Who lived at Gladesville Hospital?

Well over a thousand people were buried at the cemetery of the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum. The asylum was established in 1838 and known from 1869 as Gladesville Hospital for the Insane. From 1839 many of the deceased patients from the asylum were recorded in the burial registers of St Anne’s Anglican Church, Ryde and St Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Ryde. The hospital cemetery was consecrated in 1847 and in regular use until May 1895, after which burials took place at the Field of Mars Cemetery. The last burial of a patient was in January 1898 and the last burial was in 1903.

There were five indigenous men and three indigenous women. It is known that the women came from Bodalla, Burrier and Yulgilbar and that the men had come from country around Narrabri, Euston, and the Richmond, Manning and Macquarie River areas of New South Wales.

Others had been born in New South Wales as the children of immigrants or convicts. Many of the patients had arrived by sea from afar and near, coming to New South Wales from many lands. Most had come from England, Ireland, Scotland and also Wales. Others had come from Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, Holland, Fiji, and India. They had been born in places such as London, Dublin, Fermanagh, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Berkshire, Liverpool, Swansea, Florence, and Berne.

The ages of the men and women buried in the cemetery spanned teenagers to ninety-year-olds, with one infant buried in the cemetery. While many were aged over 50 there were many more who were in their twenties, thirties and forties. These men and women were single or married, with many having had children of their own.

They had lived around New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland. They came from around the then colony of New South Wales, from Sydney, Bathurst, Newcastle, Brisbane, Melbourne, Maitland, Goulburn, Braidwood, Singleton, Tenterfield, Windsor, Queanbeyan, Dubbo, Wagga Wagga and Gundagai, among many other places.

Before their admission as patients to the hospital they were men and women who had led fulfilling lives. They had worked for their living in the city and the country. The men had worked as storekeepers, dealers, squatters, butchers, boilermakers, engine drivers, sawyers, bootmakers and shoemakers, wine merchants, clerks, shepherds, sailors and master mariners, stewards, boatbuilders, schoolmasters, gardeners, plasterers and soldiers. They had toiled as blacksmiths, laborers, barrow men, drapers, farmers, stockmen, ostlers, miners, cooks, carpenters and joiners, plumbers and fitters, masons, brickmakers, accountants and even gold diggers. The women had been house maids, house servants, dressmakers and needlewomen, as well as wives and mothers.

A few of those buried in the cemetery were staff of the hospital who had worked as nurses, and attendants to the patients. One was the medical practitioner and Inspector of the Insane, Dr Frederic Norton Manning1, who was buried in the hospital cemetery in 1903 at his own request.

Despite their varied origins they lie together in the Gladesville Hospital Cemetery where the trees sway above, and we pause quietly to think of them, then continue with our own lives.

1 D. I. McDonald, 'Manning, Frederic Norton (1839–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/manning-frederic-norton-4147/text6649, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 5 December 2019.

(Prepared December 2019 by historian Janette Pelosi, based on research in the nineteenth century Gladesville hospital records.)