Sir Henry Ayers who died on the 11 June 1897 came to South Australia in 1840 as a nineteen year-old law clerk. Only five years later he was appointed Secretary of the South Australian Mining Association and became manager of the Burra Mine, in which he invested and which made his fortune.
Over the years he was involved in many financial institutions including the Savings Bank, as a director of the Bank of Australasia, and was one of the founders of the Bank of Adelaide. He was on the boards of the Gas Company, the AMP, and for 35 years was Governor of the Botanic Gardens Board. He formed the Old Colonists Association in 1883. For 36 years he was a prominent figure in politics being seven times Premier, eleven times a cabinet minister and for twelve years was President of the Legislative Council.
Considered an able administrator, on many occasions he represented South Australia at inter-colonial conferences. He was strongly opposed to the re-introduction of convict transportation to the eastern colonies and was instrumental in the cessation of transportation to Western Australia.
In 1871 Ayers bought, from William Paxton, the house on North Terrace which he had been leasing for some years. He made additions to the house with a ballroom on the eastern side and a west wing added to balance the structure. Many dinners and balls were held in 'Austral House' as it was then called.
In the early 1900s the house stood empty for some years, but was later bought by a syndicate who named it Austral Gardens and built an open-air theatre, and, adjoining it, the Palais Royal Dance Hall. Later still the house was used as a Nurses' Home by the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Now known as Ayers House the building contains two restaurants and the office of the National Trust.
Henry Ayers' lasting memorial is in the name of Ayers Rock, the remarkable monolith discovered in 1873 by William Gosse.
J.J. Pascoe (ed), History of Adelaide and Vicinity, Hussey and
Gillingham, Adelaide, 1901, pp. 286-290.
Max Lamshed, Adelaide Sketchbook, Rigby, 1967, p. 30.