Records relating to the supply and sale of food within the city

The supply and sale of food within the City of Adelaide is a fundamental business activity that has existed since the first settlers arrived in 1836. It has also been one that the City’s authorities have been responsible for regulating to ensure standards of public health and sanitation are maintained, weights and measures used in markets and other public food outlets are properly applied, and any municipal by-laws relating to street trading practices are consistently adhered to.

The City Archives holds a range of records relating to the regulation and inspection of shops, restaurants, markets and other outlets for the sale of food to the inhabitants of Adelaide. It also holds some useful published sources which help illuminate the scale of the activity.

The following published works include relevant historical information about the records relating to the supply and sale of food within the city:

  • Dickey, Brian (ed), William Shakespeare's Adelaide 1860 - 1930 (Adelaide, 1992)
  • Thompson, Daryl and Smith, James Traces, Where Adelaide Ate Out 1836 - 1960 (Mitcham, 2015)

Note: In addition to the records identified above, the City Archives also holds documents, plans and photographs relating the Adelaide Central Market which the City Council established in 1869, and which has been continuously managed and operated by the Council since then. The volume of material held by the Archives relating to the Market, its buildings, stallholders and tenancies, is such as to warrant a separate Reference Guide for this important Adelaide landmark.

The Town Clerk’s Dockets were the Corporation’s central administrative correspondence series of records. They are organised in an annual single number format and contain items of incoming correspondence together with copies of outgoing letters, reports to Council, Committee Minutes and newspaper clippings relevant to a particular subject.

To find information there are annual registers and nominal indexes available that can be used to identify relevant dockets, and so too can the annual Digests of Proceedings which contain references to Dockets that relate to subjects dealt with by the various Committees of Council.

The Index to Town Clerk's Letter Received is a series of annual volumes that can be used to identify and follow correspondence relating to this subject

These volumes date from 1865, and provide references to items of incoming correspondence which were received by the Town Clerk s Office. Each volume consists of an alphabetical name index which identifies the number of the Town Clerk's Docket on which the correspondence was attached.

The "docket system" originally required that every item of incoming correspondence was allocated a separate numbered docket cover in a continuous series commencing from docket number one at the beginning of each year. Over time the Town Clerks Dockets became more subject oriented and included copies of replies, extracts from Council Minutes, newspaper clippings and other papers relating to the particular subject.

The Index can be used to find letters which were sent to the City Council about a wide range of matters to do with the supply and sale of food. This may have included material relating to complaints about public nuisances, appeals against fines imposed by the Corporation or the activities of Corporation officers, applications for various licences or permits, applications for stall tenancies at the City Market, enquiries about Council By-laws, policies and practices, memorials calling on the Council to take action on various matters, and (from 1881) applications seeking approvals to undertake building work within the City.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. Town Clerk's Department (Cl5) Index of Town Clerk's Letters Received (S) Accession 4183.

These annual volumes date from the municipal year 1871 - 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 late 1880s they also provide references to Town Clerk's Department Dockets and from about 1905 to Special Files relating to matters of substance dealt with by the Council (see below).

The Digests were printed and bound, and from 1891 were indexed by subject and Town Acre number. 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 Digests may be used to research particular subjects. Lists of owners of certain types of businesses which were required to be periodically licensed by the Council were also printed in the Digests, such as restaurants, street hawkers, coffee stalls and slaughterhouses. It is also possible to identify the date of erection or alteration of properties within the City, and when notices were served by the Council on occupiers of properties which were considered to be insanitary, dilapidated or unfit for human habitation.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. Town Clerk's Department (Cl5) Digest of Proceedings (S35).

These can be used to find the location of premises associated with the sale or preparation of food. Hotels, restaurants, shops, cafes, markets and slaughterhouses can be identified along with the names of their owners.

The Assessment Books were rate records of City properties which were produced annually from 1847, although the volumes before 1849 only deal with that area of the City bounded by North, West and East Terraces, and north of Grote and Wakefield Streets. The series may have originated earlier, as the Council Minute Book of 1841 mentions that "a form of Rate Book was produced by the Town Surveyor", however the whereabouts of this record has not yet been discovered.

Each Assessment Book was divided into Wards, with the assessment of properties generally proceeding by ascending Town Acre number within each Ward. Besides an annual assessment number, and the Town Acre number location, each entry provides details of the names of the owner, occupier and agent (executor) of a property, the name of the street in which it was situated, and a description of the type of building or the size of the landholding, together with its annual assessed value and the rates payable. Originally in handwritten form, these records were later typewritten from about the turn of the century. The earliest Books contained the most detailed descriptions of properties, often indicating the number of rooms in a building and the types of building materials used, whereas those after about the mid-1850s are generally confined to one word descriptions of the property.

The Assessment Books can be used to determine the location and longevity of occupancy, or ownership of a property, its exact location within the City and its annual value. They can also indicate when significant alterations and additions were made to a building, or when a new building was erected on a particular site.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. City Treasurer’s Department (C5) Assessment Books (S34).

The Smith Survey can be used to see exactly where a particular property was located within the City. It was a detailed trigonometrical survey of the City of Adelaide carried out by the City Engineer, Charles Smith, during 1878 - 80, in preparation for the installation of a general system of deep drainage. The Survey comprises some 126 large format maps each of 10-acre blocks, which show the precise location and layout of every building which existed in the City at this time. The names of many prominent public buildings, including the City's numerous hotels, are shown, together with their overall dimensions and other features such as balconies and outbuildings.

The Smith Survey may be viewed in the Search Room, and copies of individual sheets can be made for researchers. It is sometimes helpful to compare the outline of a building shown in the Smith Survey with that depicted in the most recent collection of City of Adelaide Building Maps to determine whether or not it is the same building (copies of these maps, which were prepared by the Department of Planning and Development, are held by the Archives).

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. City Engineer/s Department (Cl6) City of Adelaide Survey Plan 1880 Accession 1619.

These volumes date from 1867 - 1955, although there are some gaps. They list a wide range of licences which were issued by the Council to individuals involved in various types of activities which were regulated by the Council. The following categories are represented in the Licence Registers:-

  • public amusements and places of entertainment
  • weighbridges
  • restaurants
  • coffee stalls
  • kerosene stores
  • slaughter houses
  • hide and skin stores
  • stables
  • marine store dealers
  • milk sellers
  • cow keepers
  • ice-cream vendors
  • street hawker
  • slaughter men

The Licence Registers show the name of the licensee, and usually an address, the location of his business premises or stand, the date of licence application, the number of the licence and fee paid. Sometimes it is possible to locate the original application and other correspondence by referring to the Index of Town Clerk's Letters Received mentioned above, once a name and date have been identified in the Licence Register.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. City Inspector's Department (C54) Registers of Licences Accessions 671 and 1875.

The Town Clerk's Special Files were created for matters of major importance which required ongoing administrative attention. They were usually made up initially of Town Clerk's Dockets but also often contained reports, correspondence, memoranda, newspaper clippings and extracts from Council and Committee Minutes relating to the particular subject.

The Series dates from about 1905 - 76, and consists of almost 700 separate file titles, most of which comprise multiple parts. File subjects may be identified from the references in the Town Clerk/s Digest of Proceedings, and from a separate alphabetical Index and numerical Register of Special Files.

A vast array of subjects is dealt with in the Special Files. Of most relevance here are those Files which are concerned with applications from individuals for licences and permits to enable them to perform various types of commercial activities. Examples of these are:

  • Special File No. 27 Street Hawkers
  • Special File No. 69 Applications for Restaurant Licences
  • Special File No. 70 Applications for Stable Licences
  • Special File No. 201 Fruit Barrows
  • Special File No. 466 Restaurant and Fish Shop Licences

There are also several Special Files relating to stall tenancies at the Central Market and other forms of food outlets within the City, for example:

  • Special File No. 16 Elder Park Kiosk
  • Special File No. 55 Adelaide Fruit and Produce Exchange
  • Special File No. 76 City Market Returns
  • Special File No. 98 Health Orders Outstanding 
  • Special File No. 106 City Market Tenancies
  • Special File No. 108 Tenancies, North Adelaide Shops 
  • Special File No. 157 Butchers/Stalls, City Market 
  • Special File No. 282 Fish Market
  • Special File No. 323 City Market Accommodation 
  • Special File No. 405 Meals on Wheels
  • Special File No. 418 Development of City Market 
  • Special File No. 666 Corporation Kiosks

Adelaide City Archives.Town Clerk's Department (Cl5) Town Clerk's Special Files (S4).

There are several individual accessions of records relating to stall tenancies at the City Market, 1884 to 1956, which were maintained by the City Treasurer/s Department. These were:-

  • Accession 2223 Stall Applications, 1927-40.
  • Accession 2224 Stall Tenancies, 1884-1943.
  • Accession 2227 Fees and Rents, 1921-56.
  • Accession 2228 Record of Activities, 1925-50.
  • Accession 2229 Stall Fees, 1932-62.
  • Accession 29 Item 15 Papers re Fish Market, 1911-47.

Records held by the Adelaide City Archives show that the old City Slaughterhouse was situated on the north west Park Lands to the west of the Adelaide Gaol between the River Torrens and the Port Road, on the site of the present-day Bonython Park.

A substantial two-storey stone building, which had originally been erected by the Government as a barracks for soldiers, it had been adapted for use as a slaughterhouse and transferred by Governor Gawler in 1840 to the control of the newly-formed Adelaide Corporation which extended it at a cost of £853 [see Thomas Worsnop, History of the City of Adelaide (J. Williams, Adelaide, 1878) p.26].

Cattle sale yards had been established adjacent to the Slaughterhouse in 1840, with a Sheep and Cattle Market being erected in 1864 on North Terrace West opposite where the Newmarket Hotel now stands. In 1878 a new Cattle Market was established to the south of the Slaughterhouse on the western side of the road leading from the Foresters and Squatters Arms Hotel to the Slaughterhouse.

The precise location of these structures can be seen on a Survey Plan of the Park Lands prepared by the City Engineer, Charles Smith in 1880 [Reference: Adelaide City Archives. City Engineer’s Department (Cl6) Smith Survey Plans - Park Lands Street No. 2 Accession 3237]. The City Slaughterhouse and the Sheep and Cattle Markets were closed down in 1913 and later demolished after the transfer of all slaughtering activities to the new Metropolitan Abattoirs and Stock Markets at Gepps Cross.

Slaughterhouse Records

There are a number of record items which relate specifically to the activities of the City Slaughterhouse. These are:

  • Accession 642 Volume 1 Record of Cattle killed at the City Slaughterhouse, 1853-1854.
  • Accession 703 Volume 2 Returns of Stock slaughtered and Fees Received, 1853-1855.
  • Accession 1624 Volume 1 Catalogue of Sale of Corporation Stock Markets, Slaughterhouse Fittings, etc.,1913.
  • Accession 2118 Volume 1 City Slaughterhouse Register of Slaughtermen, 1904-1912.

Records of the Metropolitan Abattoirs Board

These date from 1909-36 and consist mainly of copies of the Board‘s Annual Reports together with a short illustrated booklet commemorating the opening of Adelaide’s new Metropolitan Abattoirs and Stock Markets at Gepps Cross in 1913.

Unfortunately, the working records of the Metropolitan Abattoirs Board, including the Board/s minutes and correspondence, cannot be traced. They are not held by the City Council Archives, nor by State Records. Enquiries at the South Australian Meat Corporation offices at Gepps Cross have not succeeded in locating these records, suggesting that they may have been destroyed.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. Metropolitan Abattoirs Board (C81) Publications Accession 1171.

Earliest Corporation Records

Records relating to the City Slaughterhouse and the regulation of private slaughterhouses include:-

  • Reports of the Inspector of Slaughterhouses, 1852-66 (see below for details).
  • Specifications for Work at the City Slaughterhouse, 1852, 1855, 1859.
  • Reports of the Committee of Markets and Slaughterhouses, 1853-56.
  • Report of the Town Clerk re Contract for Killing at the City Slaughterhouse, 1853.
  • Tender for Stockyards and other Works at the City Slaughterhouse, 1854, 1864.
  • Application for Inspector of Slaughterhouses, 1855.
  • Correspondence of the Superintendent of the City Slaughterhouse, 1860.
  • Applications for Renewal of Slaughterhouse Licences, 1862-64. Slaughtering Returns, 1862-63.
  • Statement of Duties of Inspector of Slaughterhouses, 1865.

Reference: Adelaide City Archives. Earliest Corporation Records. Unaccessioned Records.

T.G. Ellerys Pamphlets

Torrington George Ellery (1872-1923) was Town Clerk of Adelaide from 1899 to 1915, during which time he successfully promoted the establishment of the new Metropolitan Abattoirs (he was the first Secretary of the Metropolitan Abattoirs Board). As part of his campaign to centralise all slaughtering activities under municipal control, he had printed two small pamphlets which provide a very detailed insight into the operation of Adelaide's slaughtering industry at the turn of the Century. The pamphlets were entitled Evidence re Abattoirs Taken by the Special Committee of the City Council Appointed 19th June, 1899 (ACC, 1899) and Public Abattoirs for Adelaide (ACC, 1903). Copies of these publications are held by the City Archives and should also be available at the State Library of South Australia.

Pictorial Material

The Archives holds contact prints of the City Slaughterhouse (HP1442) and the Sheep and Cattle Markets (HP1439-1447), copies of which may be made available provided certain reproduction fees and conditions are met.

An early sketch of the City Slaughterhouse appears on page 79 of Alison Carroll and John Tregenza, Eugene van Guerard’s South Australia (Art Gallery of S.A., Adelaide 1986) - a panorama view of Adelaide looking east from the Port Road showing the two storey City Slaughterhouse in the foreground, dated July 1855. Copies of this work are held by the Art Gallery of South Australia and the State Library of South Australia.

As part of its responsibilities, the City Council administers a number of Acts and By Laws concerned with the maintenance of proper standards of health and hygiene within the City.

Health Inspectors’ Reports

Under the provisions of the Public Health Act 1873, and the Sale of Food and Drugs Act, 1882, the Corporation/s health inspectors were required to regularly visit shops, restaurants and markets in the City to ensure proper standards of sanitation were being adhered to. Each inspector reported his findings to the Medical Officer of Health, who in turn reported to the Local Board of Health which, where necessary, issued health orders for insanitary premises to be cleansed or unhygienic practices to be discontinued.

The health inspectors reports are held by the Archives from the 1860s (and prior to that the reports of the Inspector of Nuisances) and may be accessed via the Town Clerk/s Docket Index, Accession 4183 (see above).

The Archives also holds copies of the various Council By-Laws which the health inspectors were required to enforce, including some of the earliest original handwritten By Laws from the 1850s.

Council By Laws administered by the Local Board of Health Original Series c.1852-1906

By Law No. 2

To Prevent the Improper Exposure of Goods for Sale

By Law No. 4

Rules and Regulations to be observed at the Slaughterhouses Established or Licensed by the Council

By Law No. 16

To Regulate and Restrict Noisome and Offensive Traders within the City

By Law No. 33

For Regulating the Quality of Butchers/ Meat offered for Sale

By Law No. 51

For the Regulation and Good Government of the City Market.

In 1906 a new revised and consolidated series of By Laws were introduced.

The City Analyst’s Records

On 5th March, 1883, Andrew Thomas F.C.S. was appointed City Analyst to carry out analyses of food and milk supplies in his laboratory in Gresham Street. The Council paid Thomas an amount of £1.15.0d. for every analysis and report and 10s.6d. for each attendance at the Police Court in municipal prosecutions (usually against dishonest milk vendors).

The City Archives holds reports, certificates of analyses and other correspondence received from the City Analyst between 1883 and 1909. These form part of the Town Clerk's Dockets Series, and may be accessed using the Docket Indexes (Accession 4183) mentioned earlier.

Records relating to the City’s Milk Supplies

Following the passage of new Public Health Act in 1898, the Adelaide City Council joined with the surrounding suburban Corporations to create a Metropolitan Dairies Board and a Metropolitan Abattoirs Board.

In September 1990, John Malcolm Morris, M.R.C.V.S. was appointed Inspector of Dairies and Dairy Cattle to carry out bacteriological and chemical testing of samples of milk at a small laboratory which was established at the Adelaide Town Hall. From 1907 an Assistant was employed at the laboratory to enable the Inspector to spend more time in the field inspecting dairies and carrying out tuberculosis tests of cattle.

The City Archives holds the monthly and annual reports of the Dairy Inspector together with the Minutes and Letterbook of the Metropolitan Dairies Board (Accessions 631 and 632) from 1899 to 1909, when this function was transferred to the State Government.

With the establishment by the City and suburban Councils in 1913 of a metropolitan public abattoirs service, another well-appointed laboratory came into being. Situated in the main administrative block of the municipal abattoirs at Gepps Cross, the "Scientific Laboratory and Pathological Room" was supervised by the Metropolitan Abattoirs Board's Chief Veterinary Surgeon and Head of the Inspectorial Staff, T.A. Burrage B.V.Sc., G.M.V.C., whose prime responsibility was the detection of diseased livestock and examination of slaughtered carcasses.

The City Archives holds annual reports and returns of the Abattoirs Board (Accession 1771) from 1909 to 1933, when control of Adelaide's abattoirs was transferred from the municipalities to the State Government.

Records relating to the City’s Meat Supplies

Prior to the establishment of a centralised municipal abattoirs service, the slaughtering of meat had been carried out by the Council at the City Slaughterhouse (see above) and at numerous private slaughterhouses which dotted the City from 1852 to 1913, when they were all closed down and their function transferred to Gepps Cross.

The Council regulated the activities of these private slaughterhouses, and the City Archives holds the reports of the early Inspector of Slaughterhouses and later the Health Inspectors who supervised these premises.

Records relating to Street Hawkers

Historically, street traders' licences were administered under the provisions of the Licensed Hawkers Act of 1863, which empowered Local Government authorities to make by-laws for licensing traders and for fixing fees and conditions under which they operated. The first such by-law was passed by the City Council on 7th December 1868 (By-Law No. 46 "To Provide for the Licensing of Hawkers Trading within the City of Adelaide”).

There are two main sources of information about street hawkers held by the Archives. These are the Town Clerks Dockets (Series S3) which can be identified using the Docket Indexes and Registers (Accessions 4183 and 4182). A list of some of the Dockets relevant to this subject is attached herein. The other source of information is the Town Clerk's Special Files (Series S4) described earlier, in particular: -

  • Special File No. 27 parts A-C "Street Hawkers" 1898-1918. Contains correspondence, reports and other papers relating to the occupancy and use of street stands and the licensing of street traders.
  • Special File No. 201 "Fruit Stands''. Correspondence and other papers about fruit barrows in City streets during the 1930s; includes lists of stands, locations, names of proprietors and fees paid.

Records of the Inspector of Weights and Measures

The Inspector of Weights and Measures was one of the first officials appointed by the Adelaide City Council in 1840, in response to the grievances of the citizens that they were being defrauded through the use of short weights and measures.

The Inspector was empowered to visit all markets and places of business in the City to inspect and test samples of produce, and the weights and measures used to ensure they conformed to the established imperial standard. Any produce offered for sale found to be underweight by the Inspector could be seized and "dedicated to the use of the poor" and the vendor fined.

The City Archives holds the earliest reports of the Inspector of Weights and Measures and also some of the scales, weights and other implements used by him in carrying out his tests (Accession 1667).

There is also a register of premises inspected for 1868 to 1873 (Accession 644).

The Archives holds several volumes of invitation and menu cards, mostly associated with Mayoral and other civic functions at the Adelaide Town Hall. The principal sources held are:-

  • Accession 672 Volume 1 Sample Book of Printed Items for Official Functions, 1889-99.
  • Accession 853 Volume 1 Mayoral Functions Preparation Book, 1902-04.
  • Accession 1261 Volume 1 Invitation, Menu, etc. Cards [Book] , c.1890-1910.
  • Accession 2087 Volume 7 Invitations, Menus, etc. [Books], 1866-1966.

Examples of other menus, including civic and mayoral banquets held in the Town Hall, are contained in the City of Adelaide Civic Collection which is also held at, and managed by, the City Archives.

Note: In addition to the records identified above, the City Archives also holds documents, plans and photographs relating the Adelaide Central Market which the City Council established in 1869, and which has been continuously managed and operated by the Council since then. The volume of material held by the Archives relating to the Market, its buildings, stallholders and tenancies, is such as to warrant a separate Reference Guide for this important Adelaide landmark.

Need more information?

For further information and assistance please contact the friendly staff at the City of Adelaide Archives Office:

8203 7439

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