Personal Stories

This is the record of my great grandmother, Elizabeth Roberts, at the Parkside Asylum.


On May 16, 1881 Elizabeth Roberts of Orroroo suffering from Mania, was admitted to the Adelaide Asylum at 12.15am by request of Mr Peters [name unreadable]  No particulars were sent from Police Court. ‘Nicholas Gilbert, laborer, of Orroroo stated that she had been living with him and that at least one of her children is his and that her husband is in Liverpool.’

Page from AO2F folio 234 GRG34/18-19 Records of Admission Adelaide Asylum.

GRG34/19 Records of Admittance Parkside Asylum.

Robert, Elizabeth – alias Mrs Gilbert, Parkside Asylum 162.

GRG34/122 Index of Patients Admitted Parkside Asylum.

17-8-82 Elizabeth Roberts.

The Parkside Lunatic Asylum received its first inmates, who were male, on 18 May 1870 and females followed later and were housed in dormitories upstairs in the main central block. The contract for the additional female ward built to the north of the original block was signed on 6 July 1880 and is possibly where great grandmother Elizabeth was houses in dormitories upstairs when she was admitted in 1882. [1] A visit to the Parkside Lunatic Asylum was published in great detail in the Observer 29 January 1876 so the activities and conditions possibly very similar to Elizabeth Robert’s time when first admitted.

‘With reference to daily life in the institution, every incident of which is recorded by the officer in charge . . . The inmates  . . .rise at 6 o’clock in summer and 7 in winter. The male patients as well as the female make their own bed and “tidy up” their own rooms, under supervision of the attendants . . . All household work, including culinary preparations, are performed by the inmates, the latter of course being under the direction of the cook. All labour, however, is purely voluntary, and every day there are a number in the institution reported as “unwilling to work”. Breakfast is served at 8 o’clock all year round, and for the next two hours there is no appointed work . . .The working hours are only four each day, namely, from 10 to 12 and from 2 to 4 o’clock, . . . The daily routine for the women is similar to the men, with no outside work, but more of that to which they have been accustomed in the happier days of their life. Some of the women are very industrious, and the result is that with pure voluntary aid nearly the whole of their own garments and those of the men are made within the building . . . The report of the 73 females shows that on the same day (as the98 male inmates were categorised with 38 unable or unwilling to work) only 12 [women] were unemployed, 35 being either sewing or knitting, 22 doing household work and 4 reading or writing. Lunch is served at 1 o’clock and tea at 5 o’clock. The evening is spent according to the inclination of the inmates themselves, either in games, such as dominoes, draughts, cards, or reading, drawing, or any kind of amusement that might be improvised. Occasionally kind friend from the city give musical or theatrical entertainment, to the intense enjoyment of the unfortunate inmates . . .

When my great Aunt Phyllis was a girl about C1905 she accompanied her father, James Henry Rule, to the asylum to ‘ take a group of the inmates for a walk to the racecourse. Jim loved talking to people.’ [2]   At that time her brother Will was married to Ethel Roberts, daughter of Elizabeth Roberts. Grandma wanted to try and trace her mother but Will’s mother Louisa Rule talked her out of it. I wonder if she knew where she was?

With reference to the “reading” set down, it should be explained that in reality they read but very little; in fact we were informed that most of the inmates of the Parkside asylum – . . . -it mattes not whether they have the same paper a dozen times, they always read it with the same avidity and apparent enjoyment. Their chief delight, of course, is in illustrated papers and books, the pictures in which possess to them the charm of eternal freshness. But they always delight when bedtime comes and they can enter into sweet forgetfulness. They crowd round the door where they know the officer will come to give the signal, and they hurry upstairs like guests to a banquet chamber.’

1883 April 12
Visitors to patients

Patient                                                             Name and Resident of Visitor

Elizabeth Roberts                                           Mrs Marcia Dillon
Parkside Asylum                                            Young St Unley
Alias Mrs Gilbert                                           Neighbour

I don’t see how Mrs Dillon could be a neighbour of Elizabeth Roberts when Elizabeth came from Orrooroo. (A Mrs Eliza Dillon took Ethel Roberts in service. She was the daughter of Mrs Holloway who fostered grandma as a baby. I wonder if there was any connection?)

GRG34/55 Night attendants Report Female 1880 -1935.
C 1900.

Elizabeth Roberts was not listed as being wet, wet and dirty, fit, need medication, noisy, number of changes or had visitors. She must have been a model patient. One wonders if she was admitted due to undiagnosed postnatal depression.

GRG1/44/1930 City Coroners Reports Police Reports p. 494.

On 11 November 1930 Mr Downey the Superintendent of the Parkside Mental Hospital asked the officer in charge of Angus Street Police Station to inform the coroner “that Elizabeth ROBERTS, aged about 80 years, a patient at this hospital, died herein at 5.40 pm on the 10th November 1930.

She was admitted to the Adelaide Asylum on the 16th May 1881 and was transferred to the Parkside Asylum on the 17th August 1882. She suffered from Secondary Dementia. On the 3rd May 1930 the patient developed cardiac irregularity and syncope. On the 3rd November 1930 auricular fibrillation developed. On the 5th November 1930 the patient has a haemorrhagic attack. She became weaker and died as stated.

In my opinion the cause of death were Cerebral Haemorrhage and Heart Failure.

This poor lady was in mental asylums for over 49 years and had one visitor.

The Adelaide Asylum 16 May 1881.

The Parkside Lunatic Asylum 17 August 1882.

Named changed to Parkside Mental Hospital 1913 to 3 May 1930.


elizabeth-roberts-2 elizabeth-roberts-3

GRG1/44/1930 City Coroners report Police Reports p494.

My grandmother, Ethel Roberts, daughter of Elizabeth Roberts became a Ward of the State and was fostered out first at the age of 7 months but the lady was considered too stout to attend to the infant. The next lady took her aged 8 months and had her until she was aged 13 and went into service.

GRG28/5 Registration of Admission to Destitute Asylum.
1881 entry 174It was recommended by the police that Ethel Roberts, aged 3 months (b. 2-3-81 but not registered) be admitted, religion C of E, mother Elizabeth Roberts in Lunatic Asylum.

Reason for requiring admission.

Illegitimate child of Elizabeth Roberts, putative father Nicholas Gilbert working on the Nairne ? (Orroroo) Railway who agrees to pay 3/6 per week towards its maintenance.

GRG28/5 Registration of Admission to Destitute Asylum. SRSA. Ethel Roberts.


[1] 1870-1970 Commemorating the Centenary of the Glenside Hospital ps 16, 35.

[2] From Guernsey with Caire, by Pat Perry. p. 306.

6 responses to “Personal Stories

  1. My father James Pine worked at Parkside,(later Glenside)within Z Ward in the 60’s, he actually took me in there one day to meet George Hall (Of Halls Drinks) who was an patient(inmate),George was paintiing in oils and he painted a work of a Stallion which he named “Restless” and gave it to my father,the painting was later given to my Brother Robert and after his death on the railyard in Naracoorte SA the painting was stolen from my late brothers sister-in-law Beverely’s home in 1969,the day dad took me in to Z Ward the staffer cleared the area except for George Hall, I doubt that this was arranged officially, Ive never mentioned this visit to Z Ward until now but my mother mentioned it at christmas shortly before she died a few years ago and said had the senior officials found out there would have been trouble, I must say it was an eerie place even then with moaning coming from other areas of the building, I also witnessed patients with rubber tyres strapped to their legs dragging them around a yard.

    I will follow up the tyre reference as not heard of this – DB

    • My mother was in Z ward there because of no room anywhere else. She had undiagnosed postnatal depression but they didn’t understand that, in the 60s. C as n anyone help me find out about my mother’s stay tbere? She was given electric shock treatment as well. I just need to know more and all living relies are dead who might have known more.

      • Sue, I am in a similar position, my uncle died in Z Ward in 1957, he was only 16-17 years of age. I want to find out a bit more about him.

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