Torrens Island Quarantine Station, South Australia – Fact sheet 228

Quarantine and its administration in Australia

Quarantine derives from a Venetian practice of 40 days detention or compulsory isolation for ships and people to prevent the spread of contagious diseases. Quarantine stations were established at each of the major ports of entry to Australia in colonial times and for many migrants the quarantine station was their first experience of a new life in Australia.

Torrens Island Quarantine Station

A proposal for the establishment of a quarantine station for the colony of South Australia on Torrens Island is recorded as early as 1850. Newspaper reports indicate the station was operating by 1855. The location of Torrens Island at the mouth of Adelaide’s Port River, but isolated from the main settlement, made it ideal for a quarantine station. It could be reached only by launch or barge, and had to provide its own facilities (including power, water and sewerage) until 1962, when a bridge was constructed from the mainland to enable a power station to be built for the Electricity Trust of South Australia.

Torrens Island was run by the South Australian government throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, but with the proclamation of Commonwealth quarantine legislation in 1909 it passed to the Australian Government. At this time the station covered 551 acres and had accommodation for up to 224 people.

During World War I (1914–18) the quarantine station was used as an internment camp by the Australian Army. Additional information on this aspect of Torrens Island is provided in World War I internee, alien and POW records held in Adelaide.

Following the declaration by the World Health Organisation of the eradication of smallpox in 1979, Torrens Island closed as a human quarantine station. It remains a facility for animal and plant quarantine.

A cemetery is located within the station complex. Records indicated there were 10 burials in the cemetery between 1887 and 1932.

Records of Torrens Island Quarantine Station

The National Archives Adelaide Office holds a significant collection of records of Torrens Island Quarantine Station dating from as early as 1857. A selection of these records is listed in the table below.

Collection references

Other records about Torrens Island Quarantine Station

The National Archives also holds records about Torrens Island Quarantine Station created by a number of other Australian Government agencies. These include the Department of Health, the Public Works Branch, and the Chief Property Officer. A selection of records held by the National Office, Canberra, the Adelaide Office, and the Sydney Office are listed below.




 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemQuarantine Station – definition of area (contains a short history of the island)1955–77D761, 160/8/2 part 1
ItemTorrens Island Quarantine Station – photographs for master plan1968D3481, Torrens Island panoramic views

Locating further information

Search the collection to identify additional records relating to Torrens Island Quarantine Station. Keyword searches for items using the terms ‘torrens island’ and ‘quarantine’ will find items of interest.

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Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019