by Seth Piszczuk, current resident, number 19 Wellington Street, Kensington SA 5068

19 Wellington Street ‘The Freemason’s Arms’ is undoubtedly the oldest residence in Kensington, and possibly one of the oldest in South Australia.

Wellington Street – at the time known as Church Row – was the first street in Kensington to be built upon. Number 19 is positioned slightly diagonal to the road, indicating that the building existed prior to the street being formally surveyed in 1838. You can see this today by comparing the footprint of the building to its later extension (now number 17) which was built in 1850.

Records of the building can be accurately traced from 1840, with three different publicans owing the property between 1840 and 1850. There are references to a local grog shanty existing in Kensington prior to 1840 (when the Kensington Hotel was first licensed). The perfect position of number 19 facing two major roads that existed at the time (now Kensington and Portrush Roads), in combination with the known ownership of the building from 1840, supports the inference that this building was the unlicensed venue of the time.

In 1850 when the building was extended it was formally granted a liquor licence, operating as the Freemason’s Arms, purportedly offering 16 good sized rooms. It gained the license by public vote against its newly built competition, the Robin Hood Hotel. Possibly this vote was swayed by the public already being enamoured with the Freemason’s as their local grog house, it being described as ‘low, ill-constructed building’ in the application put forward by its competition.

The formal time as The Freemason’s Arms was alas short lived, with the Robin Hood Hotel out-competing the venue in a subsequent vote in 1851. A later publican of the Robin Hood, Mortimer Burman took ownership of number 19 as a residence in 1853. His descendants would own the property until 1967.

Renowned colonial artist James Shaw resided at the property from 1859 for a time. His most famous work ‘The Admella wrecked, 1859’ (pictured below) was painted – quite likely within his rooms at number 19 – after a trip with his landlord Mortimer Burman to visit the site of the shipwreck. The painting was given to Mr Burman in lieu of rent by James Shaw, and hung in number 19 until the Burman family sold the property in 1967 and gifted the artwork to the Art Gallery of South Australia. This painting is the centrepiece of the colonial collection at the gallery, along with several other works by James Shaw. Click here to see whether ‘The Admella wrecked’ is currently on display at AGSA.

Much of the history of the property was collated by former resident Dr Mark Smith through library research, archaeological digs on the site and interviews with the last descendants of the Burman family to reside at number 19. The reconstruction picture included here was also drawn by Dr Mark Smith. Mark is a wealth of information and it has been a privilege to spend time with him to compare notes on the history of this site.

I would sincerely enjoy receiving any further history long term Kensington residents could provide to