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Access is restricted to many of the records listed in this research guide, because they deal with individuals and their personal lives. Some records are not listed on Archway for that reason, in these cases they are listed with an asterisk *.

Permission to view registers and files may be gained from the appropriate institution.

To learn more about a restricted record, go to the record ordering screen in Archway and click the ‘more detail’ link below each listing. This will tell you why a record is restricted, and who you need to contact to gain permission to access the record. Access can only be provided with the written permission from the agency responsible for the restriction.

Learn more about access restrictions

Mental health has been of concern to governments since the 1850s. Some records were created by government departments or agencies. But most were created by the institutions established to look after those with mental illness.

The Health Department archives held in our Wellington archive include some records for mental health institutions throughout New Zealand, 1853-1960. Patient and some staff records for individual institutions are held in our regional archives in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin. We also hold court records relating to mental health care.

Many of the records held are indexes and registers which do not contain much information. A considerable number of individual patient files are to be found in our archives. Other patient files which have survived are likely to be held in hospitals or in the record centres of Health Boards. There is not, however, a file for each patient.

Auckland and Tokanui holdings

These records are held in our Auckland archive but relate to institutions all over the broader region.

Wellington holdings

Our Wellington archive 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.

You can order indexes in the Wellington reading room. Because of restrictions we cannot issue these to you, but we will look up the person you are researching for you. If the name is located, we will give you the register number you will need to get the person’s record. You will then need to contact the Ministry of Health to request access to the information quoting the register number we have given you. The contact address is:


Ministry of Health

PO Box 5013

Wellington, New Zealand

Once the access letter is obtained and brought or sent to us in Wellington, we 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.

Wellington and Nelson

These records are held in our Wellington archive but relate to institutions over the broader region and include Nelson.

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 us and we will search to confirm whether a patient record is held and if so we will give you 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. Contact us again with the access permission letter to request the specific patient record.

Canterbury and West Coast

These records are held in our Christchurch archive but relate to institutions in both Canterbury and the West Coast.

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

Senior Corporate Solicitor

Canterbury District Health Board

P.O. Box 1600, Christchurch 8140

Email: greg.brogden@cdhb.health.nz

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]

Lunatics/Mental Defectives Act Files 1859-1953 [CAHX 24996]

Permission to access Supreme Court material may be obtained from:

Christchurch High Court

Post: WX10021 Christchurch

Email: christchurchhc@justice.govt.nz

Christchurch Magistrates Court

Mental Defectives Acts Files 1937-1948 [CAHS 18534]

Access to the above Court files is restricted for 100 years from file closure.

Permission to access Magistrates Court material may be obtained from:

Christchurch District Court

Post: WX10021 Christchurch

Email: christchurch.dc@justice.govt.nz

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.

Otago and Southland

These records are held in our Dunedin archive but relate to institutions all in both Otago and Southland

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

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


0800 268 787, or +64 9 583 1900 from overseas

Email: dunedin.dc@justice.govt.nz