In the 1870’s there was no such thing as air-conditioning. In fact there were not many people in Adelaide who could do anything to cool off in the midst of a summer heat wave. Those who were lucky enough, moved into the Adelaide Hills where the temperature was about 4 degrees cooler.


The only thing wrong with this magnificent spectacle was that the motor car had not been invented yet. So anyone traveling had to either walk, ride a bike or horse, or travel in a horse drawn vehicle. Visitors to Marble Hill were told that getting there was ‘a pleasant walk for the robust’ and carriage drivers were warned that ‘it is collar work and stiff work to from Stepney on’.


Sir William Jervois however, ignored these warnings and proposed a grander summer residence. The land occupied by Marble Hill which cost the Government 1026 pounds is a superb hilltop between Montacute and Ashton. The Government sent officials dressed in normal ‘peasant’ clothing to purchase the land, as they thought that if the land owners saw Government Officials dressed in suits and top hats asking to purchase their land, the price would be triple. Governor Jervois originally wanted Marble Hill to be built on Mount Lofty Summit, but this was decided against as it was thought to be too much of a bushfire risk. This was a lucky choice because the site chosen had uninterrupted views all around.


After his arrival in South Australia in 1877, Governor Jervois wasted no time in proposing a grander summer residence. He soon drew up sketches of what he wanted and employed architect William McMinn, who was a well known architect in Adelaide, to design Marble Hill. The building was financed by the Government so McMinn and the builders were put under supervision of the Governments Architect in Chief, Mr. E.J Woods. James Shaw lived on site to supervise the construction.


Marble Hill was designed in Gothic Revival style. In South Australia, this style became popular with public buildings during the colonial years. There were many features of this style used at Marble Hill. The most obvious were pointed apexes above windows and doors and gargoyles, built to ward off evil spirits. Australian features were also added such as a 70ft tower and parapet, 3m wide balconies and verandahs around 3 sides of the building and extremely high ceilings.


Unfortunately due to lack of funding only 26 of the planned 40 rooms of the house were ever built with the opportunity to enlarge later, this made obvious by open fires on the outside of the billiard room wall. Construction materials were mostly neat faced sandstone blocks, quarried from nearby Basket Range. This stone later became known as ‘Basket Range Sandstone’.


Construction began in 1878, with the first task being leveling. In some places, over 15ft of rock had to be removed by hand. An access road also had to be cut to the site of the main house, also a very tiring task.


During construction of the building, it is said that Sir William Jervois was out dining with a Mrs. F.M Stokes, who remarked that traces of Marble had been found in the site which Marble Hill now stands on. Governor Jervois then said ‘then we shall call it, Marble Hill’. Another theory as to how Marble Hill got its name is written in ‘The Register’, which says that from a distance, the hilltop that Marble Hill stands on, before leveled, resembled that of a marble.


A report in ‘The Register’, January 1st 1879 stated ‘construction is going up in such massive style, the visitor can see for himself that the colony is not building a gingerbread structure’.


In early 1880, the house was completed, but it was not until May that year that it was occupied, due to finishing touches like wallpaper, furnishings, etc. The final cost was much higher than originally estimated with furnishings added to the construction costs, totaling about 36,000 pounds.


A large hall with white marble and black slate floor greeted visitors, off which was a passage way leading to a private study for the Governor, a billiard room, bathrooms and servants quarters. A large room in the centre of the house housed a black kauri pine staircase which gave access to the second storey. This floor was dedicated to bedrooms.


The dining room measured 29ft by 20ft and housed a brass gasolier and a white marble mantelpiece in gothic style. The drawing room measured 32ft by 20ft and was the largest room of the house. Features of this room included a brass gasolier and marble mantelpiece with cast iron grate and a rather elaborate overmantel for the period. On the Northern side of the building there were servants’ bedrooms and workrooms.

ABOVE PHOTOS (from left to right)

The Finished Mansion  -  The Dining Room  -  Upper Stair Hall  -  Lower Stair Hall

 ABOVE PHOTOS (from left to right)

The Front Entrance  -  The Balcony and Verandah  -  The Private Study  -  The Morning Room

All of the lighting in Marble Hill was supplied by acetylene gas produced on site in a gas house. In 1902, after a 3 day snow storm engulfed the area, all of the wood fires in Marble Hill were converted to gas, resulting in the installation of a second gas house. Electricity replaced the gas lighting in 1954, a major and costly project to which Allan Shiell, the caretaker at the time remarked ‘this old house isn’t going to like it, something will happen’. Less than a year later, Marble Hill was left a smoldering ruin.


 The first telephone line linked Marble Hill directly to the fire brigade, police and the valve house. The valve house was a small structure (now rebuilt on the corner of North Terrace and Dequettivle Terrace in the city) and was the nerve centre of Adelaide’s water supply. A second telephone line, a single 22km wire which ran from Marble Hill to Government House in Adelaide, was operating by January 1882.


The grounds of Marble Hill were never greatly developed. A formal garden was created with terracing and some ornamental trees were planted but apart from that, the property was largely left in its natural state. A laurel hedge was planted along the driveway from Marble Hill road right up to the house. This was completely destroyed in the 1955 bushfire, all except for 1 stump, which due to rain began to shoot. Mr. Lasscott, of Lasscott nursery visited Marble Hill in 1956 and replanted the entire hedge from the shoots of that 1 stump.


Lady Audrey Tennyson, wife of South Australia's Governor at the time of federation, was an enthusiastic letter writer. In one letter, she describes bushfires raging in the vicinity of Marble Hill.


“It is warming up again and I have been round shutting all the windows, for the only chance of keeping the house cool is to shut it all up the moment the thermometer begins to rise. Thursday was a terribly hot morning, we simply had bushfires raging all round us, really a most wonderful sight, all the hills burning with great volumes of smoke rolling along the gullies. Our own gully garden was on fire....” 


Governors came and went all bringing a touch of their own personality to the beautiful summer residence. Some loved it, others hated it. Lord and Lady Kintore were enthusiastic enough to make major improvements to the gardens. Lord and Lady Tennyson fell in love with the house and said that if the chance had arisen, they might have purchased it. Sir George LeHunte became popular with the locals for organizing picnic lunches on the grounds. One of the 20th century Governors was just as popular with the children of basket Range Primary School. He would regularly invite the students up for afternoon tea. Another Governor used to organise cricket matches on Ashton Oval.


Marble Hill was threatened by bushfires in 1912 and 1939. In 1939, the English cricket team had been invited to lunch by Sir Day Hort and Lady Bosanquet. It was an extremely hot day and there were bushfires raging all over the hills around Marble Hill. The cricketers had to drive between 2 walls of flame to get there and on arrival, jumped from the cars and picked up hoses and helped to extinguish the roof which had just caught alight by embers. The caretakers’ cottage and stables also caught fire that day but were hastily extinguished. The fire cracked windows and destroyed the rose garden.

 ABOVE PHOTOS (from left to right)

Marble Hill after a 3 day snow storm  -  The Formal Garden from the Tower - The Camellia in the Formal Garden - Newly Planted Roses

Make a Free Website with Yola.