The paper explores physically disabled people’s experiences of institutions in the industrial city, focusing on the case of nineteenth-century Melbourne. Here ‘institutions’ refers to the panoply of public, semi-public, private and charitable places that were established in industrial cities to house, and frequently confine, a diverse estate of poor, ill, elderly, disabled and otherwise socially dependent persons. The aim of this paper is to retrace the institutional experiences of disabled people in nineteenth-century Melbourne, with a view to explaining the role of the institution within a broader ‘social space of disability’in the industrial city. In particular, the analysis seeks to identify the type of institutions that disabled people were admitted to, including places of confinement such as gaols. The paper also explores how disabled people coped with the ‘duty to attend the asylum‘ (after Foucault) that weighed heavily on socially marginalised people in the industrial city.