Agency VA 2842
Beechworth (Asylum 1867-1905; Hospital for the Insane 1905-1934; Mental Hospital 1934-1967; Mayday Hills Mental Hospital 1967-1991; Mayday Hills Psychiatric Hospital 1978-1995)
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Date Range: 1867 - 1995
Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency
Establishment and Development of Services

In October 1867, following lobbying by the Beechworth Municipal Council, the Beechworth Asylum opened for the reception of patients. Its proclamation as an Asylum was published in the Government Gazette on 1 October 1867 under the provisions of the Lunacy Statute 1867 (No.309).

Patients had previously been confined to the town's gaol due to lack of more appropriate accommodation. As the first patients were admitted, the men were put to work as farm labourers, carpenters, blacksmiths, painters, shoe-makers and tailors, while the women worked as launderers, knitters, seamstresses and domestics. From 1880, records indicate that recreational activities were introduced. In the ensuing years, additional buildings were added to meet demand for patients to be placed in the area.

Since its establishment, the title of the institution at Beechworth has been altered several times to reflect both the community's changing attitude towards mental illness and the Victorian Government'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 Beechworth 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 be cured. The Lunacy Act 1903 (No.1873) 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, and the institution operated as Beechworth Mental Hospital from 1934-1967.

In 1938, the Wangaratta Ladies Auxiliary formed and community members took an active role contributing to patients' comforts and interests. In 1952, the Mental Health Authority established the Open Door policy, demolishing the perimeter wall in 1955.

By the 1960s, a Nurse Training School and adjacent Nurses' Home had been established at the hospital, leading to major developments in nursing education.

In 1962, the Mental Retardation and Mental Hospital sections were officially separated.

In 1964, several wards were renovated, renamed and re-opened as a Training Centre specifically to care for and train more than 200 people with intellectual disabilities. Beechworth Training Centre operated within the institution from 1964-1990.

In 1967 the institution at Beechworth became widely known as "Mayday Hills Hospital" which included the Mental Hospital (1967-1991)and Psychiatric Hospital (1978-1995).

In 1977, the Psychiatric Hospital was proclaimed under the Mental Health Act 1959. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the development of other residential options (day placements, education, employment, and recreational opportunities) meant there were fewer clients.

By 1992, all intellectual disability clients had been removed from the hospital and placed in other forms of accommodation. By 1993, the Psychiatric Hospital had a capacity of 130 beds, with only 20 available for acute adult patients and more than 70 for geriatric patients.

By 1996, the Hospital consisted of two psycho-geriatric wards (Emerald and Amethyst), the Kerferd Acute Clinic, Willow, and external housing at Gilchrest Avenue and Mayday Court. The process of decommissioning was underway and that year the site was added to the Register of Historic Buildings.

In c.1996 the Mayday Hills institution closed and psychiatric patient services moved to Beechworth Hospital (VA 5028).

Role of an Asylum

An asylum/hospital for the insane etc. was any public building proclaimed by the Governor-in-Council as 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. Up until the Mental Health Act 1959 (No.6605) came into operation in 1962 these "short-term" wards were known as "receiving houses". The Mental Health Act 1959 designated hospitals providing short-term diagnosis and accommodation as "psychiatric hospitals". 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 the admission of patients.

The Lunacy Act 1914 (No.2539) made provision for the admission of patients on a voluntary basis, i.e. on a patient's own request for a specified period of time. The voluntary admission provision continued throughout subsequent acts including the Mental Health Act 1986 which defined voluntary patients as informal patients. Mental Health Act 1986 also stipulated a regular external review of involuntary patients by an appointed Mental Health Review Board.


Lunacy Statute 1867
Lunacy Act 1888
Lunacy Act 1890
Lunacy Act 1903
Lunacy Acts Amendment 1914
Lunacy Act 1928
Mental Hygiene Act 1933
Mental Hygiene Act 1958
Mental Health Act 1959
Health Commission Act 1977
Mental Health Act 1986
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    PROVguide059 Mental Health Records
Record series created by this AgencyRecord series created by this Agency
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Date Range Series Title Series Number Series Location Public Access
? 1974 - ? 1974 Discharge Register of Patients [Mayday Hills Mental Hospital] VPRS 17924 North Melbourne Closed
1867 - 1912 Case Books of Male Patients VPRS 7395 North Melbourne Open
1867 - 1912 Case Books of Female Patients VPRS 7396 North Melbourne Open
1867 - 1912 Index to Case Books of Male Patients VPRS 17911 North Melbourne Open
1867 - 1929 Register of Patients VPRS 17930 North Melbourne Open
1867 - 1938 Pharmaceutical Prescription and Dosage Books VPRS 17932 North Melbourne Open
1867 - 1952 Medical Journals VPRS 18365 North Melbourne Part Open
1867 - 1965 Restraint and Seclusion Register VPRS 18102 North Melbourne Part Open
1867 - 1975 Admission Index Cards: Male Patients VPRS 18372 North Melbourne Closed
1867 - 1975 Admission Index Cards Female Patients VPRS 18373 North Melbourne Closed
1867 - 1991 Admission and Discharge Register of Patients VPRS 17846 North Melbourne Part Open
1867 - 1992 Staff Register VPRS 18157 North Melbourne Part Open
1869 - 1978 Discharge Register of Patients VPRS 17851 North Melbourne Part Open
1869 - 1979 Register of Complaints Against Staff VPRS 18154 North Melbourne Part Open
1869 - 1988 Leave of Absence and Trial Leave Registers, Mental Hospital VPRS 18418 North Melbourne Part Open
1877 - 1960 Rules and Orders Books VPRS 17927 North Melbourne Open
1879 - 1920 Casualty Book VPRS 17929 North Melbourne Open
1889 - ? 1918 Annual Examination of Patients Register VPRS 7410 North Melbourne Open
1890 - 1973 Register of Boarded Out Patients VPRS 18426 North Melbourne Closed
1896 - 1921 Patient Discharge Comments Book VPRS 17914 North Melbourne 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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1867 - By 1995 Health, mental VF 128
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1867 - 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 - 1993 Office of Psychiatric Services VA 2837
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1867 - 1995 Health and Welfare Agencies VRG 8