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BOOK LAUNCH - Paltry Paradise; a History of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

The book ‘‘Paltry Paradise; a History of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum’ is a comprehensive political, social and economic account of the institution and its people.

For 80 years Dunwich Benevolent Asylum was home to the indigent of Queensland. It served the entire colony and was well used. In the late nineteenth century, one in four of all Queensland men over 65 years ended up there. It was the largest government institution — bigger than any other hospital or prison— and could hold over 1,200 inmates. The Asylum kept the poor out of sight on an island off Brisbane.

It provided welfare on the cheap and relied on the labour of the local Aboriginal people. They fought their own battles against ‘protection’ and for fair wages. This book is a political, social and economic history of the institution. Inmates ranged from a Dane who was press-ganged into Nelson’s navy, a former Deputy Premier of Queensland and a Pacific Islander found adrift in the remote Pacific.

Three superintendents of the Asylum were sacked. There were murders, suicides and lots of sly grog. The steamer that went twice a week from Brisbane to the island was hit by practice gunfire from the US Navy and arguments raged in the newspapers about whether the Dunwich Asylum was a Shangri-la or a hell on earth. The book can be purchased from the Museum. On request – email or phone – we can supply a copy by post. The price is $40 ($32 for museum members (see website for details) plus postage.

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