Karori Lunatic Asylum

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Karori Lunatic Asylum
Established 1846
Opened 1854
Closed 1875
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Single Building
Location Karori, Wellington, NZ
Alternate Names


The first of the new provincial lunatic asylums to care for the mentally ill opened on 1 January 1854 just south of Wellington. It is not known for certain whether the asylum moved into a building already present on the site; or was purpose built but evidence points to the former as within 3 years of opening a Select Committee recommended that the “old building” be put into proper repair, and by 1867 the buildings were described as “decayed and worm eaten”. Despite having opened it's doors in 1854 with the first patient arrive that same year, the asylum's second patient did not arrive until 1858.

The asylum buildings were situated on 113 acres with a view of Wellington to the north. The property was on the fringe of Wellington, allowing for potential community interaction but at the same time providing an environment described as spacious and rustic, allowing for manual work such as farming and gardening.

Patient care at this facility seems to have been wanting the entirety of it's operation. Patients were sent to their cells at 830pm each night and secured inside by 9pm. The patients cells, sheets, and bedclothes regularly went weeks without washing; depending much upon the state of the weather. A newspaper article from 27 April 1872 reports the testimony of an orderly to the Committee of Inquiry on the treatment of the patients at Karori Asylum (in particular the female patients). This orderly reports that patients of Karori were regularly slapped, pushed onto the floor, received suspicious wounds, and sometimes kicked for disobeying or sometimes for doing nothing evident. Patients were also strapped to chairs for long hours, and sewn into "dresses" which were more like large pillow cases to encourage them to calm down and follow orders. In extreme cases they could be kept sewn into the chair for days; allowed only to use the ground for 15 minutes a day under strict supervision. The men were similarly strapped to chairs or put into straight-jackets. The same orderly compares the treatment of patients at Karori to his previous work at a state penitentiary and their treatment of inmates. What is most disturbing, is the orderly being interviewed and reported on in this instance does not seem to find any of what he is reporting to be disturbing or inappropriate treatment. In the same interview and report; an orderly of the female ward admits without shame to locking some patients in their room for 10 days, without cleaning their room or a bath. The medical assistant serving as the asylum's doctor and superintendent, Charles France, states that there were at this time 25 patients at a facility built to suit half as many. He also asks the Committee to expand the buildings on the grounds of Karori to accommodate more patients. Elisabeth Sutherland, matron of the asylum (in charge of the female ward), stated to the Committee that she regularly strapped patients to the chair for hours, had beaten one patient with a wooden board as a punishment, and often struck patients with her hand. It seems Matron Elisabeth Sutherland and her husband were dismissed from the asylum that same year in 1872.

In September 1871 there were 23 patients at the asylum with a variety of disorders, a group of doctors who were also politicians and who were dissatisfied with the high incurability rate in the asylums and lack of medical input, secured a parliamentary inquiry into the lunatic asylums of the colony. The inquiry was chaired by Dr Andrew Buchanan. The inquiry concluded that a new site was required, with enlarged buildings, more attendants, exercise for the women, baths, and a means of warming the isolation rooms. The findings of the Committee of Inquiry laid the foundation for the future development of mental health services in New Zealand. The asylum closed it's buildings on the town's Donald Street in 1873, and all 27 patients were transferred to Mount View Lunatic Asylum in Wellington.

In 1975 the buildings were converted into Karori School.