As one of the last mansions on North Terrace, Ayers House is a rare sight. This bluestone mansion is a well-known feature of the city, partly because of its most famous owner, Sir Henry Ayers.
Henry Ayers arrived in South Australia in 1840, four years after the colony was established. He worked for several years as a law clerk. He then became the secretary of the South Australian Mining Association. The company’s copper mines at Burra were highly successful. By 1850 Henry, profiting greatly from the venture and was the company’s managing director.
Henry and his family moved into this house in 1855. However, the house they first lived in was a far cry from what we see today. It was a modest nine-roomed brick dwelling owned by William Paxton. William first leased and then sold the property to Henry.
Henry made many changes to the house. He added bedrooms, a library and the basement. He also covered the original brick façade with bluestone. Architect George Strickland Kingston designed a coach house, stables, an upper floor and the dining room.
These additions were probably motivated by Henry’s public life and love of entertaining. From 1855 to 1893 he was a member of the Legislative Council. He had been the premier and chief secretary several times during the 1860s and 1870s. Ayers House hosted many social events for Adelaide’s high society. In 1890 the newspaper noted that Henry had entertained more than 400 guests at each of the two balls held that year and that they had “eclipsed all others”.
Henry died in 1897 and until 1918 the house was empty. From 1918 to the early 1970s, it was used for a range of purposes. It was a rehabilitation centre for World War I soldiers, offices and clubrooms for the Returned Servicemen’s League, and accommodation for nurses working at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
Between 1972 and 1973 the government renovated and redeveloped the property. The National Trust of South Australia set up its headquarters in the house. Today the Ayers House Museum offers guided tours daily through this historic former home.