1923, many years after the 1890s depression, Owen Smyth wrote that the North Wing was a “much abused and even now, much misunderstood building”. He recalled being criticised for a long time “for perpetuating such an atrocity but, he argued, there was no possible hope in the early 90s of the South Australian Government voting £40,000 for a cut stone building: and further, the red brick building was intended to be masked and will be before very long”.

Two years later, in 1925, the Register praised Owen Smyth in his obituary, stating that “no one was better qualified to ‘get things done’ expeditiously and economically and well”.

In fact the building is not completely plain. In 1895 the Observer described its facade as of “Romanesque style, assimilated as far as possible to the building adjacent, and picked out with moulded plinths, bands, cornices, etc. with terracotta dressing to the windows ... All around the interior of the building some galleries 13 feet 6 inches wide [are] supported on rows of handsome cast-iron columns of colonial manufacture and these are approached from the main hall by a broad and very imposing staircase.”

There were also some very sensible features. Northern windows were shuttered to keep out the fierce glare, while daylight from the south was supplemented by artificial light from the large lantern. A wood and glass panelled porch screened the front.

In contrast to Owen Smyth’s recollections, the Observer concluded that the “spacious airy hall [had] a very pleasing and effective appearance”.


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The building is historically significant as an undeniable feature of the museum.

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Images of South Australian Museum - North Wing

  • South Australian Museum - North Wing
C E Owen Smyth
T Gregg
Building materials
Brick, Iron, Cast iron
Architectural styles
3 Federation Period (c. 1890–c. 1915), 3.5.1 Romanesque
1895 -
Architecture and design features
plinth, cornice, terra cotta dressings
Engineering features
Cultural Precinct
Council Ward
Alternative Addresses
Town Acre
Planning Zone or Policy Area
Original owners
Government of South Australia
Original occupant
Later occupant/s
Purposes and use
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
NTSA registered
Date of NTSA listing
Section 23 (4) crtiteria
Risk status
Historic Themes
3.1 Economic Cycles
3.1.6 Mid-1880s Recession
6.6 Arts and Sciences
7.4 Libraries, Learned Institutions and Museums
Australian Curriculum references
Year 5: The Australian Colonies


  • Hale, H.M., The first hundred years of the museum, 1856-1956; MLSA. Bierbaum files, Historical photographs, Observer, 9 January 1895; PRO, Sketch of proposed SA Institute Building, C.B. Richardson, 1877, drawing of library/museum complex, 1885-87, GRG
  • 19/355/1876-80, GRG 38/14/1/No. 239, GRG 129/365/1/24.4.86; Public Service Review,
  • 22 December 1947; Register, 31 October 1923, 2 October 1925; SAPP, No. 23, 1874, No.
  • 150, 1874, No. 29, 1892, No. 30, 1907-08; South Australian Government Gazette, 11
  • September 1873, 27 November 1873; SA Museum, Redevelopment heritage study, 1980, p.
  • 44; South Australian Register, 8 November 1879.

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