Estcourt House opened at Grange in 1894 as a Home for the elderly and children with disabilities. It was run by the James Brown Memorial Trust. From 1931 it became a convalescent home for children only. It was taken over by the Adelaide Children's Hospital in 1955. In 1978 it became part of the government-run Strathmont Centre and accommodated adults with intellectual disabilities. From 1981 it became a home for children with intellectual disabilities from Ru Rua Nursing Home. Estcourt House closed in 1989.
Estcourt House opened near the beach in the suburb of Grange, now Tennyson, in 1894. It had been built in 1883 by a successful Adelaide businessman, Mr Frederick Estcourt Bucknall. Financial problems leading to bankruptcy forced him to give up the property in 1886. The building remained empty for many years because the owner, Australian Mutual Provident Society [AMP], was unable to find a purchaser for so large a mansion in such an isolated location.
Mrs Jessie Brown, the widow of wealthy SA pastoralist James Brown, bequeathed money into a trust in her husband's name for the establishment of a home for people in need. In 1892 Estcourt House was purchased by the James Brown Memorial Trust for that purpose. In 1894 Estcourt House opened as a home for the elderly, visually impaired patients and children with physical disabilities.
By December of that year eight children, aged between 4 and 12, and 23 visually impaired elderly people were in residence. At the turn of the century the number of residents had risen to 45. From its beginning schooling was provided for children in the Home. Lessons were run by staff members until the Education Department provided a teacher in 1918. At this time many more children than adults were being admitted because Kalyra Hospital at Belair, also established as part of the Trust, was providing care for elderly people.
During the 1920s and 1930s Estcourt House developed a closer association with the Adelaide Children's Hospital and many children were referred to directly from the hospital. The hospital contributed funds for an open-air extension to be added. From 1931 no more adult patients were admitted and Estcourt House became a convalescent Home for children recovering from medical treatment. It also provided specialist care for survivors of tuberculosis, poliomyelitis and children with rheumatic fever or heart disease. It accommodated up to 40 children at one time.
One resident who was placed at Estcourt House from the Children's Hospital in 1949 and again in the early 1950s remembers large dormitories and the use of strict discipline. A neglected store room with many spider webs was used for confinement of children who were deemed to have misbehaved. The children referred to it as The Spider Room. He also recollects closeness between the children at the Home and how that helped him to cope:
Somehow I was just put into a world where a lot of disabled kids were all together and...just being together and being hurt together, we became a family...I never experienced in Estcourt House any racism from those kids, there was just sincere brotherly and sisterly love, you know, because we were all in the same boat...and we all supported one another
As the majority of patients at the Home came from the Adelaide Children's Hospital, the Hospital negotiated the purchase of Escourt House in 1955. A large sum of money was spent on renovations and additions to the premises, so that it could accommodate up to 100 children.
Estcourt House continued to provide convalescent care for children until 1978 when it was bought by the South Australian Government. It then became part of the Strathmont Centre, a community living unit for adults with intellectual disabilities. In 1981 the home was substantially upgraded and approximately 100 children with intellectual disabilities were moved from the Ru Rua Nursing Home at North Adelaide into the premises. This included a number of Aboriginal children. Estcourt House, as Ru Rua Nursing Home, continued to operate until 1989.
Sources used to compile this entry: Annual Report: James Brown Memorial Trust, Copies of the annual reports of James Brown Memorial Trust are held by the State Library of South Australia for these years: The library holds the reports for 1906, 1908-1941, 1948-1949., James Brown Memorial Trust, 1905-1949; George, Karen, Finding your own way, Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia Inc., 2005, http://nunku.org.au/resources/; LeMessurier Architects, Conservation Policy for Estcourt House, Tennyson, October 1989; Peake, A G, Estcourt House: a history, Ru Rua Hospital, Adelaide, 1982; South Australian Trained Nurses Centenary Committee, Nursing in South Australia: First hundred years, 1837-1937, The South Australian Trained Nurses Centenary Committee Centenary Committee, Adelaide, 1939; Interview with Sydney Graham recorded by Karen George for the National Library of Australia, Bringing Them Home Oral History Project, 2000; Email from Andrew Peak, former employee of Dept of Community Welfare and the Intellectual Disability Services Council, 1 June 2014.
Prepared by: Karen George and Gary George
Created: 16 February 2011, Last modified: 2 June 2014