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Archives In Brief 85 - Mental health facilities - Patient records

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An overview of the types of patient records available and where to access them.

Mental health care terminology

Past terminology

You will notice terms such as 'asylum', 'lunatic', 'lunatic asylum' and 'mental hospital' are used in both the records and in our finding aids. These are terms that were used when the records are created.

Mental health care

Mental health care involves assessing persons believed to be mentally ill and providing them with appropriate treatment in hospitals, community housing or while remaining members of the community.

Care for the infirm and destitute

The NSW Government has also managed the care of the poor and infirm, who were not mentally ill. Asylums, hospitals and homes were built to house and care for them. For records of people cared for in these institutions and how to access to them please see Archives in Brief 86.

Brief History of the administration of mental health care

In 1811 the NSW government established what was known as a 'lunatic asylum' in Castle Hill for the care and treatment of the mentally ill. The facility moved to Liverpool in 1825. The first purpose built institution for the mentally ill was opened at Tarban Creek (Gladesville) in 1838.

After 1838 and until 1876 the government managed several mental health care establishments in an unregulated manner. In 1876 an Inspector of Mental Hospitals was appointed to coordinate and regulate the conduct of the hospitals.

A Master In Lunacy was appointed in 1879 as an officer of the Supreme Court to determine whether persons were mentally ill and to make arrangements for the care of the mentally ill and their affairs.

From 1811 up to the latter part of the 20th century, institutional care in specialised hospitals was the primary means of service delivery. From the 1970s onwards, this progressively gave way to a focus on community-based care, and greater use of psychiatric units in general hospitals.

Mental health facilities

State Records holds records of patients of the following State managed mental health facilities.

Agency No.Mental Health Facility
1857 Broughton Hall Psychiatric Clinic (No.13 Auxilliary Military Hospital)
70 and 1858 Broughton Hall Psychiatric Clinic
Orange (Bloomfield Mental Hospital)
69 and 1836 Callan Park Mental Hospital
1897 Temporary Hospital for the Insane, Cooma
64 Reception House, Darlinghurst
1915 Kenmore Mental Hospital
65 Gladesville Mental Hospital (formerly Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum)
63 Lunatic Asylum, Liverpool
66 Newcastle Psychiatric Hospital
1906 Newcastle Psychiatric Hospital Reception House
62 Parramatta Psychiatric Centre
1907 Rydalmere Psychiatric Centre
6363 Stockton Mental Hospital, and
68 Bay View House Tempe

Note that many records of mental health facilities are incomplete.

Using the Archives Investigator to find lists of records held

Records of individual facilities

For further information about our holdings you can consult Archives Investigator using the Advanced Search option. Select 'Agency' and enter the number of the facility (eg: 65 for Tarban Creek/Gladesville Hospital).

Another way of searching for records of mental health facilities is to select the Advanced Search option and search for the Function 'Health'. The information provided includes a list of agencies exercising that function.

Records listed under 'Inspector General of Mental Hospitals'

As well as records of individual facilties, we also hold records of the Inspector General of Mental Hospitals. These can be located in Archives Investigator using the Advanced Search option. Select Agency and enter the agency number '60'.

Typical records of mental health facilities

Control records


Indexes are arranged alphabetically by the name of the patient. Records that have been indexed include registers of patients, admission books and medical case books.

Registers of patients and admission books

These volumes are arranged chronologically and generally give the following details: date of last previous admission (if any); number on register; number for the year; date of admission; name; sex; age; social condition; number of children; occupation; nativity; residence; religion; form of mental disorder; supposed causes of insanity; insane relations; previous attacks; duration of existing attack; age at first attack; date of discharge; if recovered, relieved, not improved or died; time in hospital; observations; bodily disorders; suicidal tendencies, etc.

Registers of discharges removals and deaths

These volumes are arranged chronologically by date of death, discharge or removal of patients. Details given include: date of last admission; number in Register of patients; name in full; if recovered, relieved, not improved or died; assigned cause of death; age at death; and observations (eg. transferred to another hospital etc.).

Case papers/medical case books/admission files

Admission files

These papers give details of patient's name, occupation, place of abode, date of admission, age, marital status, native place, religious persuasion and a brief outline of case history up to the time of admission - previous admissions, insane relations, doctors' and relatives' observations on the patient's behaviour. Some files also include correspondence, eg. letters from other institutions noting transfer and letters to the hospital from relatives concerning belongings, visiting, etc.

Case papers

These files provide a record of a patient's treatment. They contain such information as admission and discharge details; a medical summary; progress notes; behaviour and treatment records; test results, personal effects lists and correspondence.

Medical case books

Entries in these volumes are arranged chronologically by date of admission. The patient's physical and mental condition before, and at the time of admission, is described and the final entry for each case notes whether the patient was discharged, transferred to another hospital or died. Other details given include: age, weight, social condition, number of children, occupation, nativity, residence, religion, form of mental disorder, supposed cause, duration of attack, previous attacks, date of last admission (if any), treatment and summary of medical certificate. Notes are then made at irregular intervals on a patient's behaviour and condition while he remains in the hospital.

Related records

Colonial Secretary's papers

There are no suriving registers of patients for Castle Hill Lunatic Asylum (1811-1825), however there are numerous references to patients being admitted to the asylum in the Index to Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825.

There are references in the Colonial Secretary's correspondence to patients being admitted to mental health facilities during the 19th century, after 1825. Documents include warrants of admission. The Colonial Secretary's correspondence can be accessed using the indexes and registers and Joan Reese's Index to Convicts and Others. For further information about the Colonial Secretary's correspondence see Archives in Brief 64, Archives in Brief 65 and Archives in Brief 104 (PDF).

Records held elsewhere

A number of State managed mental health facilities have not transferred all their records to State Records. These facilities include Bloomfield Hospital at Orange, Morisset Hospital, Stockton Hospital at Newcastle and Kenmore Hospital near Goulburn. If the records are found not to be part of the State archives collection we will refer you to the appropriate agency to make further enquiries.

Access to records

Records are closed to public access for 110 years

Records over 110 years of age are open to public access. You can access the records at our Western Sydney Reading Room.

Patient identifying health records less than 110 years of age are closed to public access. NSW Health has made an access direction that closes all patient identifying health records, including those of the NSW run mental health facilities.

NSW Ageing Disability and Home Care has also made an access direction that closes all client medical and associated care planning records for 110 years. These records include legacy records inherited from prior agencies through a succession of administrative changes - the Department of Community Services, the Department of Health, the Health Commission of NSW, and the Department of Public Health. This access direction covers records from Stockton Hospital.

For further information about access directions consult the Register of Access Directions.

For further information about your rights of access, see Archives in Brief 9.

How to obtain access to closed records

To obtain access to records created less than 110 years ago you will need to follow the steps below:

1. Contact the relevant agency to obtain permission

If you are researching a patient who was in a number of hospitals you may need to approach several agencies for permission, eg: if the patient was at Gladesville (contact NSW Ministry of Health) and also at Parramatta (contact Cumberland Hospital).

a. Records from hospitals that are closed

To obtain permission to access patient records from hospitals that are closed that are held as NSW State archives you will need to contact the NSW Ministry of Health. Contact the Ministry at:

NSW Ministry of Health
Locked Mail Bag 961
North SYDNEY NSW 2059
Attention: Facilities and Records Unit
Phone: (02) (02) 9391 9071

If your application is successful NSW Ministry of Health will notify you in writing.

b. Records from hospitals that are still operating

These hospitals include Bloomfield Hospital and Cumberland Hospital (Parramatta Mental Hospital). You will need to contact the hospital directly.

Bloomfield Hospital
Western NSW Local Health District
Health Information Service
Orange Health Service
Bloomfield Campus
PO Box 319
Orange  NSW  2800
Telephone: (02) 6369 3722

Cumberland Hospital
Western Sydney Local Health District
Health Information and Record Service
Locked Bag 7118
Parramatta CBD 2124
Telephone: (02) 9840 3321

c. Stockton Hospital

Patient records from Stockton Hospital are under the control of the Department of Human Services. For permission to access Stockton Hospital records contact:

NSW Department of Family and Community Services
Right to Information Officer
Ageing Disability and Home Care
Telephone: (02) 8879 9024 

2. Contact us ten working days before your visit

Because many of the records, such as indexes and registers show a number of individuals on one page, our reading room staff need to check the records on your behalf to confirm the records exist.

You should contact us ten working days in advance. Working days are Mondays - Fridays, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Provide the following information:

  • name of patient
  • name of facility
  • dates of admission
  • dates of discharge/death

We will advise you if the records check is unsuccessful. In some instances it may be possible to send copies to remote users for a fee.

3. Visit the reading room

To access the records you will need to:

  • visit the Western Sydney Records Centre
  • apply for a readers ticket and show identification to confirm your name address and signature
  • bring your letter(s) of permission from NSW Health, and
  • ensure the person who is named in the letter to access the records is the person visiting the reading room.

You will only be given access to the records of the individual named in the letter of permission. In most instances you will be able to obtain copies of this material.

Other records may be identified in Archives Investigator. For records relating to inmates of infirm and destitute asylums, see Archives in Brief 86 and Archives in Brief 87.

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003.
This work may be freely reproduced and distributed for most purposes, however some restrictions apply. See our copyright notice or contact us.