“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Marcus Garvey.

The Kaurna
Originally, Torrens Island was occupied by Aborigines of the Kaurna tribe.
According to research undertaken by Gavin Malone and Karl Telfer:
“The Kaurna naming indicates the intertwined relationship between place, ecology and cultural practices. The Kaurna places are
• Wongayerlo-Gulf St Vincent
• Karrawirraparri,Tarnda-parri-River Torrens
• Yerta Bulti-Port River /Estuary

Mikawomma-The Plains between Adelaide and Port Adelaide
The Yerta Bulti, the Port River area and estuary near Torrens Island was a very important food source for the Kaurna people.

The Kaurna, prior to white settlement of Torrens Island, utilized both marine and estuarine areas of Torrens Island. Evidence of the Kaurna people living on Torrens Island, was that a stone hand axe and an Aboriginal midden were discovered on the island.The remains of 70 Kaurna people from the Port Adelaide district have been reburied on Torrens Island.
According to the research undertaken by Melvin:
“The Kaurna named Port Adelaide Yertabulti, which translates into the Land of Sleep or Land of Dead.”
According to South Australian Museum there are eight recorded archaeological sites on Torrens Island.
Yerta-bultingga, dunal Burial sites, indicates that the Kuarna people used the marshes and estuaries in and around Torrens Island.
The Kaurna did not have a name ,for Torrens Island, although ,there is a belief[unproven]among the Kaurna elders that the generic name Yarta-bulti might perhaps have been a general name for a large area where there were burial sites including the estuary and flood flats of Port Adelaide, Semaphore , Dry Creek and including Torrens Island.
Torrens Island, near Port Adelaide was named by Governor Gawler in 1837.Our second Governor promoted Aboriginal placenames, where they were known.
Torrens Island was named after Colonel Robert Torrens, chairman of the South Australian Colonisation Commission. Robert Torrens son
It is approximately 15.35 km NNW of the Adelaide GPO and is part of the Port Adelaide river estuary. The map shows that the Island is bounded by the Port Adelaide River, Barker Inlet, and the North Arm. It covers a total area of 815.7 hectares.
Torrens Island is steeped in the history of Adelaide and South Australia. The recorded history of the colony of South Australia is punctuated with references to the Port Adelaide area, the Port Adelaide River and Torrens Island. From 1836 to the mid 1960s Port Adelaide has been South Australia’s main harbour. Right from the beginning, Port Adelaide and the river played an important role in terms of defence and commerce. Its easily defended entrance made it an ideal location.

Map two, depicts the early settlement of South Australia in 1851, showing the importance of Port Adelaide and Torrens Island. This map was issued as part of 1851 edition of ‘Tallis and Company’s The Illustrated Atlas’ and Modern History of the World

Early Farming.

The earliest recorded permanent resident of Torrens Island was Isaac Yeo, a Devonshire miner who established a dairy farm somewhere near the southern end of the island after he arrived in the colony in 1847. However, its location at the mouth of the Port River, and its isolation from the main settlement, made it a highly desirable place for the purposes of quarantine. Torrens Island was chosen over Kangaroo Island and Wauraltee Island, because additional medical and other assistance could easily be located. Water could also be supplied.
Wauraltee Island is now Wardang Island of the Yorke Peninsula’s Port Victoria –and the local Narrunga Aborigines used to be able to swim out to it with a fire-stick in their hair!
According to the S.A. Government Gazette of[24 May 1850], an expenditure of £637 was granted to establish a Preventive Station, in response to the passing of South Australia’s first Quarantine Act, of 1850-‘of that same year’. The exact location of this station is not known. However the Wimmer study, has found evidence that the station was located “about one and a half miles south of the present station.”
Immigrants arriving in Adelaide face stringent quarantine checks, before being allowed into the general population. The process of quarantine meant that upon arrival, passengers were transferred onto the Island by boat via thejetty. There, the passengers were medically inspected and their luggage fumigated. Individual fumigation was done at the large communal bathing block. For over a hundred years, [1855-1966], the Torrens Island Quarantine Station, played a pivotal role in protecting the South Australian population from diseases like small pox, plague, yellow fever, cholera, typhus, influenza and leprosy. It is Australia’s oldest quarantine facility.

The Torrens Island as a Quarantine Station: 1850 -1966
The original proposal for a quarantine stations on the Island arose out of the South Australian government Ordinance No.3 of 1850.
“to provide for the prevention of the spread of epidemic and contagious disease on the arrival of merchant vessels”
In 1854 the colonial government, established sections 869 and 870 on Torrens Island as a reserve for the purpose of “securing ground” quarantine when the 24 sections were put up for sale. Then, in August 1854, Mr Yeo was effectively ordered off his land due the quarantining of passengers from the ship Taymouth Castle, who had smallpox. It was only a matter of time before he was forced to sell his property. In 1875, the Colonial Secretary recommended the establishment of a larger quarantine facility on Torrens Island and on 21 December 1875, the South Australian government bought his homestead, 100 acres and its supply of fresh water.
The colony of South Australia operated under the “English Public Health Act “of 1848.
Due to more settlers arriving in the colony and a major quarantine crisis in Port Adelaide, during the 1870s, the authorities decided to build a permanent quarantine station.
15 June 1878, The Advertiser reported,
“The Government having decided on making Torrens Island the Quarantine Station, having purchased 30 wooden houses at Port Adelaide, and will have them erected on the island without delay.”


Early Photo of Quarantine Station.

The South Australian Government began construction of the Quarantine Station on 21 June, at the north-western end of the Island. It was completed in 1879. It was completed the following year and consisted of a timber-framed with single and married quarters, hospital wards, disinfecting rooms, a doctor’s residence, staff quarters, kitchen, dining room, mortuary and cemetery.

New Quarantine Station 1879. SLSA.B4071.

By the mid 1880s all the remaining land on Torrens Island was purchased by the South Australian Government and became Crown Land.
From the beginning, quarantine was the responsibility of colonial governments. However after Federation, the Commonwealth assumed responsibility of quarantine.

A regulation notice taken and displayed at the Torrens Island Quarantine Station.

With the passing of the Federal Quarantine Act of 1908, Torrens Island became Commonwealth property o n1 July 1909 ,although State and Commonwealth governments continued to argue over the valuation of the Island for a further eight years.
Between 1909 to 1912 there was tension between State and Commonwealth officials. However, from 1912 onwards permanent quarantine officials were appointed. Dr W.J.Getting became the Chief Medical Officer for South Australia.
During this period there were many upgrades and extension to the quarantine facilities. The Station saw the implementation of the new Commonwealth quarantine practices and as a result the layout and design of the new hospital, bathing and disinfecting complex, reflected the latest in medical and quarantine practice. Over the course of the next 70 years, the Quarantine Station played the pivotal role in this State.