No. 1.8 - Oldest Lunatic Asylum in Australia (continued)

Otago Witness , Issue 1900, 20 April 1888, Page 14

After taking leave of the lady superintendent and Dr Macfarlane, we passed out through a wicket gate, guarded by a nurse, into a wellgrassed lawn, and opposite stands a large building forming three sides. The north-eastern end of the building is occupied as offices by Drs Macfarlane and Crampton, and the other portions are tenanted by the patients who are quiet and convalescent, and their attendants. The doctor then introduced me to the inmates of the -


In this division there are located 50 patients, whose wants are cared for by three warders in the daytime and one during the night. As my readers will perceive, the 300 inmates of New Norfolk Asylum are carefully watched day and night. They have plenty of ground for recreation, but few of them take advantage of it. I inspected the dormitories, and found them very clean ; they accommodate from five to seven patients and a couple of attendants. Great care must have been taken with the beds in this division, for nearly every one was apparently 40 years of age, for on the bedding was the stamp of the Imperial Government in broad letters. In fact, the only exception I could take to the asylum was that there is too much of the Imperial convict look about the buildings. They should be pulled down, thereby dismissing from the minds of visitors the relics of Imperial convictism. We are now approaching the end of the nineteenth century. The abuses of the past have been completely swept away by wise reformers and intelligent and charitable medical officers ; then why not sweep away those ghastly buildings of 1827, originally erected as a general hospital for convicts. There were very few patients in the day room, which is scarcely large enough to accommodate the patients when they partake of their meals. Strange to say, some of the quiet and convalescent patients are imbecile and epileptic.

The doctor addressed one man, about 50 years of age, in this manner :
"How do you do, Mr Jones."
"Very well, doctor. How are you."
The doctor : "Any better to-day ?"
Answer : "Never felt better."
The doctor : "This gentleman" (naming me) would like to know your age."
Answer : "My age, sir, is 132 years. I will never die. It's really impossible. God says I will never die."
Dr. Crampton informed me that the moment a stranger wished to know his age the patient lost his head.

In another portion of this division we came across, a beautiful faced lad who does nothing but smile and walk about all day. This poor boy has never been known to utter a word. A little farther on we came across two idiots, whose description I should be very sorry to place before my readers. They were, however, strange to say, scarcely such horrid sights as those spoken of in my last in the female division.


Strange to say that in this ward your correspondent couldn't distinguish the lunatics from the warders, which I consider a great mistake on the part of the authorities. They have no distinction of dress, and from their general appearance and hangdog looks contrast most unfavourably with the female nurses. The warders of the Tasmanian Insane Hospital lack the discipline displayed by the attendants in the asylums in Australia. Seven warders to 64 refractory lunatics is scarcely the clean potato. Dr Crampton showed me into the rooms, which are single, in which the patients sleep. As I walked about the padded cells, again the stamp of Imperial convictism caught my eye. The windows were barred, and the doors made from the same pattern as those found in the prisons of days gone by at Port Arthur, Norfolk Island, and Botany Bay. In the words of the doctor ; "We must, if we intend restoring lost reason, remove from our midst such hideous sights." Correct. Some of the cells at the New Norfolk Asylum would turn the brain of any sane mind. With, all Sir Julius Vogel's cunningness and gout, it's a thousand pounds to a Chinese orange that if the New Zealand politician slept for three nights in one of the padded cells spoken of above, he would certainly find missing several slates from his roof. On questioning the doctor in reference to the good arising from the incarceration of lunatics in this manner, he informed me that at times it was really necessary to imprison patients for a brief period say an hour — so as to prevent them from doing damage to themselves and the other patients. There is one great desideratum in this division — the bathrooms and lavatories are equal to anything to be found in any other institution of its size. The dining room is large, and everything looked clean — in fact one could have eaten a meal from the floor. The poor creatures are so far gone that the authorities cannot permit them to use either, knives or forks, their food being cut up by the attendants, who furnish them with spoons.


As we enter the wood yard and take a birdseye view of the 14 or 15 inmates working their eyeballs out, l ask myself, "Was Hamlet mad ? If not, there are some half-dozen Hamlets in this ward of the Tasmanian Asylum." I couldn't help asking Dr Crampton to introduce me to one of these hard-working men, who, strange to say, I knew 80 years ago.
The doctor : "This gentleman would like to say a few words with you."
Warrior : "Well, Chilcott, old man, still alive ?"
Patient : "Yes, sir, I stand it very well, don't I ?"
Warrior : "How long have you been here It's nearly two-and-twenty years."
Patient : "Of course it is. Don't you remember when you was on the paper, returning from business about midnight, advising me not to set fire to the house."

Warrior "Of course I do, Mr Chilcott."
Patient: "Didn't Judge Valentine sentence me to remain here for the Queen's pleasure ?"
I can assure my readers that every word spoken by this unfortunate man was perfectly true.
"Well doctor, how do you account for this man having such a memory, and appearing so very sane ?''
In reply, Dr Crampton informed me that he was the hardest-working man in the institution ....... [several lines are indecipherable] ....... cut firewood, and one, press writer has gone so far as to suggest a steam engine. All I can say is, should his suggestion be carried out, that in less than three months there would be very few left. Before entering the gentlemen's apartpment, the dootor walked me into -


Here again I couldn't distinguish the sane man from the insane man, with one exception, the cook. He would persist in cutting up vegetables within half afoot of my precious neck;
"Why, doctor, this is another Launceston man, who must have entered the asylum about Chilcott's time ?"
'"How are you getting on Mr Wiltshire ?"
"What brings you down this way ?"
"When did you see Bleeding Jones last ?"
This was quite sufficient ; there was no holding him. There was no stopping him from warbling the names of his numerous friends who left Tasmania for New Zealand in the prosperous days 26 years ago. "How is Dodger the cabman ? "Don't yer know he went to the West Coast with old Bill Sullivan, Billy Waterloo, Bobby Blake and O'Leary, the pawnbroker's son. Don't yer remember one-arm Button, the lawyer, who used to take a jump off the shoots ?''

This unfortunate man would have talked for 24 hours had I had the time to listen to him. It appears that he met with an accident some quarter of a century ago in Dunedin, and he has never been himself since. In this portion of the building the whole of the cooking for the male patients is performed. From what I could see the food is well cooked, and placed before the inmates in a much better fashion than in some of the hotels in Melbourne and Sydney. The vegetables are first-class, and are grown on the farm of the asylum. From my slight observation of the preparations for the use of the inner man, I certainly must give the cake to the patient for hard work, especially in the baking business, for no one could, give more attention to his employer than the lunatic in the bakehouse of the Tasmanian Lunatic Asylum.


You don't want much schooling as regards the building and enclosure commonly known as '"The Gentlemen's Cottage." In this portion of the asylum grounds are to be found the sons and fathers of well-to-do citizens. Here I have a glimpse of the world; even though it be a lunatic asylum. Gentlemen living in luxury, well fed and dressed, and whose cares are looked after by four warders. "Gold, gold, gold, I like to hear it jingle." In the refractory ward there are 67 patients, a number being very troublesome and requiring great care, only, seven sane men are employed. Here's a nice contrast ; one attendant to nine refractory patients, and in the gentlemen's cottage one attendant to every four patients, who can play on the bagatelle board if they choose, or rest themselves at ease in the large and furnished rooms: Speaking plainly, I can scarcely understand how the visiting board don't open their eyes to the fact I have just narrated. It's no business of the medical staff.


On the whole, I must congratulate the authorities for the admirable manner in which they conduct the oldest lunatic asylum, perhaps, in the world, for I can scarcely believe that in Europe there are buildings in insane hospitals how existing which were built in the year 1827. Before concluding I must return my sincere thanks to Dr Crampton for the kind manner in which he showed me round the New Norfolk Asylum buildings and grounds, also to Dr Macfarlane for permitting him to do so. In my next I will give a brief outline of the Hobart abattoirs.