Ancestry UK

The Destitute Asylum, Adelaide, South Australia

The Destitute Asylum, opened in 1851 on Kintore Avenue, Adelaide, was the nearest Australia ever had to a British workhouse. The institution, run by the colonial government, housed the aged and infirm, the sick and convalescent, people with disabilities, orphaned and neglected children, and pregnant women.

The institution's regime was intended both to improve the inmates' moral character and also to deter the idle from entering the system. Inmates were required to wear a uniform, and men, women and children were segregated from one another — parents could only see their children for two hours each month. Inmates were allowed leave for one afternoon a week and could receive visitors for three hours on Wednesdays. The who were able to do so were required to work —; women did all the domestic chores, including cleaning, cooking, laundry work, and basic nursing. The men were occupied in repairing shoes, shelling almonds, or picking oakum.

The introduction of the old-age pension in 1909 reduced the demand for the the institution and it was closed in 1918. In 1922-4, the site was used as a reception centre for boys immigrating from Britain under a scheme established by Sir Henry Barwell.

Virtually all old the buildings on the site have been demolished. In 1986, South Australia's Migration Museum, was opened in the Asylum's former women's lying-in block at 82 Kintore Avenue, Adelaide. One of the permanent exhibitions tells the story of the institution and other facilities that once occupied the site, such as the Native School Establishment and the government's chemistry laboratories.

The Migration Musuem, Adelaide.



  • If Walls Could Speak An e-book about the Destitute Asylum and the stories of five of its inmates (best accessed via an iPad).


  • The Migration Museum website.
  • An app, providing virtual tours in in five languages, is available from the Apple and Google app stores — search for 'Migration Museum'.

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