Thesis abstract ‘Accommodating the Destitute: An Historical and Archaeological Consideration of the Destitute Asylum of Adelaide’

13th January 2014

Susan Piddock

MA, Department of Archaeology, Flinders University of South Australia, Adelaide, May 1996

This thesis centres on the Destitute Asylum of Adelaide, an institution established in 1849 to provide relief for the poor of Adelaide, South Australia. The Destitute Asylum is viewed from the perspective of historical archaeology. In the thesis, I have sought to elucidate the origins and history of the Destitute Asylum using documents, plans and photographs. From a theoretical standpoint, I have considered whether the Asylum in its built form follows any particular model, and if so, what were the origins of this model? What ideas and beliefs informed its creation and operation?

This research seeks to identify to what extent the colonists of South Australia bought with them ideas about poor relief from England. This has particular importance as South Australia, which was founded in 1836, was without a resident convict population, and the colony was established two years after the introduction of the New Poor Law in England. This law saw the widespread institutionalisation of the poor.

The thesis provides an overview of English Poor Law history with particular attention being focussed on sources of information about the workhouses: their design, layout, and stated purpose. From these sources a model was developed of the characteristics that defined a workhouse, including room and space allocation. The thesis goes on to argue that, while the Destitute Board sought to operate the Destitute Asylum as a form of workhouse, it was frustrated in its attempts by the nature of the buildings given to it by the colonial government, and by the lack of authority it had over its own buildings. This in turn led to the failure of attempts to establish a moral environment where the inmates might be reformed. By outlining the history of the buildings and the development of the Asylum site, this thesis identifies factors that led to the failure of the stated of the Destitute Board.

When viewed in the light of the workhouse model, the Destitute Asylum shows a marked similarity in room and space allocation. These similarities include the division of the overall site into male and female areas, the provision of wards with some rudimentary classification, dining rooms, workshops, a chapel and lying-in wards. But as the thesis indicates the use of buildings and the space within them goes beyond room identification, and relates to the rules and regulations that controlled the inmates’ lives within them. A building is in effect a shell, human activity shapes the space, and understood meanings within society identify a building and its role. Room provisions may present a guide to a building’s function, but identification of the exact role and the social meanings implicit in a building may need to be found in documents and oral histories that relate to the structure in question.

Piddock, S.
Thesis abstract 'Accommodating the Destitute: An Historical and Archaeological Consideration of the Destitute Asylum of Adelaide'
December 1997
Thesis Abstracts
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