|Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency|
Administration of Mental Health prior to the Hospitals for the Insane Branch
Prior to 1848 lunatics within the Port Phillip District were either detained in gaols or transferred to the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum in New South Wales. In 1848 the first permanent institution for the detention of lunatics within the Port Phillip District was established as a ward of the Tarban Creek Asylum. However, despite the establishment of this institution at Yarra Bend, the authorities continued to use gaols as places of internment for people who had been certified as "dangerous lunatics" or "dangerous idiots".
Following the establishment of Victoria as a separate colony in 1851, the Colonial Secretary (VRG 16) became responsible for the Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum (VA 2839) until 1855 when responsibility was assumed by the Chief Secretary (VRG 26). Until at least 1856 the Chief Medical Officer (previously the Colonial Surgeon) was responsible for the Asylum and there is some evidence to suggest that this relationship continued until 1861, from which time the Superintendent of the Asylum was directly responsible to the Chief Secretary.
Establishment of the Hospitals for the Insane Branch
The Hospitals for the Insane Branch has been dated from the appointment of an Inspector of Lunatic Asylums and Licensed Houses on 1 October 1867 under the provisions of the Lunacy Statute 1867 (No.309). On the same date the following institutions were proclaimed as public asylums: Yarra Bend Asylum (VA 2839) Collingwood Receiving Hospital (VA 2851) and the Royal Park Temporary Lunatic Asylum (all previously existing institutions) and the Ararat Asylum (VA 2841) and Beechworth Asylum (VA 2842) (both of which were newly established institutions).
A distinction was apparently made between an asylum and a receiving hospital the latter being intended for the reception of patients prior to diagnosis and possible long term committal to an asylum. The Act also provided for the establishment of lunacy wards in public hospitals and for the registration of privately run institutions to be known as licensed houses. The Act authorised the admission of inebriates to an asylum or licensed house for any period not exceeding twelve months. Subsequent legislation in 1872 provided for the establishment of separate licensed houses for the treatment and cure of inebriates. These institutions were to be known as retreats. Following the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Asylums for the Insane and Inebriate in 1886, a separate asylum for "idiot children" was established as the Idiot Ward at Kew Asylum (VA 2852) and an Asylum for the Criminally Insane was established as "J Ward" of the Ararat Asylum (VA 2841).
The Lunacy Act Amendment Act 1888 (No.986) provided for the proclamation of receiving houses for the short term detention of patients and licensed houses were to be phased out. In 1889 and 1890 two government controlled inebriate retreats were established at Beaconsfield and Northcote.
Administration of Mental Health
The Inspector of Lunatic Asylums and Licensed Houses was head of the Hospitals for the Insane Branch. Until the late 1880's this officer was also the Superintendent of one of the Lunatic Asylums. The Inspector was required to visit each institution at least once in every three months and to report on the condition of the institution and the treatment of patients. The Inspector was also empowered to authorise visits by relatives or medical personnel and the transfer of patients to the care of a relative or friend and to recommend the discharge of patients. Only the Chief Secretary could authorise the transfer of patients from one asylum to another and all discharges required the consent of the Chief Secretary.
The Hospitals for the Insane Branch was essentially responsible for the care, control and detention of lunatics, inebriates and the criminally insane and for the administration of lunatic asylums and licensed houses. Although the Branch was located within the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475), it operated with a considerable degree of autonomy. The Inspector of Lunatic Asylums reported directly to the Chief Secretary and appears to have exercised effective authority in matters of policy and the operation of institutions.
Although the Under-Secretary of the Chief Secretary's Department was the permanent head and thus had responsibility for those officers employed within the Civil and later the Public Service, the Inspector of Lunatic Asylums made recommendations regarding the appointment and supervision of personnel. Many decisions however also required the approval of the Public Service Commissioner.
The inefficiencies of such an arrangement were frequently criticized and in 1905, with the proclamation of the Lunacy Act 1903 (No.1873), the powers of the Public Service Commissioner were vested in the newly appointed Inspector General of the Insane who thus assumed the powers of permanent head in relation to the officers and employees of the newly established Lunacy Department (VA 2864). The Hospitals for the Insane Branch and the position of Inspector of Lunatic Asylums were thus effectively abolished.
For an account of the administration of mental health in Victoria from 1836 to 1989, see VRG 39 Health.
Location of Records
Researchers are advised to consult the following groups: VRG 8 Health and Welfare Agencies, VRG 9 Prisons and Youth Training Centres and VRG 26 Chief Secretary, and the following sections of the List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985: 3.11.2 (Hospitals for the Insane Branch), 3.16.5 (Chief Secretary's Office), 3.4.7(Penal and Gaols Branch), 8.0.0. (Health and Welfare Agencies) and 13.0.0 (Prisons and Youth Training Centres).