Buildings and Grounds of Seacliff Lunatic Asylum
The Dunedin Lunatic Asylum was established in 1863 on the site where Otago Boys High School is now situated. However, by 1876 there was a need for a larger asylum because the Dunedin Lunatic Asylum was becoming increasingly crowded.
With the abolition of the provincial government in 1877, the central government backed plans to build a farm asylum at Seacliff. Seacliff is situated between Blueskin Bay and Karitane on the eastern coast of the South Island of New Zealand and is about 20 miles north of the city of Dunedin.
The Seacliff Lunatic Asylum buildings were surrounded by 900 acres of farm land. There was also a fishery nearby on the Karitane Coast. The farms, fishery, orchards and gardens supplied the kitchens and working in them was a part of patients' therapy.
The architect of the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum was Robert Arthur Lawson and by 1884, all the patients from the Dunedin Asylum were accommodated at the Seacliff site. The Seacliff Lunatic Asylum was built in the 'Scottish baronial style' similar to the other buildings Lawson had designed, for example First Church in Dunedin.
However, by 1887 the building began to collapse as the result of a landslide. This prompted a government inquiry in 1888 and Robert Arthur Lawson was considered to be responsible for the structural defects. The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of Seacliff Lunatic Asylum is published in the Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives of New Zealand (AJHR 1888 H7). AJHRs are available in larger public libraries.
In this Album there is a letter written in 1889 by Truby King, from the Medical Superintendent's Outwards Letterbook, to the Inspector General of Asylums in Wellington describing the condition of the Seacliff buildings and the structural damage caused by the unstable geology of the site.
The Floor Plans Album gives some idea of the size of the main hospital buildings and shows statistics of patient numbers in 1903.
The Album illustrating the demolition of Seacliff contains photographs showing the progress of the demolition of the main buildings in about 1960. Cherry Farm Hospital, situated near Waikouaiti, opened in 1952, and progressively replaced Seacliff Mental Hospital.
The site of Seacliff Mental Hospital is now a recreational reserve managed by the Dunedin City Council.
The photographs of the grounds reflect Truby King's passion for gardening. Truby King's letter, from the Medical Superintendent's Letterbook, shows him writing to H Connell and Sons ordering seeds for the gardens at Seacliff.
Wikipedia has articles on Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, Robert Arthur Lawson and Sir Frederic Truby King, or see the biographical essays from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography for Frederic Truby King, and Robert Arthur Lawson.
A biography of Frederic Truby King, In a Strange Garden: the life and times of Truby King, by Lloyd Chapman, is online on the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre's website.
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