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Adelaide Lunatic Asylum Morgue

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by Dave Walsh (subscribe)
I enjoy writing about Adelaide and its many attractions. If you think Adelaide is boring, the problem is not with Adelaide. adelaideunearthed.blogspot.com.au/
Published January 10th 2014
A different kind of asylum
adelaide, morgue, mental illness, asylum, glenside, dead house, lunatic asylum, botanic gardens, national wine centre, adelaide lunatic asylum
Adelaide Lunatic Asylum About 1878 (Courtesy SLSA B39362/12)


The last fifty years have seen treatment of people with mental illness improve dramatically in Adelaide. No longer are people incarcerated under inhumane conditions in asylums - sometimes simply because they were poor or homeless.

Adelaide Lunatic Asylum opened in 1852 and was the first purpose built place in SA designed to hold and treat mentally ill people. Situated on North Terrace, it was in an elevated position allowing the inmates to see over the walls down the hill into the Botanic Gardens (established in 1854) and feel the fresh breezes.

adelaide, morgue, mental illness, asylum, glenside, dead house, lunatic asylum, botanic gardens, national wine centre, grounds
The Former Morgue in the Grounds of the Botanic Gardens


The new asylum held sixty patients plus staff, and was situated sufficient distance from town to avoid annoying the inhabitants, yet close enough for official Visitors to inspect the facilities. It soon became clear that the facilities were simply not big enough to accommodate increasing demand and it was proposed that a new building housing 200 patients be built further from Adelaide.

By 1866 plans were under way for the new Parkside Lunatic Asylum - later known as Glenside Hospital, which eventually opened a separate secure ward for the criminally insane called the Z Ward.

Meanwhile Adelaide Lunatic Asylum continued operation, but the number of patient deaths made a dead house or morgue necessary. In 1882 The South Australian Register announced that a tender to build the new asylum dead house had been accepted.

The morgue was built from Yatala stone, probably quarried by prisoners from stone along the Dry Creek Linear Park. It was a simple rectangular building with white rendered internal walls with timber roof supports and a galvanised iron roof. Windows and ventilators provide the air flow that would have been essential during autopsies, while a slate floor is canted to a central drain.

adelaide, morgue, mental illness, asylum, glenside, dead house, lunatic asylum, botanic gardens, national wine centre, slate floor
The Morgue Has a Slate Floor With Central Drain


On the left of the door a long stone slab has a trough where a body can exsanguinate. The room is a similar size to the morgue at Torrens Island Quarantine Station which was constructed 30 years later.

The former Adelaide Lunatic Asylum Morgue or death house is one of only a few buildings from the original asylum to survive today. Situated not far from the ultra modern Bicentennial Conservatory, the original morgue table was reputedly used in the 1980's by gardeners as a table for potting plants, but these days the building is only used as a storage shed.

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Inside the Adelaide Lunatic Asylum Morgue


The former asylum's Yarrabee House and stables survive nearby as part of the National Wine Centre, and you can read more about them at this fascinating National Trust site dedicated to Adelaide history.

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A Plaque Tells the Story of the Morgue


The new Adelaidia website from History SA contains a wealth of information about Adelaide - old photographs, maps, and well researched history stories are all available on many topics including the Adelaide Lunatic Asylum.

Today the serene atmosphere of the Botanic Gardens and the National Wine Centre give little indication of its more disturbing past. But it does demonstrate that Adelaide has some well kept secrets, and should never be thought to be boring.

adelaide, morgue, mental illness, asylum, glenside, dead house, lunatic asylum, botanic gardens, national wine centre, bicentennial conservatory
The Bicentennial Conservatory and Cascade Glass Sculpture Nearby


For a scholarly historical look at Adelaide's lunatic asylums, see this thesis extract by Susan Piddock. The ABC have also produced this well illustrated article about Hospital history in Adelaide's Botanic Gardens which you can read here.

Thanks to Vin from Vintuitive Website Development for the story idea.

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Why? History wasn't always fun
Where: Adelaide Botanic Gardens
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Fascinating article Dave but you got me thinking, so I did a quick google. The population of SA around 1860 was around 100 000 and they're building lunatic asylums to house 200, so that's about one in 500 is a loony. Is this normal? Not that I'm insinuating anything lol
by glenop (score: 2|823) 1257 days ago
The morgue at the former Parkside Lunatic Asylum was in the middle of being restored last May/June, even the original slate slab. I didn't realise this building was the morgue for the Adelaide Lunatic Asylum. Thanks for a great article.
by sooty (score: 1|13) 1147 days ago
That asylum and morgue featured in a short comic-book story called 'House of Horrors' in issue #2 of DECAY (back in May 2010), produced written and drawn by local Adelaide creators and published by DARK OZ.
by kozio (score: 0|8) 1259 days ago
Great article and history.thankou!
by mehid (score: 2|131) 1259 days ago
Great article mate. If you come to Melbourne, you'll have to check out Larundel Mental Asylum (if it isn't demolished by then). It's completely abandoned and rather ceeepy!
by Mallory (score: 2|465) 1088 days ago
Really interesting bit of history - thanks for this David.
by Annie Waddington-Feather (score: 2|184) 1254 days ago
Fascinating article! I've seen the plaque in the grounds but never knew anything of the story behind it. Thanks so much Dave, your articles are always so interesting!
by Paula McManus (score: 3|2482) 1257 days ago
What beautiful architecture for the conservatory. Reminds me of the Bloedal Conservatory in Vancouver. Excellent article.
by Happy Mom (score: 2|548) 1259 days ago
A reader has pointed out:

The asylum and morgue featured in a short comic-book story called 'House of Horrors' in issue #2 of DECAY (back in May 2010), produced written and drawn by local Adelaide creators and published by DARK OZ.

Decay is a hard copy printed comic - more information here:http://www.darkoz.com.au/decay.html

In Adelaide you can buy Decay from here:
Pulp Fiction Comics,
Adelaide Comics Centre,
The Comics Shop,
Kollectable Kaos (Pooraka)
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|10170) 1258 days ago
Dave I keep reading Weekend Notes because your articles are so interesting and well researched. You have opened my eyes to many historic and cultural places and events in and around Adelaide. Keep it up I am a fan.
by laury (score: 0|5) 1253 days ago
Great article Dave and I had no clue about the asylum or where the plague was located! Thanks! Joanne
by micke (score: 1|73) 1259 days ago
I was an apprentice at botanic gardens in the 1980s and the morgue was used as a tools shed,/lunch room I'm now a mental health nurse! Not related to this experience but an irony really. We never thought twice about it being a morgue , we always knew thoguh..
by wendy (score: 0|5) 941 days ago
Interesting article , do you know anything about the Destitute Asylum at Walkerville that I believe was around a the same time for children of poor families and unmarried pregnant girls until they gave birth ?
by deb (score: 0|9) 843 days ago
Thank you for your captivating article Mr. Walsh, few things are so fascinating as a good lunatic asylum. What a chilling edifice that initial photo shows! Imagine being led up that long grey path to the entrance one cold morning- how the heart would pound...
by Max Flynn (score: 1|61) 1202 days ago
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