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Tasmania - Organisation

Royal Derwent Hospital (1968 - 2000)

  • The Royal Derwent Hospital after it closed

    The Royal Derwent Hospital after it closed, 2010
    Details

From
1968
To
2000
Categories
Government-run, Home and Hospital
Alternative Names
  • Willow Court (Also known as)

The Royal Derwent Hospital, formerly known as Lachlan Park, was renamed in 1968. It was in New Norfolk. That year, Millbrook Rise Psychopathic Hospital, also in New Norfolk, became a part of it and, in addition to the Lachlan Park site, a new complex opened on the eastern side of the Lachlan River. Lachlan Park and Millbrook Rise both housed children. The Royal Derwent Hospital closed in 2000.

Details

In a 1944 report, Dr Catarinich, Victoria's Director of Mental Hygiene, condemned the buildings of Lachlan Park as too crowded, old-fashioned, unhygienic, and structurally unsound to carry out modern therapies. He recommended a new mental hospital and abandonment of the site. In 1949, a Parliamentary Standing Committee, appointed to comment on Dr Catarinich's findings, recommended that a new hospital be built on the eastern side of the Lachlan River using land bought in the nineteenth century to extend the hospital's pastoral and agricultural activities. Construction began in the 1950s. The new hospital opened in 1968.

The former Lachlan Park site on the western side of the Lachlan River did not close. Instead residents with mental illnesses were transferred across the river to the new site on the eastern side while those diagnosed with intellectual disabilities remained at the former Lachlan Park. In combination with the former Millbrook Rise Psychopathic Hospital, the two sites became the Royal Derwent Hospital. Lachlan Park was also known as Willow Court. The name came from a willow tree planted in the front court yard which was supposed to be a cutting from the one on Napoleon's grave in St Helena.

This roughly followed the recommendation of a 1964 Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works that the old Lachlan Park complex be used as a 'Mental Defectives Colony'. According to Dr JRV Foxton, Director of Psychiatric Services its purpose was:

to care for mentally deficient patients, ranging from infancy to old age on one hand and from total idiocy to high-grade feeble mindedness on the other. Therefore provision [had] to be made for those who [were] totally dependent... For children adolescent [sic] and adults, and for patients who require secure detention to protect the public.

These categories reflect those of the Mental Deficiency Act 1920.

The old Lachlan Park site housed about 400 people with intellectual disabilities, with just under a quarter of them children. The parents of many of those children had committed them on the advice of doctors but others were wards of state placed at the Hospital from various institutions because they had been classified as 'mentally deficient'. The Tasmanian Ombudsman's inquiry, which reported in 2004, received submissions from wards of state who had been in the Hospital.

A new development on the Lachlan Park site was the Female Maximum Security Ward known as Alonnah or Ward A, for girls classified under the Mental Deficiency Act. This often meant, not an intellectual disability, but refusing to conform to social attitudes about sexual behaviour. Even though the Mental Health Act 1963, which superseded the Mental Deficiency Act, specifically stated that 'promiscuity' did not imply an intellectual disability, policy more suited to the old act appears to have persisted for a while. Miranda Morris ascribes this to a 'moral panic' about teenage girls and young women in the 1960s that led to the establishment of Weeroona Girls' Training Centre and a new women's prison at Risdon, as well as Alonnah Ward.

The walls of Alonnah were made of thick concrete and the windows were covered with metal grilles. There was one eight bed dormitory and 12 isolation cells for punishment. These had huge doors with one way peepholes, known as Judas windows, and asylum locks. The day rooms could be constantly surveyed from a glassed-in office on a dais. There was no privacy in the bathrooms. The only outside space was a small yard enclosed by 15 foot high concrete walls. With the help of a staff member, the girls made a little garden against the walls.

Some of the girls had employment in the occupational therapy centre, also on the site, packing pegs for the Pioneer Peg Factory in New Norfolk or collating for the Government Printer. They earned enough to buy cigarettes. Other activities included pottery, physical exercises, and playing a modified form of netball in the yard. There was a gramophone and TV. Bed time was at eight pm, except on the rare occasions the girls attended a social at the occupational therapy centre.

Although Alonnah was meant to be high security, by 1969, it was apparently more like an open ward. Only 10 girls lived there and they made a trip with staff to Maria Island that year. Morris suggests that Alonnah was 'obsolete even whilst it was being built'. The last girls left in 1985 and boys lived there temporarily. By 1990 it was closed and the building was used as a plant nursery in a sheltered work program for people with intellectual disabilities.

An oral history project conducted by Margaret Reynolds and Monica Hols led to the publication in 2011 of: Remember the children: stories about the lives of young people in Tasmania's last mental institution, 1950-2000. It contains stories from former residents of Millbrook Rise Psychopathic and Royal Derwent Hospitals, many of whom had traumatic experiences. Contributors to the book spoke of distressing treatments and children being unwashed, tied to their beds, and beaten as well as deprived of food, meaningful activity, and their own clothes. Similarly, Through the window, the autobiography of Rachel Greene, a former resident of the children's ward, briefly describes the very difficult childhood that she had there.

In the later years of the Royal Derwent Hospital, conditions improved. Contributors to Remember the Children, remember the staff as 'co-operative, courteous and helpful'. There was a special facility outside the ward where about 10 children could do activities supervised by two nurses.

When the Royal Derwent Hospital closed in 2000, residents, many of whom had been there since childhood, were sent back to their place of origin, sometimes to families who did not know that they existed. A number of lifelong friends were split up in the process. In 2013, former residents of the Hospital live in group homes and supported accommodation run by not-for-profit organisations. The former Lachlan Park site is registered by the Tasmanian Heritage Council.

The Ombudsman's Review of claims of abuse from adults in state care as children: Final Report - Phase 2 of 2006 mentions the Royal Derwent Hospital.

Location

1968 - 2000
Location - The Royal Derwent Hospital was on Hobart Road, New Norfolk. Location: New Norfolk

Timeline

 1827 - 1859 Lunatic Asylum, New Norfolk
       1859 - 1915 Hospital for the Insane, New Norfolk
             1915 - 1937 Mental Diseases Hospital, New Norfolk
                   1934 - 1968 Millbrook Rise Psychopathic Hospital
                   1937 - 1968 Lachlan Park Hospital
                         1968 - 2000 Royal Derwent Hospital

Related Legislation

  • Disability Services Act (2011 - )

    The Disability Services Act followed the closure of the Royal Derwent Hospital. It was intended to prevent the future use of institutions such as the Royal Derwent Hospital for the care of people with disabilities.

  • Mental Deficiency Act (1920 - 1963)

    The terms of the Mental Deficiency Act underlay the establishment of Alonnah Ward at the Royal Derwent Hospital.

  • Mental Health Act 1963 (1963 - 1999)

    The Mental Health Act superceded the Mental Deficiency Act. Its statement that 'promiscuity' did not indicate intellectual disability did not immediately affect policy in Alonnah Ward at the Royal Derwent Hospital.

Related Organisations

Publications

Books

  • Alexander, Alison, From tiny acorns mighty oaks grow: the history of Oaks Tasmania, Oak Tasmania, Glenorchy, Tasmania, 96 pp. Details
  • Gowlland, RW, Troubled asylum: the history of the Invalid Barracks, New Norfolk Colonial Hospital, New Norfolk Madhouse, New Norfolk Her Majesty's Lunatic Asylum, New Norfolk Mental Diseases Hospital, New Norfolk Lachlan Park, New Norfolk Royal Derwent Hospital, Self publication, New Norfolk, 1996. Details
  • Greene, Rachel, Through the window, Rachel Greene, Glenorchy, Tasmania, 2007, 66 pp. Details
  • Knight, Karen, Postcards from the asylum, Pardalote, Lauderdale, Tasmania, 2008, 94 pp. Details

Reports

  • Willow Court Asylum Complex: Tasmanian Heritage Entry, Heritage Tasmania, Hobart, 2008. Details
  • Johnston, Paul, Strating, R, Morris, Miranda, and Small, T, Willow Court, Conservation Management Plan, Stage D, Alonnah/A Ward and Industrial Therapy, October 2006. Details
  • Ombudsman Tasmania, Listen to the children: Review of claims of abuse from adults in state care as children, Office of the Ombudsman, Tasmania, Hobart, November 2004. p. 16. Details
  • Ombudsman Tasmania, Review of claims of abuse from adults in state care as children - Final Report - Phase 2, June 2006. Details
  • Reynolds, Margaret and Hols, Monica, Remember the children: stories about the lives of young people in Tasmania's last mental institution, 1950-2000, National Disability Services, Hobart, December 2011, 15 pp. Details
  • Sub-Committee of the Tasmanian Branch of the Australian Institute of Welfare Officers, Report and recommendations of the care and treatment of 'Socially maladjusted teenage girls' in Tasmania, Tasmanian Branch of the Australian Institute of Welfare Officers, Hobart, 1975, 18 pp. Details

Online Resources

Photos

The Royal Derwent Hospital after it closed
Title
The Royal Derwent Hospital after it closed
Type
Image
Date
2010

Details

The outside of Alonnah as it looked in October 2012
Title
The outside of Alonnah as it looked in October 2012
Type
Image
Date
October 2012
Source
Caroline Evans

Details

The dayroom at Alonnah as it looked in October 2012
Title
The dayroom at Alonnah as it looked in October 2012
Type
Image
Date
October 2012
Source
Caroline Evans

Details

The corridor in Alonnah as it looked in October 2012
Title
The corridor in Alonnah as it looked in October 2012
Type
Image
Date
October 2012
Source
Caroline Evans

Details

An isolation cell in Alonnah, Royal Derwent Hospital, as it looked in October 2012
Title
An isolation cell in Alonnah, Royal Derwent Hospital, as it looked in October 2012
Type
Image
Date
October 2012
Source
Caroline Evans

Details

Sources used to compile this entry: Willow Court Asylum Complex: Tasmanian Heritage Entry, Heritage Tasmania, Hobart, 2008; Alexander, Alison, From tiny acorns mighty oaks grow: the history of Oaks Tasmania, Oak Tasmania, Glenorchy, Tasmania, 96 pp; Johnston, Paul, Strating, R, Morris, Miranda, and Small, T, Willow Court, Conservation Management Plan, Stage D, Alonnah/A Ward and Industrial Therapy, October 2006; Ombudsman Tasmania, Listen to the children: Review of claims of abuse from adults in state care as children, Office of the Ombudsman, Tasmania, Hobart, November 2004. p. 16.; Ombudsman Tasmania, Review of claims of abuse from adults in state care as children - Final Report - Phase 2, June 2006; Reynolds, Margaret and Hols, Monica, Remember the children: stories about the lives of young people in Tasmania's last mental institution, 1950-2000, National Disability Services, Hobart, December 2011, 15 pp.

Prepared by: Caroline Evans