Content Warning – This article discusses mental health facilities including the experiences of previous patients and may be triggering to some readers. Should you wish to talk, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
In 1864, Western Australia’s Fremantle Lunatic Asylum opened its doors for the very first time.
The asylum, which was built by convicts, was created in the hopes of treating and caring for the mentally ill.
But before long, the asylum became home to more than just its mentally ill patients.
Although Fremantle Lunatic Asylum was originally built to accommodate 50 people, it soon became the home for just about any “social problem” – including the elderly, alcoholism, and prostitution.
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During the gold rush in the 1890s, the asylum was also used to house miners suffering from the effects of opium smoking and even sunstroke.
Upon entering the asylum, patients, who ranged from just nine years old to the elderly, were essentially treated as prisoners. Incoming patients had their heads shaved and were given secondhand prison uniforms to wear as they were locked into the psychiatric hospital’s guarded grounds.
With no active therapy, patients would often live in the compound for decades on end without their condition improving.
By the turn of the century in 1900, over 200 people were residing in the asylum with up to 20 people occupying each room.
That same year, the death of Catherine Clifford sparked the end of Fremantle Lunatic Asylum.
In August 1900, after briefly going missing from her home, Clifford was admitted into the asylum.
The next month, Clifford’s husband visited her in the compound. When he found her, she was unconscious with a black eye and scratches to her face. She had been attacked by a violent inmate.
Just three days later, Clifford passed away. It’s unclear whether she died from the beating or whether she had fallen down the stairs.
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Following Clifford’s death and the suspicious death of another patient, the asylum was investigated and subsequently shut down. Over the course of the next eight years, the asylum’s patients were relocated.
After the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum was closed, the convict-built building was used for a number of purposes. Over the last few decades, it has served as a women’s home, a midwifery school and the headquarters for the American armed services based in Western Australia during World War II.