Gladesville Hospital Precinct | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Gladesville Hospital Precinct

Item details

Name of item: Gladesville Hospital Precinct
Type of item: Movable / Collection
Primary address: Victoria Road, Gladesville, NSW 2111
Local govt. area: Hunters Hill
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Victoria RoadGladesvilleHunters HillHUNTERS HILLCUMBERLANDPrimary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
NSW Department of HealthState Government20 Jul 05

Statement of significance:

The precinct is of particular architectural and historical significance, still contains the first purpose built lunatic asylum in New South Wales (NSW), strongly associated with the struggle of Joseph Thomas Digby against bureaucracy, indifference and professional malice. Most of latter development reflects efforts of Frederick Norton Manning to improve asylums in NSW in the last thirty years of the nineteenth century. Precinct nestles round small valley rising from Parramatta River and, together with the surviving nineteenth century landscaping, makes considerable contribution to waterscape. Precinct is is introspective visually and makes a most felicitous environment with water related views.
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Mortimer William Lewis - Colonial Architect
Physical description: Refer to individual listings for the individual elements in the Precinct.
Date condition updated:01 Dec 94
Modifications and dates: Various
Further information: -
Current use: Hospital
Former use: Hospital


Historical notes: Phase I
The study area comprises in part the Lunatic Asylum established at Tarban Creek in 1837. This was the first purposely built institution established on the mainland of Australia for the placement and care of the insane. The decision to establish this institution was made in 1834.
The architect of the asylum was the then Colonial Architect, Mortimer William Lewis. Lewis's design, which was completed between late 1838 and early 1839, comprised two wards (male and female) for the accommodation of sixty patients in separate cells (Items 36 & 37 - ground storey is part of the original Male Ward; Items 39 & 40B - ground storey is part of the original Female Ward), the central Keeper's House, which also included the board room and accommodation for six patients of the 'superior class' (Item 38 - comprising administration on the ground floor and accommodation on the first), and assorted service buildings such as the kitchen (Item A62), laundry (Item A65), lavatories (Items A68 & A77), bath house (Item A69), etc.
These buildings and their internal courtyards and airing yards were enclosed on the north and south sides by a wall (Item A52), and front entrance gates on the south (Item A17). The enclosed area of the asylum was 4 acres.
Upon completion of the asylum, inmates from the temporary asylum at Liverpool housed within the old court house were transferred to Gladesville. The first patients arriving between November 1838 and January 1839.
The first keeper appointed to the asylum was Joseph Thomas Digby. His wife Susannah was appointed as Matron. Digby purchased 1 acre 25 perches of land adjoining the Asylum in July 1839 where he built his residence (Item 33) c.1841.
An additional enclosing of two acres as garden was proposed by Digby between 1840 and 1845. The need for such a facility was thought by Digby to be integral to the care of the patients. Subsequently in 1847 a kitchen garden of two acres to the south of the asylum wall was enclosed by a paling fence. This area seems to have been enlarged to four acres by 1848 (Item A40).
Also during the early 1840s areas to the north of the asylum wall were developed asnd enclosed. This included a rear timber fence and gate (Item A20), an enclosed field (Item A10), laundry drying yard (Item A63) and wood splitter's yard (Item A80).
In 1846 a cemetery, one acre in area and located well away to the east of the asylum, was consecrated by Bishop Brougham (Item A33).
During 1846 a Select Commission of Inquiry was established into the management and condition of the asylum. One of the criticisms raised was the chronic overcrowding and underfunding in the Digby years meant the asylum did not operate as it was proposed, or on the lines of contemporary views to the treatment of the insane. An outcome of the inquiry was the appointment of Dr Francis Campbell as Medical Superintendent in 1848. With Campbell's appointment a number of incurable cases were sent to the Parramatta Asylum, so that Tarban Creek could function as 'a curative asylum - well adaspted for the treatment of acute and recent mania'.
During 1848 further slab wards in the female division were erected which allowed for the separation of the aged, imbecile, paralytics and epileptics, and cured (location unknown). Also constructed in this year were the stable, coach house and cart shed (Item A3).
The water supply for the asylum proved inadequate with problems of the distance to be transported and uncertainty of supply. The construction of storage tanks was one means of combating this problem and during 1848 a 48,000 gal. water cistern was constructed (Item A61). Seemly, no drains were provided in the original construction, and drains were also constructed in 1848.
Digby was dismissed from office in 1850.
During 1852 further cells were constructed in the male division (Item 23 - west). Possibly also constructed during the 1850s were the wash house (Item A80), the dead house (Item A4), gate keeper's quarters (Item A71), structures associated with the wood splitter's yard (Items A73 & A7), Bakers' oven (Item A2) and straw house (Item A5).
A Commission of Enquiry was again undertaken in 1854. Criticisms levelled at the asylum in this inquiry included lack of ward space leading to inadequate classification of patients, poor recreational facilities, inadequate buildings, and lack of facilities for private patients' reception.
Subsequently, between 1858 and 1862, additional wards to accommodate 104 males and 64 female patients were constructed. The Male wards were completed in 1858 (Item 23 - east), and 1862 (Items 22 and 22A). The Female ward was completed in 1861 (Item 40A - ground storey).
During 1862 further measures were taken to alleviate the water supply problem, with the construction of two 35,000 gal. underground water cisterns (Items A15 & A59).
At the inquiry of 1863, Campbell considered the asylum requisred enlarging with the completion of the female division: the Male wards at that time were classified as convalescent, refractory, noisy, intermediate and infirm (with hospital), and the Female wards were for refractory, convalescent and intermediate - the fourth ward which was requsired was constructed c.1864 (Item A51). The first well constructed stone drains were also constructed in 1863 (A13).
In 1863 the wards fronting the Parramatta River were altered? to incorporate a number of windows accessible to the patients of the asylum's convalescent and quiet wards. Campbell further considered that the construction of enclosing walls of the grounds was requsired for the well being of the patients for whom access to the gardens was considered an important part of their welfare.
During 1866 the substqntial stone enclosing walls of the grounds (various item numbers) and cemetery (Item A34) were constructed. The construction of the boundary walls allowed for greater freedom for the patient with greater safety. A part of the Parramatta River was also enclosed to function as the patients' basthing place (Items A36 & A38).
Campbell resigned at the end of 1867.

Phase II
In October 1868 Dr Frederick Norton Manning commenced duty as the Medical Superintendent of the asylum. With Manning, the name of the institution was changed from an asylum to hospital for the insane - becoming a place 'for the treatment of persons suffering from mental diseases, with a view to their cure'.
Manning's approach to the care of the insane brought about increased accommodation demands, and substantial changes to the number and quality of the hospital's wards and service buildings were made.
New works commenced with the building of temporary wooden wards in 1869 (Item A14 and possibly Item A56). But while overcrowding and inadequate facilities, especially in the Male Division, could be alleviated by temporary accommodation, Manning did not favour this option, preferring substantial new permanent wards to be constructed. At first these wards were extensions to Lewis's original plan, being a new female ward constructed between 1870-1873 (Item A57), and a new male ward constructed in 1870 (Item 22B). An upgrading of the airing yards with landscaping, turfing, was also undertaken c.1870.
The most substantial of Manning's buildings known as the Hill Branch, a row of new wards (Items 3 to 5), associated staff accommodation (Item 6), gate house (Item 1) and service buildings (Items 2 and 2A), was isolated from Lewis's original wards and constructed between 1878 and 1881. Item 65 was possibly constructed in 1886 as the night attendants' cottage for these wards.
During Manning's first inspection of the asylum c.1868 he had noted that apart from the inadequate accommodation, etc. the poor kitchen and storage facilities. In the period, c.1872 to 1874, Manning rebuilt the service and ancillary buildings associated with the main range of wards. This work involved the construction of substantial buildings for stores (Item 30), kitchen (Item 31), water tank (Item 31A) and laundry (Item 32).
Also during this period, 1872, property adjoining the hospital was purchased. A new main entrance to the hospital of Punt Road was formed at this time and, in 1874, a gate house (Item 28) and cottages constructed (Item 50). Part of the remaining area became the hospital's main recreation ground (Item A78).
Part of Manning's approach to the patient's care was the provision of a 'congenial occupation' for the patients. This was not new, in 1863 for example the kitchen garden was worked by patients, the wood yard used for the employment of males, and the laundry and kitchen for females. Manning in 1869 employed patients to excavate a 30,000 gal. water tank (location not known). During the 1870s, patients were engaged on some of the works being undertaken at the hospital. New workshops and workrooms were also constructed during this time (Item A8) and new blacksmiths, goat shed and stables, 1876 (Item 26). Reading was also popular and a 'book room' was provided, c.1874 (Item A70).
Another aspect of Manning's input to the development of hospital was the substantial landscaping of the grounds from c.1869. Again, most of this work seems to have used labour provided by the patients. Substantial elements of these grounds were the vineyard, established in 1868 (Item A27), piggery, constructed in 18969 (Item A25), poultry yards, established between 1870 and 1872 (Items A22, A24 and A37), recreation sheds for male and female patients, constructed c.1869 (Item 48 and A19), tool houses, constructed 1869 and c.1870s (Item 52 and Item A39), and gardener's cottages, constructed c.1870s (Items 17 and 51). The landscaping works included paths and drives, garden beds and lawn, terracing, an ornamental lake (Item A21), etc. Manning also instigated the introduction of animals into the grounds.
From the period of Manning's administrction each of the major government asylums were administered by a medical superintendent with two or three medical officers. Accommodation for these officers was provided at the hospital. Within the grounds of Gladesville a new superintendent's residence was constructed in 1878 (Item 5t4).
Manning in 1878 was appointed Inspector of the Insane. In this capacity he was in direct contact with the colonial secretary, and supervised the asylums at Gladesville, Callan Park, Newcastle, Cooma and the Darlinghurst Reception House. He retained his position at Gladesville until 1879.
Eric Sinclair was appointed medical officer at Gladesville in 1882 and promoted to the position of medical superintendent in 1883, a position he retained until his death in 1925.
During 1889 the wards were rearranged for a better classification of patients and treatment of acute cases, and proper training of attendants and nurses. During 1890 alterations to the wards were necessitated by Sinclair's approach. Substantial new buildings were made during the early 1890s for the application of appropriate classification of patients and a more congenial environment. These buildings were principally a new male ward, constructed in 1891 (Item 20), new male ward dining room consstructed in 1891 (Item 36A) and the female convalescent ward, constructed in 1893 (Item 46). The 1890s also witnessed a substantial increase in the number of patients admitted. The responsibility for dealing with this fell largely to Sinclair.
The water supply problem was finally alleviated by the connection to the Nepean supply in 1892. Gas lighting had been fitted throughout the hospital in 1885.
Within the original asylum block some wards had been altered into admission wards during the late 1890s. These wards were enclosed, something unsuitable for the patients potential recovery, and required replacing by 1901 with wards which 'would bring the hospital in line with the most modern institutions, and give all necessary facilities for scientific treatment of inmates'. The new admission wards were for the reception of the recent and acute patients to receive specialist care. These wards constructed between 1904 and 1907 (Items 10-13) have been considered the most modern in N.S.W. at the time in their internal design and decoration and orientation to the river.
Sinclair's administration of the mental hospital system was marked by a drive to establish the treatment of mental illness on a scientific basis. Part of this work included the development of training schemes for nurses. Substantial new facilities for nurses were established during the 1900s: the nurses dining room, constructed in 1900 (Item 42), nurses home, constructed in 1900 (tem 43), matron's cottage, constructed in 1907 (Item 44); and matrons and nurses quarters, constructed in 1908 (Item 7). In 1911 further staff facilities were made possible by conversion of some of the c.1870s buildings: Barnet's stores and workshops were converted into an administration block (Item 30) and blacksmiths, goat shed and stables were altered to provide dining room and billiards rooms, and new stores (Items A9 & A11).
In 1900 a new senior medical officer's quarters was constructed (Item 16).
In 1925 another new senior medical officer's residence was constructed (Item 55).
Workshops for the employment of patients continued through the Sinclair period. In 1889 the industrial workshops were reorganised. Gladesville in 1892 was thwe only mental hospital where such facilities were available. Additions were made to the laundry in 1892 (Item 35) and 1912 (Item 35A) and the kitchen in 1900 (Item 29).
Phase III
In May 1926 Horace Henry Nowland was appointed medical superintendent of the hospital, a position he retained until retirement in 1950. His work has been considered as laying 'the foundation of an enlightened approach to the treatment of the mentally ill'.
During the economic downturn of the early 1930s, substantial changes were made to the hospital in the period c.1932 mostly in the form of modernising and increasing accommodation within the block of mid-nineteenth century wards. this work included a new attendant's dining room (Item 36B), new day rooms and dormitory accommodation (Items 39A and 40C), and additional floors to the mid-nineteenth century wards (Items 36, 37, 39, 40A and 40B). New nurses quarters were also built in 1932 (Item 45). These works required the demolition of buildings and features from the mid-nineteenth century, for example, the enclosed corridor between the inner and outer wings in the male division (Item A50). Vehicular access to the hospital north of Victoria Road was also made around this time.
In 1936 the Department of Mental Hospitals was assimilated into the Department of Health cutting off the previous direct access to government funds and influence which the mental health service enjoyed.
The period 1930 to mid 1950s has been considered a period of general decline in the quality of mental health treatment. The problems within the system being highlighted by a damning report of the mental hospital system made by Alan Stoller in 1955.
During 1950 conversion of the former Female Division wards into male patient occupancy.
Some building work however was commenced in the early 1950s. A Public Works Department Clerk of Works' Office was erected in 1951 (Item A84) to oversee such work which included the new cafeteria, completed in 1954 (Item 49). The extensive process of reclamation of the bay in front of the kitchen garden was commenced in the early 1950s.
Early structures demolished during the 1950s included the 1911 carpenter's shop and store (Items A9 and A11), the 1885 cricket pavilion (Item A1), the c.1870s mortuary (Item A12), the 1870-1873 female ward s9Item A57), the possible temporary 1868 female ward (Item A56), and the cemetery wall (Item A34). Some of these works were associated with the widening of Victoria Road which was being undertaken about this time.
After the Stoller report an extensive program of new works and remodelling of old buildings was made.
the new works included construction of the weighbridge in 1955 (Item 895), a new residence for the medical superintendent in 1956 (Item 64), new medical officers' quarters in 1956 (Item 66), a new morgue in 1957 (Item 19), an electrical sub-station in 1957 (Item 27A), a new wharf in 1957 (Item 53A), a garage in 1957 (Item 93), the new kitchen in 1958 (Item 27) and new workshops in 1961 (Item 41).
Furthyer accommodation for medical officers was provided in 1960 (Items 14 and 15), in 1962 (Items 59 and 60), and 1964 (Items 56, 57, 58, 61, 62 and 63). Also during the mid-1960s was constructed a canteen in 1965 (Item 22C), a male dormitory ward in 1965 (Item 20A), an occupational therapy workshop in 1965 (Item 21), and new boiler house in 1965 (Item 18).
During this period a number of features and areas associated with the use of the hospital for over a century were either removed or allowed sto fall into disrepair. This inbcluded the cemetery - the grave stones being removed to the Field of Mars cemetery in 1964 (Item A33), the baths on the Parramatta River - demolished in 1959 (Item A36), the kitchen garden - completely removed in 1957 (Item A40), and the c.2838 boundary wall to ward block - probably removed in 1963 (Item 52).
Possibly as direct consequence of the above new works, much of the grounds were opened up for recreational use and the former role of the garden diminished. Associated with such a move would be construction of the numerous toilet blocks in 1964 (Items 86, 88 and 102), new swimming baths in c.1956 (Item 9) and dressing sheds c.1964 (Item 9a).
A sub-canteen was designed in 1972 (Item 24).
During the 1970s changes in the manner of mental patient care with an increasing emphasis on community services and decentralisation of specialist services reduced the number of patients in large institutionalised care.
This shift away from the use of large institutions continued with the findings of the Richmond Report of 1983 which recommended that psychiatric services be 'delivered on the basis of a system of integrated community based networks, backed up by specialists or other services as requsired.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Health-Activities associated with preparing and providing medical assistance and/or promoting or maintaining the well being of humans (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
he place is of outstanding historic significance because:
. It contains the first purposely built government institution for the care of the insane and theoldest surviving former lunatic asylum on the Australian mainland.
. It contains the largest and oldest group of patient wards in Australia constructed for the placement of the insane.
. It is associated with the administration of Joseph Thomas Digby, the first keeper of the asylum, and the first instance of a professional being engaged for the care of the insane in New South Wales.
. It is associated with the development of legal framework in New South Wales for the care and administration of the insane, commencing with the passing of the Dangerous Lunatics Act of 1843 which arose direction out of an incident of illegal confinement at the Tarban Creek Asylum.
. It is associated with the administration of Dr Francis Campbell, acknowledged to have been the first administrator appointed to a lunatic asylum with a medical background establishing the role of medicine in the care of the insane.
. It is associated with the administration of Dr Frederick Norton Manning, who played a pivotal role in Australian psychiatric history, bringing longstanding reforms to the system of lunacy incarceration in New South Wales.
. It is associated with the administration of Dr Eric Sinclair, who advanced the role of the medical practitioner in Australian psychiatric history.
. It is one of only three asylums constructed in ew South Wales in the nineteenth century specifically for the placement of the insane, the others are Callan Park (early 1880s) and Kenmore, near Goulburn, 1897.
. It contains a number of mid-nineteenth century wards and associated airing yards with enclosing walls which formed the nucleus of the asylum for the period 1838 to 1870s.
. It contains a substantial number of items which were established from the 1860s such as the boundary walls, former shelter shed, gardener's cottages, etc. which directly reflect the reforms to the care of the insane in New South Wales largely associated with Dr Frederick Norton Manning.
. It contains Precincts 3 and 5 which, with associated buildings, demonstrate the sexual division of labour in the employment of patients practised at the asylum/hospital from the nineteenth century..It contains area which were formerly associated with the cultivation of crops and hunsbandry of animals, worked by the patients, to supplement and provide food for the asylum/hospital.
. It is associated with other historic landmarks in the area such as the former Bedlam Point Ferry, the Great Northern Road and Victoria Road.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
he place is ot outstanding aesthetic significance because:
. It contains wards and other buildings which are associated with all Colonial/Government Architects from Morther Lewis (1838) to Edward Farmer (1973). As such, the place possesses a rich architectural history employing many styles and materials.
. It contains a diversity of wards which document the evolution of psychiastric patient accommodation from the early Victorian era to modern times: from the era of cell blocks, through to dormitories in pavilions, to out-patient accommodation in domestic dwellings.
. It contains the remains of extensive Victorian era garden landscaping, including paths, mature trees, retaining walls, etc.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
he place is of outstanding social significance because:
. It contains open spaces and bushland on the Parramatta River which is utilised by the community for its recreational and sporting facilities.
. It is associated with members of the community as a provider of State Government psychiatric care.
. It contains items such as Henley Cottage which are the centre of community based services.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The place is of outstanding scientific significance because:
. It contains sites of potential archaeological significance, viz. the sites of former wards and service buildings, drains and cisterns, cemetery, kitchen garden, etc. which are likely to provide a significant insight into the establishment of the place and its subsequent development history.
. It contains identified sites associated with the former Aboriginal population's use of the place as part of the foreshore of Parramatta River.
. It contains items of industrial archaeological significance, viz. the clock, boiler house chimney and individual items of machinery.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

Refer to Gladesville Hospital Southern Campus - Conservation Study Vol. 1 and 2


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage registerDep. Of Health s.170 Register    

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenSue Rosen P/L, Schwager Brooks&Partners P/L Study

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: State Government
Database number: 3540297

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