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    Adelaide - Politics - New Parliament House

    Houses of Parliament

    (Taken from Geoffrey H. Manning's A Colonial Experience)


    South Australia has today a massive granite Parliament House but the first building, which housed the Legislative Council in the colony, was shabby and unpretentious. Built at a time when stray bullocks and horses strolled along North Terrace, it cost only £500. The history of the colony shows that in the early times pioneers worried little about the wonders of architecture. So long as a building was sufficient to house the business for which it was erected everyone was satisfied. Thus it was that Government House when first built was only a hut and in it the first legislative body conducted its business.

    There was no formal or pompous ceremony, although many of the documents handed down from the first years of the colony show that the writers invariably worded their thoughts in a stilted fashion. One interesting document is a draft order in council appointing the first legislative body. It established the members of the Legislative and Executive Council, as it was then called, as follows: The Governor, Chief Justice, Colonial Secretary, Advocate-General and the Resident Commissioner - the document is dated 3 February 1837.

    The task of the body appointed was to make ordinances for the colony and discuss executive matters concerning administration. However, after the colony became bankrupt in 1841, there came a change. The original act was amended and a Legislative Council was appointed on 15 June 1843. This council, like the former body, was wholly nominated and presided over by the governor. Outstanding dates of parliament have been: Legislative Council, wholly nominated, 1836 to 1851; partly nominated, 1851 to 1855 and 1855 to 1857; first parliament opened on 22 April 1857 by Sir Richard MacDonnell.

    The Legislative Council Chamber

    A start was made on the first Legislative Council chamber on 30 June 1843 and £200 was spent on the whole building. It was an insignificant structure, but at that time most of North Terrace was vacant land and stray horses and bullocks ambled to and fro along muddy unmade streets. But if the exterior of the building was neglected the inside was finished well. £205 was spent on furniture and a cedar writing table was installed at a cost of £15 while £40 was spent in other improvements and the whole appearance inside was worthy.

    The building did not stand long. On 2 August 1848 Captain Frome of the Royal Engineers complained about the daily blasting in a limestone quarry at the rear of the Council Chamber that was causing damage to the building's foundations. However, a start on a new chamber was not made until 1850 when Mr W. Bennett Hays was Colonial Architect. In 1854 more than £9,000 was expended on its erection and in the following year £8,000 was laid out. These were large sums of money for the infant colony, but in 1856 another £307 was granted followed by £2,200 in 1857.

    When in 1857 responsible government came into existence it was found that accommodation was cramped and, accordingly, a few alterations were made and both the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly were housed under the one roof. The chamber for the former body was situated on the ground floor at the rear and on a dais at the northern end stood the President's chair and by its side was a magnificent one for the governor.

    The chamber for the House of Assembly was on the upper floor in front of the building and although double in size to its counterpart it closely resembled the Council Chamber. On the same floor and opening from the same lobby was the parliamentary library. On the ground floor were staff rooms as well as accommodation for the clerks of both houses and dining, smoking and other rooms.

    On the eastern side of the building wa a vacant block on which excavations were made in the early 1880s for a new parliament house.

    The New Parliament House

    In 1874 a commission was appointed to discuss the site and plans for a new parliament house. A good deal of controversy followed the appointment and the community was divided into three sections, each of whom wanted the house put on a different site.

    One section urged that it be built west of Victoria Square, another that it be built in government house grounds to the west of the present Institute building, and still another held that the site east of the legislative council was the place for it.

    After a great deal of discussion, and after several more commissions had been appointed, it was finally decided to call for competitive designs for the new building in 1879. The plan of one competitor was accepted, but was not proceeded with and, despite opposition from certain sections of the House of Assembly, specifications were called for from the Government Architect early in 1883. The architect was Mr E.J. Woods and he drew up a plan for a most elaborate building - a line drawing of his 'dream building', showing a really magnificent structure surmounted by an imposing tower, is in possession of the South Australian Archive.

    Opposition to the proposed building continued but, strangely enough at that time, too, a centenary was made an excuse for expending money on a new parliament house - Sponsors of the scheme pointed out that the building would be a fitting memento of the Australian centenary which was to be celebrated in 1888.

    In a debate in parliament on 26 June 1883, the Hon. W.D. Glyde opposed the rebuilding plan: 'I would be very glad to see the new building rising like a fairy palace without costing anything, but as this cannot be thought of I think that the sanction of the constituencies should be obtained', he said. 'If these buildings are erected at a time when the country cannot afford it their virtue will become a very small quantity indeed.'

    But Mr Glyde's rhetoric was all too late. The government had already let a tender for the construction of the western wing of Mr Wood's design to the Kapunda Marble Company, the tender price being £102,000. The company put in the foundations and basement in what was described at the time as 'a satisfactory manner', but a dispute arose and the contract was cancelled. A tender by Shaw & Company to complete the work for £98,000 was accepted.

    Work proceeded apace and despite the setback the job was completed only three months after the expiration of the contract time - March 1889. The new building was opened on 5 June 1889 by the governor and his wife, the Earl and Countess of Kintore. About a thousand guests were invited, a band played, refreshments were served to the guests and the governor and his suite were shown over the houses.

    Apart from the invited guests very few people attended the opening and 'the curious crowd was conspicuous by its absence.' The new building was described as the acme of comfort and convenience and a speaker at the opening ceremony described it as 'a legislative palace for political representatives such as would have been undreamed of a few years previously by some of the hoary-headed pioneers who were present at the opening.'

    General Notes

    Also see South Australia - Politics.

    The New Houses of Parliament" is in the Observer,
    22 December 1855, page 6h.

    Electric clocks are discussed in the Register,
    7 February 1872, page 5a.

    Designs for proposed new parliament houses are discussed in the Register,
    11 May 1874, page 5d,
    Australasian Sketcher,
    5 September 1874, page 87 -
    for later developments see Chronicle,
    15 January 1876, page 10f,
    19 February 1877, page 5c,
    7 March 1877, page 5g,
    7 and 15 May 1877, pages 6b and 4d,
    21 May 1877, page 3b,
    14 June 1877, page 4g,
    4 and 5 July 1877, pages 4e and 4d,
    14 and 30 November 1877, pages 4d and 4f,
    8 February 1878, page 5d,
    11 June 1878, page 6e,
    4 July 1878, page 4e.
    A sketch of its interior is in Frearson's Weekly,
    15 June 1878, page 115.

    Reminiscences upon its erection are in the Observer,
    25 October 1924, page 19c.

    Also see Observer,
    5 July 1879, page 12f,
    30 October 1878, page 4f,
    1 and 2 July 1879, pages 4c and 4f,
    27 August 1879, page 6e,
    22 July 1880, pages 4e-5b,
    7 June 1881, page 7g,
    29 and 30 September 1881, pages 6c and 6d,
    7 October 1881, page 4d-g,
    5 August 1882, page 4g,
    8 August 1882, page 6e (this letter also contains interesting comments on Adelaide, etc),
    11 August 1882, page 4e,
    6 and 7 September 1882, pages 4e and 5g.

    Also see Register,
    10 February 1883, page 7f,
    27 April 1883, page 4d,
    30 May 1883, page 5b,
    19, 26 and 27 June 1883, pages 4d, 6a and 6e,
    7 July 1883, page 6f,
    29 May 1885, page 5c,
    28 July 1885, pages 5a-6h,
    10, 11, 21 and 26 August 1885, pages 7c, 7g, 5h-7g and 7g,
    3 and 23 September 1885, pages 7h and 4f,
    5, 22 and 30 October 1885, pages 7f, 4d and 7f,
    12 November 1885, page 5a,
    8 and 30 January 1886, pages 7e and 5b,
    6 February 1886, page 5c.

    Also see Register,
    20 April 1886, page 6g,
    21 May 1886, page 5b,
    19 October 1886, page 4h,
    17 August 1887, page 5b,
    14 November 1887, page 6b,
    18 September 1888, page 5b,
    17 January 1889, page 5b,
    16 March 1889, page 5h
    5, 6 and 7 June 1889, pages 6c, 4e-h and 5a,
    4 June 1891, page 5b (electric lighting),
    5, 6, 7, 8,
    4 and 6 June 1889, pages 3d and 3e,
    23 April 1890, page 7f (electric lighting),
    4 July 1896 (supplement),
    30 July 1912, page 9c and
    14 February 1913, pages 6c, 6f-8c, 6f, 7a and 10c.
    Sketches are in the Pictorial Australian in
    April 1889, pages 56-57,
    June 1889, pages 88-89.
    See South Australia - Politics.

    A photograph of Parliament House is in the Chronicle,
    2 February 1901, page 4 (supp.),
    3 December 1904, page 30.

    An obituary of F.C. Singleton, clerk of the Legislative Council, is in the Register,
    11 and 18 May 1887, pages 5a and 4e,
    of A.E. Wilby, Sergeant-in-Arms, on
    14 February 1894, page 6g,
    of George Chaplin, parliamentary messenger, on
    27 May 1912, page 7a.

    An obituary of John N. Hines, caterer and office-keeper is in the Observer,
    11 August 1906, page 38d,
    of E.G. Blackmore, clerk of parliament, on
    27 February 1909, page 41a,
    of George Chaplin, messenger, on
    1 June 1912, page 41a,
    of J.E. Wilmot, head messenger, on
    2 January 1915, page 42a,
    of W.W. Wilby, office clerk, on
    15 June 1918, page 20b,
    of J. Selth on
    5 October 1918, page 19a (also see
    12 February 1915, page 4g),
    of F. Halcomb, clerk of parliament, on
    25 October 1919, page 19d,
    of James Jarvis on
    14 February 1920, page 45b.

    Biographical details of H.E. Aplin, parliamentary messenger, are in the Register,
    25 April 1894, page 5b.

    "An Unfinished Building" is in the Register,
    3 August 1912, page 19e.

    Photographs of the opening of parliament are in The Critic,
    22 July 1914, page 15.

    Biographical details of Frederick Halcomb are in the Register,
    7 March 1918, page 5a,
    of J.C. Morphett and R.J.G. Freeborn on
    16 March 1918, page 9c.

    "Down Historic Corridors - Mr Halcomb's Retrospect" is in the Register,
    21 March 1918, page 7b.

    A history of Parliament buildings appears in the Register,
    18 and 22 October 1924, pages 15a and 13f; also see
    The News,
    21 February 1935, page 10g,
    21 November 1935, page 1b.

    An obituary of F.G. Hughes, messenger, is in the Register,
    3 November 1926, page 11d.

    An 1880s photograph of "the men who built parliament house" is in the Chronicle,
    10 April 1934, page 36.