Agency VA 2840
Kew (Asylum 1871-1905; Hospital for the Insane 1905-1934; Mental Hospital 1934-c.1970's; Mental/Psychiatric Hospital c.1970's-1988)
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Date Range: 1871 - 1988
Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency
Establishment and Development of Services

The Kew Asylum was first opened in 1871 as a ward of Yarra Bend. For a short period Kew was also known as the "Metropolitan Asylum". Many of Kew's early patients were transferred from Yarra Bend and the Collingwood Asylum. In October 1872 Kew was proclaimed a separate institution from Yarra Bend.

Since its establishment the title of the institution at Kew has been altered several times to reflect both the community's changing attitude towards mental illness and the Government of Victoria's approach to the treatment of mentally disturbed persons. Despite the changes in designation the function and structure of the agency has not altered significantly, therefore the institution has been registered as one continuous agency. From its establishment until 1905 the institution at Kew was known as an Asylum. This title emphasised its function as a place of detention rather than a hospital which provided treatment for mentally ill people who could possibly be cured. The Lunacy Act 1903 (No.309) changed the title of all "asylums" to "hospitals for the insane". This Act came into operation in March 1905. The Mental Hygiene Act 1933 (No.4157) altered the title to "Mental Hospitals".

An asylum/hospital for the insane etc. was any public building proclaimed by the Governor-in-Council and published in the Government Gazette as a place for the reception of lunatics. An asylum could also provide wards for the temporary reception of patients as well as long-term patients. The Mental Health Act 1959 (No.6605) designated hospitals providing short-term diagnosis and accommodation as "psychiatric hospitals". Therefore any institution could have a section designated as a mental hospital for long-term or indefinite hospitalization and a section designated as a psychiatric hospital for short term diagnosis and treatment of acute psychiatric illness. Any such designations of particular wards are published in the Government Gazette.

Patients could not be retained in an Asylum without a warrant requesting their admission. Prior to 1867 the warrant was signed by the Governor. After this date the Chief Secretary (VRG 26) was responsible for this function. From 1934 the Director of Mental Hygiene (VA 2865) and from 1952 the Chief Medical Officer of the Mental Hygiene Branch (VA 2866) were successively responsible for admission of patients.

The Lunacy Act 1914 (No.2539) made provision for the admission of patients on a voluntary basis as well as by certification.

In October 1962 Kew was formally proclaimed a Mental Hospital under the Mental Health Act 1959 (No.6605).

In January 1982 wards G1, G3, and G4 of Kew Mental Hospital were proclaimed a Psychiatric Hospital under the provisions of the Mental Health Act 1959 (No.6605). There wards were known as the Willsmere Unit and were established to receive and accommodate short-term acute patients. During the 1970's Kew also became known as Willsmere Hospital.

In December 1988 Kew/Willsmere Mental Hospital and the Willsmere Unit were decommissioned following a detailed report by the Parliamentary Social Development Committee.


Lunacy Statute 1867
Lunacy Act 1880
Lunacy Act 1890
Lunacy Act 1903
Lunacy Act 1915
Lunacy Act 1928
Mental Hygiene Act 1933
Mental Hygiene Act 1958
Health Commission Act 1977
Mental Hygiene Act 1986.

Location of Records

The Public Record Office has substantial holdings of clinical and administrative records from this agency. See below.

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    PROVguide059 Mental Health Records
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Date Range Series Title Series Number Series Location Public Access
? 1910 - ? 1928 Postcard Album VPRS 8780 North Melbourne Open
? 1929 - ? 1943 Internal Memoranda VPRS 8779 North Melbourne Open
? 1951 - 1983 Record of Subjects sent to School of Anatomy, University of Melbourne VPRS 7688 North Melbourne Closed
1871 - 1912 Case Books of Female Patients VPRS 7397 North Melbourne Open
1871 - 1912 Case Books of Male Patients VPRS 7398 North Melbourne Open
1871 - 1924 Admission Warrants, Male and Female Patients VPRS 7456 North Melbourne Open
1871 - 1937 Nominal Register of Patients VPRS 7690 North Melbourne Open
1871 - 1953 Index to Female Case Books and Patient Clinical Notes VPRS 7520 North Melbourne Part Open
1871 - 1966 Register of Patients VPRS 7680 North Melbourne Part Open
1872 - 1988 Trial Leave Register VPRS 7451 North Melbourne Part Open
1872 - 1988 Discharge Registers VPRS 7681 North Melbourne Part Open
1889 - 1960 Annual and Quinquennial Examination Registers VPRS 7429 North Melbourne Part Open
1893 - 1937 Medical Journals VPRS 7689 North Melbourne Open
1905 - 1983 Admission Warrants, Female Patients VPRS 7717 North Melbourne Closed
1908 - ? 1959 Post Mortem Registers VPRS 7432 North Melbourne Part Open
1910 - 1983 Admission Warrants, Male Patients VPRS 7716 North Melbourne Closed
1912 - 1953 Patient Clinical Notes VPRS 7693 North Melbourne Part Open
1915 - 1966 Register of Voluntary Boarders VPRS 7686 North Melbourne Closed
1915 - 1967 Admission Warrants - Voluntary Boarders VPRS 7719 North Melbourne Closed
1915 - 1975 Head Nurse's Daily Report Book - Female Wards VPRS 7692 North Melbourne Part Open
Functions for which this Agency has or has had primary responsibilityFunctions for which this Agency has or has had primary responsibility
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Date of Responsibility Function Title Function Number
1871 - 1988 Health, mental VF 128
Functions for which this Agency has or has had secondary responsibilityFunctions for which this Agency has or has had secondary responsibility
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Superior AgenciesSuperior Agencies
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Date of Relationship Agency Title Agency Number
1871 - 1905 Hospitals for the Insane Branch VA 2863
1905 - 1934 Lunacy Department (located in Chief Secretary's Department) VA 2864
1934 - 1944 Department of Mental Hygiene (located in Chief Secretary's Department VA 475) VA 2865
1945 - 1978 Mental Hygiene Branch, Department of Health I VA 2866
1987 - 1988 Office of Psychiatric Services VA 2837
Subordinate AgenciesSubordinate Agencies
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Groups containing this AgencyGroups containing this Agency
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Date of Relationship Group Title Group Number
1871 - 1988 Health and Welfare Agencies VRG 8