Historic city hotel records

Adelaide has long been referred to as the City of Churches, but its occupants weren't exactly teetotallers, with a multitude of hotels across the city and North Adelaide. 

This guide has been prepared by the knowledgeable staff at the City Archives office to assist researchers working on the history of hotels within the area. It shows the main series of records which may be of use to researchers however it should be noted that this guide is not exhaustive. There may well be other records, accessioned and unaccessioned, held in Archives which contain relevant information.

The Building Application Plans may be of major interest to anyone researching the history of the city's hotels.

Before 1882 the inspection of all new buildings was performed by the City Surveyor under By Law No. 26 (1863). No plans were required to be approved by Council prior to the construction work taking place.

Following the passage of the Building Act in 1881, Council was required to approve plans of building work in the city but did not have to keep a copy of them. The building plans were submitted to Council and then returned to the owner.

The registers of city building plans submitted for approval during the period 1881 to 1924 can be accessed below. 

Plan Register - plans submitted to the Local Board of Health 1903 - 1915 [Building Act] (PDF)

Plan Register - plans submitted to the Local Board of Health 1915 - 1925 [Building Act] (PDF)

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. Building Surveyor’s Department (Cl1) Register of Plans Submitted to Council and Local Board of Health 1882 -1923 Record Series S .

In 1924 a new Building Act mandated that Council had to keep copies of plans of building work in the city, including alterations and additions, submitted for approval. This included applications construct or change hotels.

The majority of these plans still exist, with those that are missing primarily from the early years. Apart from plans and specifications of new building work, the series also contains plans of alterations and additions to existing buildings and of demolition work.

The Building Application Plans for 1924 to 1956 can be researched via the list below.

Plan Register - Plans Submitted to the Building Surveyor 1924-36 (PDF)

Plan Register - Plans Submitted to the Building Surveyor 1936-56 (PDF)

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. Building Application Plans, 1924 - . Department of Building Surveying (Cll) Record Series Sl7.

Please note: Access to plans of hotels which are still standing can only be granted once the consent of the owner of the building has been obtained.

A Building Surveyor was first appointed by the Council in 1883, to check designs and drawing for building work and to carry out inspections at building construction sites. It was also part of his duties to ensure that public buildings such as hotels, had adequate means of ventilation and fire escape.

The fortnightly reports of the Building Surveyor are held among the Town Clerk's Department Dockets and may be located using the appropriate Indexes and Registers.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. Town Clerk's Department (Cl5) Town Clerk's Dockets. Record Series S3.

From 1901, the Building Surveyor's Annual Report was printed and included as part of the Council’s Annual Report. It contained references to major building work in the city together with a list of those buildings which had been demolished during the municipal year. Copies of the Annual Reports are available for viewing in the Reference and Guide Room.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. Town Clerk's Department (Cl5) Annual Reports, 1901-67. Record Series S21.

There are six volumes known as Plans of Acres Books which appear to have been created about 1865-68 by the City Valuer for the purpose of rate assessment.

They show the layout and dimension of properties and the names of occupiers on each Part Town Acre within the city, and generally include the names of public buildings and some hotels. There is one book for each Ward of the city and one page for each Town Acre.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. City Treasurer's Department (C5) "Plans of Acres" Books. Record Series S36.

Another useful series of records created by the City Valuer are the City Valuers Plans 1924-36, which contain some detailed plans of several city hotels (namely the Buck's Head, Exchange, John Bull, Thistle, Southern Cross, Sturt Arcade, Aurora, and Star and Garter Hotels).

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. City Treasurer's Department (C5) City Valuer's Plans 1924-36. Record Series S, Accession 168.

Please note: The City Valuer’s Plans will need to be requested and retrieved by the Archives team and made available to look at in the Search Room. You can do this by phone, email or by completing a records request form at the Archives Office.

The Digest of Proceedings date from the municipal year 1871 to 72 and are records of the business of the City Council. They contain minutes of Council and Local Board of Health meetings, as well as reports of the various Committees of Council.

From the 1880s they also provide references to the Town Clerk's Department Docket and File numbers relating to matters dealt with by Council, which included the city’s many hotels.

The Digests are printed and bound and indexed from 1891 by subject and Town Acre numbers. Indexes for earlier volumes (1871-80) have been prepared by Archives staff, while some original handwritten indexes also exist for some years before 1891.

The Town Acre index can be particularly helpful when researching the history of buildings in the city, as it can be used to identify the use of buildings and any significant alterations made to them over the years, as well as any Council orders which may have been served on their owners (usually for breaches of the sanitary regulations).

The Digests may be examined in the Reference and Guide Room at the Archives.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. Town Clerk's. Department (Cl5) Digest of Proceedings, 1871- Record Series S35

The Reports of the Inspectors of Nuisances, which date from 1849, are a valuable source of information about Adelaide's early hotels. It was the Inspectors' role "to perambulate the city from daylight to dark to take notice of any nuisance existing upon premises which are or may prove detrimental to the health of the citizens". Not surprisingly, the many inns and taverns which dotted the city during its early years were a constant source of complaint and accordingly were subjected to intense scrutiny by the Inspectors.

The Inspectors of Nuisances were required to submit fortnightly reports in writing to the Town Clerk specifying the nature of nuisances and the measures taken towards their abatement. Many of these reports have survived and are among the earliest records of the Corporation held by Archives.

A typescript guide to these early records has been prepared as a separate finding aid and can be viewed on our website index to the Earliest Corporation records.

A hardcopy of this guide is also available in the Reference and Guide Room. Requests to examine selected items may be made on the appropriate form.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. Inspector of Nuisances' Reports 1849-c.1866. Earliest Corporation Records. Record Series S .

During the 1860s, the Inspector of Nuisances became known as the Sanitary Inspectors and later, around the turn of the century, as Health Inspectors.

These officers were responsible for enforcing the provisions of the Public Health Acts (1872 and 1898) and any related Council By-Laws and Regulations. They also administered parts of the Common Lodging House Act (1881), the Sale of Food and Drugs Act (1882), and the Places of Public Entertainment Act (1882), all of which had implications for the way in which hotels were managed.

The Inspectors reports can therefore throw much light on the social and sanitary conditions of many of Adelaide's hotels. The reports are part of the main series of Town Clerk's Department Dockets and may be identified through the related controlling Indexes and Registers.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. Town Clerk s Department (Cl5) Town Clerk s Dockets. Record Series S3.

Other records created and maintained by the Inspectors which may contain relevant information include a Nuisance Complaint Book, 1854-84 (Accession 620) and Notices of Abatement of Nuisances, 1881-85 (Accession 622).

There are five main photo collections held by the City of Adelaide Archives that may be searched to locate images of the city’s hotels, either still standing and long gone.

  • The Historical Picture Collection, featuring about 1800 images, gathered together by the former Commercial Department during the 1970s. Accession 5531
  • The Lantern Slide Collection, containing several hundred glass lantern slides originally assembled by Town Clerk AJ Morison in the 1920s and 30s, showing views of Adelaide c1845 - 1930. Accessions 573, 5738, 4348, 4351
  • The Commercial Department Photographic Collection, consisting of around 3,000 images created by the Council’s Commercial Department, and which focuses mainly on images of city’s streets, buildings, parks and gardens, civic events, personalities and developments from the 1950s to 1970s. Accession 3554
  • The Town Clerk’s Department Photograph Albums (23 volumes), containing an array of images of the city and the Council from around 1900 to 1970. Accession 1258
  • The City Engineer’s Department Photographic Albums, containing a collection of engineering photos of works carried out on the City’s streets and squares 1940s – 1960s, and which often show nearby hotels in the background. Accession 3261

With the exception of the Town Clerk’s and City Engineer’s Albums, many of the early photographs are available to view online on the Archives Photo Library. Many of the images have been digitised in partnership with the Adelaide City library and funded by the Keith Sheridan bequest.

To view the archives' photos, go to the Archives Image Library and click on the ‘New Search’ tab in the upper left-hand corner.

You can also view more fascinating images of the city as it once was on the City of Adelaide Flickr page.

The City of Adelaide Rate Assessment Books were produced annually from 1847. They were prepared for the purpose of assessing and levying the annual municipal property rate.

Each book shows the name of the owner, occupier, and agent of a property, its location, nature and the annual assessed value and rates paid. They are arranged by Wards and generally follow Town Acre number order within each Ward.

Originally in handwritten form, these records were later typewritten from the 1890s. One large volume exists for each year for the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, before they moved to computerised printout in the late 1990s.

The Assessment Books can be used to find out the year of construction of a hotel, as well as the names of its owners and licensees, and how long it existed on a particular site. Unfortunately, they do not always show the name of the hotel.

In order to preserve the original records, the Assessment Books were microfilmed by the Archives during the 1980s, then later digitised. Some of the digitised books (1847 to 1870) are now available on the City Archives website, the remainder can be researched on the Archives Search Room computers (these are being progressively added to the website over time).

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. (C40) Assessment Books 1847-Corporation of the City of Adelaide Record Series S34.

The Register of Hotels 1941-1963 lists the city's hotels in alphabetical order, showing:

  • the name of the hotel
  • the occupier
  • its Part Town Acre location
  • assessed annual value. 

It also contains some reference numbers for related Town Clerk's Department and City Engineer's Department Dockets where additional information may be found.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. City Treasurer's Department (CS) Register of Hotels [Book]. Record Series S , Accession 1870 Item0001

The Smith Survey was a detailed trigonometrical survey of the city of Adelaide carried out by the City Engineer, Charles William Smith during 1879-80, in preparation for the installation of a general system of deep drainage for the city.

The Adelaide City Survey, to give its full official title, comprises some 126 large format maps each of 10 acre blocks, divided into South and North Adelaide. The maps were presented on a scale of 40 feet to the inch.

These maps can be helpful to researchers as they show the location and general site layout of all buildings which existed in the city at that time. The names of many prominent public buildings - including the hotels - are shown, together with their overall dimensions, and other features such as balconies and outbuildings.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. City Engineer's Department (Cl6) City of Adelaide Survey Plans 1880. Record Series S , Accession 1619.

In addition to the survey maps, the Archives also holds the Adelaide City Survey Field Books that were used by Smith and his assistants to assemble the data that was used to produce the plans.
There are 23 volumes of these, filled with mostly pencilled drawings, notes and calculations. Each volume deals with a particular part of the City being surveyed, with one page of a book covering one Town Acre.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. City Engineer's Department (Cl6) City of Adelaide Survey Plans 1880. Record Series S , Accession 5913.

The Field Books can be searched using the a separate Index volume which shows which volume details of a particular Town Acre can be found in, along with the page number and the number of the survey sheet.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. City Engineer's Department (Cl6) City of Adelaide Survey Plans 1880. Record Series S , Accession 5914 Item 0001.

A copy of the complete Smith Survey, including all 23 Field Books, is available for viewing in the City Archives Reference and Guide Room and on the Smith Survey Reference Guide.

There are miscellaneous records relating to Council-owned hotels to be found within the City Archives. 

From 1869 to 1953 the Prince Alfred Hotel, which adjoined the Town Hall building in King William Street (Town Acre 203), was leased by the Council. The Archives holds records relating to its original construction, leasing and eventual transformation into Council offices.

Similarly, there are records relating to the Council’s interest in the Langham Hotel, which was erected in 1880 next to the City Market in Gouger Street (Town Acre 379) and which was demolished in 1968.

In addition to the Building Application Plans, there is a separate series of plans of buildings within the city which since 1924 have been demolished. This includes plans of some hotels which are no longer standing. (Accessions 1829 and 2630).

An alphabetical list of hotels in the city for 1923 appears at the end of Town Clerk’s Department Special File 71B. This source seems to have originally been compiled as a mailing list intended to promote the opening of the new municipal Golf Links and shows the hotels proprietors names and addresses.

Need more information?

For more information about historic hotel records or City of Adelaide Archives, please contact one of the friendly staff.
We are open for counter/telephone enquiries 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday and our search room is open for public research 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Tuesday to Thursday.

08 8203 7439

City of Adelaide Archives, GPO Box 2252, Adelaide SA 5001