In 1837, South Australian Surveyor-General, Colonel William Light laid out a Plan of Adelaide, which divided the city land of North Adelaide and South Adelaide into 1042 town acres; 700 of the acres were located in South Adelaide (the CBD), and the remaining 342 were located in North Adelaide.
This guide will provide you with useful information on how to research the history of these individual town acres (also referred as city acres) or specific buildings located within the city acres.
Not all collection material held by the State Library of SA is available in our open access areas. For more information on how to search our catalogue, request material, and access items in our collection, click here.
The premises of G. R. Wills, North Terrace, Adelaide (Acre 21) PRG 631/2/1298 (Click for a larger/zoomable version)
The State Library holds collections of photos for most of the Adelaide city acres.
Select 'Pictorial' from the drop down menu.
Browse list of relevant results and click link to view images.
Go to our Image Server.
Search for the city acre number (i.e. Acre 21) to find relevant images.
Note that results will be less precise than first method, but easier to browse.
Almanacs and directories can help provide information on:
Our almanacs and directories are available onsite in our Family History collection, and digitised versions of some postal directories are available on the Almanacs and Directories library guide.
Heritage surveys identify potential places of state and local heritage significance and potential historic conservation areas.
Items recommended for inclusion on a City of Adelaide Heritage Register / City of Adelaide Heritage Study, 1986. (8 vols)
These volumes and other surveys for the City of Adelaide can be found online via the Department of Environment and Water website.
An illustrated publication outlining Adelaide heritage sites was published in 1990. Heritage of the city of Adelaide : an illustrated guide
Piper, Bakewell & Piper Solicitors (BRG 73)
The records in BRG 73/1 consist of papers mainly from the years 1837 to 1900 and comprise mostly land grants, conveyances and leases.
The index, with 11,000 entries, is divided into five columns: "Packet", "1st Party", "2nd Party", "Description" and "Year". The number in the "Packet" column is needed to request the papers from storage using BRG 73/1 as a prefix.
Conduct a search within the document to see if the Acre of interest is listed. For example, a search on ‘Acre 50’ will show that it is referred to in five transactions, which can be retrieved for further perusal.
Plan of the City of Adelaide, W. Light, 1838. C 974 (Click for a larger/zoomable version)
There are several maps in our collection that provide the following information on the city acres; the location of the city acres, the boundaries of each acre, the city ward they are located in, buildings and streets within each acre, and the original landowners. Most of the maps included in the list below are available online through our Image Viewer server or can be downloaded as a PDF or JPEG through the catalogue record. If there is a map that is not available online, you will need to request the map from storage and view it in our Somerville Reading Room.
City of Adelaide Maps
C 194A. Plan of the city of Adelaide, in South Australia : with the acre allotments numbered, and a marginal reference to the names of the original purchasers, 1840.
C 1165. To her most Gracious Majesty Adelaide, the Queen Dowager, this map of Adelaide, South Australia, shewing the nature and extent of every building of the city, as surveyed and laid down by G. S. Kingston, Esqre, 1842. View online. (the Kingston map).
Book plan of South Adelaide, 1880.
For more information about the maps listed, click on their catalogue record, and for information on maps in our collection, see our Mapping sources for South Australian history library guide.
There are several resources held by the City of Adelaide Archives that may be useful when researching the City Acres. Those listed below, can assist with researching landowners, changes in street names and locations, and city building plans.
Rate Assessment Books
The City of Adelaide Assessment Books are records of council rate assessments for properties located in the city, produced annually from 1847. These records are useful for tracing the history of Adelaide properties and buildings, providing information about a property's age, vacancy, and the names of past owners and occupants. These Assessment Books can be accessed online through the City of Adelaide website, from 1847 until 1998. The books are separated by the original six wards; Gawler Ward, Hindmarsh Ward, Grey Ward, Young Ward, Robe Ward, and the Macdonnell Ward. Within each ward the city acres will be numbered, based on the walking sequence of the surveyor on the date of assessment. To identify which ward contains which acres, see Robt. S. Frearson's plan of the city of Adelaide (C 1031).
Older assessments provide more detail about the property assessment and any buildings situated within the property, including the building materials, and descriptions of the overall structure and purpose of the building (i.e., some assessments may describe a building as being a cottage with a market garden).The 'Rateable Value' can track the changes of a building or property over time. If the 'Rateable Value' significantly increases from one year to the next, this is an indication that further development of the building or property had occurred during that period.
City Building Plans
The City Building Plans ('Plan Books' or 'Plan Registers') are proposed building plans in Adelaide that were submitted to Council for approval, from 1881 until 1956. These Plan Registers provide information regarding the owner, the description of the building, location and acre number, who submitted the form, date of submission, and approval outcome. The later years include descriptions of the work (alterations to specific rooms, exterior alterations, additions, outbuildings, etc.,), the name of the builder, date of approval, contract price and building fees, and dates of completion.
For the years prior to 1881, any plans for alterations, additions, rebuilding, or new building works had to be passed by Council. As the Building Act did not exist until after 1881, these building works were documented in the Digest of Proceedings, which is held by the City Archives.
Baring, G. H. Progressive Adelaide as it stands today : a pictorial directory of its most attractive centres, including Glenelg, Brighton, Seacliff, Victor Harbour, Port Adelaide, Port Lincoln ... including Broken Hill, 1936.
Burden, Michael. Lost Adelaide : a photographic record, 1983.
Campbell, Lance and Bradley, Mick. City streets : progressive Adelaide 75 years on, 2016.
City of Adelaide Heritage Study. Items recommended for inclusion on a City of Adelaide heritage register, 1983.
Evans, Julie. North Terrace buildings : extracts from newspapers and other sources, 2000.
Fischer, Peter and Hannaford, Kay. Vintage Adelaide, 1989.
Lee, Adam and Whimpress, Bernard. Adelaide : then and now, 2008.
Marsden, S., Stark, P. and Summerling, P. (eds.). Heritage of the city of Adelaide : an illustrated guide, 1990.
Morgan, E. J. R. Victorian Adelaide : a guide to buildings remaining from the first fifty years, 1968.
Morgan, E. J. R. and Gilbert, S.H. Early Adelaide architecture 1836 to 1886, 1969.
Newnham, W. H. and McLeod, Jeanette. Old Adelaide hotels sketchbook, 1971.
Opie, E. A. D. South Australian records prior to 1841, 1917. Includes list of Grantees of Adelaide Town Acres, pages 27-43.
Todd, Alan. Adelaide, city of charm, 1997.
Whimpress, Bernard; Lee, Adam; Todd, Alan and Uhde, Michelle. Classic Adelaide and its environs, 2013.
There are several resources that will assist you in researching a previous landowner. To discover the name of the original landowner, try the following resources:
To find information about previous landowners, try searching their name in the following resources:
It is important to note that many of the original landowners never came to South Australia, so limited information will be found about these individuals outside of England.
Created by 2022 History Council of South Australia Fellow Dr Heidi Ing, this spreadsheet contains details of each Acre's first owners and some subsequent sale information. Its detail was sourced from State Records South Australia (GRG/GRS...) and Plan of the City of Adelaide... (Sherrah)
Once the site of the colony’s capital had been selected and surveyed, those who had pre-purchased land were able to select their Adelaide ‘Town Acres’ on 23 March 1837 with the remaining acres auctioned four days later on 27 March 1837.
Trove provides access to digitised newspaper in South Australia from 1836 until 1954.
Some of the information you can find through Trove includes:
For more information on using Trove, see their website for additional support. Access to newspapers after 1954 is available onsite at the State Library, as they are still in copyright.
Southern Cross Hotel, King William Street, design drawing, for Chambers and Blades (Acre 108) PRG 238/1/257/1 (Click for a large/zoomable version)
The State Library of South Australia holds some architectural drawings/plans of buildings and residences throughout Adelaide and South Australia. We have some archival record groups for South Australian architects and architectural firms, such as Woods Bagot Pty. Ltd. (BRG 18) and Jackman Gooden Architects (BRG 238). To access these records, search our catalogue and request to view the relevant material in the Somerville Reading Room. Some plans have been digitised over time, and can be accessed online through the Image Viewer Server.
For information about the history of architecture in South Australia, see our Architecture in South Australia library guide.
The SAILIS (South Australian Integrated Land and Information System) database can be used to search for copies of original land title documents. These Certificates of Title can provide the following:
For more information on using SAILIS, see our SAILIS Library Guide.