Beechworth Asylum

Beechworth Asylum


Beechworth Lunatic Asylum, originally known as the Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum is a decommissioned hospital located in Beechworth, a town of Victoria, Australia. It was the fourth such Hospital to be built in Victoria, being one of the three largest and closed in 1995 after 128 years of operation.

The asylum was surrounded by almost 106 hectares of farmland, making the hospital self-sufficient with its own piggery, orchards, kitchen gardens, fields, stables and barn. For recreation, the asylum included tennis courts, an oval and cricket pavilion, kiosk and theatre.

Ha-Ha Walls

One of the distinctive features of both Kew Asylum and Beechworth Asylum is the use of a variation on Ha-Ha walls around the patients courtyards. These ha-has consisted of a trench, one side of which was vertical and faced with stone or bricks, the other side sloped and turfed. From the inside, the walls presented a tall face to patients, preventing them from escaping, while from outside, the walls looked low so as not to suggest imprisonment.

Admission Process

People could be admitted to the asylum as a lunatic patient by a number of means:

  • At the request of a friend, relative or acquaintance, with medical certificates written by two medical practitioners. This method was amended by The Mental Health Act 1959 which stated a person could be admitted upon the recommendation of a medical practitioner who had examined the person. As soon as possible after admission the superintendent of the hospital was required to examine the patient and either approve the recommended admission or discharge the patient.
  • Any (lunatic) person found wandering at large or not under proper care and control could be brought before two justices who could order the person's removal to an asylum. The police were usually responsible for bringing the person before the two justices.
  • Any prisoner of the Crown thought to be a lunatic could be removed from a gaol to an asylum by order of the Chief Secretary.
  • Voluntary Boarders were those who requested that they be admitted for a mutually agreed period of time (from 1915 onwards).

To be admitted, only two signatures were required. To be discharged, eight signatures were required, thus it was a lot harder to get out than to get in.

Current Uses

Beechworth Lunatic Asylum is currently owned by La Trobe Beechworth Pty Ltd, and managed by La Trobe University. Nightly Ghost tours are held at the hospital allowing public access to the most historic buildings on site.

A venue used for weddings is the Chapel of the Resurrection, to the west of the site. It was built in 1868 as the mortuary for the complex, and was converted to the chapel seen today in the 1960s.

The gardens date to the 19th century, covering 11 hectares, and are open to the public from dawn until dusk.

PHOTOS: Craig Thorne    WORDS:

Beechworth Asylum
Oak Ave, Beechworth, Victoria, AU


Craig Thorne

Shepparton, Australia