Did your ancestors ever spend time in a mental health institution in Victoria, Australia, during the 19th and 20th centuries? Discover the dates of their stay and what ailed them. You may also learn the names and residences of their next of kin and their medical histories.
This collection comprises both transcripts and images of the records from eleven different mental health institutions in Victoria, Australia. These records cover admission years ranging from 1811 to 1919 and discharge dates from 1838 to 1914. While records vary from institution to institution, each transcript will include these basic details regarding your ancestor:
Full name – please note that some names may be truncated in the records (e.g. Elzbth for Elizabeth)
Date of admission
Date of discharge/transfer
Method of discharge
Images, however, will include additional information, such as
Condition of life and previous occupation
Previous place of abode
By whose authority sent
Dates of medical certificates and by whom signed
Mental and/or physical condition and ailments
Please note that most admission records consisted of two pages. Use the previous and next buttons in the image viewer to see all the relevant images pertaining to your ancestor.
Admission to such mental health institutions could be granted in a number of ways:
Relatives or friends could request an individual’s admission as long as they had the appropriate medical certificates from two medical practitioners. With the passing of the Mental Health Act 1959, medical practitioners who had examined an individual could recommend admission to an asylum. The superintendent of the asylum was required to examine the patient as soon as possible after their admission to either approve the recommendation or discharge the individual.
Two justices could order the admission of an individual who was without sufficient care or discovered out wandering.
Prisoners suspected of being lunatic could be transferred, with authorization from the Chief Secretary, to an asylum.
Voluntary admission – Those patients who requested admission for a specified amount of time.
Unsurprisingly, it was trickier to get released than admitted. For discharge, eight signatures were needed while only two were required for admission.
Common diagnoses during this time period included
General paralysis of the insane – A neuropsychiatric disorder brought on by late-stage syphilis. During the 1800s, it was still considered a psychiatric ailment, due in large part to the psychotic symptoms that would characterize the condition.
Puerperal mania – Puerperal refers to the postpartum period, usually lasting 6 weeks after the birth of a child.
Up until the 1880s, children deemed especially difficult or mentally challenged were housed with the adult inmates. By 1879, there were close to 600 children housed in such institutions in Victoria. That figure represents a quarter of all inmates at that time.
For example, we can find in the records two results for Sarah Ann McGregor. From the first, we learn that she was only nine years old when admitted to Kew on 22 January 1879. Her form of mental disorder is listed as “idiocy” and the supposed cause is an accident. Her bodily condition is noted as “feeble and helpless.” In her second record, we discover that her cause of discharge on 3 May 1880 was death. We also learn the names and relations of two of her relatives.
Again, we find Edward Steinman, age 11, admitted to Kew on 23 April 1879, with three other boys who are likely his brothers: William Steinman (age 17), Charles Steinman (age 15), and Robert Steinman (age 14). The form of mental disorder listed is identical for all four boys: “imbecile” with the supposed cause being “natural.” For bodily condition, they are all listed as “in good health.” Their removal dates are all different, with three having died in care and one, Charles, appearing to have been transferred to Ballarat with the note “not improved” on 21 September 1933. Edward died on 30 December 1921, Robert on 20 August 1928 and William on 21 August 1921.
During the 1880s, the government deemed it prudent to designate separate buildings to accommodate child inmates.
Mental health institutions represented within these records are as follows:
Ararat Asylum, Ararat – Located in the rural city of Ararat, Victoria, Ararat Lunatic Asylum was a sister asylum to Kew and Beechworth. The asylum was founded in 1865 and closed its doors in the 1990s. The asylum was largely self-sustaining with its own livestock, orchards, and market gardens. The compound grew to a total of 63 buildings and at its peak had over 500 members of staff.
Ballarat Asylum, Wendouree – Later known as Lakeside Psychiatric Hospital, Ballarat Asylum was located in Wendouree on the outskirts of Ballarat, Victoria. Originally opened in 1877, Ballarat at its peak could accommodate 1,500 patients with a staff around 600. Forty of the eighty-three hectares were used as a farm. The hospital was closed in the 1990s.
Beechworth Lunatic Asylum, Beechworth – Originally called Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum, Beechworth Lunatic Asylum was the fourth of its kind built in Victoria and was one of the three largest asylums of its kind. The asylum operated for over a hundred years, closing in 1995. Like other asylums of its size, Beechworth was a self-sustaining compound.
Bendigo Receiving Ward, Bendigo – This ward was created in the Bendigo Gold District General Hospital in 1873 for the temporary care of the insane. Such wards were created after the passing of the Lunacy Statute of 1867. The main purpose of such wards was the treatment of those suffering from temporary episodes of mental illness – where recovery could be made in a matter of days or weeks. The wards would also house inebriates. Such receiving wards were closed in May 1951.
Collingwood Asylum, Carlton North – Collingwood was originally a stockade that became an asylum in 1866, initially used for housing mentally ill prisoners. When it became a public asylum, there were short- and long-term wards. When Kew Asylum opened in 1872, Collingwood began to function as a ward of Kew instead of as an independent institution. The asylum closed in 1873 with all patients being transferred to Kew.
Cremorne, Victoria – In 1863, when Cremorne Gardens – an early iteration of an amusement park – was sold, part of the land was developed into a private asylum. However, in 1884 the asylum was bought and the area was used for residential housing.
Kew Asylum, Kew – Located in the suburb of Kew, the asylum operated from 1871 to 1988. It was one of the largest asylums in Australia and the largest of its sister asylums in Ararat and Beechworth. Over its long span of operation, the asylum faced many criticisms ranging from overcrowding and poor sanitation to institutionalization.
Royal Park Receiving House, Parkville – The first psychiatric hospital created in Victoria following the Lunacy Act of 1903. The hospital was intended to serve those with curable ailments. “Receiving houses” were set up to provide services for those who needed only short-term treatment. The maximum length of stay in a receiving house was 2 months. If it was determined that a longer stay was needed, as a result of a diagnosis of insanity, for example, patients would be transferred to a hospital for the insane. The hospital operated for over 90 years and closed in 1999.
Sunbury Lunatic Asylum, Sunbury – The asylum opened in 1879 and closed in 1985. Before being converted into an asylum, Sunbury was run by the Department of Industrial and Reformatory School. When the transition to an asylum took place, Sunbury received patients from Ballarat Asylum and Yarra Bend Asylum.
Sunnyside Licensed House, Camberwell – Sunnyside received its license in 1905 and allowed for both male and female patients. A licensed house, under the Lunacy Act 1903, was authorized to accommodate a designated number of mentally ill patients. Regarding records and patient care, the requirements for licensed houses were similar to those for hospitals for the insane.
Yarra Bend Asylum, Yarra Bend – Opened in 1848, Yarra Bend was the first permanent institution dedicated to treating the mentally ill in Victoria. Originally intended to close with the creation of the Kew, Ararat, and Beechworth asylums, Yarra Bend stayed open till 1925 in large part due to the drastic population increase caused by the gold rush. Overcrowding was a persistent problem at Yarra Bend. When its doors closed in 1925, all patients were transferred to Mont Park Asylum.
Note regarding the names of these institutions—The Lunacy Act of 1903 changed all “asylums” to “hospitals for the insane.” A further change occurred after the Mental Hygiene Act of 1933 where the titles were altered from “hospitals for the insane” to “mental hospitals.”
VPRS 7423/P1 Nominal Register of Patients, Royal Park, 1907-1913 – Contains patient admission records for the Royal Park Receiving House between September 1907 and December 1913.
VPRS 7493/P1 Register of Patients, Bendigo Receiving Ward, 1874-1908 – Comprised of admission records for the Bendigo Receiving Ward at the Bendigo Hospital.
VPRS 7680/P1 Register of Patients, Kew Asylum, 1871-1919 – Admission records for those patients admitted to the Kew Asylum.
Images of these registers will include the following fields: date of last previous admission, number in order of admission, date of admission, name, sex, age, condition as to marriage, condition of life and previous occupation, previous place of abode, by whose authority sent, dates of medical certificates and by whom signed, form of mental disorder, supposed causes of insanity, bodily condition and name of disease, epileptics, congenital idiots, duration of existing attack, number of previous attacks, age on first attack, date and manner of discharge, whether the patient died, and observations.
Once you have located your ancestor’s admission date, you can use that to look up their patient history in the Kew Asylum case books: VPRS 7397/P1 Case Books of Female Patients and VPRS 7398/P1 Case Books of Male Patients, which can be found online at the website for Public Record Office Victoria.
VPRS 7721/P1 Register of Patients, Collingwood Asylum, 1866-1873 – Admission records for patients admitted to Collingwood Asylum. An index of patient names precedes the admission records.
Images of these registers will include the following fields: date of last previous admission, number in order of admission, date of admission, name, sex, age, condition as to marriage, condition of life and previous occupation, previous place of abode, by whose authority sent, dates of medical certificates and by whom signed, form of mental disorder, supposed cause of insanity, bodily condition and name of disease, epileptics, congenital idiots, duration of existing attack, number of previous attacks, age on first attack, discharge details, whether the patient died, and observations.
This register can be used to locate your ancestor’s patient history in VPRS 7404/P1 Case Books of Male and Female Patients. The casebooks are arranged by admission dates and can be located at the Public Record Office Victoria.
VPRS 7395/P1 Case Books of Male Patients, Beechworth Asylum, 1867-1912 and VPRS 7396/P1 Case Books of Female Patients, Beechworth Asylum, 1878-1912 – Contain case histories of patients admitted to Beechworth Asylum between 1878 and 1912 for female patients and between 1867 and 1872 for male patients. These case histories are organized by admission date.
VPRS 7427/P1 Nominal Register of Patients, Ararat Asylum, 1867-1906 – Contains a list of those individuals admitted to the Ararat Asylum. Male patients are listed on the left-hand side and female patients on the right-hand side. They are organized alphabetically by the first letter of surname and then chronologically by admission date.
Fields will include name, native of, last known residence, date of admission, name and address of relative, and details of a patient’s discharge or removal.
Once your ancestor’s admission date is located, you can search for their complete patient record in PRS 7401/P1 Case Book of Female Patients or VPRS 7403/P1 Case Book of Male Patients, which can be found online at the Public Record Office Victoria website.
VPRS 7428/P1 Nominal Register of Patients, Ballarat/Sunbury Asylums, 1877-1907 – List of patients admitted to Ballarat Asylum between 1877 and 1879 and then subsequently to the Sunbury Astlum from 1879 to 1907. The list is organized alphabetically by the first letter of the surnames and then chronologically by admission date. Male patients are recorded on the left-hand side of the register and females on the right-hand side.
Fields will include date of admission, name, and date and method of discharge/transfer.
Once the admission date has been identified, you can search for the patient’s complete record in VPRS 7405/P1 Case Books of Male Patients or VPRS 7406/P1 Case Books of Female Patients, located on Public Record Office Victoria’s website.
VPRS 7490/P1 Asylum Records [Case Books], Sunnyside Licensed House, 1905-1915 – Records case histories of patients admitted to Sunnyside Licensed House, Camberwell. The records are arranged by admission date.
VPRS 7446/P1 Alphabetical List of Patients in Asylums, 1849-1885 – An 8-volume collection titled “Lists of Patients,” where each volume correlates to a specific asylum (Ararat, Ballarat, Beechworth, Collingwood, Cremorne, Kew, Sunbury, and Yarra Bend Asylums). The patient lists are organized alphabetically by first letter of patients’ surnames and then chronologically by admission dates.
Edward/Ellen De Lacy Evens
The admission record for Edward/Ellen De Lacy Evans to the Bendigo Receiving Ward can be found within these records. Edward, born a woman, lived his life as a man in Australia for 20 years before his secret was revealed. The truth only came out after his transfer from Bendigo to Kew Asylum, where they forced Evans to bathe after his refusal to do so for six weeks. In the records, he’s registered as Ed De Lacy Evans. His age is listed as 40. His admission date is recorded as 22 July 1879. The revelation caused an uproar in the local press. A main point of shock arose around the fact that Evans had been married three times over the span of twenty years and was at that time currently married to his third wife, who had, much to his surprise, conceived a child.
Harry Trott, best known for his skill as a cricketer and team captain, was admitted to Kew Asylum in May 1899 after suffering from fits and bouts of unconsciousness for several weeks. His stay at Kew would last 400 days. He was described as apathetic and antisocial during the early days of his stay. However, in early 1900, his fervor for cricket at least returned as he played, and stared, in the asylum’s cricket matches. Soon thereafter, Trott was declared recovered. He returned to cricket after his release, playing until the age of 44.
In the records, his age is listed as 33 and his admission date as 3 May 1899.
These records are part of the mental health collection from the Public Record Office Victoria.