Peat Island Hospital

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Peat Island Hospital
Opened 1911
Closed 1973 (Milson Island)/2001 (Peat Island)
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Mooney Mooney, NSW
Alternate Names
  • Rabbit Island Hospital for the Insane (1910-1917)
  • Rabbit Island Mental Hospital (1917-1936)
  • Peat and Milson Islands Mental Hospital (1936-1973)
  • Peat Island Hospital (1973-1989)
  • Peat Island Centre (1989-2001)


Premises originally built as an inebriates institution for women at Rabbit Island in 1904, were established as a Hospital for the Insane on 22 December 1910, initially in order to provide temporary residences for male patients of the ‘chronic’ class. The first patients who arrived on 24 March 1911 consisted of 20 males aged between 16 and 52. A further 20 male patients arrived in the next week. The patients who were admitted to Rabbit Island Hospital for the Insane in 1911 were generally transferred from the overcrowded wards of Parramatta Hospital for the Insane (later known as Cumberland Hospital) (AG 62) and Newcastle Asylum for Imbeciles and Idiots (later known as James Fletcher Hospital) (AG 66).

By the 1920’s the Rabbit Island Mental Hospital was overcrowded, and so more land was required for Hospital accommodation. Milson Island was the logical choice for the new Hospital both because it was located 1.5 miles west of Rabbit Island, and comprised 80 acres of land. The Island, originally known as Mud Island, had been purchased by the Chief Secretary in 1901 in order to establish an inebriates institution for men, but was never utilised for this purpose. By 1908 however, an experimental farm had been established “for the purposes of investigating the means of exterminating rabbits”. From 1908 to 1920, the Island had also been used “as a temporary quarantine station; and as a hospital to treat soldiers from the First World War afflicted with venereal disease’’.

On 25 February 1921, Crown Land on Milson Island was reserved from sale or lease for the purposes of a Mental Hospital, under s. 28 and 29 of the Crown Lands Consolidation Act 1913 (Act No. 7, 1913). Patients were transferred from Rabbit Island in the same month. The Crown Land on Rabbit and Milson Islands was officially dedicated as a Mental Hospital on 8 August 1924, under s. 24 of the Crown Lands Consolidation Act 1913, and s. 8 of the Public Trusts Act 1897 (Act No.8, 1897). The Hospital was to be known as the “Mental Hospital, Rabbit Island”. Rabbit and Milson Islands Hospitals, therefore, “operated as one institution’’.

By September 1933, there were 429 patients in residence at the Hospitals: 254 at Milson Island and 175 at Rabbit Island. Overall, the problem of overcrowding appeared to have eased somewhat, particularly on Milson Island where there were 71 beds available, although Rabbit Island still had a shortage of at least three beds.

While other Mental Hospitals were generally administered by a Medical Superintendent, Rabbit Island was administered by the Officer-in-Charge. By January 1931, George Cross had been appointed to the position. Medical care on the islands was primarily provided by Medical Officers visiting from other Mental Hospitals including Dr Robert Hardman who visited the island from c.1926 until his appointment a (resident) Temporary Medical Officer on 3 August 1935. He was succeeded by Dr G. Gatenby on 5 December 1938.

In 1936, “Rabbit Island was renamed to honour George Peat, the local pioneer who had blazed the northbound coastal road and had started the ferry service across the river in the mid-nineteenth century. The hospital would be known as Peat and Milson Islands Mental Hospital after this time”.

By mid 1956, Peat and Milson Islands Mental Hospital was primarily an admitting hospital for male adult and juvenile patients who were considered ‘congenital mental defectives’. By 30 June 1956, there were 598 patients at the Hospital, and the grounds covered 113 acres on the two island which were situated “in the Hawkesbury River about 30 Miles North of Sydney.”

By June 1973, Milson Island Hospital was closed because it was considered to be “highly unsatisfactory” with overcrowded and dilapidated buildings which posed a security and fire risk. The patients from the Island were then “transferred to Callan Park, Stockton, Parramatta, Rydalmere, and Marsden Hospitals, and Marsden Rehabilitation Centre”. As a result of the closure of the Hospital plans were “in progress to further modernize the ward facilities and provide additional beds on Peat Island’”.

Patients were admitted under the provisions of the Lunacy Act 1898 (Act No.45, 1898), and the Mental Health Act 1958 (Act No.45, 1958). Not until the Mental Health Act 1983 (Act No.178, 1983) was the definition of a mentally ill person specifically excluding anyone with a "developmental disability of mind.”

In July 1989, responsibility for both Developmental Disability Services and the hospital was transferred from Health Department (AG 53) to the Department of Family and Community Services (later known as the Department of Community Services) (AG 114). The Hospital was also renamed the Peat Island Centre. The main purpose of this administrative change was to apparently emphasize the difference between intellectual disability and mental illness. Therefore, responsibility for mental health remained with the Department of Health.

In April 2001, responsibility for Disability Services and the Peat Island Centre were again transferred from the Department of Community Services to the newly created Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care (AG 2107).

The 2000’s were marked by substantial progress both in the de-institutionalisation of and integration into the community of people with intellectual and physical disabilities. This was reflected in the progressive closure of Large Residential Centres for people with disabilities, which were under the control and management of Disability Services within the Department of Community Services, followed by the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care. In 2004 to 2005, the Department operated 15 Large Residential Centres which included the Peat Island Centre.

The closure of Peat Island as an institution followed decades of speculation that it could have a future as a redeveloped residential and tourist spot. NSW Minister for Finance and Services, Dominic Perrottet, has estimated that up to 1000 new jobs could be created as part of the NSW Government’s plans to rezone Peat Island and Mooney Mooney.


Daily Mail article about the hospital