As Adelaide entered its fourth decade, talk of establishing a scholarly institution befitting a modern city gained momentum. With the help of a significant £20,000 donation from Walter Watson Hughes, Parliament (led by Sir Henry as Chief Secretary) agreed to pass the legislation required for the formation of a University. Ultimately Henry himself would contribute a generous £500 pounds towards the University's creation. He also joined the University Council in the voluntary role of Treasurer, a position he would retain for over a decade. After 12 years he resigned from the position, recommending that the finances of the growing institution had reached a point where a permanent Finance Committee should be established. He would later be joined on the Council by his son Frank, while Frederic would eventually take up the post of Dean with the University’s Faculty of Laws.
The Mitchell Building was the first of the University’s North Terrace campus to be constructed, designed by Irish architect William McMinn and built by Brown and Thompson between 1879 and 1881. In the Gothic revival style of the time, its main walling is of Sydney white stone and it is faced with freestone from Tea Tree Gully. It housed all teaching and administrative facilities in addition to the University library, professors’ offices, Council meetings and Commencement ceremonies until completion of the Elder Conservatorium in 1900 and the Prince of Wales Building in 1902. Now occupied by the University administration, it was renamed in 1961 to commemorate the services of Sir William Mitchell as Professor of Philosophy 1894-1922, Vice-Chancellor 1916-42, Chancellor 1942-48, and benefactor.
In 1910 the University granted permission for Ayers’ grandchildren to place a plaque commemorating his contribution on the building. It was officially unveiled by then-Chancellor Sir Samuel Way, who credited Ayers with "putting the University on a sound financial basis and freeing it from a heavy incubus of debt". Designed by an English art school, you might notice the somewhat heroic, almost-Grecian embellishment granted to his likeness when compared to contemporary photographs.