Find your ancestors in Victoria, Mental Health Institutions

This collection is comprised of 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).
  • Age
  • Date of admission
  • Date of discharge/transfer
  • Method of discharge
  • Hospital

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
  • Medical history
  • Observations

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.

Learn more about admissions to mental health institutions in Victoria

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

  • Delusional insanity
  • Dementia
  • Epilepsy
  • 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.
  • Idiocy
  • Inebriation
  • Melancholia
  • 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.

Discover more about the mental health institutions in these records

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'.


These records are part of the mental health collection from the Public Record Office Victoria.