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Townsend House was founded in 1874 by William Townsend MP, who, after two terms in office as Mayor of Adelaide set about fulfilling his ambition to establish a “Blind Asylum in the City of Adelaide”.

William Townsend arrived from England on 2nd August 1853. From a humble background of being unable to write, and having worked as an assistant to a Potato Merchant, he established his own business and developed a strong interest in politics. He actively participated in developing the framework of the 1855 Constitution and became the sitting Member for Sturt in 1857, a position he held until his death in 1882. He was a lay preacher in the Congregational Church and an active philanthropist of his time.

It was this spirit of philanthropy, combined with his determination and concern for people less fortunate than himself that led to him establishing Townsend House. As a strong orator of his time, he was able to gain support through speeches in Parliament and the community, to establish The Institution for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb.

William Townsend established a Public Committee with himself as Chairman to raise the funds needed to build an institution to house and protect the “afflicted”.

The committee comprising prominent citizens of the day raised money through philanthropy, Government funds and citizenship.

Thus began the history of Townsend House. Built originally as an institution and charitable trust it provided a place of refuge, education, and boarding facilities. It was set in the rural area of Brighton and was largely shut off from the rest of the world.

This information is intended to provide a chronological time line of Townsend House. It will take you through from the time of its inception to its current role of supporting people to live independently in the community.

In 1849 the Calton Hotel was built on the original site of The Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute, now known as Townsend House.

By 1850 the Calton Hotel changed it's name to The Grace Darling Hotel. It consisted of a 13-room establishment, with a cottage and brick stables on a 24 acre property, extending from Brighton Road to the Beach. The Hotel is known to have much of a chequered past, as well as being home to historical events that celebrated the establishment of Brighton.

The venue was chosen for a celebration banquet following the laying of the foundation stone of St. Judes Church.

In the year 1855 it hosted the first meeting of the District Council of Brighton.

In 1856 The Grace Darling Building ceased to operate as a hotel and in 1857 it became home to 103 children as an Industrial School. Despite Government spending of £1,127 on improvements, conditions were so bad that the children were removed and the building closed. A plaque now stands on this historical site.It became evident that a purpose built home was necessary to provide a home for the“destitute”. In 1865 William Townsend discovered that there were 34 totally destitute blind people living in the State and proceeded to establish an Institution, that was to be “primarily an asylum, a place of refuge to protect the afflicted from a world in which they could not cope”.

On 26 June 1872, William Townsend, Member for Onkaparinga proposed to the House of Assembly that it would: “be desirable to supplement by an equal amount any sum raised by public subscription for establishing an asylum for blind and idiotic persons“ The word “idiotic”was removed and it was determined to associate the blind with the deaf and the resolution was passed.

In 1874 The South Australian Institution for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb was established. The Grace Darling Building and surrounding land was leased and purchased 2 years later by the South Australian Institution for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb.

The need to establish larger premises was identified and the Hon. Thomas English was asked to prepare plans for the Institution.



Townsend House is a two storey stone building built in the Victorian Gothic style, it is 154 feet long and 33 feet 6 inches tall. The building commenced in 1876 and was completed in 1878 for a tendered cost of £4,289. The foundation stone was laid on 24 November 1876, in a lavish ceremony by Miss Jean Townsend, daughter of the founder. A time capsule containing coins, newspapers of the day and a list of attending dignitaries was laid. The time capsule was opened in 2001 at a dinner celebrating 125 years of Townsend House. The contents are now on display in the foyer of the main building. Testimony to the fundraising abilities of William Townsend and the committee it had a balance free from debt of five Pounds.



The building was completed in 1878 and 24 children were immediately admitted. Education, it was said, was offered “of an ordinary school type”. Children could board as either normal boarders, or as parlour boarders for an extra £40 – £45 per annum. Parlour boarders lived separately from non-fee paying pupils. By 1880 however, all boarders were entirely without means.

A road to the beach was constructed, which later became a bitumen road (Smith Avenue) in 1935. Dr Schomburgh, Director of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens donated about 100 trees including pines and gums.

In 1883 half an acre of land fronting Brighton Road (northern corner of the property) was offered to the government for a sum of £50 for the first official Post Office. The Brighton Post Officer has many of the original photos of Brighton on display. Enrolments continued to grow creating an even greater need for accommodation at Townsend House. A generous bequest in 1883 made possible an addition to the main building named The Anderson Wing, after J.G. Anderson a commercial traveler who made the bequest. The addition was built on the northern side of the main building, it was two storey’s made of stone and erected in parts. When it was completed in 1886 it comprised a large school room, dining room, 2 large dormitories, bedrooms for teachers and a pantry with a separate staircase for the boys.

In 1884, The Industrial School for the Blind was established in North Adelaide to cater for adults who were blind. Nine pupils were transferred from Townsend House to the new school, where they received training in trades such as brush and basket making.

The establishment of the Industrial School for the Blind reflected changing community attitudes to the role of institutions, to be less of an asylum for the destitute, to providing education and training.

The need to expand the Institution necessitated the purchase of a further 15 1/2 acres of land. The adjoining property north east of Townsend House bordering Wattle and King George Avenue was purchased. This enabled the establishment of a farm to provide work and sustenance for people living on the property. The property continued to grow with eight acres bequeathed to the Institution by former Mayor of Brighton, Joseph Downing.

20 acres of wheat and 3 acres of Lucerne were being cultivated. Large areas were devoted to growing fruit and vegetables, while cows and cattle were also maintained on the property. The farm was operated until 1963. The philosophy of the day now meant that it was considered beneficial to educate pupils in a trade. Boot making was first taught in 1892 and woodwork was introduced two years later. Girls were taught laundry work, needle work, knitting and table waiting. By this time all boots, shoes, dresses and underclothes were made on-site.


1893 A small single storey wing was erected at the rear of the main building to provide a kitchen, scullery and laundry. Two store rooms and a cellar were added in 1902. The wing was demolished in 1969.

1894 By this time Townsend House catered for a total of 146 children. Building work continued to meet the additional demands on the institution. In 1894 a single storey stone and brick carpenter's workshop was erected.



A small isolation hospital (now known as the Harold Raymond Building) was built to the north of the Main Buildings. It comprised two wards and a nurse's room. This was enlarged in 1913 by the addition of two more wards to cater for infectious disease and convalescence. This is one of the few remaining buildings on the property and has been refurbished to accommodate Townsend House Community Services.



The Colton Wing to the south of the Main Building was erected in 1902. This completed the original plan for the institution by the architect Thomas English. The tender for £2,000 by D. J. Hervett was accepted and the building was completed in 1902. The building was 65 feet long and 46 feet wide. This now allowed for classes to be taught in separate rooms rather than being taught together in the one space.

The Institution installed its first telephone in 1903.

New playrooms and toilet, accommodation for staff and classrooms were built at the rear of the main building. The remains of the playroom have been converted to a garage.

This year saw the introduction of better lighting. Kerosene lamps were replaced by acetylene at a cost of £224/10/-.

A building committee was established to plan a gymnasium and a new residential building for senior boys and male teachers. Extensions to the Harold Raymond Building were completed. The total cost for this work was£10,000. The Government contributed £5,000, Sir Edwin Smith donated £2,000 and £3,000 was raised through public subscription.

The Barr-Smith Gymnasium was erected in memory of George Barr-Smith. It measured 75 feet x 40feet and was fitted with a platform. The Lady Smith Building was built to provide teaching and residential accommodation for children who were deaf. It comprised 12 classrooms and ancillary rooms on the ground floor.



No major building work was to take place now for 55 years. In 1915 legislation was passed making the education of blind, deaf, mute and mentally defective children compulsory between the ages of six and sixteen. Onus was placed on parents to provide education and fines were imposed for non-compliance. The need for charity and benevolence, which accompanied the founding of the Institution, continued, as did their zeal to offer education and training to children.

By this time the Institution was in need of additional financing and began to sell land as a way of raising money for services. Six Esplanade frontages, 13 adjacent sites and 31 blocks facing Brighton Road, Railway Crescent and Wattle Street, were sold. In 1925, 289 Deaf and 129 children who were blind had been admitted to the Institution. The majority of adults went on to maintain themselves in the community. The Institution prided itself on the fact that no pupil had ever been excluded or refused because of the parent’s inability to pay fees. School fees were charged but a means test was applied to the free and assisted pupils. Official Collectors were employed to seek donations from the public.

Bores were constructed and an irrigation scheme devised to make the Institution independent of water restrictions. Physical welfare of the children was receiving increased attention and a cricket pitch and tennis courts were laid. The Annual Report stated that the Twinkles Club, donated a gramophone and 20 records, a wireless set with a loud speaker and a Baby Pathe Cinema machine with 6 films for children. The first integration of children in to mainstream education, who were deaf, occurred in 1929. Two boys attended Goodwood Central School to learn woodwork and metalwork. This number increased to six in 1932. The trend to integration was to have a major impact on the Institution in the future. Families were urged to ensure that children who were Deaf received an education; The Education Department supported children to be admitted to the Institution to be properly taught and trained. Accommodation continued to be provided with some boarders returning to their family home on weekends. Throughout the years of schooling, children were encouraged to manage individual garden plots for which the Institution gave a prize for the year’s effort.


Smith Avenue was constructed to give access to the beach.

In 1936 Mr. Harold Raymond was celebrated in the Annual Report for his work as Organiser of the Institute. Harold Raymond was a violinist who had been trained and educated at the Brighton School as a lad.



His company toured the state giving concerts to raise funds. The report stated: “Since taking over this work five years ago, something like eight hundred concerts have been held and a great deal of money raised thereby. The Board of Management is deeply grateful to all who have assisted Mr. Raymond and his party in this special work, his hotel and boarding house proprietors, also private householders for granting hospitality and accommodation, printers, ticket sellers and hall committees, petrol station proprietors, subscribers and various personal workers of whom there are too many to enumerate. The board and Mr. Raymond are optimistic regarding the future and can assure the general public that the 1937 variety Presentation will maintain its present high standard and good quality. They also trust that the entire public will again do its share in assisting this worthy cause. Tour for 12 months: net receipts of £286.”

The institution continued to focus on education of children who were Blind, deaf and Hearing Impaired, being proud of their success and engaging new ideas and technology to support their goals. In 1938, a paper titled “Work With Multitone” was presented by a teacher from the Sydney Institution. The paper stated that it had improved children’s speech, who were “partially deaf or for those with varying degrees of residual hearing”. One was ordered and eventually arrived from England. The Multitone was a group instrument fitted with eight separate earphones. The unit allowed each child to be fitted individually allowing the child to control their own tone and volume. As a result, a hearing aid class was formed at the school.



Music appreciation, reading, physical drill was also included in education. Manual work was encouraged for the boys and the girls were taught domestic duties, such as cooking, sewing, ironing, knitting and darning.

A block of land giving access to the property from King Street was purchased. This was later sold. The Insurance Companies Society sponsored moving pictures each month for the children.

Between 1940 and 1941, there was a German Measles epidemic in Adelaide. This saw a substantial increase in the number of children who were deaf in the community. As a result, admission age to the Institution was dropped from 6 to 5, then to 4 years and a kindergarten was formed. The long standing issue of manual versus oral teaching of deaf children came to the fore again. While the institution moved to meet these needs dissatisfaction grew and planning was undertaken to develop a separate school for Oral teaching of the deaf. Concern continued by the School regarding the late admission of children to the education system. The name“Institution” was raised as a probable cause of anxiety for some parents who were unaware of the nature and scope of the work of the Institution and its goal of educating children. A name change at this time though, was seen as difficult to introduce due to the “legacies” received by the Institution.

The Harold Raymond Building was no longer used for infectious disease and was converted to a private residence.

An avenue of trees (Canary Island Pines) was planted along a roadway 50 feet wide leading from Colton Avenue to the Main Building. This corresponded with the main driveway from King George Avenue, which did not then extend through the grounds. The trees did not survive and the proposed name, Neill Avenue, has never been used.

In 1945/46 a new Oral Kindergarten was established at Gilberton. Children who were deaf and used the manual method of signing continued to be educated at Townsend House.

In 1946 the school changed it's name to Townsend House Schools for deaf and blind Children. Thelegal body, the Institution however, retained its name.

The institution recorded serious financial difficulties for the first but not last time in this year.

The momentum to integrate children who had a disability in to the community was growing and in 1952, a further two oral classes for children who were deaf opened at Kilkenny Primary School. This was followed by the establishmentof a partially deaf unit at Woodville Primary School and a similar unit at North Adelaide. The Cannon Report of 1953 recommended that the School for Deaf conducted by the Institution become a special public school under the Minister of Education. This however took ten years to implement. At this time the school was separating children who were deaf and being taught orally and manually. Children who were taught orally were housed in the Nursery School and Main Building. Children who were taught manually, were accommodated and taught in the Lady Smith Building. Each section had its own staff, dormitories and facilities. Numbers attending the institution continued to increase. From 1945 – 1955 the total intake to the School for the Deaf was 46. In 1967, 71 children who were deaf and 30 children who were blind were enrolled.



New curricula including secondary subjects were developed and an?extensive range of evening activities were offered to residents. These included Boy Scouts and Girl Guide Troops, socials, dancing?sport and clubs. Music and typing lessons were conducted out of school.

A new department was opened, catering for young deaf children and located in the Harold Raymond Building, which had previously been used by the Superintendent Mr. Barkham and his family. The building was re-planned and refurbished to offer class and residential facilities, as this was a nursery infant school it was seen as an opportunity to give oral training to the young deaf children. A fire prevention system was installed throughout the schools with flashing lights and warning bells, set off by a rise in heat.

The cost of running the Institution again necessitated the sale of land. This time, land in Smith Avenue at the rear of the school was sold.

The Howard Report into the financial affairs of the Institution was commissioned by the Minister and reported in 1961. The report commented on the Institutions deteriorating financial position, but did not recommend that the Government assume responsibility for the schools.

New dormitory accommodation was provided in the Nursery Centre.

A deputation of the Board of Townsend house approached the Minister to request that they be relieved of the responsibility of educating the children.

The government assumed direct responsibility for the education of students. The farm was closed down. A dual system of control operated, with the Education Department controlling the School and the Institution controlling the residents and the grounds.

Between 1963 and 1976 there were major changes in the approach towards educating the deaf. The emphasis changed towards mainstream education. Education was moved off site, while children remained in boarding house and residential facilities at Townsend House.

11 acres of land to the east of King George Avenue was sold to the Education Department for£125,000. Finance from the sale of property was used to build the cottages.

The Grace Darling Building was demolished. A plaque remains.

The Barr-Smith Gymnasium Hall was gutted by fire. The exterior walls were all that remained and it was demolished. This was a tragic loss to the Institution. In 1966 The Speech and Hearing Centre was established at Brighton Primary School. 12 pupils and 2 teachers transferred. Residential students continued to reside at Townsend House. The question of upgrading the residential facilities was reviewed and it was decided to close the dormitory style accommodation to self contained cottages.

Seven residential cottages were built at the eastern end of the site and a new oval was constructed. Five cottages were allocated to children who were deaf and two allocated to children who were blind / vision impaired. The land for this purpose was released from closure of the farm and funding was made possible by the sale of 11 acres. With the introduction of the cottages each being run autonomously, the role of Superintendent was superfluous and the position ceased after 95 years.



The Education Department assumed responsibility for repairs and maintenance of buildings used for education while Townsend House continued to maintain the grounds.

New school buildings were built behind the main building to the design of Architects Berry, Gilbert, Polomka, Riches. The new school complex was built by the Institution at a cost of $1.1 million, funded by Townsend House and assisted by Government Grants and the Myrtle Chalk bequest.The school consisted of 3 independent schools: 1. The S.A. Schoolfor Blind Children 2. The S.A. School for deaf Children. 3.Pre-School for Hearing and Hearing Impaired Children.

The Board of Townsend House announced that on completion of the proposed new school, the old buildings would be demolished as they were “obsolete and of no further use”. Further to this, the Board felt that there was no money for the rehabilitation of the main building. This decision touched an emotional cord with the local community and lead to the placing of a ban by the builder's laborers on any demolition. Numerous “Letters to the Editor” ensued, as did community bitterness towards the demolition. As a result The City of Brighton, Community Centre Committee was formed.

In mid 1975 the Board of Townsend House decided to proceed with the demolition of the main building. This provoked further outcry from the local residents who considered the building to have historical and architectural importance. A deadlock situation lead to the matter being referred to the South Australian Government.

In July 1976 a Report by The Committee of Enquiry in to the future of the old buildings at Townsend House was commissioned. A total of 27 submissions were received from individuals and organisations. Of the 27 submissions, 8 were from the Board of management and staff (pas tand present), 4 were from persons who were blind, 4 were from educational institutions and 11 were from community groups, organisations and the general public.

“TOWNSEND HOUSE DYING”… “Townsend House is dying of shame and neglect” read a heading from the local Guardian on Wednesday July 5th 1978. Mr. John Mathwin MP spoke out against what he described as the ruin of a valuable community facility.

The Guardian again reported on October 3rd 1979 that the demolition of historic Townsend House had begun. A demolition tender had been let and workmen had begun preparing the site. Only the central building (Townsend House) was to be retained. The Anderson and Colton wings, Lady Smith building and a number of minor out-buildings were demolished. The former hospital and later Deaf Nursery School was converted to a craft centre through a grant of more than $30,000 from the institution. Hodgkinson, Mathews & Partners, Architect undertook external renovation work on the Main Building, and in February 1979, it was recommended that the main building be entered on the State Heritage Register. Townsend House was retained along with the Harold Raymond Building. Redevelopment and landscaping of the property was undertaken, including the relocation of rubble from the demolished buildings. Undertaken by Hodgkinson, Mathews & Partners, Architects.

In 1985 Townsend House began the first stage of Community Services, with the introduction of the Early Childhood Support Services – Blind and Vision Impaired. Residential facilities remained. The Harold Raymond Building was utilised for the Early Childhood Support services, along with housing The Visiting Teacher Program from Townsend School.

In 1987 Townsend House developed the Time for Carers Program. Time for Carers, focused on the northern region of Adelaide and supported families of children who had a disability living at home rather than in institutions.

At 5:30 on Saturday 16 April 1988, the building was the target of vandalism and a fire was deliberately lit causing $400,000 worth of damage to the Main Building. Six fire units and 36 fire fighters attended the blaze, which rushed from the basement to the first floor. In this, the Central Staircase was destroyed.

In 1989 Federal funding was provided to allow part of the main building to be restored. LeMessurier Architects began a staged process of restoration and adaptation of the main Building at ground floor level.

Following dissolution of the LeMessurier Architects partnership, Bruce Harry & Associates continued the restoration and adaptation of the Main Building completing the ground floor and half of the first floor. A new driveway was laid and landscaping took place. A slate fountain was donated, sculpted by Sylvio Apoonyi and built by C & M Thompson, the fountain is placed in the central lawn area in front of the main building.

The Gymnasium within the new school complex was rebuilt following a fire.

The Main Building, the Harold Raymond Building and the outside shell of the former girls’ playroom are all that remain from the institutions earlier history. The cottages and school buildings represent the more recent history of the institution. The new school complex is leased by the education department and comprises Townsend school for the blind / vision impaired and Kilparrin, a Teaching and Assessment Unit for children who have a dual sensory loss and additional disabilities. On 17 December 1999, residential facilities closed at Townsend House. This was due largely to changing community attitudes, fewer registrations and the high cost of running accommodation. Townsend House was successful in gaining funding from The State Government Disability Services office to develop a community based program for children aged 0 – 12 years who were deaf or hearing impaired. The cottages were no longer used for accommodation by Townsend House and were leased to the Education department, private persons and as a base for Townsend house Community Service staff.

Following the allocation of a substantial grant from the Centenary of Federation Fund, restoration was completed on the main Building and the Harold Raymond Building. A model to provide Community Services to children living with their families in the community was presented to the Board and accepted. The model based on community inclusion provides a range of therapeutic, training and recreational programs to support education and recreation leading to independence in life. In October 2000 EDS Computer Company held their State Global Volunteers Day at Townsend House and together with 150 of their staff redeveloped the garden beds in the circular lawn, and garden adjoining Townsend House. The fountain in the circular lawn was completed with a donation along with garden urns.


Townsend House Community Services grew from strength to strength developing and providing programs for children who had a sensory impairment and their families. The Board approved support to children and young adults up to the age of 25 years. Townsend House opened its doors to greater involvement with blind sporting bodies, and affiliated organisations supporting people who are deaf and hearing impaired. A very strong welcome was offered to promote the inclusion of people who have a sensory impairment to access the property for reunions, activities and functions. Through a Federal Cultural Heritage Grant, Townsend House was able to be renovated. The official opening of the building took place on 7 December 2001 when the Minister for Ageing and Disabilities, Mr. Robert Lawson QC officiated at the launch of The Can:Do 4Kids Townsend House Foundation.