• Legislation

Lunacy Act 1903, Western Australia


The Lunacy Act 1903 (015 of 1903 (3 Edw. VII No. 15)) followed the 1900 (Vosper) Select Committee, and was reportedly based on good practice and professional knowledge at the time. Two provisions for children were made: the ability to transfer a child at an industrial school who appeared to be ‘insane’ to a government hospital for the insane (s76) and the ability to place a child in a ‘licensed house’ for the insane (Part V). The Act referred to three types of disability and treated them as one: ‘insane, imbecile or idiotic’. The act was repealed by the Mental Heath Act 1962 (046 of 1962 (11 Eliz. II No. 46)).

The Lunacy Act 1903 did not distinguish intellectual disability from mental illness, but it has been seen as an ‘important step in distinguishing and distancing the insane from the criminals’ (Gillgren, p.63).

In the second reading of the Lunacy Bill in the Legislative Assembly, the Premier explained why it was sometimes necessary for children to be sent away to a ‘licensed house’ for the insane:

Suppose, for the purpose of argument, that a child of mine were suffering in this manner, I ought to have a right to retain that child, but suppose, on the other hand, I did not wish to retain it in my house. Members can perceive a number of reasons why I should not desire to do so; for instance, I might have other children. At the same time, I might not wish to place that child in a hospital for the insane, for I might be able to pay for better treatment. We wish to provide for cases of that sort in Part V., and not compel persons either to keep in their houses, under their own personal care,those who are thus afflicted, or to place them in a hospital for the insane. Hansard 3 November 1903 pp.1832-33

Admission procedures required a doctor to document their own assessment (not just certify someone as ‘insane’ based on the testimony of others) and two medical certificates were required before committal, except in emergencies.

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