This was the first of three new buildings planned to ease the pressure on space in the nearby Institute Building. By 1874, it was decided that the public library, museum and art gallery would move to a new building nearby on North Terrace. However, due to controversy over its design, construction and location, it was 10 years before the Jervois Wing was finished.
Three different architecture firms contributed to the design. Robert George Thomas won the first design competition. However, colonial architect George Thomas Light and his assistant William McMinn changed his designs in 1877. These new plans were quickly rejected when it was revealed that the building would cost twice the expected amount. In 1877-1878, Edward John Woods prepared new plans. The final design combined the work of all three architects.
The building's foundations changed as often as the design. They were relaid three times – in 1873, again in 1876, and finally in 1879. At the final laying of the foundations, Governor W.F.D. Jervois, the building’s namesake, laid the foundation stone.
There was another setback when it was suggested that the new Parliament House should be built on the site. After several petitions and a Royal Commission, work finally began on the Jervois Wing.
The building opened at last on 18 December 1884. The new library held 23,000 books – a few more than the first 117 sent in 1836! With its ceiling-high bookshelves, carved timber tables and chairs, and a glass-domed lantern ceiling it had one of the most beautiful interiors of the time.
Thanks partly to a large bequest from John Andrew Tennant Mortlock, the building was substantially renovated in 1984. It reopened in 1986 as the Mortlock Library of South Australia. The library is free and open to the public daily.