Torrens Island Quarantine Station

Torrens Island Quarantine Station

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Posted 2012-11-26 by Dave Walshfollow


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.



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.



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



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!



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



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.



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.


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.



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.



The heritage listed 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.



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 .



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 , 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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156035 - 2023-06-14 11:46:53

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