This is the starting point of North Terrace’s cultural precinct. It is South Australia’s first institute and the boulevard’s first cultural building. It was also once home to South Australia’s state cultural organisations, including the library, the art gallery and the museum.
The Institute Building is connected to the very beginnings of the colony. Its predecessor, the South Australian Library and Scientific Association, was formed in London soon after the passing of the 1834 Act establishing the South Australian colony. The association’s aim was “the cultivation and diffusion of useful knowledge throughout the Colony”. It sent an iron trunk containing 117 books and the colony’s constitution to the colony on the Tam O’Shanter, one of the first nine ships to arrive in 1836.
At first the Mechanic’s Institute held the small collection of books at its premises near the present-day Adelaide Railway Station. In 1844 the South Australian Subscription Library was formed and four years later the two societies amalgamated. In 1856 the colonial government passed an Act to establish a South Australian Institute. The new building would include a public circulating library and a museum, and host lectures on a variety of subjects.
Construction began in 1859. By August 1860, the new Institute Building was in use. It was officially opened by the Chief Justice and Upper House member Sir Charles Cooper on 29 January 1861. Quickly it became the city’s cultural hub. It housed the art gallery, public library, museum and the School of Art and Design.
By 1874 these organisations had outgrown the building. The Jervois Wing (now known as the Mortlock Library) and the north and east wings of the Museum were built nearby to house the library and the museum. The Art Gallery also eventually moved out to its new building. The School of Design stayed in the Institute Building until 1909.
The Institute Building has also been the home of the Royal Society, the Royal Geographical Society and the South Australian Society for the Arts. For some time it also housed the Bradman Collection exhibition, which includes items from South Australia’s most famous cricketer, Sir Donald Bradman.
The Institute Building is now part of the State Library of South Australia. It is an important landmark on North Terrace and a reminder of the way the city’s cultural precinct began.