Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

As Mei and I drove along the maze of streets in Mt Claremont it wasn’t long before we lost all sense of direction and found ourselves going around in circles. Instead of becoming frustrated we chose to laugh it off and  finally approached Heritage Lane feeling light-hearted and cheery and eager to see the building that played a big part in the life of my Great Great Grandmother, Matilda Maria Hurst.

Through my research I’d seen many photos of the Claremont Hospital for the Insane so I had some indication of what to expect. As we drove up the hill we kept our eyes peeled for the heritage building. Coming close to the end of the Lane, Mei slowed the car and we both looked at the building to the left of us. Despite having seen photos of what the administration building looked like, seeing it in reality was somehow different. For several seconds we simply stared and wondered if this was it. Thinking back, why we even questioned it is laughable. A big sign out the front located on the grassed area of the roundabout indicated that redevelopment of the heritage site was full of wonderful opportunities.

Once the car was parked in the driveway, we sat for a few moments and looked at a well proportioned building with a balcony and archway over the entrance. Boards covered the windows and both they and the building itself were scrawled with graffiti tags; a testament to the time it has stood empty. Our cheery moods vanished and we were both immediately struck with hesitation. I had come prepared with my camera but at that moment, neither of us wanted to get out of the car. I don’t often get weird vibes from buildings but as I sat and looked at the administration building, I felt terribly uncomfortable. Even now when I think of it, shivers run up and down my spine.

Given the history, I’m sure our reaction was understandable. Built in the early 1900s in response to massive criticism against the Fremantle Mental Asylum, it’s purpose was to be a new and improved home for the mentally ill. It opened its doors in August 1903 and from 1905 to 1909, patients were transferred from Fremantle Asylum to the Claremont Hospital for the Insane. It remained in use for over 80 years until its closure in 1987.

Since then it has stood empty. All the old male and female wards have been demolished and all that remains today is the administration building at the front, the male and female nurses’ quarters (to the left and right), Montgomery Hall (at the back) which was the old dining and performance hall and the kitchen and stores (in the middle). The below aerial photograph printed in the Sunday Times in 1922 illustrates the layout of the hospital grounds. Though it’s not the easiest to make out, the administration buildings are in the middle with the male and female wards fanning out on either side.

Asylum

Despite our trepidation and the creepy feeling we got just from looking at the building, we didn’t sit in the car forever; I had to get some photos. Luckily for me (I suppose because of the redevelopment) most of the fencing which I’d seen surrounding the entire complex in other peoples’ photos had been removed and we were able to walk around the entire perimeter.

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A quick search on the internet brings up forums and comments where adventurous people have posted about their experiences after managing to get inside to have a look. It is a place associated with much pain and suffering and because of this, it also tends to draw ghost hunters. Naturally, quite a few people believe the building is haunted. I’m not too sure what I believe without having gone inside. From the outside we saw nothing untoward; all we experienced was an overwhelming intuitive feeling and to be honest, that was enough for me.

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To see some photos of the inside of the Claremont Hospital for the Insane, please visit the site 6000Times (http://www.6000times.com/2010/01/swanbourne-abandoned-mental-crazy.html).

With bad weather thwarting our original plans to draw, thanks must go out to Mei who suggested checking out the asylum and then very kindly drove me there. Share the love and visit her blog! http://libertineeats.com/

Sources:

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19 thoughts on “Claremont Hospital for the Insane

  1. Jess I can feel the vibes through your writing alone so can imagine how you felt sitting there in the car looking at the place. They are such sad places. Hubby and I have a couple in our family but I’ve not felt quite so brave as you to go visit.

    1. Jess says:

      Thanks ancestorchaser. It really was the weirdest feeling! I’ve been to other historical buildings before and they haven’t given off much of a creepy vibe like the Claremont Hospital did. Poor Mei even dreamt about it that night!

  2. ljhlaura says:

    Interesting stuff … It is often an odd feeling to visit the places associated with our ancestors, and I can understand your feelings of apprehension on this visit. Good for you that you went, though.

    1. Jess says:

      Thanks! 🙂 I think it made me more apprehensive knowing that my Great Great Grandmother had been locked up in the asylum for a good part of her life. Regardless of such feelings I know it was important for me to see it in order to understand more about her story.

  3. tracy duckett says:

    my family too has a history with this hospital,my grandfather used to be a cook there and his mother lived there and died there, his wife my grandmother also worked there as a cleaner and also my mother was a cleaner there she was one of the first with another lady to clean the mens wards, my mum still has lots of stories from when she worked there and when my grandmother was alive she would recall when they caught the bus to work that went past graylands p.school and lots of children were at school before 7am and it always worried her that the children at school that early might not have had any breakfast, i used to visit the hospital before the fence with my husband and kids i’d take my camera and the main building at the front, when i’d take photos a hot pink color would follow me around the building very spooky and in the main hallway one side of the hallway i would take photos and then turn around and take more and look at them at home and one side of the hallway was clear and when turned around to take the other picture in the same hallway there were so many orbs in my camera view it was a scary feeling to know after i’d view them,anyway i’m trying to get info on my family that worked there and my grandmother who died there,any help out there

    1. Jess says:

      Hi Tracy! Wow! Your family certainly does have a connection with the hospital. You might be able to find some info on the newspapers on Trove (http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper?q=) otherwise I recommend contacting Dr Philippa Martyr at Graylands (http://www.nmahsmh.health.wa.gov.au/projects/graylandshistory.cfm). She helped me with my research and may be able to help you or at least point you in the right direction. 🙂 PS: I couldn’t go inside the building but I found it spooky enough just from the outside!!

      1. tracy duckett says:

        Thanks Jess, you have given me good info on who i should ask and i’v been on trove i found it quite unbelievable reading of the treatment way way back then and yes even with the fence around the hospital is still spooky and it feels like someone is always watching, i have visited the museum at graylands and have wrote on the guest book for myself and also put my mums name and her mum’s. thanks again.

  4. Hi, in 1985 I started as an apprentice cook in the new kitchen at Graylands, I was 17, our head chef, catering manager and some other new staff were taken up to the old parts of the hospital on the hill, we went into the old kitchen and some rooms and stores areas. As for ghosts, who knows but the place was uber creepy and some of the staff showing us around had worked there for 20+ years and told of much heartbreak and anguish among patients and staff alike, with suicides a theme through most of them. To say I was glad to get to the new part of the complex again is an understatement, if anyone knows of any photo’s of the old kitchen I would like to hear from them, I have seen many pictures but none of that area.

    1. Jess says:

      Hi Dave,

      There certainly was a lot of heartbreak and anguish from those who lived within Claremont Hospital for the Insane. I don’t know how my 2nd Great Grandmother fared in later years but it’s obvious she didn’t get better and to be honest, who would in a place like that. Thank you for your story of viewing some of the inside of the building in 1985 – it’s fascinating to hear from those who’ve seen inside it!
      Regarding pictures, there may be some on the State Library of WA’s catalogue otherwise, the Graylands Museum may have some too.

      1. Davidski says:

        Hi Jess.
        I agree I don’t think improvements in health and mental well being were high on the agenda for those early places, your Great Grandmother must have thought she was in hell or its waiting room. Thanks also for the tip on photo’s I will have a look, ciao!

  5. Bev says:

    We just visited Montgomery Hall with our mother, Ethel. She worked there as a nurse in 1940.

    1. Jess says:

      That’s very interesting Bev. I bet it would’ve brought back some memories for your Mum.

  6. Nicole says:

    Oops sorry I pushed send. So I have been here before with my partner and younger siblings at night. Let’s just say I’m more of the “intuitive” type. I felt extremely anxious and on edge. I felt as though somebody was in there & I’m talking from the physical world. I presume some have made this place their home & I wouldn’t like anybody just walking in to my home. But I feel the need to go back. Very strongly! Very sadly my grandfather passed away here, he was diagnosed being mentally ill when in fact he had Alzheimer’s disease. Back then they did not know of this. I’ve have read that law over in Sydney wanted to shut this facility down due to the horrific stories that were pouring out of it. I can no longer find the document. I also know that the main head quarters for the violent so called insane were burnt down along with any documentation. I also recently found out children were admitted to this hospital as young as 4 if not younger I’ve been told by my grandma who lost her husband in the most cruel way. I dream about him often and need to lay flowers at rest in the area when I have been I already feel his presence but it doesn’t stop just outside unfortunately. I’m being guided towards the fact that he didn’t pass the way my Mum & everybody was told. I’d love to go there with the best medium in Perth (Rebecca millman) as I cannot let this go, he will not let this go and keeps entering my dreams. Plus, I need to know the truth. I try to ask my grandma but her face changes she lost her husband before he was early 40s and was in there for years prior. But I know security is a high risk factor as well. But again, I have this longing to be there physically in and out of the building. If anybody has any for of information in any way I’d live to hear it.

    1. Jess says:

      That’s okay Nicole. Thank you for stopping by and leaving such a detailed comment. I can certainly understand how you feel. I too felt anxious when I was there. I don’t have the intense feelings that you experience through dreaming but like you, I cannot let the story of my 2nd Great Grandmother go. She also died in Claremont Asylum and most likely had post natal depression – something treatable today but completely unknown back in the 1890s. I hope you find some way to discover the truth of what happened to your Grandfather. I’ve discovered a lot of information about my 2nd Great Grandmother through the State Records Office as well as the records held at the Graylands Museum and I’m hoping to eventually turn her story into a book. Best wishes and good luck with your journey.

  7. Nicole says:

    Yes I went there tonight & lovely security lady was more than helpful to give information on greylands museum & the nurse who is very educated on the hospital. I’m glad to know it’s being turned into aged care and isn’t going to be torn down for units or a restuarant. Frustrating how people have ruined it for the people who have a genuine curiosity and an appreciation for the building rather than using it for parties and drug use. That it’s now under strict survailance dog guards, alarms everything. Such a Shane and a real piss off for is decent human beings that would never do damage. Even today it was broken into but alarms go off, dogs it’s not smart on their part. I’m going the next Wednesday to the museum 🙂 love the forum though.

    1. Jess says:

      I’m also glad it’s being turned into a building that will be useful rather than one sitting empty and being vandalised. I agree, Nicole. It’s very frustrating. I would love to have seen inside it but unfortunately it’s the few that ruin it for the many. Hope you enjoyed the museum! I’ve been meaning to get there but it’s a little difficult with work. 🙂

  8. Grace Darling says:

    I have been researching asylums for some years now. Recently, I learned that ornamental gardener, Hugh Linaker, was responsible for planting the trees and landscaping most of the asylums in Victoria.

    May I suggest you find out who the gardeners and caretakers were when your ancestress, Tilly, was resident at Claremont, and unfold her narrative via the horticulture. You have a big old clue there: her first child was
    named ‘Daisy’.

    What needs to be taken into account is that you cannot understand the asylum culture of the 19th century through the Lithium and Zoloft-coloured glasses of the 21st century. I think you may find the true story is not as
    awful as you assume.

    Asylum histories follow the rules of journalism: if it bleeds, it leads.

    All the best for 2015.

    1. Jess says:

      Thanks for the tip, Grace. I’ve never thought to look into the horticulture of Claremont Asylum though I do know they had a working farm which some inmates helped care for. I don’t know whether Tilly was involved – there’s still a chunk of records that I’m missing! Perhaps Tilly was a lover of gardens and flowers which explains the name Daisy and perhaps this love continued in the asylum, which (as you mentioned) may provide a more in depth analysis of her life via the horticulture. Thanks for leaving a comment and great suggestion. 🙂

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