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.
Almanacs and directories can help provide information such as the names of owners/residents and the length of their ownership/residency, any changes over time to addresses or street names, and an approximation on when a building or residence was built by the first appearance of the address or building in the directory.
Our almanacs and directories are available onsite in our Family History collection, and digitised versions of some postal directories are available on Almanacs and Directories library guide.
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.
To search for these photos you can perform a keyword search of the acre of your choice (i.e. 'Acre 21').
Select 'Pictorial' from the drop down menu.
Browse list of relevant results and click link to view images.
Go to the Collections website.
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.
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 and plans of buildings and residences throughout Adelaide and South Australia. We also hold 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 you will need to 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 Collections website or through the Architecture in South Australia library guide linked below.
For information about the history of architecture in South Australia, and useful resources available within our collection and outside of our collection, have a look at our Architecture in South Australia library guide.
Plan of the City of Adelaide, W. Light, 1838. C 974 (Click for a larger/zoomable version)
There are several maps in the State Library of South Australia's collection that provide information on the location of the city acres, such as the boundaries of each acre, the city ward they are located in, the buildings and streets located in each acre, and some that provide information on the original landowners. Most of the maps included in the list below are available online through the State Library Collections Website 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.
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.
This map is based on an original 1837 plan surveyed and drawn by Colonel William Light, the first Surveyor-General for the Colony of South Australia.
C 974. Plan of the city of Adelaide, in South Australia : with acre allotments numbered, and a reference to the names of the original purchasers, 1838. View online.
Plan of the city of Adelaide reduced from the original plan of the Surveyor General, Wm. Light in 1837. Shows town acre numbers, includes North and South Adelaide. Details include Government House, Barracks, Hospital, Cemetery and Market, trees, river and parklands.
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)
Map of Adelaide as surveyed by G.S. Kingston showing buildings in the City (South Adelaide) and North Adelaide, with a number of references to the nature of the premises or owners. The map includes a key to construction materials, which indicate whether the building is of brick or stone, wooden, pise or lath and plaster and whether the building has a verandah or not.
Survey and plan of the city of Adelaide : prepared in connection with the drainage of the city and for information of the Land and Title Office, 1881.
This map includes names of buildings, and is widely known to as the ' Smith's Survey' after Charles W. Smith [City Engineer].
C 1031. Robt. S. Frearson's plan of the city of Adelaide : showing electric tram system, town lots, municipal wards and public buildings, 1880-1890. View online.
Map of north and south Adelaide showing Town Acres, named streets and parklands. Details include location of government buildings, some hotels, banks, sports grounds, rail and tramways. Index locates places of significance including churches. Wards are delineated. Printed in Adelaide.
Book plan of South Adelaide, 1880.
Plan of the southern part of Adelaide, South Australia, bordered by North, East, South and West Terraces. Shows details of city buildings constructed before 1880. Includes street names and town acre numbers.
C 112. Fire Insurance Maps, 1911-1914. View online.
A set of fire insurance maps surveyed and drawn 1911-1914, showing land use including building usage, some street numbers and business names in the City of Adelaide.
For more information about maps in our collection, please 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. There are several record groups that have been digitised and made available online, however, there are some resources that will need to be viewed onsite. The resources that have been listed below, can assist with searching for landowners, changes over time in street names and locations, and city building plans.
Rate Assessment Books
The City of Adelaide Assessment Books are records of rate assessments for properties located in the city, which were produced annually from 1847. These records are particularly useful when tracing the history of Adelaide properties and buildings, and can provide information about the age of a property, the use of the property, and the names of past owners and occupants. These Assessment Books can be accessed online through the City of Adelaide website, where they have been digitised from 1847 until 1998.
Each Assessment Book is 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.
Older Assessment Books will provide more detail about the overall property assessment, particularly information about the building located on the property. These older Assessment Books may include details such as the material of the building, 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).
Another detail that may provide information regarding the development or changes of a building over time, is the 'Rateable Value'. If the 'Rateable Value' on the assessment for a property significantly increases from one year to the next, this is an indication that further development of the building or the property had occurred during that time 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, for the years 1881 up until 1956. While these Plan Registers do not contain any form of design or drawing of the proposed plans, they do provide information regarding the owner, the description of the building, location and acre number, who the form was submitted by, the date it was submitted, and the result (approved or not approved). The later years provide more detail regarding these plans by including 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. The Digest of Proceedings is not available online, and can be viewed onsite at the City Archives.
A brief source guide for research of buildings and sites in the city of Adelaide, 1995.
A photographic guide to the architecture of Adelaide. No. 1. City Centre, 1983.
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.
The development of Adelaide, 1837-1963, 1963.
Whimpress, Bernard; Lee, Adam; Todd, Alan and Uhde, Michelle. Classic Adelaide and its environs, 2013.
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 names of previous landowners, the dates of landownership, the boundary of the property and size, acre location, transactions regarding the property, and the information of the previous or continuing land titles for that property (to allow you to trace backwards to older land titles, or forwards to more recent land titles).
It is easiest to search the database through an address search. If there is a particular building or property that you are interested in, the best place to start is by searching the address of that property.
You can find more detailed information and examples of how to search the SAILIS database on our SAILIS Library Guide.
Trove provides access to digitised newspaper in South Australia from 1836 until 1954. Not only are the newspapers on Trove digitised and available online, they can be searched using the search bar feature on the website. This allows for searching of an exact address or street name, the names of potential landowners, tenants, architects, or builders, and specific acre numbers. There are some useful features that allow you to filter your results by location and time period, to ensure that you are viewing newspapers from South Australia only within your given time period.
Some of the information you can find through Trove are:
Access to newspapers after 1954 is available onsite at the State Library. However, as the newspapers after 1954 are still in copyright, they are only available in microfilm format or print format.