South Australia was a planned colony with an emigration policy that depended on populating the colony with young, fit and healthy men and women. The selection process in England for potential colonists lacked rigour, and resulted in a small but significant number of elderly, poor, chronically ill and those suffering from mental illness arriving in the colony. Also, the effects of a long, arduous sea journey combined with a challenging new life in a small colony proved too much for some. As a result the Governor and the representatives of the government found themselves required to care for the sick, destitute and the mentally ill.
When the colony of South Australia began in 1836, there was no provision made for people with a mental illness, or lunatics as they were then called. Consequently, they were kept in the Adelaide Gaol. A ward was set aside for the insane where, reflecting the view of the time, thet were kept restrained and out of sight. To address this problem a Board of Pauper Lunatics was set up in 1841 to suggest alternative solutions. However, no one was prepared to take any responsibility. In addition, the colony was nearly bankrupt which restricted public expenditure, so nothing was done.
It wasn’t until April 1846 that the government acted and rented a house with eight rooms and a small cottage at Parkside. On 21st May nine inmates were transferred from the gaol. However, the house was too small and many remained in the gaol until 1855. The Parkside premises were used until the Asylum on North Terrace was completed. The Parkside Lunatic Asylum was later built on this site.
Adelaide Lunatic Asylum
In 1849 the Colonial Engineer drew up plans for an asylum costing £5000-£6000 that would accommodate sixty patients, a house surgeon, three keepers and a couple of domestic staff. Tenders were called in 1850 and the new Adelaide Lunatic Asylum was opened in March 1852. It was built on the parklands at the eastern end of North Terrace, on ground overlooking the Botanic Garden. The new asylum provided far better facilities for the insane, but less than two years after its opening it proved to be too small. There were two men occupying each cell and accommodation was still required for forty more patients. Therefore, the Adelaide Gaol remained in use for at least another four years.
At the end of 1856 more accommodation became available for mental patients when the new hospital building was opened and the old Adelaide Hospital building was made available to the Asylum. However, by 1866 this had also become overcrowded and planning was begun for another asylum. By this time the Adelaide Lunatic Asylum was considered to be below standard but it remained in use until 1902, when its last patient was finally transferred to Parkside Lunatic Asylum. It was then used for several years as an infectious diseases hospital before it was razed in 1938.
Parkside Lunatic Asylum
In 1864 a Commission was appointed to inquire into the management of the Adelaide Lunatic Asylum. They found that it was crowded and its location had become inappropriate. Adelaide had expanded rapidly, with suburbs by the parklands, which meant the roads passing the asylum had become main thoroughfares. The Commission recommended the construction of a new purpose-built asylum for seven hundred patients based on the best European and American practices. They also recommended the purchase of land within four miles from the centre of Adelaide.
Land was purchased and the new Parkside Lunatic Asylum opened in March 1870. In May 1870 the main building of a new Asylum was opened and received fifty patients transferred from the Adelaide Asylum. Patients continued to be transferred from North Terrace until Parkside was completed. The Parkside Asylum remains open to this today and is now known as Glenside (Psychiatric) Hospital.
Bell, Maureen 2003. ‘From the 1870’s to the 1970’s: the changing face of public psychiatry in South Australia’. Australasian Psychiatry, vol. 11, Issue 1, pp.79-86.
Piddock, Susan 2004. ‘Possibilities and realities: South Australia’s asylums in the 19th century’. Australasian Psychiatry, vol. 12, Issue 2, pp.172-175.