Elder Hall is a surprising find on this quiet street dominated by the rear walls of the contemporary high-rises on Grote and Franklin streets. While far less well known than its namesake on North Terrace, this smaller Elder Hall is special. It is a symbol of the work of private charities and benevolent organisations set up in the early colonial period to help those most vulnerable.
On 2 February 1849, a group of citizens set up The Adelaide Benevolent and Strangers’ Friend Society. Many new immigrants were arriving in Adelaide with very little money, most of their savings being used for passage to the colony. Along with the difficulties of finding a job and the city’s high rent, new settlers could easily find themselves destitute.
The Adelaide Benevolent and Strangers’ Friend Society aimed “to relieve the sick and indigent, especially among the newly arrived immigrants”. Members assessed applicants' needs and handed out relief. In 1869, the society began buying small houses and renting them at a low cost.
In 1898, a £1,000 bequest from the late Sir Thomas Elder allowed the society to build a new headquarters. Architects Daniel Garlick and Herbert Jackman designed the new building on Morialta Street. Like the University of Adelaide's School of Music, this new building was named in honour of its benefactor.
While the smaller Elder Hall is simple, its façade was described as having a "gem-like" quality. Since it was built, there have been only minor changes inside Elder Hall to allow for more office space.
Today the Adelaide Benevolent Society still offers affordable housing and financial relief to South Australians from this building. It is an important symbol of the city’s philanthropic past and present.