A History of Adelaide

By Tim Lambert

Early Adelaide

Before Europeans arrived the Kaurna tribe lived in the Adelaide area. The Indigenous Australians called the Adelaide area Tandanya, which means the Place of the Red Kangaroo.

However, in the early 1830s, the British drew up plans to settle the area. It was planned the new colony in South Australia would be free people, not convicts. Surveyor-general William Light selected the site for the capital of the new colony in December 1836. Adelaide was a planned city and it was named after the wife of King George IV.

The first governor of the new colony was Captain John Hindmarsh who landed on 28 December 1838. At first, the settlers were British or Irish but in the mid-19th century, many Germans settled in Adelaide and the surrounding area.

Meanwhile, in 1840, Adelaide was incorporated (given a corporation). It was the first city in Australia to be incorporated. The first mayor of Adelaide was James Hurtle Fisher. Also in 1840, The Royal Adelaide Hospital was founded. In 1840 Adelaide had a population of over 2,000. By 1850 Adelaide had a population of over 14,000. In 1900 Adelaide had a population of 162,000.

Many famous buildings were erected in Adelaide in the 19th century. The foundation stone of Holy Trinity Church was laid in 1838. Old Adelaide Gaol was built in 1841. (It was decommissioned in 1988). Government House was completed in 1855 and St Francis Xavier Cathedral was dedicated in 1858. Ayers House was built in 1846. From 1855 to 1897 it was the home of Henry Ayers.

Meanwhile, Adelaide Town Hall was built in 1866. Adelaide General Post Office was built in 1867-72. It opened on 6 May 1872. (However, Adelaide Post Office did not get its clock until 1875). Then in the year, 1878 St Peter’s Cathedral was consecrated. Edmund Wright House was also built in 1878.

Modern Adelaide

In 1900 Adelaide the population of Adelaide was 162,000 and it was growing rapidly. As Adelaide expanded more buildings were added. Parliament House in Adelaide was built in two parts. The West Wing was built in 1889 and the East Wing was built in 1939.

In 1904 a statue of the explorer John McDouall Stuart was erected in Adelaide. In 1906 a statue of William Light was unveiled.

Meanwhile, amenities in Adelaide improved. The Botanic Gardens opened in 1857. Adelaide gained a gas supply in 1863 and an electricity supply in 1900. Meanwhile, Adelaide Oval was established in 1871. Adelaide University was founded in 1874. The Art Gallery of South Australia was established in 1881.

Adelaide Airport dates from 1921. The War Memorial in Adelaide was built in 1931. Flinders University opened in 1966.

Rundle Mall Shopping Centre opened in 1976. Adelaide Festival Centre was completed in 1980. Adelaide Convention Centre opened in 1987. Tandanya Cultural Institute opened in 1989. Adelaide is also known for the South Australian Museum and the Migration Museum, which opened in 1986. The South Australia Maritime Museum also opened in 1986.


Adelaide is a thriving city. In 2021 the population of Adelaide was 1.35 million.