CHAMPION COLUMN | Liverpool: the town of old men

PLACE TO CLL HOME: The Liverpool Asylum housed 900 men at its peak.
PLACE TO CLL HOME: The Liverpool Asylum housed 900 men at its peak.

The revelations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care had me harking back to the days when Liverpool was the centre of aged care and reflect on the massive changes we’ve seen to how we care for the ageing.

Before we had today’s aged care centres if you were old, and could not take care of yourself, you would end up in a government institution like the Liverpool Asylum for the Infirm and Destitute.

The asylum would accept men of any age but the asylum, which operated between 1853 and 1958, became commonly known as the Liverpool Old Men’s Asylum.

In 19th century NSW, there was a large disparity between the male and female population. There had always been significantly more male convicts than women and many battle-scarred former soldiers, sailors and fortune seekers also ended up in Sydney. 

At its peak in 1889, some 900 men from around Sydney and NSW were crammed into the wards and dormitories of the Liverpool asylum, a staggering number considering the total population of Liverpool at the time was estimated to be 1800.

More than 10,000 inmates are buried in Liverpool's three cemeteries, almost all in unmarked pauper's graves.

The asylum system was largely self-sufficient. Able inmates would be paid a small allowance to work the farm growing all sorts of produce as well as live stock such as pigs and chickens. They would carry out the cooking, cleaning and laundry as well as making clothes and shoes.

Unlike many of the incidents being reported at the Royal Commission, it was the behaviour of the inmates that caused most of the problems, rather than the lack of care from staff. There were many reported incidents of bad language and drunkenness. The cramped conditions and the mental condition of some of the men resulted in assaults, suicides and even murder.


President, Liverpool Historical Society