Ipswich Hospital for the Insane

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Ipswich Hospital for the Insane
Opened 1878
Closed 1998
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Ipswich
Alternate Names
  • Ipswich Branch of the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum
  • Ipswich Mental Hospital
  • Ipswich Special Hospital
  • Challinor Centre


Originally built as a benevolent asylum, the Ipswich site never fulfilled this purpose. Chronic overcrowding at Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum dictated that the new facility at Ipswich could provide a solution to this problem. In July 1878, the first fifty patients arrived at the single story building on top of the hill known as Sandy Gallop. A sandy track had been developed around the hill to train race horses in the very early days of Ipswich and watching the horses train became a popular pastime for many of the local people. The institution which followed was to be known colloquially by this name for most of its existence, but the connotation of the “The Gallop” was not always a happy one.

The first 50 patients were quickly followed by more and it was not long before plans were made to add another storey and two wings to the original building. This building was known as Male Ward 1, later to become Arthur Pavilion. Ipswich took no direct admissions and only the most chronic cases were sent there, hence very few patients were discharged.

The Lunacy Act of 1869, stated that a person had to be committed by a medical practitioner and two Justices of the Peace for a period of no longer than one month at a lunatic reception house. After this period, the person in question was brought before two Justices and if judged to be not in a fit state to be at liberty by two medical practitioners, then they would be committed to the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum.

On their release, they would have to pay back the cost of their care and if this was refused, then a warrant of distress would be issued. It also stated that any person employed at the Asylum who ill treated or neglected a lunatic would be prosecuted and on conviction have to pay between two and twenty pounds. With very little in the way of drugs to treat patients at this time, the principles of “moral treatment” were considered the best treatment for the mentally ill. These were based on peaceful surroundings with uninterrupted vistas (hence the use of a "ha-ha wall" instead of a fence), well designed buildings with good ventilation, good water supply, gardens and useful employment and recreation for the patients.

The Ipswich Asylum was recognised as being ideally situated in this respect, and from the start was planned to take advantage of these features. The buildings run along the top of a ridge in a radial fashion based on a central axis. By 1908 Male Ward 2 (Blair Pavilion) and Female Ward 1 (Alison House) had been completed. 1908 was also the year in which the Inspector of the Insane, Dr James Hogg died and his replacement, Dr H. Byam Ellerton, started a new era of growth. Up until this time, the institution was known as the Ipswich Branch of the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum, but in 1910, it became an institution in its own right, and was renamed the Ipswich Hospital for the Insane. Dr Harold Foxton was appointed as the first medical superintendent and the former superintendent and steward, Mr Samuel Lewis, became the chief steward and head attendant.

The appointment of Dr H. Byam Ellerton ushered in a period of unprecedented growth for the Asylum. Chosen from a field of twenty-six applicants, Ellerton had fourteen years of experience in Britain behind him, and was an ardent supporter of moral treatment. By the time he retired in 1937 he had left a significant legacy. Between 1910 and 1920 there was a veritable boom in the number of buildings erected at the Asylum. The buildings carefully followed the radial plan and formed the core of the present day campus.

Dr Foxton stated in his annual report: “Two buildings for which there is a great need are a suitable morgue and an operating room with appliances. On two occasions I have had to operate for strangulated hernia on one of the tables in the dining room at night under trying conditions”. Foxton also stated that “The patients appear to be well satisfied with the abundant supply of newspapers now supplied to them. A library would be a desirable asset but there is not yet any space for the housing of books”.4 Ninety years later, Building 8 stands as a testament to his dream.

By the end of 1914 there were 312 patients receiving care and Dr Foxton noted, “The female patients are a troublesome lot and as a rule, only one or two can be persuaded to sew”. He also mentioned that the male patients transferred from Goodna were of a useless and troublesome type. There were still no direct admissions to the Ipswich Asylum.

The Asylum began to take on the appearance of a small self contained village, growing their own vegetables and having a dairy, piggery and bakery, all labour being supplied by the patients with some help from the staff. The surplus production was sold and in 1913, they had made a total profit of £776/10/2d. The net cost of each patient per week was 12.2 shillings.

It was considered therapeutic and purposeful for the patients to be given work and this extended to many facets of running the Asylum. Everything from animal husbandry, carpentry, gardening, sewing, washing and cleaning was done by the patients and their efforts must have helped the Asylum to save a considerable amount of money and staff. Some regarded certain jobs as their own and became quite agitated if someone else was given “their” job. It was often arduous work – an old wooden polishing block (still in existence),used for the polishing of the floors - must have been quite cumbersome and heavy to use, and milking required a 4am start.

Recreation and enjoyment were also considered essential in terms of moral treatment and the construction of a Recreation Hall in 1916 completed the picture of a self contained village. The Recreation Hall is a delightful building. There is a perfect little theatre with a gallery for stage scenery and dressing rooms below. Outdoor recreation was just as important and this resulted in the construction of a tennis court and later the Sandy Gallop golf course.

By 1935, there were 534 patients and the Asylum had become an institution in its own right. A lack of facilities for “sub- normal” children resulted in the building of a ward to accommodate thirty children, situated at the northern end of the site. Completed in 1933, the building was soon filled to capacity and by 1940 another wing had been added. It became known as Dagmar House. This was the first purpose built facility for children with an intellectual disability.

In 1937 Dr Ellerton retired after 22 years. His achievements would include a host of new, purpose built buildings, well laid out gardens, formal training for mental nurses, and better care for patients. Treatment was limited to mainly custodial care and during this time the numbers of patients had climbed steadily. Very few were cured and able to leave the Asylum. However changes were in the air. In 1938 the institution was renamed the Ipswich Mental Hospital. The newly appointed superintendent, Dr Basil Stafford brought with him some very fresh ideas. The previous year Dr Basil Stafford (Superintendent at Ipswich), had been chosen to be the Australian representative at a conference in Paris on mental hygiene and he also spent some time in America and Britain observing asylums there.

Stafford felt that the old custodial policy was out of date and was an advocate of more modern drug therapy. He also wanted a better classification of patients in the asylums. The culmination of his report was the introduction in parliament of The Mental Hygiene Act of 1938.

This attempted to address the stigma attached to mental illness by changing words such as “lunatic”, “insane” and “asylum”, to “mentally sick”, “mental illness” and “mental hospital”. This allowed for voluntary admission to mental hospitals and the powers of the Public Curator to be written in modern language. The Backward Person’s Act of 1938 was introduced at the same time. This was designed to address the education and care of mentally deficient people. Stafford had become superintendent at Goodna and shortly afterwards, Director of Mental Hygiene. His place at Ipswich was taken by Dr William Parker, who was to serve from 1938 to 1953.

With the outbreak of World War 2, the military took over the Asylum’s hospital and this only added to the overcrowding. Ipswich still had a large percentage of chronically ill patients but was taking on many new mentally deficient patients. Many of the staff left to join the war effort and this resulted in staff shortages. The shortage of nursing staff continued after the war and this was alleviated to some extent by employing young ex-servicemen who could help with the heavier chores.

At this point in time, the Asylum was still segregated into male and female, so this represented a departure from this rule. By the 1950’s, ninety patients in Female 1 were attended by just four nurses and one male assistant. However, the nursing staff seemed fairly dedicated, and later, when staffing levels were increased, the close relationship between staff and patients decreased, with less skilful staff being employed who did not have the interests of the patients at heart.

It seems that from the 1950’s onwards, farm work was declining as was work in the laundry by the patients and with the construction of the Occupational Therapy buildings, indoor pursuits such as canework began to take their place. Around this time, some form of school work was introduced for the children.

With the opening of the new female ward in 1960 (Ellen & Francis House), Female Wards 2 & 3 became empty and at the request of the State Government, it became accommodation for wayward girls. Known as Karrala House, it came under the jurisdiction of the State Children’s Department, not the Asylum. This was not found to be a very satisfactory arrangement, and Karrala House became notoriously unpopular. It closed in 1968, but did little to improve the reputation of Sandy Gallop in the minds of the public. In 1962 the Mental Hygiene Act was replaced by the Mental Health Act and it contained provision for mental hospitals to be called special hospitals and thus in 1964, the Ipswich Mental Hospital once again changed its name to the Ipswich Special Hospital.

The change of name from “Mental Hospital” to “Special Hospital” heralded the beginning of another era and the plans Basil Stafford had in mind many years earlier finally came to fruition. The Backward Person’s Act of 1938 had stated that mental deficiency was to be treated separately from mental illness. Due to a lack of funds and suitable staff, this still hadn’t occurred.

What had been state of the art buildings in the early twentieth century were now somewhat out of date for current trends in treatment, and as only the most hopeless cases had been sent to Ipswich, there was an air of dejection and stagnation. Numbers of patients had fallen and many wards were closed. Treatment was still mainly custodial. They were society’s forgotten people.

Mr Pearce, an official visitor, stated in 1966 that, ”On my initial visit, I found an institution used mainly as a place for keeping certain people out of circulation. Remedial treatment and turnover were practically nil. Patients were eking out a 24 hour daily existence in impoverished conditions and some practically in squalor. Many requests for discharge were ignored & not worth recording. Paramedics were unknown. I could have been forgiven had I returned to the gate to see if I had missed a caption reading, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”.

However by 1965, the decision had been taken to turn Ipswich into a centre for the adult intellectually disabled. Patients who were mentally ill were returned to Wolston Park and any intellectually disabled at Wolston Park were sent to Ipswich. In 1968, the Hospital was renamed the Challinor Centre, in honour of Dr Henry Challinor, an Ipswich doctor who gave up his private practice to become the second superintendent of Goodna Mental Asylum in 1869.

1968, this was the dawn of a new era for the site. It was no longer an asylum and in its new role began the demolition of many of the old buildings that were associated with the old days. The name Challinor was chosen for the centre in honour of Dr Henry Challinor, an Ipswich doctor with a strong social conscience who gave up his private practice to become the second superintendent at Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum.

The patients were now called residents, and for the first time, segregation of the sexes and the staff who looked after them ceased. A lot of these changes were unsettling for the staff, as the old ways of running things were about to face a huge upheaval. There was a move to more involvement with social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and special teachers. This was not completely welcomed by staff, as the residents seemed to warm to these changes in the routine. Official visitors felt the care had improved.

Old Male Ward 1 was demolished in 1969, followed by Female Ward 1 in 1973, part of the nurse’s quarters in 1979 and the landmark water tower in 1980. Most of the other old buildings, including Dagmar House were earmarked for demolition, but fortunately this did not proceed due to a lack of funding and declining resident numbers.

A new building program was embarked upon, the first building being the new Arthur Pavilion which was opened in 1972, and a complete break from the previous style of the past. Dark brown brick with a low pitched roof and sprawling in design, it housed 104 residents, mostly in motel type accommodation. It also combined a lot of facilities and included a library, school room, occupational therapy and wood workshop among many other things. No doubt built with practicality in mind, it did little to enhance the appearance of the site.

The farming complex had gradually disappeared in the early seventies and a new sports oval was constructed in its place in 1978 and a putt putt course constructed near Ellen & Frances House. Emphasis was again being placed on the therapeutic values of recreational activities, just as Ellerton had initiated back in the early 1900’s.

A training facility for staff was constructed on the site where Female 1 formerly was, and a canteen which was available to both staff and residents was constructed not far from the sport’s oval. This allowed residents and their families somewhere to go to have light refreshments in the small dining area.


Gradually, over this time, more residents were being moved into the community and by 1980 only 380 remained. Some of the motel style of accommodation was converted into flats, so small groups of residents could cook and do more things for themselves. The nursing model was changing to a caring model and those nurses who did not feel comfortable with this and who did want to complete the Certificate of Residential Care were given the opportunity to transfer to Goodna. Most of the intellectually disabled children were moved to villa type accommodation at the Basil Stafford Centre, Toowoomba and by 1978 only a few severely disabled remained in Charles Pavilion.

It is difficult to summarize all the changes that occurred during this time. The process of giving the intellectually disabled as normal a life as possible was beginning, transferring them from an institutional environment to one resembling a home environment, with many support services in the community. This was not always an easy process for those who had been institutionalized nearly all of their lives but on the whole the outcomes were very positive – so successful that the Challinor Centre had begun to outlive its usefulness. By the 1990’s only 170 residents remained and the inevitable announcement that the centre would close within 3 years was made. The Challinor Centre was closed in 1998, following the site's purchase by the University of Queensland for the location of its Ipswich campus. [1]