Top Ten Historical Stories of the Worst Asylums in Australia

Australia has taken in a considerable number of asylums in the world. An asylum is a form of protection offered by a nation to someone who has left their home, as well as an institution providing shelter and care to those who are ill and housing persons with psychological illnesses. Asylum had some of the creepiest, most scary visuals of a building, as well as some of the most horrific historical stories behind it.

Here are the top ten historical stories of the worst asylums in Australia.


1. Gladesville Mental Hospital

The Gladesville Mental Hospital, formerly known as the Turban Creek Mental Hospital or Turban Creek Lunatic Asylum, got established in 1838. It stood on the Parramatta River’s northern banks between Sydney and Parramatta.

Two years following 1838, the Turban Creek Mental Hospital housed inmates rather than patients. In one instance, 146 prisoners got kept in a building intended for 60. In the 20th century, Turban Creek got renamed Gladesville Mental Hospital, but there were still issues. A doctor surrendered in 1954 in the wake of being found smoking while conveying electric shock treatment. The staff got blamed for burning the head of one female patient after attacking her with an immoderate number of electric shock therapy.

The families rejected their separate relatives’ bodies to get when they passed on or died. More than a thousand skeletons stay in the place, so the foundation had to develop mass graves. This horror story shows the stigma about mental health around them at that time.


2. Beechworth Lunatic Asylum

The Beechworth Lunatic Asylum Hospital is the second oldest mental institution in Australia. It got established in October 1867 and opened for the reception of patients who got confined to the town’s gaol. They accepted people into Beechworth because of the absence of more accommodation.

When the first patients got admitted, the men were hired as farmers, carpenters, blacksmiths, painters, shoemakers, tailors, while the women worked in a laundry, knitting, seamstress, and domestic servant.

The records indicate that other recreational activities got introduced in 1880. In the following years, buildings have gotten constructed to meet the needs of patients in the area. Around 1,200 patients got admitted since then, but not many have survived. Some reports say that more than 9,000 patients died here after 128 years of surgery. There were no strict entry requirements. They only received application requests from relatives and the signature of any doctor without requiring him to be a licensed professional!


3. Parkside Lunatic Asylum

It was not long after Adelaide was founded in 1836 that it established what would now get regarded as primitive systems of confining individuals classified as mentally ill.

The Parkside Lunatic Asylum was built in 1870 and became Adelaide’s institution for patients with chronic mental health problems. The patient’s conditions and treatments are far from what similar people experience nowadays. The Register Newspaper indicated in 1910 that almost one-third of those admitted to the asylum would die on the facility.

It was once a place where persons abandoned by society got kept. Some patients were homeless, prostitutes, or simply poor people who could not tend to carry themselves. Up to 120 patients there passed away yearly because of old age, illness, or suicide.


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4. Callan Park – Rozelle

Callan Park Hospital Rozelle, founded in 1878, is an insane asylum meant to improve patients’ lives through the relatively new medical advances of psychiatry at the time. Callan Park got established to ease overcrowding at the neighbouring Gladesville Hospital of the Insane (a name was given upon it by medical administrator Dr Frederic Norton Manning) and help reduce public prejudice and disrespect towards the patients.

It quickly became overcrowded, disorganized, and forgotten, resulting in a toxic environment where cruel nurses thrived. Many patients died despite the organization’s attempts to control the facility. In 1915, the facility got renamed Callan Park Mental Hospital. Finally, in 1976, it received the name Callan Park Hospital – Rozelle.


5. Peat Island – Brooklyn

Peat Island got described as Australia’s real-life One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest setting. The island on the Hawkesbury River (approximately an hour drive from Sydney) was a lunatic asylum until the early 1900s, then a mental health institute until 2001, before closing in 2001.

Torture, murder and mass burials turned this island for the intellectually impaired into a desolate wasteland. In 1924, William Pfingst admitted to killing another inmate, Harold Besley, by striking him with a stick, tying him up with a bag over his head, and then putting him in the river, where he drowned. Throughout the facility’s history, the mysterious deaths of child patients have repeatedly made headlines. Since the first 20 patients arrived on this spit of land on the Brooklyn River in 1911, there have been a series of mystery drownings, sexual abuse allegations, and murders.

Many young boys were abandoned on the island after WWI and forgotten by their relatives due to antiquated ideas on mental health and disability.

The psychiatric hospital then became a residential care centre for people with intellectual disabilities, who were allegedly well-cared-for once the brutality ended, with the last patient leaving in 2010.


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6. Cumberland Lunatic Asylum – Parramatta

The Lunatic and Invalid Convicts Asylum opened in March 1848 and was renamed the Lunatic Asylum Parramatta in 1849. With its proximity to the now-decommissioned Parramatta Gaol, criminally ill inmates were a prominent feature of this asylum.

Albert “Mad Mossy” Moss, one of Australia’s most renowned serial killers, was confined at Parramatta Asylum for seven years until 1933. People believe that the career criminal committed his first murder in January 1933, shortly after being released from the asylum. He assassinated swagmen travelling through the woods and on unpopulated areas. He claimed in prison that he had killed at least 13 people.

By the 1970s, the emphasis had shifted away from in-patient care. The nation moved toward community-based programs and psychiatric units in general hospitals. The hospital got renamed Cumberland Hospital in 1983, and it is still in operation today.


7. Rydalmere Psychiatric Hospital

Rydalmere Psychiatric Hospital got constructed to not simply accommodate but also isolate persons who had some mental disease. Rydalmere was established as an asylum in 1888 in the old Protestant Orphan School building.

Many psychiatrists working at the Rydalmere Psychiatric Hospital believed in the theory of eugenics. They considered the isolation of the mentally ill in such facilities as a crucial way of ensuring that future generations will not inherit mental defectiveness.

At first, this asylum was in a rural area. But, by the 1920s, the property became surrounded by a growing residential zone.


8. Chelmsford Private Hospital – Pennant Hills

The Royal Commission into Mental Health Services, sometimes known as the Chelmsford Royal Commission, investigated mental health services in New South Wales over two years, from 1988 to 1990.

Chelmsford will be known for the deaths of more than 20 patients and the ruination of the lives of countless others while under the supervision of chief psychiatrist Dr Harry Bailey.

Between 1962 and 1979, Dr Bailey provided “deep sleep” therapy in Chelmsford. He would place patients in a coma for up to 39 days using a combination of barbiturates to reportedly heal despair, addiction, blindness, and other problems. Then he would use electro-convulsive therapy—often without the patient’s consent, anaesthesia, or muscle relaxants—with disastrous results.


9. Castle Hill Lunatic Asylum

The Castle Hill Asylum was a last-minute solution to a problem of the Colony’s urgent requirements and as such it. It was unavoidable that it got replaced as the expectations placed on it grew was Australia’s first official institution that provided care for the mentally ill.

The Castle Hill Lunatic Asylum was Australia’s first formal facility dedicated to caring for people suffering from mental diseases. Macquarie ordered the conversion of a massive two-story stone granary to house the mental asylum (previously used as a barrack). It got built on the Castle Hill Agricultural Settlement, a government farm.


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10. Aradale Mental Hospital

Aradale Mental Hospital was an Australian psychiatric hospital located in Ararat, a rural city in southwest Victoria, Australia.

Aradale, with its two sister asylums in Kew and Beechworth, got built to house Victoria’s expanding number of “lunatics.” Construction began in 1865, and the hospital first opened its doors to patients in 1867. It got decommissioned as an asylum in 1993. Aradale housed up to 1000 patients at its peak and is a vast complex with up to 70 intriguing antique abandoned structures.


The legacy of these asylums

The Greek origins of asylum implied safe refuge and hiding place from harm. Unfortunately, the historical asylums in Australia mentioned in this list drastically failed to provide safety to the patients there.

There are several reasons why doctors and staff treated asylum inhabitants this way. An article in the Psychology Today online magazine narrates that, centuries ago, people believed that mental illnesses were divine punishment. Hence, those who get crippled with these disorders deserve abandonment in asylums. They also lacked the same understanding we now have about psychology.

Nonetheless, the legacy of these asylums serves as a reminder for psychology practitioners and caregivers. Tourists also enjoy visiting these Australian asylums.


Dave P
Dave P
Be a little better today than yesterday.
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