Mental Health



Many New Zealanders find Mental Health a sensitive issue, but it is an aspect of ordinary life, affecting many people. It has been of concern to governments since the 1850s. Some records have been created by government departments or agencies, but most by institutions. These were established to house (if not adequately deal with or treat) the individuals deemed, for whatever reason, to be mentally ill.

The Health Department archives held in the Wellington Office include a number of records for mental health institutions throughout New Zealand, 1853-1960. Patient and some staff records for particular institutions are held in the regional offices of Archives New Zealand.

Many of the records held are indexes and registers which include limited information. A considerable number of individual patient files are to be found at Archives New Zealand offices, but not all of them by any means. Other patient files which have survived are likely to be held in hospitals or in the record centres of Health Boards.


Access to most mental health records is restricted because they include personal information, often about more than single individuals. Archway listings of the records (see, give specific information about access. 


No provision was made for the mentally ill by the Crown Colony government in the 1840s. If such people had no relatives to look after them, or they became too much of a problem, they could be placed only in gaols. In the 1850s and 1860s Provincial Governments set up a number of institutions, known as ‘Lunatic Asylums’, to house and possibly treat people with serious mental disorders.

‘Reports on the Lunatic Asylums in New Zealand’ (AJHR 1873 H-23) showed the following asylums and numbers of inmates:

Other institutions were created later. Some changed their names or sites over time. The institutions have variously been called Lunatic Asylums, Mental Hospitals and Psychiatric Hospitals.


For many years an Inspector of Asylums administered mental health institutions, not the Health Department.

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The holdings, at the different Archives offices, on Mental Health (patients and staff), which are most useful to family historians, are listed on the following pages.

Understanding the Records

Access Restrictions

Access to many of the mental health records is restricted by the hospitals or health boards who deposited the records with Archives New Zealand. Access permission is to be gained from a variety of agencies, often Health Boards, and some are listed with the records on the following pages.

The listings of the records in Archway, Archives New Zealand’s electronic finding aid, give more specific information about access restrictions.

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Auckland Office

Institutional Records

Auckland Provincial Lunatic Asylum / Auckland Lunatic Asylum / Auckland Mental Hospital / Oakley Hospital (to 1973), then Carrington Hospital often called ‘Avondale’. Where records are marked restricted in Archway access permission is to be obtained from: 

Clinical Records Department
Auckland City Hospital
Private Bag 92024
Auckland 1142.

Patients & Visitors


Kingseat Hospital

Where records are marked restricted in Archway access permission is to be obtained from: 

The Director Tiaho Mai
Middlemore Hospital
Private Bag 93311
Auckland 1640

Raventhorpe Hospital

Where records are marked restricted in Archway access permission is to be obtained from: 

The Director Tiaho Mai
Middlemore Hospital
Private Bag 93311
Auckland 1640

Tokanui Mental Hospital

Where records are marked restricted in Archway access permission is to be obtained from: 

The Manager, Medical Records
Waikato Hospital
Private Bag 3200
Hamilton 3240

Court Records

Auckland Supreme Court
Auckland Magistrates Court

Access permission is required from the Manager, Auckland District Court (email:

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Wellington Office

New Zealand-wide records

Archives New Zealand in Wellington holds registers of patients in Lunatic Asylums, Mental Hospitals, etc, for the whole of New Zealand from 1853 to 1960. The registers are not indexed, but separate indexes exist for the period 1853-1951.

Finding a mental health patient 1853-1960

The indexes and registers for the whole of New Zealand, listed below, give only very basic records for patients and neither gives the reason for admission.

First, a name search in the indexes is required. This should give an Admission Number, which can then be located in the relevant Register. The Registers give Patient File numbers, and some files still exist. See the listings for the four offices of Archives NZ.

Many Mental Health patients were admitted more than once. If so, in the Index entry right hand column will be a number like ‘3803’. In this case the superscript 3 is the Register volume number and the main number 380 is the page reference to the readmission in that volume. New Admission Numbers were not given.


Researchers may order up Indexes in the Wellington Reading Room. Once retrieved, Archives staff will look in the Index for the name asked for by the researcher. If the name is located, the researcher must contact the Ministry of Health to request access to the information in the Index and Register. The contact address is:

Ministry of Health
PO Box 5013
Wellington, New Zealand

Once the access letter is obtained and brought or sent to Archives New Zealand in Wellington, Archives staff will provide a transcript of the relevant Index and/or Register entry. The volumes give information about many different patients, so they cannot be issued to researchers unless the access letter specifies that.

Additional restriction: Before any research based on Health Department archives is published it must be submitted to the Director-General of Health (or representative) for approval.

Mental Health Division of the Health Department

Indexes of Patients (6 volumes) 1853-1951
General Registers of Patients

(12 volumes) 1853-1960, in order of admission

Information given in the registers for committed patients may include:

The reason for admission is not entered.

The actual book numbers may be needed to find readmissions from numbers in the Index.

Registers of Voluntary Boarders

(9 volumes) 1911-1960

For ‘voluntary boarders’, the name and address of the relative or friend with whom maintenance arrangements were made are also included.

Wellington Area

Institutional Records

Porirua (Mental) Hospital (from 1910) preceded by Lunatic Asylums: Karori (1854-1873) and Mt View (1873-1910) (on site of present Government House).

Archives New Zealand does not hold the records for Porirua or the earlier institutions. These are still held by the Medical Records Section of Capital & Coast Health. Contact details are:

Privacy Officer, Legal Department
Capital & Coast District Health Board
Private Bag 7902, Wellington
Phone: 04 385 5999 ext 82252

Court Records

Wellington Supreme Court
Woodville Magistrates Court



All records containing patient health details (except Registers of Patient Deaths) are restricted for 100 years from the date of record closure. Files, Indexes and Registers will not be made available to researchers without the written permission of the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board. 

Access permission must be obtained in writing from: Chief Executive Nelson Marlborough District Health Board Private Bag 18 Nelson 7042.

Patient Files

To access individual patient records (lists under 100 years old restricted) [ADHS 18896 W5473/1-81]

  1. Contact Archives New Zealand staff who will search to confirm whether a patient record is held and advise the researcher of the full Archives Reference.
  2. Seek written permission to access the record from: Chief Executive Nelson Marlborough District Health Board Private Bag 18 Nelson 7042.
  3. Approach Archives New Zealand with the access permission letter to request the specific patient record.
Instituional Records
Nelson Lunatic Asylum
Ngawhatu (Stoke, 1922-2000)




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Christchurch Office

Court Records

Supreme Court (Christchurch)

Lunatics Act Administrative Papers and Forms 1863-1873 (includes Notices of Admission, Death, Discharge or Removal, Statements of Bodily Health and Mental Condition, and Patient Returns from Sunnyside Hospital). [CAHX 24997]

Christchurch Magistrates Court

Access to the above court files are restricted for 100 years from file closure. 

Permission to access Supreme Court material may be obtained from: 

Christchurch High Court
Post: WX10021 Christchurch

Permission to access Magistrates Court material may be obtained from:

Christchurch District Court
Post: WX10021 Christchurch

Compulsory mental health assessment and treatment orders can also be found in the Domestic/Family Proceedings Files series from the Magistrates’/District and Family Courts of the Canterbury and Westland regions, dating from the 1970s onwards; these files also carry a 100 year access restriction.

Institutional Records

We hold an immense amount of material from the psychiatric hospitals of Canterbury and the West Coast relating to patients, staff, and administrative matters; only the key records that we hold which contain patient information are listed here. See Archway, or ask an archivist, should you need further information about our holdings from these institutions.

Access is restricted for 100 years from record closure. 

Permission to access records from Canterbury and West Coast Psychiatric Hospitals may be obtained from:

Senior Corporate Solicitor
Canterbury District Health Board
Post: P.O. Box 1600, CHRISTCHURCH 8140

Hokitika Lunatic Asylum/Seaview Psychiatric Hospital
Queen Mary Hospital, Hanmer Springs

Case files are not listed by patient name on Archway

Sunnyside Lunatic Asylum/Sunnyside Psychiatric Hospital
Templeton Psychiatric Hospital

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Dunedin Office

Institutional Records

Access to patient records is restricted for 100 years from date of last paper or last entry, and to staff/student records for 75 years. Permission is to be obtained from:

Chief Executive
Southern District Health Board
Private Bag 1921
Dunedin 9054

Dunedin Lunatic Asylum / Seacliff Hospital / Cherry Farm Hospital / Orokonui Home

Archives New Zealand in Dunedin holds many records relating to these institutions, not all listed here.  The most useful to family historians are:

Patient Files and Casebooks
Registers of Admissions, Discharges, Deaths etc.
Other records that include patient information
Staff records
Photographs and Plans

A variety of photographs and plans – buildings, patients and staff – is also held in the Dunedin Regional Office for Dunedin Lunatic Asylum / Seacliff Hospital / Cherry Farm Hospital / Orokonui Home.

Court Records

Supreme Court, Dunedin

Open files are listed by name on Archway.

Access to lunacy case files is restricted for 100 years from the date of last paper. Permission is to be obtained from:

Dunedin High Court
DX: YX10176

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