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Torrens Island Quarantine Station

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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 July 4th 2013
See how boat people were treated 100 years ago
torrens island, quarantine station, national trust, maritime museum, in adelaide, south australia, heritage listed, torrens island quarantine station, waiting room
The First Step - Quarantine Waiting Room (1915)


Not long after South Australia was settled by Europeans it became clear that there was a need to segregate seriously ill new arrivals from overseas away from the general population. The management of diseases such as smallpox was not well advanced, and a practical solution was to quarantine affected passengers for as long as was necessary.

Early on a hulk was moored off Semaphore but it was quickly found that this was not a desirable long term solution.

In 1879 a quarantine station was built on Torrens Island - about as remote as you could get while still being in Adelaide. The modest cost of 25,000 to build it was well spent, as the facilities were used for the next hundred years. In 1909 disease control and quarantine became a Commonwealth responsibility, and more money was spent between 1912-1915 to upgrade the station. It included dormitories for singles and cottages for married couples. There was provision for medical care with a doctor's residence, a small hospital and a morgue.

torrens island, quarantine station, national trust, maritime museum, in adelaide, south australia, heritage listed, torrens island quarantine station, jetty
The Jetty Leading to the Torrens Island Quarantine Station


By all accounts it was a humane place, offering a good standard of food and medical care comparable with what was available in Adelaide. Despite that there were a number of deaths, and a cemetery became necessary.

torrens island, quarantine station, national trust, maritime museum, in adelaide, south australia, heritage listed, torrens island quarantine station, grave marker
A Grave Marker for a Passenger Who Did Not Survive


The passengers and crew disembarked via a jetty (re-built in 1923) when they arrived, and proceeded to the Waiting Room were they were questioned and their medical details assessed. Passenger luggage was inspected, fumigated and stored safely pending their discharge from quarantine.

There was a large boiler house to provide hot water and steam for cooking, bathing and the laundry. It originally burned coal but in 1967 was converted to use oil.

torrens island, quarantine station, national trust, maritime museum, in adelaide, south australia, heritage listed, torrens island quarantine station, bathing block
Bathing Block Exterior, Built 1916


Torrens Island residents had a large communal bathing block with baths and showers.

torrens island, quarantine station, national trust, maritime museum, in adelaide, south australia, heritage listed, torrens island quarantine station, shower block
Bathing Block Interior


Each bath unit was divided into separate cubicles - one for undressing, the bath, and one for dressing. The dividers and baths have now been removed. It must have been a terribly cold place in winter!

torrens island, quarantine station, national trust, maritime museum, in adelaide, south australia, heritage listed, torrens island quarantine station, doctor
Refshauge House, Used Later by the Doctor


A substantial house (Refshauge House, built 1916) was built to accommodate the Superintendent, and was later used by the Doctor and for his surgery.

torrens island, quarantine station, national trust, maritime museum, in adelaide, south australia, heritage listed, torrens island quarantine station, prefabricated
Prefabricated Timber Cottage Imported from US in 1879


In 1879 thirty prefabricated Oregon and redwood cottages were imported from the US to South Australia for use as accommodation. The rooms measured from 14 feet x 12 feet to 14 feet x 16 feet and were designed to accommodate around 8 people each.

torrens island, quarantine station, national trust, maritime museum, in adelaide, south australia, heritage listed, torrens island quarantine station, bedroom
Prefabricated Cottage Bedroom


Only one of these cottages still remains on Torrens Island, with its furniture still intact.



Later a group of brick chalets were constructed to accommodate family groups. Each chalet comprised two units. From the differing construction it appears they were built at different times.


torrens island, quarantine station, national trust, maritime museum, in adelaide, south australia, heritage listed, torrens island quarantine station, hospital
Hospital and Change Room Built 1912


It was necessary to isolate the contagious ill people, and a separate hospital and morgue were built at the north-east corner of the quarantine station.

torrens island, quarantine station, national trust, maritime museum, in adelaide, south australia, heritage listed, torrens island quarantine station, morgue
The Table Inside The Morgue (1912)


Accommodation was available for some resident staff and the remaining residences can still be seen near the beach. Other staff had to stay elsewhere in Aelaide.

torrens island, quarantine station, national trust, maritime museum, in adelaide, south australia, heritage listed, torrens island quarantine station, staff member
1960's Staff Member & Son Outside Former Home


The heritage listed Torrens Island Quarantine Station remains state government property for the present. While access to the Island is not possible normally due to security for the neighbouring power station, we are lucky that the Port Adelaide Maritime Museum has been hosting occasional tours. Check their website if you are interested in seeing this unique piece of history, or contact the Maritime Museum.

Tours cost $25 per person, take around 2 hours, and are very informative, including time to take photos and do a little exploring. A handout is also supplied containing lots of relevant background information. I highly recommend the tours for anyone with an interest in our history.

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Torrens Island Fire Station


The National Trust of SA has listed the quarantine station on its Heritage at Risk list because of concerns about environmental protection and damage to heritage listed buildings through poor maintenance.

The National Trust's Port Adelaide branch and the Port Adelaide Residents Environment Protection Group have both been expressing concern about environmental protection and government plans to industrialise this remote area of Adelaide that has suffered little human damage over the last hundred years. You can read the reasons why here.

torrens island, quarantine station, national trust, maritime museum, in adelaide, south australia, heritage listed, torrens island quarantine station, industrial
An Industrial Future Looms Over Torrens Island


Perhaps these tours by the Maritime Museum will help provide a future for this desolate place, producing an income which can be directed towards maintaining it for future generations.

The Friends of Torrens Island work hard to look after the heritage listed Quarantine Station and the natural environment of Torrens Island. Find out more on their website and Facebook page.

If you'd like to see more images of the Torrens Island Quarantine Station, see the Friends of Torrens Island Flickr website. For a scholarly look at the Quarantine Station, read this great publication from Flinders University.
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Why? See it before the government sells it for development
Phone: (08) 8207 6255
Where: Torrens Island, SA
Cost: $25
Your Comment
hi do you do them at night as my team and i are very interested in doing one at night
by loren (score: 0|8) 651 days ago
enthralling and interesting article.
by Joya (score: 3|1666) 687 days ago
Haha, I didn't recognise you from your picture Paula. Aaaah, I went @ 10am, did you go on a later one?
by Dave Walsh (score: 3|7663) 728 days ago
Wow, what a fascinating slice of history. The photos are great, really enhance the story.
by Hayley Rich (score: 2|873) 726 days ago
Thanks for this Dave, I will definitely be paying the island a visit now
by Dorcas Mbugua (score: 1|30) 678 days ago
Have visited, an amazing piece of history, thank you!
by mehid (score: 2|126) 473 days ago
What a really interesting article about Torrens Island. I cant wait to visit. It should be preserved.
Philippa
by phil. (score: 0|5) 16 days ago
I don't believe it!!! I also did this tour yesterday - we were on the same tour! I don't believe it!!
by Paula McManus (score: 3|1126) 728 days ago
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