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The Adelaide Club

Modelled on the gentlemen’s clubs that proliferated in London from the eighteenth century, the Adelaide Club resembles bodies established at about the same time in the capital cities of the other Australian colonies.

By October 1864, 120 members had been admitted without election. Virtually all were leaders in the colony, such as George Fife and John Howard Angas, Henry Ayers, Robert Barr Smith, Thomas Elder, James Hurtle Fisher, Walter Watson Hughes and George Mayo.

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The premises

The Adelaide Club building is in the Italian Regency style, with a three arched Porch perhaps a later addition. The first work done in 1863—the year of the foundation of the Adelaide Club—was the excavation of the basement and the digging of a well; the contractors for this were English & Brown. The building, which is of Dry Creek stone with brick quoins and window-surrounds, was finished by December 1864, the architect being E. A. Hamilton and the builder William Lines. The total cost was 7,305 pounds.

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Private Dining

By far the largest group were pastoralists, followed by businessmen, with lawyers and government officials also prominent. Many who joined served in the legislature, including six past, present or future premiers.

There were large additions to the rear of the building in 1891. The only alterations since have been made to the north front have been the reduction in length of the balcony, which originally extended across it, and the painting of the brick work. The Club has been continuously resident in this building since then.

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Only one or two Jews and Catholics

The majority of members were Anglicans, a few Presbyterian or Nonconformist, with one or two Roman Catholics and Jews. The Club adopted the Grass Tree as its crest, purchased land on North Terrace opposite Government House, and moved into premises designed by a foundation member, Edward Angus Hamilton, in 1864.

By July 1865 membership had reached 125 and in 1920 was 288. This membership reflected the colony’s economy; pastoralists were dominant until World War I, when an increasing number of manufacturers, warehousemen, newspaper proprietors and later businessmen joined them. Numbers steadily grew and in 2001 the Club has some 900 members, some the fifth or even sixth generation of their families to belong. There are also many who have made or are currently making a significant contribution to the state.

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Dining for Members and their Guests

Thus there has never been a rival club in Adelaide, reflecting the unity of South Australia’s elite. For many years a perception has persisted that the Adelaide Club is not only the upholder of Victorian values and traditions but that it is also the real source of power in the state.

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The exclusive club for South Australia’s elite white males

This (edited) entry was first published in The Wakefield companion to South Australian History edited by Wilfrid Prest, Kerrie Round and Carol Fort (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2001). Edited lightly. Uploaded 25 August 2015.

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My betting is that the early membership ledgers contained the likes of a Cleland and a Leane – but never a Moss or a Strapps.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. A week later I walk past (The Adelaide Club) again and see a lovely, well dressed old couple leaving writes Sophie Perri of The Advertiser in June 2014, I ask the man how long he’s been a member. “Since 1951,” he says. “The trick is to join before you make any enemies,”

    March 16, 2019
  2. gordon1552 #

    Matter of interest, many of the members of the Club in the 40s and later were ex military and of the rank of Colonel and above. As you might imagine the head of the South Australian RSL was a member I understand as was the Commissioner of Police and a few well known surgeons.

    March 19, 2019

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