The State Library of South Australia
“The Mortlock Wing”
The State Library of South Australia was opened on 18th December 1884 as a public library, museum and art gallery for the colony of South Australia with 23,000 books and a staff of three.
Construction of the building took over 18 years to complete after the initial foundations were laid in 1866. The foundation stone was laid on 7th November 1879 by Sir William Jervois. The building was constructed by Brown and Thompson at a total cost of £43,897.
The building is French Renaissance in style with a mansard roof. The walls are constructed of brick with Sydney freestone facings with decorations in the darker shade of Manoora stone.
Now known as the “Mortlock Wing”, it is now predominantly an exhibition area and popular place for hosting library functions. It houses an example of a 19th century gentleman’s library.
The interior has two galleries, the first supported by masonry columns and the second by cast iron brackets. The balconies feature wrought iron balustrading ornamented with gold while the glass -domed roof allows the chamber to be lit with natural light. Two of the original gas “sunburner” lamps survive in the office space located on the second floor at the southern end.
The Mortlock Wing houses the State Library’s South Australian collection. The ground floor is devoted to a permanent exhibition area of 14 bays reflecting themes of cultural or historical relevance to South Australia and displaying items reflecting wider collections held by the State Library. The entrance displays a stuffed eagle, circa 1881, being a relic from when the basement of the wing was used by taxidermists. Below the eagle sits an 1857 terrestrial globe, but which is missing the city of Adelaide, which was rubbed off the globe by the fingers of emigrants pointing to their destination.
Reconstruction of the building began in 1985 as a Jubilee 150 project by Danvers Architects, consultant architect to the South Australian Department of Housing and Construction. The $1.5 million project was jointly funded by the government and the community. Taking months to complete, restoration work included fine decorative finishes such as scumbling, painted wood grain finishes, French polished tables, as well as general painting and decorating. Colours were delicately picked out to match the original colour schemes, thus preserving the authenticity of the wing.
In honour of a substantial bequest from John Andrew Tennant Mortlock, the Libraries Board of South Australia resolved that a percentage of the South Australiana Collections would be housed in the wing and named the Mortlock Library of South Australiana in 1986. The dim lighting and Victorian interior of the Mortlock Wing help preserve the 1000 item collection, adding atmosphere to a fascinating journey into South Australia’s history and culture.