Parramatta Lunatic Asylum

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Parramatta Lunatic Asylum
Established 1847
Opened 1849
Current Status Active
Building Style Rambling Plan
Location Parrmatta, NSW
Alternate Names
  • Asylum for Lunatic and Invalid Convicts
  • Parramatta Hospital for the Insane
  • Parramatta Psychiatric Centre
  • Cumberland Hospital


On 28 December 1849 a notice was published, stating that a portion of the Invalid Establishment at Parramatta had been appointed a public asylum for the reception and custody of lunatics.

The Convict, Lunatic, and Invalid Establishment had replaced the Female Factory when it closed at the end of 1847, leaving only invalid or insane inmates still resident. Personnel were appointed to staff the institution on 1 April 1848 , and although separate personnel lists were published for the Convict, Lunatic, and Invalid Establishment, and for the Lunatic Asylum, Parramatta from 1850, the same senior administrative and medical staff were listed as appointed to identical positions in both institutions. In personnel lists for 1856 a list for Lunatic Asylums, Parramatta appears but the Convict, Lunatic, and Invalid Establishment is no longer listed as a separate institution.

From the outset, Parramatta Lunatic Asylum consisted of a free, and a criminally insane division, with separate registers kept for persons admitted into each. On 31 December 1873 Parramatta Lunatic Asylum contained 704 free patients, 45 criminal patients (confined under the provisions of the Criminal Lunacy Act 1860), and 36 convict patients (accommodated within the free division, but as British convicts maintained at the charge of the Imperial Treasury). Only female criminally insane patients were committed after 1958, with facilities for male forensic patients closed in June 1958 and all remaining male patients transferred to a new maximum security unit at Morisset Hospital.

The Lunacy Act, 1843 made provision for the criminal, or dangerously insane to be confined to a gaol or public hospital, and also for committal to be ordered for the non-dangerous by means of request from a relative plus two independent medical certificates and agreement from a Supreme Court judge. Conditions regarding the confinement of the criminally insane was amended by the Criminal Lunacy Act 1860 (24 Victoria No 19), and Part 5 of the Lunacy Act 1898. Specific provision for voluntary admission was provided by the Lunacy (Amendment) Act 1934 (Act No 39, 1934). Subsequently patients were admitted under the provisions of the Mental Health Act 1958, the Mental Health Act 1983, the Mental Health Act 1990 and the Mental Health Act (Criminal Procedure) (Act No 10, 1990).

In 1868 Dr Frederick Norton Manning described Parramatta Lunatic Asylum as unfit as a residence for those mentally afflicted, with it's "gloomy and ill-ventilated cells and their iron-barred doors. "Although a new storey and separate cells had been added to the criminal division building, by 1868 this was full, and overcrowding of the free division remained unallieviated. In June 1885 a new hospital building was completed, and the old central Female Factory building, described as an "unsightly and ruinous pile" was demolished.

Overcrowding remained a persistent problem, in 1951 patient numbers exceeded accommodation by 588. By the 1970s, as the emphasis changed from in-patient care to expansion of community based services and the development of psychiatric units in general hospitals, the in-patient population diminished.

In 1983 the name of the hospital was changed to Cumberland Hospital, and by 1995 the Institute of Psychiatry had relocated to the Cumberland Hospital campus, commencing educational programs in the local region in association with the Western Sydney Area Mental Health Service.