Callan Park Hospital for the Insane

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Callan Park Hospital for the Insane
Established 1878
Construction Began 1880
Opened 1884
Closed 2008
Current Status Closed
Building Style Pavilion Plan
Architect(s) James Barnett
Location Sydney, NSW
Alternate Names
  • Callan Park Mental Hospital
  • Callan Park Hospital
  • Rozelle Hospital


The Colonial Government bought the whole 104.5 acres as a site for a new lunatic asylum to be designed according to the enlightened views of the American Dr Thomas Kirkbride. Colonial Architect James Barnett worked in collaboration with Inspector of the Insane Dr Frederick Norton Manning to produce a group of some twenty neo-classical buildings, completed in 1885 and subsequently named the Kirkbride Block, offering progressive patient care.

The asylum was the 'institutional linchpin' of moral therapy and the appropriate design of the building was crucial to the success of the therapy. [18] Pleasant surroundings and well designed, comfortable, small-scale buildings were imperative. These aims were embodied in a pavilion-type layout, where small buildings had all-weather connections and the spaces in between were landscaped as courtyards for outdoor activities. Manning chose Chartham Down because it was a pavilion-type layout in which separate ward blocks enclosed airing courts. Ultimately, the combination of Manning's understanding of moral therapy, Barnet's architecture, and the outstanding site at Callan Park, produced a design of a higher standard than Chartham.

Together they designed five male and five female wards, to accommodate approximately 600 patients. The wards were symmetrically arranged about the main cross axis on which the official buildings were planned. Eight of the lofty, airy wards, had large airing courts – some with a view to the Blue Mountains. The other two had high retaining walls caused by the slope of the land. A remarkable continuous covered veranda linked the buildings.

Construction began in 1880 and the first male patients occupied the wards in October 1884. Moral therapy treatment had begun earlier in 1876 with the 44 patients in Garryowen House. Yet constant overcrowding, staffing difficulties, and inadequate funding increasingly made the hospital a place of incarceration. Built of sandstone mainly quarried on site, the buildings have slate roofs, timber floors, and copper down pipes. Spacious rooms lead to verandahs linking several courtyards. The verandahs are supported by hundreds of cast iron columns acting as down pipes for water which is fed into an underground reservoir.

Dominating the complex is a venetian clock tower with a ball which rises and falls according to the water level of the reservoir. Essential to testament was the calming influence of natural beauty and pleasant parklands, designed by Director of the Botanic Gardens, Charles Moore. Further landscaping in the 1890’s included the planting of palms and and rainforest trees, and the conversion of an informal pond to the curious sunken garden, which although waterless, survives.

In 1905 Inspector-General Eric Sinclair, Manning's successor, opened special admission wards for curable cases in the Manning/Barnet designed Female Cottage Hospital, which was separate from the main hospital. Between 1907 and 1910 a new admission ward, designed by the architect Walter Liberty Vernon, brought the number of cottage wards to four. The new admission facility was the forerunner of voluntary treatment without committal. The Callan Park special admission wards, along with those at Gladesville, were the first of their kind in New South Wales. In 1905, under Sinclair's direction, Callan Park become the first mental hospital to have a laboratory and clinical rooms for 'scientific work' where the first steps in studying the pathology of mental diseases in New South Wales began. To deal with the overcrowding and downgrading of patient care, alterations were made and new buildings constructed. The period 1894–1922 saw the relocation of the main gates and the erection of the high brick boundary wall, made necessary by the widening of Balmain Road.

In 1923 an official enquiry began into overcrowding but little eventuated. The problem remained and emerged again in 1930 when patient numbers reached 1500. The Depression and World War II saw only basic repairs and additions to the Manning/Barnet buildings. Postwar development

After the war, in the face of shortages of materials and labour, a constant program of stop-gap alterations and additions began, a program which continued into the 1970s. Each of the Manning/Barnet ward blocks received additional toilets and other basic facilities were crudely attached to Barnet's elegant buildings. In 1948, another inquiry was held into conditions at Callan Park, but it had little effect on the stop-gap program.

In 1955, conditions in mental hospitals Australia-wide were investigated under the Stoller report. Stoller recorded the overcrowding, the squalor and the stench at Callan Park. The government provided some much needed financial support to the institution and more stop-gap work commenced, mostly on ward blocks not connected to the Manning/Barnet buildings. The long delay in design and construction allowed more overcrowding to take place. The Cerebral Surgery Research Unit, the most important facility of the period, opened in 1961.

In that year a Royal Commission into Callan Park echoed in more detail Stoller's findings on overcrowding and squalor. Again it is doubtful that the inquiry made any difference to the stop-gap program but, by the number of new buildings and services added, ensured its funding. One of the recommendations was the demolition of the 'infamous Male Ward 7', a survivor of the 1877 temporary wards.

In 1976 Callan Park was amalgamated with the adjoining Broughton Hall Psychiatric Clinic to become the Rozelle Hospital, and building work on the original hospital almost ceased.

The Richmond Report of 1983 put the Manning/Barnet buildings in jeopardy. New treatments meant that many patients could be assimilated in the community and parts of the hospital grounds were to be sold. A period of vandalism and building neglect ensued. Renewal and reuse

In 1991, however, a program of urgent maintenance commenced and the main block, known as Kirkbride, was adapted as the new home of the Sydney College of the Arts, a division of the University of Sydney. It opened in 1996.

Since then, there has been constant resident action to preserve and upgrade the remainder of the hospital as a centre for mental health. The end came however, on 30 April 2008, when the hospital was closed and staff and patients were transferred to a mental facility at Concord Hospital.


Main Image Gallery: Callan Park Hospital for the Insane