Lake Macquarie History

Light on Morisset: Hospital timeline

photo:light on morisset. hospital timeline. exhibition panel

Morisset Hospital’s history reflects changing terminology and models of mental health care, as well as the changing levels of resourcing created by world wars, the move to community care and the relocation of services.

  • 1898 The new Lunacy Act is passed, replacing the 1843 Act. The Act authorised the NSW government to establish both Hospitals for the Insane and the Criminally Insane.
  • 1900 1300 acres are set aside at Morisset for an ‘Asylum for the Insane’
  • 1902 Severe overcrowding is experienced in Sydney mental health facilities ‘creating many difficulties and hardships’
  • 1906 An ‘Industrial Farm Colony for suitable patients’ at Morisset is proposed
  • 1907 Land clearing and preparation of the hospital site
  • 1908 Work commenced on the building of Ward 1 and the Recreation Hall of the new hospital at Morisset. The hospital was intended for the ‘the quiet chronic class of patients’ and operated under provisions of the Lunacy Act 1898.
  • 1909 Staff were appointed to positions at Morisset Hospital for the Insane on 1 May. By the end of the year 78 male patients from Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum were resident at Morisset in Ward 1.
  • 1910 Patient population is now 157 male patients. Temporary dormitories made of wooden frames with calico walls and a canvas fly over each structure were built to accommodate a total of 185 patients. These were known as ‘calico wards’. Some remained in use until the 1950s.
  • 1911 The hospital was still under construction. Morisset appears on the Schedule of Total Expenditure by the Department of Lunacy. Morisset cost £5395.9.4 to run in the financial year ending 30 June 1911. This is equivalent to $751,725.78 in 2021.
  • 1912 Patient population is 243 male patients mainly housed in calico wards. Morisset cost £10 011.5.6 to run. This is equivalent to $1,252,978.15 in 2021.
  • 1913 Patient population is 288 male patients
  • 1914 Patient population is now 375 male patients. The building program was largely suspended due to the outbreak of WWI. There were labour shortages owing to enlistments.
  • 1915 Staff and patients undertook overnight fishing trips on Lake Macquarie to provide a fish lunch for Friday, following the establishment of the hospital fishing fleet. Staff often took excess fish home.
  • 1918 War casualties increased patient numbers to 484. This was 93 more than the available beds. There are no records of construction between 1914 and 1918. Morisset cost £19 356.18.11 to run. This is equivalent to $1,786,706.22in 2021.
  • 1920 Patient population is 512 male patients. Severe overcrowding is experienced.
  • 1927 The patient population is 552 male patients. Severe overcrowding at the Criminal Insane Section at Parramatta Asylum prompts search for alternative facility.
  • 1930 Plans for the construction of a Hospital for the Criminally Insane are under consideration
  • 1933 Patient population is 672 male patients. Construction of the maximum security Hospital for the Criminally Insane starts in Wyee, about 1km from the existing hospital. It initially has a single ward.
  • 1934 Female patients and staff begin arriving
  • 1935 Pigs to the value of £247 were sold by the hospital. Morisset is operating as an ‘Industrial Farm Colony’ as planned.
  • 1936 The Hospital for the Criminally Insane is opened and occupied by patients transferred from Parramatta and Callan Park.
  • 1937 Work starts on two new refractory wards and a new operating theatre completed.
  • 1938 Lack of funds holds up the construction of the second ward of the Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
  • 1939 WWII starts and a lack of funds holds up all construction work.
  • 1940 Electroconvulsive Therapy was adopted as a treatment for serious conditions
  • 1945 Morisset has accommodation for 1009 and a patient population of 1170
  • 1948 Australian psychiatric John Cade discovers lUse of Lithium carbonate’s mood stabilising effects begins
  • 1953 Chlorpromazine (Largactil) a first generation antipsychotic medication is introduced
  • 1958 In June facilities for male ‘criminally insane’ patients at Parramatta Mental Hospital were closed. Patients were transferred to Morisset. Haloperidol, an important antipsychotic medication still in general use today is discovered.
  • 1960 The patient population is 1403
  • 1962 Morisset Hospital was the acute psychiatric admitting hospital for the northern part of NSW. Patients were transferred from the Admission Centre at Newcastle. Morisset also provided ‘inebriate’ (drug and alcohol) services, and facilities in security wards for male prisoners who became mentally ill subsequent to the committal of an offence. The Hospital fete, The Festival of the Flowers, is held for the first time. The new dairy is opened.
  • 1963 The patient population is 1490
  • 1965 The integration of male and female wards commences. There is a rise in the discharge rate and admissions decrease.
  • 1966 Male and female occupational therapy departments were introduced.
  • 1969 A Ward 21 patient kills a senior nurse by stabbing him in the head with a pair of garden shears
  • 1971 People living with mental illness became eligible for the Invalid Pension for the first time. Patient numbers are in decline due to the pension, more effective medications, treatment programs and community care models.
  • 1972 Ward 22 is used for patients living with addiction
  • 1972 Milson Island closed. Intellectually disabled males were transferred to Morisset from both Peat and Milson Islands.
  • 1973 A 2 day strike over pPay and conditions in January saw staff of Ward 21 withdraw some non-essential services
  • 1974 Ward 22 is no longer used
  • 1976 Morisset Hospital provided ‘mental retardation’ (now known as disability) services, geriatric services, and facilities for the treatment of forensic patients (previously known as the criminally insane).
  • 1979 Two patients escaped from Ward 21. They were at large for 14 days and committed a number of crimes before recapture.
  • 1982 A 24 hour strike, involving all nursing staff, domestic and laundry staff over reduction in staff numbers. This included Ward 21 and police were called in to maintain order.
  • 1983 The Richmond Report was tabled in NSW Parliament prompting the shift of mental health care from institutions to the community with adequate planning and funding.
  • 1985 The hospital was divided into Psychiatric Services and Developmental Disability. Wards 16, 18, 19 and 20 close.
  • 1990 Ward 21 closes. Patients were relocated to Long Bay Jail. Ward 22 formally closes.
  • 1991 Wards 19 and 20 were demolished to make way for a new medium security ward, now known as Kestrel.
  • 1992 Ward 9 closed. Ward 11 patients are moved into the houses previously used by staff.
  • 1994 A new medium security unit for 30 forensic patients was commissioned.
  • 1995 Services were in the process of being relocated to other facilities within the Hunter region, with the number of hospital beds reducing from 219 in July 1994, to 180 in June 1995.
  • 2009 Morisset Hospital celebrated its centenary. The patient population is about 100.
  • 2017 Criminal psychiatric patient fatally stabbed his roommate in the neck
  • 2018 Owing to high levels of tourism to the hospital foreshore, the hospital grounds are closed to the public
  • 2019 Specialist Dementia unit Ibis Lodge closes
  • 2021 The patient population remains at about 100.

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