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Architecture in South Australia: Tracing the history of a house

This State Library of South Australia guide explores the architecture of SA, characterised by six chronological styles, starting with Old Colonial to 1840, Victorian to 1890, Federation to 1915, Interwar, Postwar and the Late Twentieth Century from 1960

Steps in tracing the history of a house

Getting started

  • List all known information regarding the name of the house, full address, previous owners, builders etc., that you may have obtained from family records, deeds, discussions with family, friends or neighbours.
  • Decide how much more information you need - should you plan a brief or detailed search? Remember, searching takes time, and may yield very little extra information.
  • The State Library holds extensive resources in many formats: especially useful are the postal directories for houses built before 1973
  • The Land Services SA at 101 Grenfell Street holds Certificates of Title which indicate ownership of the land, rather than the existence of structures on it. However, used in conjunction with other sources they can help narrow down a date range for your house if this is not known.
  • State Records (formerly Public Record Office of South Australia) have valuable state government resources for this research.
  • The Department for Environment and Heritage maintains a file on buildings that have been listed on State Heritage lists.
  • Closer to home, your local public library or historical society may also assist you in your search, especially with locating local heritage studies.
  • Local councils may also be of help, although older rate assessment books are normally lodged with State Records and only recent books retained. Some councils retain the plans lodged for building approvals for limited time - e.g. Brighton Council retains 20 years on microfiche.
  • Many houses will not be well documented, so it may be possible to contact previous owners for any information or documents they may have, such as photographs, plans or advertising brochures.

Brief search

Should your house be unnamed, not included on State Heritage lists, or unlikely to have been featured as an example of style of architecture, or if you have decided to limit the time spent on research, you may wish to restrict your searching to:

  • South Australian directories (1839-1973), which may show the names of early householders, (occupiers rather than owners) length of residence, neighbours, and may suggest the date of building by the first listing in the directory. Most years contain an alphabetical listing of the State's residents and their addresses, as well as street-by-street listings of buildings and their principal tenants in the metropolitan area. Prior to 1872 listing of individual localities other than the City of Adelaide is erratic. From 1872 to 1883 they contain only an alphabetical state-wide listing of residents, except for Adelaide. From 1884 the street-by-street listing was extended to major suburbs and gradually extended to cover the metropolitan area. The directories may not always be complete or totally reliable.
  • Pictorial Collection which may include photographs of early views of the house, street, general location or previous owners. Check index for location, or for subject references such as Architecture, Domestic; Buildings; Farm buildings.
  • Local histories of your district may give information relating to buildings in the area.
  • General publications on architecture. If the building is heritage-listed, the Department of Environment and Heritage would have a file on the building.

Detailed search

To the sources listed above add the following sources.

Catalogues of published material: Check entries under the name of the house e.g. Collingrove; the suburb, town or district; the house owners' names for family histories or biographical works; subject headings such as Architecture-South Australia Architecture, Domestic-South Australia-Beaumont, Historic Buildings-South Australia-Southern Vales.

General Archival Subject Index: Check entries under the: name of the house or locality.

South Australian newspapers: Check for advertisements at time of sale of home, reports of weddings, anniversaries, events in the neighbourhood. Newspapers are not often indexed, so dates of events need to be known.

Archival records:

  • Check for entries in the Library catalogue for name of house, locality, or name of owners subject entries, such as Architecture or Building
  • Private Record Groups for family records
  • Business Record Groups for records of architects, builders or land agents
  • J D Somerville Oral History Collection
  • Check indexes for house names, family names, local identities, locality subject entries, such as Dwellings, Housing, House furnishings

Maps: Information Desk staff can help with maps which show the early settlement of an area which may suggest a construction date for a house. Old Fullers maps held at the State Library and at the Lands Titles Office give information relating to the subdivision of the metropolitan area. Aerial photographic maps are available for the second half of the 20th century and can show individual houses.

Bierbaum Collection

Information on historic public buildings in South Australia, compiled by HF Bierbaum of the then Public Buildings Department. Includes materials from local histories, Cyclopaedia of South Australia, Parliamentary Papers, and archival material. The Bierbaum Index can be retrieved from storage for use in the Somerville Reading Room.

Archival sources

Bonython, John. Classical houses of South Australia (research paper), 1968.

Schenk, John. Concrete houses of Walter Charles Torode (research paper), 1987.

Jackman Gooden Architects.1873-1934. Records of Jackman Gooden Architects Limited, known as the Jackman Gooden Collection, comprising plans by English & Soward, English Rees and Garlick & Jackman. BRG 238

Useful websites

For more information about SAILIS, take a look at our SAILIS library guide.

Search digitised newspapers to 1955 at Trove. Try entering the address you are looking for.

Other websites:

Published sources

Andrews, Brian. Gothic in South Australian churches, 1984.

Apperly, Richard. A pictorial guide to identifying Australian architecture: styles and terms from 1788 to the present, 1994.

Architectural heritage: public building conservation,1986.

The Architecture and history of churches, schools and other institutions in South Australia: a regional bibliography, 1984.

Architecture in South Australia, 1960. (chiefly illust.)

Berry, D.W. Pioneer building techniques in South Australia, 1981.

A Brief source guide for research of buildings and sites in the city of Adelaide, 1995.

Burden, Michael. Lost Adelaide: a photographic record, 2002.

City of Adelaide Heritage Study. Items recommended for inclusion on a City of Adelaide Heritage Register. B10917305 (Rev. ed.) Adelaide: Dept. of Planning and Development, 1986. 8 vols.

City of Adelaide Heritage Study. City of Adelaide Heritage Study: documentation of additional listed items, 1986.

Colwell, Max. Heritage preserved with the National Trust of South Australia, 1985.

Dallwitz, J.C. Heritage of the River Murray: South Australian State Historic Preservation Plan, Regional Heritage Survey Series: Region 5, 1985.

Dancker, F.W. Modern dwellings: 100 selected designs, 1904.

Elliott, Joseph. Our home in Australia: a description of cottage life in 1860, 1984.

Faull, J.F. People, places and buildings: rural settlements in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia, 1986.

Gunton, Eric. Gracious homes of colonial Adelaide, 1983.

Gordon Young et al Hahndorf ,1981. 2v.

The Heritage of South Australia and Northern Territory: the illustrated register of the national estate, 1985.

Heritage of the city of Adelaide: an illustrated guide. Editors: Susan Marsden, Paul Stark and Patricia Sumerling, 1990.

Houses around Adelaide Honorary editor: F.D. Wallace van Zyl, 1964.

Jensen, Elfrida. Colonial architecture in South Australia: a definitive chronicle of development 1836-1890 and the social history of the times, 1980.

Langmead, Donald. The evolution of folk architecture in South Australia. Thesis, 1974.

Liston, Carol. Researching old buildings, 1986.

McDougall, Katrina. Winery buildings in South Australia, 1836-1936. Part 1. The Barossa Region, 1980.

McDougall, Katrina. Winery buildings in South Australia, 1836-1936. Part 2. The Southern Districts, 1983.

Manual of architectural history sources in Australia. Edited by David Saunders, 1981. v.1 p. 305-533 South Australia.

Marsden, Susan. Business, charity and sentiment: the South Australian Housing Trust, 1936-1986, 1986.

Morgan, E.J.R. Early Adelaide architecture 1836 to 1886, 1969.

Newnham, William H. Old Adelaide hotels sketchbook, 1971.

Page, Michael F. Colonial South Australia: its people and buildings, 1985.

Page, Michael F. Sculptors in space: South Australian architects 1836-1986, 1986.

Persse, J. N. House styles in Adelaide: a pictorial history, 1981.

A photographic guide to the architecture of Adelaide. No. 1. City centre, 1983?

Pikusa, Stefan. The Adelaide house 1836 to 1901: the evolution of principal dwelling types, 1986.

Preserving historic Adelaide. Ed. by Colin Bond and Hamish Ramsay, 1978.

Queale, Michael. Adelaide's architecture and art: a walking guide, 1996.

Regan, Des. How to trace the history of your house, 1990.

Robertson, E.G. Adelaide lace, 1973.

Royal Australian Institute of Architects, South Australian Chapter. Architecture SA 1970-1980, 1980. (chiefly illust.)

Royal Automobile Association of South Australia, Touring Department. Touring Adelaide's history: a gazetteer to some of the early buildings and other places and points of historical interest in the Adelaide area, 1974.

A selective regional bibliography of the architectural history of South Australia, including social histories of churches and schools, 1991.

Shaping the heritage of South Australia, 1989.

South Australia's heritage. Ed. by Jenny Walker, 1986.

Warburton, J.W. Sustaining our heritage: the story of Civic Trust awards and brickbats, 1971 to 1984, 1986.