John Whinham was born in 1803 in Northumberland and arrived in South Australia in 1852,where he intended to engage in farming rather than his previous occupation of teaching. He brought letters of introduction to some leading colonists but was soon convinced of the possibility of teaching as a livelihood. He became a tutor in mathematics at St Peter’s College, then opened his own school in Margaret Street, North Adelaide, with three scholars. In 1854 he opened a secondary school in Ward Street, the North Adelaide Grammar School (forerunner to Whinham College), which became the best-known school in the city.
From the 1870s, private schools flourished in North Adelaide. Nesbit, Field, the Misses McMinn and Lindon ran highly regarded educational establishments. Nevertheless, Whinham College remained the largest and most important school.
In 1873, John Whinham retired and his son Robert took over. To cope with an influx of scholars, plans were drawn up by the architect Thomas Frost for the construction of new school buildings at the corner of Ward and Jeffcott streets. The building was opened in 1882 and enjoyed a brief period of great influence and renown. It had a reputation as the most modern and best-equipped secondary school in South Australia. In 1884, however, Robert Whinham was killed in a fall from a horse and John Whinham was forced to resume control. From this time the reputation of the school deteriorated.
The building is testimony to the high esteem in which the school and the Whinham family were held and was described in considerable detail in the South Australian Register of September 25, 1882. The main building with its principal frontage to Jeffcott Street comprised a centre building and wings two storeys high. Wings at the rear extended with transepts enclosed three sides of an open court. “The whole erection is in the Elizabethan style of architecture, and contains upwards of 40 rooms”.
The most prominent feature in the Jeffcott Street frontage, then as now, was the clock tower of white and red bricks, with cement enrichments and freestone columns with carved caps. “The tower rises to a height of 53 feet . . . surmounted with clock dormers and ornamental windvane at summit of roof . . . and an excellent clock, imported from London, is fixed in the turret, the hours being struck on a large bell which can also be utilised as a school bell.”
The centre block was recessed from the wings, providing space for a veranda/balcony. The block contained eight rooms, including the principal’s private apartments. The front wings on the ground floor were the dining room and sitting room, and on the first floor, large dormitories.
The contract also included the boundary walls enclosing the two town acres, the main frontage being enclosed “with handsome iron railing, with double and single gate at either side”. The contractors for the main building were James King & Son of Hindmarsh, and for the second part of the work Fry & Bampfield of North Adelaide, under the superintendence of Thomas Frost. The cost was about £10,000.
In 1884 the property was vested with the Merchant Banking Co. of London Ltd. Ownership passed to John Howard Angas in 1889. The building was known as Whinham College until 1898, in 1900 becoming Angas College and then the Angas College Military Hospital until 1923. In that year it was sold to Immanuel College, which occupied the site until World War II, moving there from its original Tanunda location. The building is still owned by the Lutheran Church and used as its seminary for the Lutheran Church in Australia.