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A new permanent exhibition on
the Destitute Asylum opened
recently at Adelaide’s Migration
Museum. Annie O’Neill attended
the launch and spoke to curator
Corinne Ball about the forgotten
stories of the 1678 children who
were born there.
As Corinne Ball and her team went through
the archives of the Destitute Asylum they
couldn’t help but be touched deeply.
“It really felt that some of the people
tugged at our sleeves and asked for their
stories to be told, we have really come to
feel close to many of them,” she said.
The exhibition is about the different uses
of the site, from the 1840s to the 1970s,
and encompasses three main phases –
the Native School Establishment (1840s
to early 1850s), the Destitute Asylum
(1850s to 1918), and the SA Department of
Corinne said the overarching theme
through these phases was the governance
of public health, and the welfare of the
South Australian people.
Research for the exhibition uncovered the
names and birthdates of the babies born
between 1880 and 1909 at the Lying-in
Home, one of the many buildings that
made up the Destitute Asylum.
The state-funded Destitute Asylum was
established in Adelaide to house the
poverty-stricken. The asylum provided
‘lying-in’ accommodation for pregnant
women who were unmarried, widowed
or deserted, and in 1878 a purpose-built
Lying-in Home was built on the ever-
The Destitute Asylum provides an insight
into how the poor lived in the new colony.
South Australia was planned according to
the Wakefield principles, (Edward Gibbon
Wakefield,1796-1862, was an author and
colonial promoter of South Australia and
New Zealand) that believed there should
be no poor or destitute. According to this
theory, emigration of the correct proportion
of capital and labour would create an
ideal society free from social, economic,
political or religious problems. It was to be
a self-sustaining society, prosperous and
virtuous without the need to provide for the
Within months of landing at Holdfast Bay
harsh reality proved to be very different.
Almost from the very start the South
Australian Immigration Agent had to
provide assistance to those in need. As
early as 1843 the government passed
its first legislation to deal with poverty. It
became law that relatives were responsible
for the maintenance and relief of deserted
wives and children.
Soon the South Australian government
found itself reluctantly supporting destitute
people who had no relatives in the colony
and became the main source of relief funds
when it established the Destitute Board to
administer to the poor. By March 1856 a
quadrangle of buildings in Kintore Avenue
off North Terrace known as the Destitute
Asylum, the first institution of its kind in
the Australian colonies, was providing
‘indoor relief’ to 65 women, 30 men and 43
Pregnant women who entered the Home
had to agree to follow the instructions
given by the matron, which were to
declare the paternity of the child they
were expecting and remain at the home
for six months after the birth of the child.
During their stay women were expected to
breastfeed their babies which was hoped
would increase their chances of survival.
Between January 1 1880 and December
31 1909 nearly 1700 babies were born
at the Lying-in Home; 116 of those were
stillborn. While some did not survive the
first six months of life, most either left with
their mothers or were placed in the care of
the State Children’s Council. There are a
few interesting details at the exhibition on
those who survived and went on to have
full and happy lives.
The launch event remembered the 1678
babies born at the Lying-in Home which
was held fittingly on Mother’s Day.
The three curators of the exhibition spent
over an hour reading aloud the names and
birthdates of those who had survived and
those who were stillborn at the Asylum.
An installation made up of labels bearing
the names of both the survivors and
the stillborn hangs from the ceiling as a
touching and permanent record of all the
babies born there.
This recognition was very important for the
women who curated the exhibition.
”We felt it was important that their untold
stories were heard, and in particular to
recognise the stillborn babies. As mothers
this was very important to us, as we do
things very differently around perinatal
death these days, and the way things were
done at the Destitute Asylum seems so
alien to us, and so hurtful for the women,”
The exhibition formed part of South
Australia’s History Festival and provides
a sobering insight into early settler life
for those members of the community
whose circumstances determined them as
For more information, visit the
Migration Museum website
Bringing numbers to life
BLESSED: The Sacred Heart Church at Hindmarsh was nearly full on June 3 as local school
students and parishioners gathered to celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart and the official
blessing of the church following extensive refurbishment. Students from the nearby St Joseph’s
Catholic School, Immaculate Heart of Mary School, Lady of La Vang School, St Michael’s and
Nazareth colleges attended the Mass which was celebrated by Vicar General Fr Philip Marshall.
The 90-year-old church has received a $750,000 facelift in recent months, which included the
installation of reverse cycle air conditioning, new carpet, new light fixtures, painting inside and
out and repairing the dormers upstairs.
FROM THE PAST: The Lying-in Home building being renovated in 1918.
Image: SLSA Collection B206.
The Guild of St Luke
Mass and Dinner
Catholic Health Professionals are invited to celebrate the
Feast of our Patron Saint with an afternoon of inspiring
faith stories, Mass and dinner
The Conference will be held on
Saturday, October 15 in Connery 2 Meeting Room,
Calvary North Adelaide from 3-6pm
Mass is celebrated from 6-7pm in the adjacent main
chapel of Calvary Hospital
Dinner begins at 7:30pm at a nearby restaurant
This half-day event is also open to other family members.
Conference cost (inc. 2-course dinner) is
$75.00 – payable in cash only on the day.
Bookings essential – by October 8
to Dr Randy Juanta 0412 872 639
or firstname.lastname@example.org and
for more information
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