Moves to establish a School of Mines and Industry were the result of an enquiry set up in 1886 to report on the best means of developing a general system of technical and agricultural education in South Australia. The school was established with a representative council appointed on November 30, 1888. Sir Langdon Bonython was a member and president for 50 years.
The new school took up residency in the Jubilee Exhibition buildings but it was not long before these quarters were cramped.
When a gift of £10,000 was bequeathed for the erection of a proper building, the South Australian government was prompted to begin construction. Donor George Brookman presented a further £5000 at the laying of the foundation stone on March 7, 1900. During the ceremony Mrs Brookman deposited in the cavity of the stone a statement that the SA Bushmen’s Corps left South Australia on the same day for South Africa.
The government allocated £16,000 towards the project. The commissioner of Public Works C.E. Owen Smyth was responsible for the design. He was also responsible during the same period for the Art Gallery of South Australia and the north wing of the South Australian Museum. In common with these two buildings the precarious economy of the 1890s depression era dictated costs. F. Fricker contracted to construct the building for £25,613 and the basement was constructed by day labour under the supervision of the Public Works Department. The Brookman Building is a good example of Owen Smyth’s work. He was concerned with designing the finest building possible within financial constraints. The design reversed the choice of building material most commonly used in Adelaide as the building is constructed of red brick and dressed in limestone. A contemporary description of 1903 noted the “Gothic lines, with some features which ally it to the late Tudor period ... The detail of the facade has been modified to suit the exigencies of economy, and but for this necessity the curious gargoyles, ornamented parapets and enriched cornices peculiar to the perpendicular style might have been introduced with conspicuous effect. In the building as it stands, however, the detail so far as it goes is correct, and the utmost possible has been done with the money at command.”
All the material used in the structure was produced within the state. The handsome bluish stone in the base was from Auburn, the freestone (limestone) up to plinth level and in the copings of the entrance steps was from Torode’s quarry on the River Murray, and the rest of the freestone was taken from Laycock’s quarry near Murray Bridge. The bricks from the base upward were supplied from Halletts’ Brompton yards. The marble steps and flaggings in the front entrance and staircase hall came from Herring’s Angaston quarries.
Construction coincided with Federation and the Boer War. The fervour generated by these two events is illustrated by the magnificent stained-glass windows designed and installed in 1903. The Empire Window in the north wall demonstrated imperial patriotism at the turn of the century. The four central lights feature King Edward and Queen Alexandra with the Prince and Princess of Wales. Above are the emblems of the four colonial dominions. Flanking them are the arms of the Australian states, New Zealand and New Guinea. The window was designed by Elliott and made by E.F. Troy.
The two scientific windows above the stairway and the oriel window were the work of H.L. Vosz & Co. The scientific window features coats of arms of the first and second governor-generals of Australia, the lieutenant governor of South Australia and the president of the Council of the School of Mines, together with those of the state of South Australia, the City of Adelaide and Wales and Cornwall. Miners from Wales and Cornwall did much to establish mining in South Australia.