Exploring the Old Parramatta Lunatic Asylum
Founded in 1847, the Lunatic Asylum was purpose built for Invalid Convicts who were coming into Australia.
It remained largely a female institution until 1852, and by 1855 with the introduction of males, there were approximately 187 male patients and 92 female. Over the years from 1855, the increase maxed to capacity the facility then housing around 675 males to 384 females by 1885.
Most patients were declared criminally insane, and soon after the Criminal Lunatic Act was passed in 1861, work started on a new ward to accommodate them. There was much criticism to the treatment of patients in these new wards which resulted in many of them being demolished later on.
Although many of the building lay abandoned and out of use, many of them are still being used today as part of the current Cumberland Hospital which treats many mentally challenged inpatients and outpatients.
This makes exploring the ground a little challenging, as you need to be respectful whilst taking photos throughout the buildings and walkways, with many of them still functioning as a hospital today for both patients and medical training centres. Though other buildings still remain empty and alone, with nothing but the sounds of distant footsteps echoing from the past through the lonely corridors.
The grounds make for an interesting day to explore and learn about some of Australia’s mental health past, from dark treatments and terrible mistreatments of patients, to the advancements of treatments and legislative change over the decades, which nurture the mentally challenged, rather than punishing them for being different.
There is a sensation of tranquility as you walk through the grounds, which is both eerie and serene.
The grounds are connected to the Old Parramatta Female Factory which was founded during the colonisation period for women who were undesirable or very naughty in society. As the years passed, and with the extension of additional buildings to accommodate for the females, the hospital was then founded next door for those who were more mentally challenged.
There is a slight fascination in our dark history’s exploring what was once considered a time in which most would want to have removed from out past. Where medicine was experimental and treatments were horrid.
Though it may sound a little morbid, I assure, the fascination comes from the unknowing, and how ignorant humanity was to put so much faith into doctors, who themselves were essentially only learning how biology worked in the human body.
The fear of the unknown makes us do weird things, where we want to believe in someone who knows more on something we do, leaving most of mankind vulnerable to believing what they are told, rather then seeking the answers themselves.
I do believe we have come far with respect to the treatment of patients who are mentally challenged, well in some part anyways. But there is always room for improvements and change. And as the old saying goes, you never stop learning.
The grounds are open to explore everyday being mindful that you are still in a working facility (as mentioned before). However some parts of the Female Factory are only open certain days from Monday to Friday, mostly every third Friday of the month. This is to preserve the buildings, as they are completely abandoned. If the gates stay open, there is a risk of them being exposed to vandals.
I will be publishing a separate story this Sunday on the Female Factory so stay tuned.