|Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency|
The Lunacy Department (located in the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475)) was established in 1905 under the provisions of the Lunacy Act 1903 (No.1873). This Department was the main agency responsible for the care, control and treatment of persons who were deemed to be lunatics, idiots (later mental defectives) inebriates or criminally insane and of persons suffering a mental disorder arising from war service. The Department was also responsible for the administration of hospitals for the insane and licensed houses.
Prior to the establishment of the Lunacy Department, the Hospitals for the Insane Branch (Chief Secretary's Department) (VA 2863) had been the agency responsible for these functions and the chief administrative officer had been the Inspector of Lunatic Asylums and Licensed Houses.
Under the provisions of the Lunacy Act 1903, public asylums became known as hospitals for the insane and the change of name reflected the change in emphasis from detention and custody to treatment and rehabilitation that had been evolving since the mid-nineteenth century. Hospitals for the insane were for the care and control of long term patients. The Act also provided for the establishment of receiving houses to which patients were to be admitted for observation, diagnosis and short term treatment. Lunacy wards in public hospitals became receiving wards and were for the temporary reception of insane persons or persons presumed to be insane. The Act also authorised the proclamation of separate institutions for the criminally insane and the licensing of ly run institutions known as licensed houses. The Inebriates Act 1904 (No.1940) authorised the reintroduction of a system of licensed premises for the reception, control and treatment of inebriates.
In 1887 a separate institution for the care of intellectually disabled children had been established as the Idiot Asylum (VA 2852) - a ward of Kew Asylum. In 1933 Travancore (VA 2861) a special school for " the reception of children who, although mentally defective, are capable of receiving benefit from special instruction" was established (See Annual Report 1933).
Under the provisions of the Mental Treatment Act 1915 and subsequent legislation a Convalescent Military Hospital was established at Mont Park in 1915 and a Military Mental Hospital was subsequently established at Bundoora. These and similar institutions and special wards were for the treatment of ex service personnel who were suffering from a mental disorder arising from war service. The Lunacy Department was responsible for these patients by agreement with the Commonwealth.
Central Administration of Mental Health
Prior to the proclamation of the Lunacy Act 1903, the Inspector of Lunatic Asylums and Licensed Houses and others had frequently been critical of the divided authority in the administration of the Hospitals for the Insane Branch,-the Inspector, the Under-Secretary of the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475) and the Public Service Commissioner each having some responsibility for its administration.
The Lunacy Act 1903 placed the authority firmly in the hands of the Inspector General of the Insane who was head of the Lunacy Department. The powers of the Public Service Commissioner were vested in the Inspector General of the Insane who thus assumed the powers of permanent head in relation to the officers and employees of the Lunacy Department. The Inspector General also reported directly to the Chief Secretary and thence to Parliament. The Inspector General was not a member of the Public Service but the Public Service Lists continue to place the staff of the Lunacy Department within the Chief Secretary's Department since these officers were members of the Public Service for whom the Chief Secretary had ministerial responsibility.
Given the degree of autonomy and the powers assigned to the Inspector General, it has been decided that the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475) should not be cited as a superior agency for the Lunacy Department. However, given that the Chief Secretary retained ministerial responsibility for mental health, it is likely that records relating to the administration of this function will be found within the records of the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475).
In 1934 with the proclamation of the Mental Hygiene Act 1933 (No.4157) the Department of Mental Hygiene (VA 2865) assumed the responsibilities of the Lunacy Department and the powers of the Inspector General of the Insane were assumed by the Director of Mental Hygiene.
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 (Lunacy Department), 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 Centre).