Skip to content

the Adelaide city mortuary

Constable John Moss accompanied the body in a police ambulance to the city mortuary immediately after Dr Bennett’s cursory examination of the corpse in an ambulance outside the Emergency Entrance at Adelaide Hospital. The mortuary, more commonly known as the morgue is a small elaborately detailed building within the Parkview Insane Asylum complex, now known as Glenside Hospital, located in the parklands surrounding Adelaide’s West Terrace Cemetery.

The mortuary was built from Yatala stone, most probably quarried by early convicts from stone quarried from the Dry Creek Linear Park, which runs seventeen miles outside of the city. Yatala is a word from the  Weira group of the Kaurna Aboriginal people, meaning water running by the side of a river.

Moss helped to carry the body into another building, the morgue, on a stretcher where it was stripped of all clothing, date-labeled and left for the autopsy. The clothing was collected by Moss, taken back to the Brighton Police Station and placed in the evidence room. This may have been where the underwear in his pockets was later removed and left with all his other clothing.

As far as I can tell, the body of the Somerton Man was housed at the Parkside Insane Asylum complex in Adelaide from December 1st until his burial on the 14th of June 1949. This is the building Laurie Elliott, the embalmer, visited almost weekly for three months to keep the corpse in a reasonable viewing condition.

front room

Mortuary: front room.

The government pathologist, Doctor John Matthew ‘Barb’ Dwyer of 105 Port Road, Hindmarsh, an inner suburb of Adelaide, was given the responsibility of conducting the post-mortem of the body at the city mortuary and he began his task at 7:30am on 2 December 1948.

This is where he worked.

middle room and post mortem table

work room

Constable Scan Sutherland of the Metropolitan Station assisted Doctor Dwyer with the autopsy and at its conclusion took possession of four glass jars, which he delivered to Robert James Cowan, the South Australian deputy government analyst. The jars contained the following specimens:

Jar 1: stomach and contents.

Jar 2: liver and muscle.

Jar 3: urine.

Jar 4: blood.

This is where he collected them.

The specimen room.

spec room

All images sourced from The South Australian Medical Heritage Society Inc.


18 Comments Post a comment
  1. An old ex-copper and I were talking about this today in the Bangalow Bowlo and he said in his day, in morgues such as this one they used coffin shaped, tin containers to hold the ice. Nothing like going to the source is there, and he agreed that the stink would have been almost unbearable.

    March 24, 2016
  2. Agreed it wouldn’t have been pleasant but they would have had deodarants for whenever a viewing was scheduled I think. Certainly was the case in the UK which doesn’t mean that it was the same here. We also used to have special curtains and cover sheets so that all that would be seen was the head/face. The stitch marks across the forehead were coveted with morticians wax. Spoke with GF about that and he agreed.
    Speaking of GF, he has had a duplicity of problems! Firstly he has internet issues and secondly health issues. He intends to take a break and will respond to your and NP’s emails when he has time.
    He is a good man for whom we all have time, please understand he is taking a break and may not respond for a while

    March 24, 2016
  3. lewiansto #

    Sorry Pete, your Adelaide geography is a little out. Parkside / Glenside is nowhere near the West Terrace Cemetary. In fact, it’s on the opposite side of the city.,138.6087937,15z

    March 24, 2016
    • Lew, GF mentioned that the morgue SM was sent had refridge units and steel trolleys … and it was in the West Terrace Cemetery.

      July 30, 2016
  4. Cheers Lew, that’s why I put it up, to get it right.

    March 24, 2016
  5. Thanks GC, much appreciated as well.

    March 24, 2016
  6. At last, an accord.

    March 24, 2016
  7. Lucas #

    Nice article. Refreshing!

    March 24, 2016
  8. Clive #

    Looks pretty primitive from 2016 viewpoint, still I suppose the person lying down wouldn’t have been too bothered!

    March 25, 2016
  9. Your middle name wouldn’t be Droll would it Clive?

    March 25, 2016
  10. Clive #

    No, it’s Julian (almost as bad)!

    March 26, 2016
  11. Jilly #

    “now known as Glenside Hospita “. Not any more, I don’t think. Possibly SA Film Corporation?

    March 29, 2016
    • Jilly, Lewiansto says: Sorry Pete, your Adelaide geography is a little out. Parkside / Glenside is nowhere near the West Terrace Cemetary. In fact, it’s on the opposite side of the city.
      Do you go with that?

      March 29, 2016
  12. lewiansto #

    My understanding is that it is used for both. There was a redevelopment in 2012 of the mental health facilities and some of the older buildings were taken over by the S.A. Film Corporation

    March 29, 2016
  13. Xlamb #

    Pete… If you check a map book or google maps, Glenside Hospital lies bordered by Fullerton Rd., Greenhill Rd. and Glen Osmond Tce. But that’s just from memory. I only drove past it about 30 minutes ago coming back home from Town. They’re the roads I normally travel.
    You may also recall discussions about the pub, Elephant Ant Castle re- SM’s funeral (I think the then proprietor pitched in to help with funding / along with Horse Racing mob). That Pub lies opposite side on West Tce from where the cemetery is.
    That might put landmarks in better perspective.
    As a side note my Mother entered the then Parkside Mental Hospital on the evening of 29/12/66 seeking safety and was found dead on the floor by morning 30/12/66. I have all her case notes. She was deemed fit and healthy on entering the hospital. Autopsy found no cause of death. Chemical analysis for the usual suspects showed no poisons were present, thus deemed ‘natural causes age 34’. She didn’t smoke, drink or do drugs and a pity she didn’t have more fun in her short good Catholic life considering her outcome anyway (not that I would ever condone hammering ones body with illicit and dangerous substances).

    They changed the hospital’s name from Parkside to Glenside not that long after.

    There was no further investigation nor an Inquest into our Mother’s death. I’ve wondered whether todays methods of testing might reveal more re- presence of chemicals in her system. The sort of poisons that were not detectable back in 1966 and a similar dilemma for poisons testing for SM in 1948.
    We can do these things so much better these days.

    March 29, 2016
  14. Jilly #

    sorry, yeap absolutey. West Tce Cemetry is on the Western border of the CBD (Adelaide is roughyl a square mile bordered by West, North, East, South Tces) . Parkside/Glenside is out the South-Eastern Corner (not sure if it’s 1 or 2 suburbs out the city) on Fullarton Rd (as Xlamb says). you can either follow WEST Tce south to Greenhill Rd and then turn East toward partkside or follow South Tce East where it vears right onto Glen Osmond rd and arrive at the other end of the campus that way.

    Definitely not the same Place.

    March 30, 2016
  15. GF wrote that they took him to a place with refrigeration and steel trolleys – A hospital morgue?

    July 18, 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s