Beechworth Asylum, also known in later years as the Beechworth Hospital for the Insane and Mayday Hills Mental Hospital, is a decommissioned hospital located in Beechworth, a town of Victoria, Australia. Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum was the fourth such Hospital to be built in Victoria, being one of the three largest. Mayday Hills Hospital closed in 1995 after 128 years of operation.
The asylum was surrounded by almost 106 hectares of farmland, making the hospital self-sufficient with its own piggery, orchards, kitchen gardens, fields, stables and barn. For recreation, the asylum included tennis courts, an oval and cricket pavilion, kiosk and theatre.
One of the distinctive features of both Kew Asylum and Beechworth Asylum is the use of a variation on Ha-Ha walls around the patients courtyards. These ha-has consisted of a trench, one side of which was vertical and faced with stone or bricks, the other side sloped and turfed. From the inside, the walls presented a tall face to patients, preventing them from escaping, while from outside, the walls looked low so as not to suggest imprisonment.
People could be admitted to the asylum as a lunatic patient by a number of means:
At the request of a friend, relative or acquaintance, with medical certificates written by two medical practitioners. This method was amended by The Mental Health Act 1959 which stated a person could be admitted upon the recommendation of a medical practitioner who had examined the person. As soon as possible after admission the superintendent of the hospital was required to examine the patient and either approve the recommended admission or discharge the patient.
Any (lunatic) person found wandering at large or not under proper care and control could be brought before two justices who could order the person’s removal to an asylum. The police were usually responsible for bringing the person before the two justices.
Any prisoner of the Crown thought to be a lunatic could be removed from a gaol to an asylum by order of the Chief Secretary.
Voluntary Boarders were those who requested that they be admitted for a mutually agreed period of time (from 1915 onwards).
To be admitted, only two signatures were required. To be discharged, eight signatures were required, thus it was a lot harder to get out than to get in.
Beechworth Lunatic Asylum was formerly owned by La Trobe Beechworth Pty Ltd, and managed by La Trobe University.
La Trobe sold the facility in 2013 to a local company composed of two Beechworth businessmen, George Fendyke and Geoff Lucas.
The site is now being subdivided and either leased or sold to tourism and arts-based businesses. Tours currently run through the facility to preserve and showcase the history and architecture.
A venue used for weddings is the Chapel of the Resurrection, to the west of the site. It was built in 1868 as the mortuary for the complex, and was converted to the chapel seen today in the 1960s.
The gardens date to the 19th century, covering 11 hectares, and are open to the public from dawn until dusk.
In the summer of 2015 over a hundred former staff members of the asylum reunited on the grounds, now part of La Trobe University, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the hospital closing and exchange stories of their experiences there.
“Going back to the old days where people were not concerned about the patients that much and the rights of patients were often trampled on… In the 1960’s, 1970’s and into the 1980’s period, the situation in the hospitals improved dramatically and the attitude to staff and patients was much, much better,”
Reunion organizer and psychiatric nurse Dave Clark said in a quote to ABC Goulburn Murray.
Those curious to find out more about the asylum’s haunted history can buy a plane ticket to Australia for one of their nightly ghost tours which, according to the reviews, will leave you shaking with fear.
“I was genuinely surprised at how scared I actually was (usually I’m pretty hard to impress) but by the end of the tour I was glad to be out safely and away. A very charged atmosphere with a dash of drama and not infrequent ghost sightings make for an interesting night out. Recommended for the brave only,”
A reviewer named MadelinAnne commented on Trip Advisor.
One of the asylum ghosts mentioned (and seen) most frequently on the tour is Matron Sharpe, whose ghost has been seen many times in several different sections of the hospital. Known to have been kind and caring to the asylum’s patients when most others were not, she gives off a loving and watchful vibe as she comes and goes. On the flip side, a former patient named Tommy Kennedy is also thought to haunt the grounds. Tasked with kitchen duties during his stay at the asylum, Tommy died in the area he worked in – which is now used as a theatre – and people claim to feel his ghost tugging at them or poking them, as though not so gently reminding the world that he’s still there, and refuses to be forgotten.
The Grevillia wing of the asylum, an area where patients who were seen as difficult or beyond helping were often restrained in straightjackets, is haunted by the ghost of a doctor whose presence changes the temperature of the room. Shock treatments were often administered in this wing so the combination of residual fear and pain, and the presence of the earthbound doctor’s spirit make it one of the most feared areas of the asylum.
Although many years have passed and the asylum has not held patients or medical staff for quite some time, the pain, stress, and torment that went on there has had a permanent effect. Hopefully something, or someone, can bring peace to the spirits trapped there one day.