The first edition of this Chronology appeared in Portonian volume 11/3 September 1983. It was compiled in response to the many requests for historical information received by the Semaphore Public Library.
The second edition of June 1987 was provoked by the formation of the Semaphore Road Development Committee, whose membership was keen to see Semaphore’s historic assets capitalised on. It was published in Portonian vol. 15 no. 4 (December 1987) and some years later adapted and expanded by the Semaphore Mainstreet Association and added to this website.
3RD EDITION – JANUARY 2015
by Brian Samuels
Lefevre’s Peninsula was named in May 1837, but Portonians soon abbreviated the name to ‘the Peninsula’. The name Semaphore was not used until the 1850s and was usually ‘the Semaphore’, reflecting its derivation from either the signal station flagstaff on the beachfront or the Semaphore Hotel (1851), which was intended to have its own flagstaff with semaphore signal arms attached.
Semaphore began as a service point for shipping. From the mid-1860s it took on additional roles as a residential suburb for Port Adelaide and a seaside resort for both metropolitan Adelaide and towns near the country railway lines. In the absence of a comprehensive history of Semaphore, this chronology is designed to be a ready reference to the construction of some of the area’s landmarks and the establishment of its institutions.
To keep it to a manageable length some types of organisations have been largely omitted, most notably sporting and social groups and the many private schools that flourished prior to the public school system being established. So too have most small businesses, although some particularly long-running ones have been included.
Note that the current suburb of Semaphore includes many small subdivisions (‘townships’) that were given their own names by their original developers. When the Port district’s placenames were rationalised in 1945 the suburb of Semaphore included areas previously known as Alderley, Clairville, Clairville North, Kew, Plymouth, Scarborough, South Scarborough, Semaphore, Semaphore North, Weymouth and some unnamed sections. Current street numbers have occasionally been used to identify buildings but were only progressively introduced to the Port Adelaide District around 1930. (They first appear for Semaphore in Sands & McDougall’s South Australian Directory for 1933.)
1849 – Government surveyors surveyed much of Lefevre’s Peninsula (the apostrophe ‘s’ was dispensed with many decades later), including the site of the future Township of Semaphore, into 10 acre (approximately 4ha) sections.
1851 – Semaphore Hotel opened at Scarborough on the south corner of Blackler Street and the Esplanade. (Burnt down 25 November 1859; rebuilt and traded until c1866)
1854 – Lefevre’s Hotel first licensed (Licence transferred to the newly-built Exeter Hotel in 1879).
1856 – Adelaide to Port Adelaide telegraph line extended to Semaphore under the Port River and underground in iron pipes. A telegraph office was opened near the Pilot Station.
1859 – The Port Bridge (site of present Jervois Bridge), the first bridge across the Port River, opened for traffic in January.
1860 – Semaphore Jetty, 1900ft (580m) long x 9ft (2.7m) wide, completed in April. (Extended to 2138ft (652m) in 1874)
1862 – Road from the jetty to the Port Bridge completed in July.
1864 – District Council of Glanville formed. The boundaries were incorrectly proclaimed in July and re-proclaimed on 11 August. They encompassed all the land between the sea coast and the ‘Port Creek’ from a little north of the present Grange railway line to a northern boundary running approximately in line with Exmouth Rd, Exeter. (The Corporate Town of Semaphore was severed from both it and the DC of Lefevre’s Peninsula 20 December 1883. The remainder amalgamated with the DC of Woodville 5 January 1888.)
1864 – Peninsula Literary Institute formed. (Into recess 1880; books transferred to the new Semaphore Institute in 1884)
1866 – Jetty Hotel on Semaphore Road opened. (Renamed the Federal Hotel in 1901)
1867 – Semaphore Hotel on Semaphore Road opened. (Largely rebuilt and third storey added c1927)
1867 – Wesleyan Methodist (now Uniting) Church on Semaphore Road was opened.
1871 – A Post Office was opened at the Telegraph Station, Semaphore Beach, 3 April.
1872 – A Church of England ‘Mission Church’ opened on the corner of Semaphore Road and what is now Causeway Road 11 January.
1872 – District Council of Lefevre’s Peninsula proclaimed 11 April, comprising the entire Peninsula north of the boundary of the DC of Glanville. (The DC of Birkenhead was severed from it 22 February 1877, while the Corporate Town of Semaphore was severed from both it and the DC of Glanville 20 December 1883. The remainder was added to the DC of Birkenhead 7 August 1884.)
1875 – Timeball Tower at the sea end of Semaphore Road operational 2 August. The ball was dropped daily at a fixed time to allow officers of newly-arrived vessels at the Semaphore Anchorage to check the accuracy of their chronometers.
c1874 – George Shorney, Manager of John Dunn & Co’s flour mill in Port Adelaide, built a two-storey home on the east corner of Semaphore Road and Ward Street.
1876 – Lefevre’s Peninsula Public School opened on the east corner of Mead Street and Dunnikier (now Semaphore) Road, in the wake of the Education Act of 1875, which introduced compulsory (but not five days a week) schooling for 7-13 year olds. (In 1921 the school was divided into a Primary School and an Infant School.)
1878 – First major long-distance telephone call in Australia was made from Semaphore to Port Augusta (386 km).
1878 – Adelaide to Port Railway extended to Semaphore and opened to general traffic on 7 January. It was routed from the original Port Adelaide Station via St Vincent Street, with platforms at Glanville and Exeter being built soon after the opening.
1878 – The Jervois Bridge, an iron swing bridge built to carry the railway line from Port Adelaide to Semaphore, was officially opened by and named after Governor Sir William Jervois on 6 February. (It replaced the timber Port Bridge.)
1878 – Chemist shop opened by G.F. Ward at 41 Semaphore Road.
1878 – The first Baptist Church, a wooden building in Turton Street seating 200, had its opening service 24 November.
1879 – St Andrew’s Church of England opened on Military Road. (Renamed St Bede’s in 1881)
1880 – Bute Terrace houses, 176-186 Military Road, built for the Messrs Gray Brothers.
1881 – Water Tower in Blackler Street operational. It was needed to maintain water pressure on the Peninsula when the water main across the Jervois Bridge had to be turned off to allow the bridge to open.
1881 – New Mail Station built on the south corner of the Esplanade and Semaphore Road to handle mail sent by sea. (Demolished 1967)
1881 – New Post and Telegraph Office opened on Semaphore Road/Customs Lane corner 8 November. (Service relocated to 38 Semaphore Rd in 1984)
1881 – Semaphore Institute formed 15 December. (Amalgamated with the Port Adelaide Institute 1903)
c1882 – Richard Jagoe, long-serving shipping reporter for the daily papers and owner of the beachboats that served ships at the Semaphore Anchorage, built a new home (still standing) on the corner of Newman Street and the Esplanade.
1882 – Semaphore Lawn Tennis Club formed.
1883 – Semaphore Corporation established from parts of the District Councils of Glanville and Lefevre’s Peninsula. (Using current terminology, its western boundary followed the coast from Jervois Street to Strathfield Terrace, then east to Military Road, south down Military and Fletcher Roads to the Port River, followed the west bank of the River to in line with Recreation Parade, west along that line to Sansom Road, north to Bower Road, west to Military Road, north to Jervois Street and west to the coast.)
1883 – New Customs Boarding Station completed on the north corner of the Esplanade and Semaphore Road.
1883 – New Baptist Church opened at 60-62 Semaphore Road 18 March, replacing the Turton Street building. (Merged with Alberton Baptist Church and relocated to Old Port Road, Queenstown, from 8 October 2000 to form Gateway Baptist Church.)
1884 – Semaphore Masonic Lodge formed.
1884 – Semaphore and Largs esplanades joined by opening a roadway through the sandhills.
1884 – Semaphore Institute building on the west corner of Semaphore Road and Institute Lane opened by the Governor 15 March.
1889 – Semaphore Institute building sold to Semaphore Corporation to be the Town Hall.
1889 – Rotunda on the foreshore south of the jetty officially opened 18 January.
1889 – Semaphore Swimming Baths on the jetty officially opened 26 January.
1891 – Police Station west of the Town Hall at 6 Semaphore Road opened in August. (Replaced rented premises opposite the Exeter Railway Station)
1895 – Cyclone on 9 December caused considerable damage.
c1895 – Dr Percy Bollen built a two-storey home at 43 Semaphore Road.
c1897 – Dr Henry Curtis built a two-storey home (’Holmwood’) on the south corner of Dunn Street and Military Road.
1899 – Congregational Church opened at 11 Jagoe Street. (Closed 1973)
1899 – Dominican Convent established in Dr Curtis’ former home on Military Road and school opened 10 July.
1900 – Semaphore Corporation amalgamated with Port Adelaide Corporation 11 November.
1901 – Severe cyclone on 25 January damaged several homes.
1901 – Lighthouse on Wonga Shoal, west of the Semaphore Jetty, operational 1 July. (It superseded the Port Adelaide Lighthouse at the entrance to the Port River, which was then removed to South Neptune Island and, when it became redundant, re-erected in 1986 at the end of Commercial Road, Port Adelaide.)
1901 – Fire Brigade Station opened on the east corner of Jagoe St and Hall St. (Closed 1988)
1904 – Semaphore Bowling Club formed.
1904 – Commercial Bank of Australia Sub-branch opened on Semaphore Road near Exeter Railway Station.
1909 – Semaphore Scout Troop formed.
1910 – Lefevre’s Peninsula District High School opened at the Public School. (Closed 1914. It and the Hindmarsh District High School amalgamated to form Woodville DHS in 1915)
c1910 – Semaphore Coffee Palace opened at 80 the Esplanade. (Became Wondergraph Café and later Evancourt Private Hotel)
1910 – The Wondergraph Theatre, an open air picture theatre in between the Customs Boarding Station and the Semaphore Coffee Palace, opened 26 December.
1911 – Masonic Buildings at 66 Semaphore Road opened.
1911 – Ozone Amusements Ltd was formed by local bookseller and stationer Hugh Waterman, grocers Les and Horrie Warn, stationmaster Chris Flaherty and electrician Jim Woods. The firm started leasing the Semaphore and Port Adelaide Town Halls for screening films.
1912 – The Wonga Shoal Lighthouse was knocked over by the three-masted barque “Dimsdale” on 17 November and the two keepers drowned.
1912 – Savings Bank of South Australia opened on Semaphore Road.
1913 – Church of Christ at 242 Military Road opened. (Unsure of date closed)
1913 – Semaphore Lewis Lodge (Masonic) formed.
1914 – Semaphore Buildings completed. (Adjoin the Semaphore Hotel)
1914 – Two-storey kiosk on the inner T-head of the jetty opened 24 December. It included a restaurant, accommodation for the lessee and a dance hall upstairs. (Damaged by fire 10 March 1947 and removed in 1948.)
1915 – Catholic Church at 253 Military Road dedicated.
1916 – Semaphore/Outer Harbor railway re-routed via Commercial Road Station, replacing the route via St Vincent St and the original Jervois Bridge.
1917 – Port Adelaide electric tramway system servicing Semaphore, Rosewater and Albert Park opened 3 April; service to Largs opened 15 May. The Semaphore route was via St Vincent and Hart Streets and Military and Semaphore Roads. (System closed 27 July 1935)
1917 – Semaphore Swimming Baths on the jetty destroyed by a severe storm on 18 July.
1919 – Bandstand on the foreshore north of the jetty was erected by the Municipal Tramways Trust for use by the Tramways Band. (Donated to Port Adelaide Council 1924-25; demolished 1970s)
1920 – F.S. Harrington’s drapery on Semaphore Rd opened. (Closed 1973)
1920 – Wondergraph Picture Palace on Semaphore Rd opened 22 May with 1246 seats. (Became Odeon Star 1952; closed 1976; reopened 1991)
1921 – Semaphore Girl Guides formed.
1922 – Semaphore Bathing Pavilion and Palais opened on the foreshore 23 December. Designed to accommodate over 500 bathers, it also included a kiosk, dance hall, roof garden and observation tower.
1923 – Semaphore and Port Adelaide Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (now R.S.L.) Sub Branch formed.
1925 – Central School established at Lefevre’s Peninsula Primary School with Girls and Boys Departments. (The latter was the genesis of Lefevre Boys Technical School which ultimately became Lefevre High School.)
1925 – Semaphore District Traders’ Association established 5 February.
1925 – Soldiers Memorial on the foreshore near the jetty unveiled on 24 May (Empire Day).
1929 – Soldiers Memorial Hall and Institute Library at 10 Semaphore Rd opened 7 December.
1929 – Former Semaphore Town Hall remodelled as an Ozone Theatre and opened 9 December. It sat about 1100. (Theatre refurbished in 1952 following Hoyts Theatres Ltd acquiring a substantial financial interest in 24 of Waterman Bros Ozone theatres. It closed in 1960.)
1930 – Back to Semaphore Celebrations held and 64 page souvenir booklet written and compiled by JE Trotman for the Back to Semaphore Committee published.
1932 – Timeball service ceased 31 January. (Superseded by wireless telegraphy)
1935 – Electric tram service from Port Adelaide closed 27 July and was replaced with petrol buses as an interim measure.
1935 – Semaphore & Largs Toc H founded.
1937 – Semaphore Signal Station adjacent to the Timeball Tower superseded by one at the Outer Harbor.
1938 – An electric trolley bus service from Adelaide via Port Adelaide to Semaphore and Largs, following similar routes to the former trams, began 3 April.
1941 – New red brick Semaphore Railway Station building opened west of the Post Office. (Closed 1978 and later demolished)
1950 – Coles Variety Store opened at 31 Semaphore Road. (Closed 1974)
1952 – Semaphore Retail Traders’ Association formed 18 November.
1953 – Severe storm on 18-19 May damaged the jetty.
1956 – National Bank opened at 32 Semaphore Road. (Closed 18 April 2001)
1960 – Commonwealth Bank opened. (Closed 30 March 2001)
1960 – Semaphore Squash Centre opened at 24 Semaphore Road.
1960 – Semaphore Ozone Theatre closed 21 May.
1961 – Woolworths Supermarket opened. (Became Triple Seven 1986; later IGA)
1963 – ‘Permanent’ sideshow stalls constructed on the foreshore south of the jetty.
1963 – Geoff Taylor’s book ‘Sir’ published. (It centres on Taylor’s schooldays at Rhaiadore Grammar School in the 1930s when the Signal Station was located across the road. The school was conducted in Richard Jagoe’s former home – see 1882 above – to which it had relocated from Stirling in 1932. Taylor called the school St David’s in his book.)
1969 – Semaphore District Traders’ Association formed 26 May.
1969 – The original Jervois Bridge was closed to traffic on 28 July and two lanes of the New Jervois Bridge opened for traffic. The completed bridge, made of pre-stressed reinforced concrete, was officially opened 22 December.
1969 – Lions Club of Lefevre Peninsula formed.
1973 – F. S. Harrington’s drapery at 124 Semaphore Road (second site) closed after 53 years of trading.
1975 – Former Customs Boarding Station saved from demolition after a prolonged campaign.
1976 – Odeon Star Cinema closed.
1976 – Colonel JC Lovely’s former home at 89 Esplanade (south corner of Dunn Street), a local landmark with sculptures of a kangaroo and emu flanking its entrance stairs, was demolished.
1977 – Semaphore Cinema opened in the upstairs portion of the former Ozone Theatre on 26 December. (Closed 1985)
1978 – Semaphore Public Library opened 19 August in the former Central Provision Stores (CPS) building at 34 Semaphore Road. (Moved to ground floor of former Ozone Theatre in 1994)
1978 – Train service from Glanville to Semaphore ceased 28 October and was replaced by a feeder bus to Glanville on the 29th. (Railway line removed in 1981 after a protracted campaign to retain it.)
1979 – Semaphore Promotions Committee formed.
1980 – Semaphore Foodland opened on Semaphore Road east of Institute Lane.
1980 – Semaphore Progress Association formed.
1984 – New Post Office at 38 Semaphore Road opened 9 January.
1986 – Semaphore Road Development Committee formed.
1987 – EJ Woodroffe’s drapery on the east corner of Semaphore Road and Jagoe Street closed 7 March after over 60 years of trading.
1988 – Semaphore Fire Station closed after a new station opened at Largs North.
1991 – Upstairs portion of former Odeon Star Theatre reopened 19 December as the Odeon Star Cinema (later expanded to ground floor).
1992 – Semaphore and Fort Glanville Tourist Railway, a 457mm gauge steam-powered railway, opened on the foreshore in December.
1994 – Semaphore Mainstreet Association formed.
2008 – Port River Expressway road bridge opened to traffic 3 August, making Semaphore more directly accessible to the northern suburbs.
Two general booklets have been published on Semaphore, while there are quite a few booklets and pamphlets on narrower aspects of the area’s history. The general works are J.E. Trotman’s Back to Semaphore (1930, facsimile editions 1978 and 2010) and the multi-authored The First 100 Years of Semaphore 1883-1983 (1983). Some other works are listed in Portonian vol. 11/4 (December 1983) and vol. 12/1 (March 1984).
anon – Semaphore: A Guide to the Historic Precinct (City of Port Adelaide Enfield, 2013). (Pamphlet)
E.J. Chinner – Lefevre’s Peninsula Model School Centenary 1878-1978: A Centenary History (The School, 1978).
E.J. Chinner – Schoolbells Ringing (Hourglass Books, Port Adelaide, 1996).
G. Kelly – Tides of Change: A History of the Dominican School Semaphore 1899-1999 (The school, 1999).
R.Parsons – Beach Boats, Press Boats and Semaphore (The author, Lobethal, 1996).
R. Ritter – Triumph, Tragedy and Port Adelaide (The author, 2005). (See ch 6 ‘Semaphore Jetty’)
R. Ritter – Spanning Time and Tide: The Bridges of the Port Adelaide River (The author, 1996). (Includes considerable detail on Lavington’s Bridge, the Port and Jervois Bridges and the Railway Bridge)
T. Rogers et al – South Australia’s Extreme Weather: Its Human Impact (Kent Town 2009). (See ‘Inundation and Death at Port Adelaide 12 May 1865’ (pp 4-15) and ‘Semaphore Cyclone 25 January 1901’ (pp 32-43))
V.S. Smith – Brief Biographical Notes of Some Sailing Ship Captains of the Semaphore (Retired) (Pioneers Association of South Australia pamphlet 13/52, 1952).
N.S. Smith – Tramcars Trolleybuses in and around Port Adelaide (Australian Electric Transport Museum (SA), 1998).
M. Thompson – Rails Through Swamp & Sand:A history of the Port Adelaide Railway (Port Dock Station Railway Museum, Port Adelaide, 1988).
The first edition of this chronology appeared in the Port Adelaide Historical Society’s magazine Portonian vol. 11 no. 3 (September 1983) and was compiled in response to the many requests for historical information received by the Semaphore Public Library. The second edition of June 1987 was provoked by the formation of the Semaphore Road Development Committee, whose membership was keen to see Semaphore’s historic assets capitalised on. It was published in Portonian vol. 15 no. 4 (December 1987) and some years later adapted and expanded by the Semaphore Mainstreet Association and added to its website. I would welcome any additions to this third edition, which can be sent to me via email at email@example.com or via post to PO Box 601, Semaphore SA 5019.
Since the advent of the National Library of Australia’s search engine Trove it has become much easier to use Australia’s newspapers to research all manner of things, including local history, from home by searching the digitised Australian newspapers accessible at Trove. The ‘Advanced Search’ option is especially useful, as it lets you search for exact phrases, specific date ranges, and restrict the search to particular newspapers.
In addition, the State Library of SA has digitised the South Australian Directories from 1864 to 1973. The Directories can be very helpful for tracing local buildings and residents – find them here. They can be supplemented by G. Ross (compiler) ‘Directory of residents of Port Adelaide District – Port Adelaide, Alberton, Queenstown, Peninsula and Portland Estate (from South Australian almanacs and directories 1841-1868)’ 1989. (Unpublished: copy held by State Library)