Ayers House, the last surviving private mansion on North Terrace, began its life as a much smaller home. The first section was built in 1846 for William Paxton, an Adelaide chemist. In 1855 it was purchased by Sir Henry Ayers, a prominent South Australian parliamentarian. He enlarged the structure by building around what was then known as Paxton’s cottage. In 1859 Sir Henry added the Ballroom (the east wing) and in 1874 the Dining Room (the west wing) to provide accommodation for entertainment.
Both these rooms have large bay windows with rounded louvres in wooden rounded shutters and hand painted ceilings. Hand painted solid cedar sliding doors also give access to all main rooms, while the main entrance doors are of solid English oak.
In 1874 the two-storeyed bedroom section at the rear of Ayers House was also added. Sir Henry lived in Ayers House until his death in 1897.
In 1914 the property was purchased by a syndicate and became known as Austral Gardens, which included an open-air theatre and a dance hall. Then for a time it was used to accommodate nurses from the Royal Adelaide Hospital. In 1972-73 the Dunstan Government approved substantial restoration work. The National Trust of South Australia undertook the furnishing of the main front rooms in period style and commenced the operation of a public museum. For a time, the National Trust was also head-quartered at Ayers House.
Current status and listings
From 1855 to 1897 Ayers House was the family home of notable South Australian colonist Sir Henry Ayers (seven times Premier of South Australia and President of the Legislative Council for 13 years). The house has special associations with both his business and political career and signifies his wealth and status in the social structure of South Australia during that time.It is a grand nineteenth century residential building representative of the domestic lives and accoutrements of the very wealthy in Victorian Adelaide. It is also a reminder of a time when North Terrace was one of Adelaide’s premier residential addresses. Constructed in stages between c 1848 and 1876 the house was progressively enlarged and embellished by Ayers with the final stages being completed to the design of architect G S Kingston in 1875-76.
The internal paint finishes of Ayers House demonstrate a high degree of creative aesthetic and technical accomplishment and are of significance as a likely example of the work of decorating firm Lyon Cottier Ltd which had offices in London Scotland New York and Sydney. The extensive stencilled and hand finished decoration in Ayers House is probably the work of their employee Scotsman Charles Gow. Ayers House is one of the few South Australian houses to retain such excellent design and workmanship in internal painted decoration.
1859- East Wing - Ballroom (East Wing) added by Henry Ayers.
1874- West Wing - Dining Room (West Wing) added by Henry Ayers.