Lake Macquarie History

Morisset Hospital


The Department of Lands proclaimed in the Government Gazette 25 August 1900 that 1300 acres was available"for the purpose of an Asylum for the Insane". Morisset was chosen because of the availability of large area of level arable land, plentiful supply of water and timber.


Approval for the construction of the 'Morisset Asylum for the Insane' was provided for under the state 'Insanity Act'.

photo: original admin building, morisset hospital


By now overcrowding in the asylums in Sydney (Gladesville and Parramatta) had reached acute levels and the building of two new hospitals became imperative. One on the shores of Lake Macquarie and one in Orange in the states Central West.


Three male staff and 6 patients lived in tents and worked to clear the site. A jetty was constructed for delivery of building materials by boat, and a dam was constructed to supply the hospital with water, which it did well into the 1940's.


The first building erected was the Recreation Hall containing a gymnasium, kitchen, offices, staff dining room, and mezzanine storage.


The hospital officially opened in September, beginning with the first patients being 78 men in Ward 1. These men came from Tarban Creek Mental Asylum (Gladesville Hospital). Work continued on the building of the remainder of the hospital. Referred to in the Government gazette as an 'Industrial Farm Colony', and was established as a closed community.


The buildings were still under construction and the patient population had grown to 157 men. Wards and dormitories were built from timber frames with calico walls, which were meant to be temporary, but some lasted for over 30 years.


The patient population was now over 240 with most of the men housed in the calico wards.


The tents were overflowing with 288 patients. Conditions did not improve greatly as government funds were distributed to causes with higher priority than the mentally ill.


Hospital population reached 375. The building programme was suspended because of the war, except for two fibro wards called the 'Farm Wards'. There were staffing shortages during the war years as many enlisted.


A fishing fleet was established with some staff and patients going out in the boats on Thursday to provide a fish lunch for Friday.


Saw the addition of The Main Store.

photo: morisset hospital grounds


Due to the casualties of WW1 the wards were now very over-crowded with nearly 500 men on-site which was 93 more than number of beds. Some patients had to sleep on verandas.


The Recreation Hall of the Morisset Hospital held an elegant fancy dress Victory Ball on 13th August. Picnics, boat trips, parties and sporting competitions were held regularly to entertain both patient and staff and their families.


The hospital acquired more land and the estate now covered 4000 acres. A new brick ward was built, and a stage was added to the Recreation Hall. Then little building occurred until early 1930's.


The patient population was 552. Single thickness fibro cottages began to replace the calico tents. The head gardener Ernie Keen had previously been employed at Windsor Castle and Hampton Court until he emigrated to Australia. Ernie worked at the hospital for over thirty years and designed all of the gardens. He won awards for his flowers and he supplied the hospital buildings and wards with fresh cut flowers every week. Twelve patients made up his team and they were assigned to his care daily.


Maximum security wards (Wards 21 & 22) built in a separate walled compound about 1.5 kilometres from centre of main hospital. Named 'Wyee Bay Gaol' this part of the hospital went on to have a long and distinguished role in the care of the criminally insane in NSW.

photo: eastern boundary fence, criminally insane ward,morisset hospital


Formal training for 'mental nurses' began. Women who wished to train in this field had to learn on the job and study in their own time but head to Sydney for formal registration exams.


Female patients and staff began arriving at Morisset Hospital. Also during the this time a fully equipped operating theatre was installed. The hospital was self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables and considered a 'farm colony'.


The building programme ceased during the WW2 years but the patient population continued to grow with 1170 patients to 1009 beds. Also during this decade, the hospital received improved lighting, became attached to mains water by the Hunter Water Board, and benefitted from major advancements in medical technology with improved powerful tranquilizing drugs and anti-biotics. Insulin and electro-convulsive therapy treatment were administered. In the 1940's the hospital was called 'Lunatic Asylum Morisset'.


The hospital wharf collapsed and 29 female patients and two staff who were about to go on a boating picnic. They all ended up in the water but there were no casualties.


In the early 1950's the last of the tents were removed to make way for two new wards. The building programme picked up again, new wards were built including a second ward in the maximum-security wing. Overcrowding was still a problem but conditions for staff improved with unions gaining power, and television had arrived!


Patient numbers were now 850 men and 450 women.


The first wedding was held in the new hospital chapel, which had been built with donated funds. The Mental Health Bill was introduced to repeal the Lunacy Act of 1898.


The hospital was set amid beautiful manicured lawns and flowering gardens with flocks of peacocks wandering around the grounds. The 'Festival of Flowers' Fete was held every year to which staff and patients looked forward. Most of the wards were now open and members of the public were encouraged to make use of the lake salt water baths with dressing sheds and toilet block. Shelter sheds and picnic facilities for patients and their visitors were also available.


Patient population at the hospital reached its peak of 1465. The hospital had its own launch, 'The Denby' for lake outings and a bus for transporting patients to sporting and other events.


Male and female occupational therapy departments were introduced. The hospital now also maintained 86 dairy cows plus a modern dairy, also a piggery that contained 200 pigs.


The Social Security Act made provision for the mentally ill to receive Invalid pension. The Industrial Rehabilitation Department replaced the Male Occupational Therapy Department.


The grounds of Morisset Hospital were declared a Wildlife Refuge.


Ward 22 unused. Because of the dense bush surrounding the hospital fires were always a constant threat and staff were often called to fight threatening fires. 'The Denby' was transferred to Peat Island and patient work gangs did not exist any more.

photo: wards 19 and 20 morisset hospital


Change was happening at a fast rate at the hospital. There were still 20 wards open. The 38 hour working week came in and hospital based nurse training was on its way out. The beautiful grounds began to be overgrown and neglected.


Morisset Hospital divided into 2 separate services: a Mental Health Facility funded by Hunter Area Health Service and the Kanangra Centre for the Intellectually Disabled funded by the Department of Family and Community Services.


The last nurses graduation was held at Morisset Hospital.


Ward 21 'The Crim' was closed, a special ward is located now at Long Bay Jail.


Wards 19 and 20 were demolished to make way for a $6.5 million minimum-security unit.


A new state of the art forensic psychiatry security unit was built. A Heritage Study on the site of the former Wards 19 & 20 can be viewed on the lake Macquarie Library Local History website.


Morisset Hospital was registered as a training school for enrolled nurses. Many of the residents now live in cottages that were once staff housing.


The Morisset Hospital Historical Society was formed with the aim of collecting and preserving the heritage of Morisset Hospital.


The Society published a history of Morisset Hospital - 'A Private World on a Nameless Bay'


The historic hospital lantern restoration was completed


The lantern and a display case of hospital memorabilia was installed in the new Morisset Multipurpose Centre.


Morisset Hospital celebrated it's centenary


Morisset Hospital Historical Society 2000, A Private world on a nameless bay : a history of Morisset Hospital, Morisset Hospital Historical Society, [Bonnells Bay, N.S.W.]"

1989. Morisset Hospital Functional Plan, Hunter Area Health Service, Division of Mental Health Services, Newcastle, N.S.W

Mullard, Beryl 2002, Iron horse and iron bark : history of Morisset and district, Beryl Mullard, Morisset, N.S.W

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