Launceston Invalid Asylum

Group of men at the Invalid Asylum

The Launceston Invalid Asylum or Invalid Depot was established in 1868 by refurbishing the old Military Barracks in what is now Royal Park. Principally, its inmates were destitute male emancipists with chronic medical conditions resulting from congenital defects, injury, disease or old age. For its first twenty years it was administered by the Superintendent of the Launceston Penal Establishment and was effectively a regimented penal environment.

The institution sought to control inmate behaviour and like the earlier penal rules, the Invalid Depot's regulations emphasised discipline, order, cleanliness, the centralisation of power and authority, and the regimentation of activity. The bodies of the inmates were at the mercy of environmental factors. The building was infested with lice, dry summers regularly resulted in an inadequate water, and a faulty sewage system and poorly functioning water closets meant smells at times pervaded the building. The Depot was perpetually overcrowded and the adjacent gaol was used to house female invalids and surplus of male invalids. Numbers peaked at around 200 inmates in mid-1897.

Inadequate accommodation stifled the capacity to provide effective, viable and progressive management. As time passed, problems associated with overcrowding, particularly with regard to order and discipline, combined with other issues such as escalating costs, forced major changes upon the manner in which invalids were managed. As administrators learned from early mistakes, new measures were implemented, involving previously undervalued reformist ideals. Incarceration in a generalised establishment was replaced by categorisation in specialised medical institutions with distinctive medical care for different categories of 'patients'. From 1895 the Launceston Benevolent Society managed the Depot, but it ran down and finally closed in 1912. A Home for Invalids was built in South Launceston in 1913, which ran until 1954, when it was replaced by Cosgrove Park Home for the Aged.

Further reading: S Breen, 'Outdoor poor relief in Launceston, 18601880', THRAPP 38/1, 1991; S Breen, Contested Places, Hobarts, 2001; JC Brown, 'Poverty is Not a Crime', Hobart, 1972; J Hargrave, 'A pauper establishment is not a jail: old crawlers in Tasmania 18561895', M Hum thesis, UT, 1993; AKS Piper, 'Beyond the convict system: the aged poor and institutionalisation in colonial Tasmania', PhD thesis, UT, 2003; B Valentine, 'Nelumie Flats: a history of the site from 1912', The Archive 12, 1997; Annual Reports of the Institution, AOT.

Andrew Piper