Gawler Thematic History - Gawler Institute

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Type of thing Government
Date made or found 2020

Gawler Institute

The Gawler Institute, founded in 1857, was derived from the philanthropic ideals of British quaker George Birkbeck who believed that skilled tradespeople should gain ‘useful knowledge’ in their spare time. The resulting Mechanics’ Institutes or Schools of Arts emerged around the British Empire. The Gawler Institute provided not only adult education but also lending libraries, reading rooms, museums, theatres and dance halls. They were effectively the earliest forms of Community Halls.

The Gawler Institute first occupied premises opposite the Globe and its first President was Mr Mold. The library opened in 1857 (as part of the Gawler Institute) with 700 volumes and 70 subscribers. Within 3 years, the offerings had increased to 2000 and subscribers had increased to 250. The Institute also housed a museum, whose main collection was from the Naturalist Club and whose collection was curated by eminent scientist Dr Richard Schomburgk.

In 1870, the building which now houses the Institute was opened. Along with the Town Hall which was opened in 1878, the two buildings form the heritage centrepiece of Murray Street. The Institute, designed by James Martin and built in the Italianate style of local bluestone cost £5000 and was funded by a community art union.

The Gawler Institute was a particularly strong example of its type, and was responsible for organising South Australia’s first rural fete as well as fancy fairs which attracted train loads of revellers from Adelaide.

On its second anniversary, the Institute sponsored a prize of 10 guineas for the creation of a Song of Australia. There were 96 competitors and the winning entry had words by Mrs C.J. Carleton and music by Carl Linger. The song was runner-up to the final successful national anthem ‘Advance Australia Fair’. The Institute also sponsored the first Comprehensive History of South Australia by Edwin Hodder in 1893 105


This report has been prepared by the following people:

• Nancy Cromar (Flightpath Architects)

• Deborah Morgan (Flightpath Architects)

• Kate Paterson (Flightpath Architects)

• Douglas Alexander (Flightpath Architects)

The study team would like to acknowledge the assistance of the following people:

• David Petruzzella (Strategic Planner; Town of Gawler)

• Jacinta Weiss (Cultural Heritage Centre Coordinator; Town of Gawler)

• Jane Strange (Senior Development and Strategic Policy Officer; Town of Gawler)

Gawler History Team thanks: Flightpath Architects, Ryan Viney and the Town of Gawler for allowing us access to this important document of Gawler History.

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