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Asylum records

A common way of finding out if a relative was in a mental hospital is to check the death certificate. If a person died in a mental hospital or asylum it will be stated on the death certificate.

How do you know if your ancestor was in an asylum?

Gladesville Mental Hospital menu. View larger imageYou may also know that an ancestor spent some time in an asylum from hearsay or family stories.

Try to gather as much information as you can.

What we need to know

To help you track down the records we need to know:

  • what asylum your ancestor was in
  • approximate date or year in asylum, and
  • the date of death in the asylum or discharge from the asylum.

Information NOTE: We cannot search large periods of time as lengthy research would be required and we do not undertake research.

How to access patient records

Muscial entertainment at Parramatta Psychiatric Centre, 1875. View lagrer imagePatient identifying records are closed to public access (CPA) for 110 years. This direction covers records created or maintained by the Department of Health.

The only exception to this CPA direction are the records of the Liverpool State Hospital and Home, which are closed for 30 years.

You can obtain permission from the Department of Health to access patient identifying records. See Archives in Brief 85 for more details or visit the Department of Health website.

What records do we hold?

Newspaper cutting 'A Lay by a Lunatic'. View larger image

The first mental asylum in the colony was at Castle Hill, from 1811-1825. Prior to this either Parramatta Gaol, or in some cases Bedlam Point at Gladesville, was used for keeping the insane.

By the early 1880s psychiatric outpatient clinics had been established at the following hospitals: Royal Prince Alfred; Sydney; St Vincents; Lewisham; North Shore; Parramatta; Newcastle; Goulburn and Orange.

State Records holds patient identifying records of many State managed mental health facilities. The hospitals, dates they operated, and the dates of the surviving records are listed below:

Name of hospital and dates the surviving records cover

Important! Please note: Records may not be complete for the date ranges included in this list

Bay View House, Tempe operated 1865-1946
Surviving records cover c.1865-1946
Situated near the Cook's River, Tempe. A private lunatic asylum founded by Dr GA Tucker as an alternative to Government run asylums. In 1871 Bayview House contained 37 patients, of these 12 were private patients and the remaining 25 were State patients maintained at public expense. On 31 March 1946 Bayview House closed and all certified patients still resident were transferred to other hospitals.

Broughton Hall Psychiatric Clinic operated c.1915-76
Surviving records cover c.1915-63
Situated adjacent to Callan Park Mental Hospital. Between 1915 and 1920 No. 13 Auxiliary Military Hospital, Broughton Hall was run by the Australian Army Medical Corps and used to treat soldiers who had returned from war suffering from shell shock and other severe disorders. By June 1922 Broughton Hall Psychiatric Clinic had become an independent established entity. In 1976 Broughton Hall was amalgamated with Callan Park to form Rozelle Hospital.

Callan Park Mental Hospital operated c.1878-1976
Surviving records cover c.1877-1965
Situated on the banks of Iron Cove. The hospital was initially managed as a branch of Gladesville Hospital before being remodelled after Chartham Downs in Kent, England. Callan Park was officially opened in 1884 and continued to operate until it was amalgamated with Broughton Hall to form Rozelle Hospital in 1976.

Gladesville Mental Hospital (formerly Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum) operated c.1838-
Surviving records cover c.1822-1985
In 1838 the lunatic asylum was moved from Liverpool to Tarban Creek, Gladesville and the first patients were transferred from Liverpool Asylum and the Female Factory, Parramatta. It accepted patients from Victoria up until 1848 when the Yarra Bend asylum was opened. By the mid 1960s the institution was known simply as Gladesville Hospital. In 1993 premises at Gladesville Hospital and Macquarie Hospital were revoked as hospitals, and were amalgamated to form the Gladesville Macquarie Hospital.

Kenmore Mental Hospital operated c.1894-
Surviving records cover 1938-42
On 31 July 1894 the buildings on the Kenmore Estate, Goulburn, were appointed a Hospital for the Insane. In 1897 the returns for Kenmore show female patients (114) whereas previously it had only men. During World War II it was taken over by the Armed Services and all patients were transferred elsewhere.

Liverpool Lunatic Asylum operated c.1825-38
Surviving records cover c.1829-36
Castle Hill Asylum operated from 1811-25. In 1825 the building was found unfit for habitation and patients were moved to Liverpool Court House, which served as an asylum until 1838, when Tarban Creek (now Gladesville Hospital) was built.

Newcastle Psychiatric Centre operated 1871-
Surviving records cover c.1871-1976
In 1867 the military barracks at Watt Street, Newcastle was converted to a Reformatory for Girls. In 1871 after much community protest the reformatory was closed and by 1872 converted to an institution for the intellectually handicapped. The first patients (120) came from Gladesville and Parramatta Asylums. By 1887 it had 120 male and 107 female patients. By 1969 Newcastle Psychiatric Centre was in the midst of transition from a specialist centre for intellectual disability into a treatment centre for psychiatric patients.

Newcastle Psychiatric Hospital Reception House operated c.1903-71
Surviving records cover 1903-64
Patients were confined in the Reception House for several days until they either recovered or were assessed and sent to other hospitals, such as Gladesville or Morriset.

Parramatta Psychiatric Centre operated c.1848-
Surviving records cover c.1848-1989
In 1848 the old female factory at Parramatta became the "Convict, Lunatic and Invalid Establishment" and by 1849 it was a public asylum for the reception and custody of lunatics. From the outset, Parramatta Lunatic Asylum consisted of a free, and a criminally insane division.

Reception House, Darlinghurst operated 1868-1961
Surviving records cover c.1868-1962
Opened 1 July 1868. Patients were confined for several days until they either recovered or assessment was made. Prior to the opening of the Reception House patients were kept at the Watch House in Darlinghurst Gaol.

Rydalmere Psychiatric Centre operated c.1888-
Surviving records cover c.1888-1985
In 1888 the Protestant Orphan School buildings became the Rydalmere Hospital for the Insane, which operated as a branch of the Parramatta Hospital for the Insane until 1891. At this early stage patients came from either Parramatta or Gladesville Asylums. Between 1888-95 the hospital treated only male patients before taking in female patients from 1895.
Some legal files date back to 1855.

Temporary Hospital for the Insane, Cooma operated c.1877-84
Surviving records cover 1879-84
This institution was opened in January 1877 at the Cooma Gaol building and the first patients transferred from Gladesville Hospital. The Hospital also admitted patients from the Monaro district. In November and December 1884 all patients were transferred to Callan Park Hospital when the hospital closed.

Infirm and destitute asylums

State Records also holds records of some infirm and destitute asylums. These asylums cared for the poor and infirm as part of the Government's social and community services.

Most surviving records of asylums provide only brief details of the inmate's admission and discharge. It is rare to locate family history information or a case history of a patient. Many records are incomplete.

Patient records

There are three main types of records listing patient details: Admission files, Case papers and Medical case books.

Registers of admissions and discharges usually contain a one line summary entry for each patient and this information can often be found in other patient records. Sometimes these records are issued in a 'masked' format where all entries other than the requested patient entry are hidden from view.

1. Admission files

Lunatic Asylum Ticket, 1858. View larger imageThese 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, e.g. letters from other institutions noting transfer and letters to the hospital from relatives concerning belongings, visiting, etc.

2. 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.

3. 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 s/he remains in the hospital.

NOTE: Medical Case Books were eventually replaced by Case Files which contain similar information.

For more information on mental health records

Please consult the following AIB leaflets:


Click an image to view a larger version or browse all images.

  • Parramatta Hospital for the Insane. View larger image
  • Parramatta Hospital for the Insane, c.1900. View larger image
  • Parramatta Hospital for the Insane, c.1900. View larger image
  • Parramatta Hospital for the Insane, c.1900. View larger image
  • Parramatta Hospital for the Insane, c.1900. View larger image
  • Sydney Morning Herald article, 1875. View larger image
  • Sydney Morning Herald article, 1876. View larger image
  • Samples of forms. View larger image
  • Samples of forms. View larger image
  • Parramatta Hospital for the Insane, c.1900. View larger image
  • Gladesville Hospital - before renovation. View larger image
  • Gladesville Hospital - before renovation. View larger image
  • Gladesville Hospital - before renovation. View larger image
  • Gladesville Hospital - before renovation. View larger image
  • Gladesville Hospital - before renovation. View larger image
  • Gladesville Hospital - after renovation. View larger image
  • Samples of forms. View larger image