In April 1851 the government granted the Destitute Board access to part of the barracks complex next to Government House on North Terrace. The destitute moved into their new quarters on 10th May 1851. It became the Destitute Asylum and a place where the aged, poor and chronically sick were looked after and kept alive. The Asylum was not abandoned until 1917.
Destitute Asylum 1850’s – 1860’s
The term ‘asylum’ was often used in the early nineteenth century, in England, the United States and Australia. It referred to the use of a building or group of buildings where institutional care was provided. The asylum allowed regularity, supervision and control. It provided economies of scale and was the most efficient way of handling those who were socially dependent. Consequently, the Destitute Asylum provided institutional care for women, children, the aged, destitute and the sick. During the 1850’s and 1860’s the Asylum’s occupancy of the barracks expanded.
The building was repaired and wings added to accommodate the increasing number of residents. In 1863 an Act was passed for the ‘Regulation of the Destitute Asylum’ to better regulate the government’s aid to the destitute and sick. It also provided rules relating to the inmates’ behaviour in the asylum. However, the Act did not address the issue of eligibility for assistance. The majority of inmates in the Asylum were aged, chronically ill, bed-ridden, crippled, blind, paralysed or diseased. Some were young or middle-aged and had no future. The Asylum also housed deserted women, children and pregnant destitute women. By the end of June 1864 there were seventy six males and sixty nine females (including children) in all these groups.
From the beginning there were children at the Asylum. During the 1860’s the problem of destitute children increased. It wasn’t until 1868 when the Destitute Board established institutions for state children that they were removed from the Asylum. This left the Destitute Board with responsibility for adults. Over time the Asylum became a hospital for aged and chronically ill people. On 30th June 1867 there were one hundred and sixty nine adults living in the Asylum. Of these, one hundred and fifty two were suffering from a physical disability which ensured their permanent residence in the Asylum.
Destitute Asylum 1870’s – 1917
In 1870 the Asylum grew and took over the rest of the military barracks. However, applicants continued to arrive, increasingly referred by the Adelaide hospital. The Colonial Surgeon realized that he could send chronically ill patients to the Destitute Asylum and free up beds at the hospital. The Destitute Board was forced, in turn, to press for improved facilities and extra nurses to care for these people from the government. However, as there was no other alternative, public or private this only meant patients would continue to end up at the Asylum. The Adelaide Hospital did, however, send its house surgeon to visit the Asylum’s inmates each day. In 1882 the government recognised the need for professional full-time medical care at the Asylum and allowed the appointment of a paid medical officer.
During the 1890’s and 1900’s the Destitute Asylum was usually full, with over six hundred inmates.
In 1909 and 1910 the Deakin federal government introduced a Commonwealth Old Age pension and a Commonwealth Invalid Pension which reduced the need for the Asylum. However, it wasn’t until the Old Folks Home at Magill was opened in 1917 that the Destitute Asylum was finally abandoned. In 1927 the State Children’s Council was absorbed into the Destitute Board and the Board was renamed the Children’s Welfare and Public Relief Department (CW & PRD). In 1965 the Dunstan government abolished the CW & PRD and it was replaced by a Minister and a Director of Social Welfare.
Dickey, Brian 1986. Rations, residence, resources : A history of social welfare in South Australia since 1836. Netley: Wakefield Press.
Richards, Eric (ed.) 1986. The Flinders history of South Australia. Netley: Wakefield Press.