45-10 Emigration Square and its surviving water well

Beneath your feet here on this Park Lands Oval is an historic relic dating from the 1840's - a brick lined hole, 12 metres deep, equivalent to the height of a three-storey building. What is it doing here?

In 2010 a ride-on mower, operated by a City of Adelaide gardener, hit a small hole on this oval.

The mower driver reported the hole to his supervisor to see whether it needed to be filled in. An investigation was begun, and everyone was amazed at what was found.

Beneath your feet here on the Oval the hole is still there. But it’s not just a hole. It is a very deep brick lined hole. It is 12 metres deep, equivalent to the height of a three-storey building.

The hole is 1.2 metres wide. This is not just a hole - this was an old well.

So what is an old well doing in the middle of the Park Lands? The answer to this question goes back to the very first days of European settlement in Adelaide.

In early 1837 – the first settlers had to wait for land to be subdivided and houses to be built. This site was their temporary accommodation. At first they used tents near what is now the site of the Royal Adelaide Hospital. But a year later, in 1838, a dozen or so rough wooden buildings arrived on a ship from England. They were set up here, like a shanty town in what became known as Emigration Square – because they were arranged in a square formation. The primitive shacks were covered in canvas and tarpaulins which were not always adequate to keep out the rain.

This was the first taste of life in the new colony for arriving migrants. The site contained a rudimentary hospital, dispensary, doctor’s quarters in the centre, and of course a well – which is the only surviving relic of that time.

Within two years (by 1840) the number of rough buildings had increased to about 40. Apart from recent immigrants some of the rough buildings were also commandeered by squatters who had nowhere else to live.

By 1849 the site had been closed for emigrants and for about three years was used as a women’s destitute asylum.

But by 1852 it had been abandoned. The well was covered up and remained unnoticed in Adelaide for more than 150 years.

After the City Council discovered the well in 2010, they invited the SA Museum & Cave Explorers Group to explore it. Some explorers descended into the well and took photos.

The well has been covered over again, and hidden, to remove any risk to people playing sport here.

From this point, walk north-west, towards Glover Avenue, and the railway underpass.

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