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Goolwa Mortuary

Page history last edited by helen.halm@... 10 years ago

MORTUARY – GOOLWA – talk Jan 07


The Goolwa Morgue is one of a few remaining morgues of this type and size in South Australia. [There is one at Morgan and another in the Botanical Gardens in Adelaide and previously used for the Adelaide Lunatic Asylum.]

The Goolwa building is located adjacent to the Hindmarsh Island bridge approach on Brooking Street.

The building is on the Files of the National Trust.

Goolwa Mortuary Building 1883 –


It’s an interesting small building that has intrigued me for some time.

Apparently the story goes that the morgue became a necessity, due to the fact that the Australasian Hotel had previously stored the bodies in their cellar and complained bitterly that they no longer wanted the responsibility. [Under the provisions of the Licensed Victuallers Act of 1839, innkeepers were required to store on their premises the corpse of any persons found dead.] 1


You can understand how the licencee of the ‘Australasian Hotel’ felt, storing a body in the cellar. Often these bodies were the result of a drowning and perhaps had been in the water for days!!! These were the days of no refrigeration and I guess the smell did not go down well with the customers who were at the hotel for a drink and meal.


For a short while the bodies were stored in the cells of the police station, which was not satisfactory either.


 The tender for construction was advertised in the SA Government Gazette on 8th May 1883 and was won by Mr Frederick Ellis, builder of Goolwa. The contract was signed 16th June 1883 for ₤118 ($236).


The Southern Argus reported on 2nd June 1883 that the Government had kindly provided funds for an unfortunately necessary dead house. “We trust that it will be erelong it may be required for use.” [Southern Argus 2.6.1883].

It proved to be the case as it wasn’t needed for another 8 years.


The building was set on an artificial mound, spreading 10 feet from the walls constructed from local stone with red sandstock brick quoins and corrugated iron roof. Timber louvre window openings and space above the doors, with 44 earthenware air blocks, were specified to provide ventilation.  2.


 Mortuary continued


The concrete floor was laid with a slope to one side with a drainage channel next to the wall, 6inches wide and 4 inches deep, with a fall from ends to centre of 2 inches.

 Inside the building a slate topped table 7ft x 3 ft with a wooden base was constructed, and along one wall a 14inch wide shelf, with facilities for a sink was installed.


(The slate table is till in the room, but the shelf and sink are no longer there. The vent bricks have since been rendered over.)


In September 1883 an inground tank was constructed and a gate hung.

In the following years sparrow-proofing(1892),painting (1894) and a slate door-sill in 1902.


The first entry in the Goolwa Mortuary Register on 21st September 1891 records the death by drowning near the Murray Mouth of a Mr Henry Anderson. The entries are variably spaced until the last entry on 3rd September 1956 of Matti Hamlainen’s body, found on the Coorong Beach. The previous entry to that was in 1937 a space of 19 years!  3. 


Dawn Juers



Back to Mostly Goolwa   


1. ‘Pt Adelaide- Tales of a Commodious Harbour’ p338

2.  Extracted from ‘Old Police Station and Courthouse, Goolwa’  prepared by Paul Christie, Creative Alliance. April 1994.]

3. Goolwa Morgue Register GRG 5/183/4

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