Beechworth Lunatic Asylum

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Beechworth Lunatic Asylum
Opened 1867
Closed 1995
Current Status Closed
Building Style Echelon Plan
Location Beechworth, VIC
Alternate Names
  • Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum
  • Beechworth Mental Hospital


Beechworth Asylum was opened in October 1867. Its proclamation as an Asylum was published in the Government Gazette on 1 October 1867 under the provisions of the Lunacy Statute 1867 (No.309).

Since its establishment the title of the institution at Beechworth has been altered several times to reflect both the community's changing attitude towards mental illness and the Victorian Government's approach to the treatment of mentally disturbed persons. Despite the changes in designation the function and structure of the agency has not altered significantly, therefore the institution has been registered as one continuous agency. From its establishment until 1905 the institution at Beechworth was known as an Asylum. This title emphasised its function as a place of detention rather than a hospital which provided treatment for mentally ill people who could be cured. The Lunacy Act 1903 (No.1873) changed the title of all "asylums" to "hospitals for the insane". This Act came into operation in March 1905. The Mental Hygiene Act 1933 (No.4157) altered the title to "mental hospitals". Over recent years Beechworth has also become known as "May Day Hills".

An asylum/hospital for the insane etc. was any public building proclaimed by the Governor-in-Council as published in the Government Gazette as a place for the reception of lunatics. An asylum could also provide wards for the temporary reception of patients as well as long-term patients. Up until the Mental Health Act 1959 (No.6605) came into operation in 1962 these "short-term" wards were known as "receiving houses". The Mental Health Act 1959 designated hospitals providing short-term diagnosis and accommodation as "psychiatric hospitals". Any institution could have a section designated as a mental hospital for long-term or indefinite hospitalization and a section designated as a psychiatric hospital for short-term diagnosis and treatment of acute psychiatric illness. Any such designations of particular wards are published in the Government Gazette.

Patients could not be retained in an Asylum without a warrant requesting their admission. Prior to 1867 the warrant was signed by the Governor. After this date the Chief Secretary (VRG 26) was responsible for this function. From 1934 the Director of Mental Hygiene (VA 2865) and from 1952 the Chief Medical Officer of the Mental Hygiene Branch (VA 2866) were successively responsible for the admission of patients. The Lunacy Act 1914 (No.2539) made provision for the admission of patients on a voluntary basis, i.e. on a patient's own request for a specified period of time.