This photograph was captured in approximately 1900 and depicts the on site nurses homes. During the 1880s, these detached cottages were constructed and provided accommodation for the staff (in this case, the nurses) who lived within the hospital walls. Within the image are weatherboard buildings, a number of nurses and water tanks.
Beechworth's Mayday Hills was chosen as the site of Victoria's newest asylum, at the time, due to the landscape and altitude. The hilltop atmosphere and the native fauna, it was argued, would assist in the cure of the patients kept at the hospital (Wood 1985, 122). The positioning of the hospital had a beneficial effect on the rural town. A pamphlet published by James Ingram and Son (1849) reveal that famous landmarks in Beechworth which included the Post Office, Gaol, Courthouse and Asylum "demonstrate the appreciation of Beechworth by the Government not only as as important district center, but also as a site unrivaled as a sanitarium". There were other locations in contention at the time, but ultimately Beechworth was chosen (Craig 2000, 33).
Prior to the creation of the Asylum in Beechworth, those charged with having mental illnesses or, as it was termed, "insanity" were unable to be properly cared for in the Gaol (which is where they were often sent). John Buckley Castieau wrote, in 1861 for the Ovens and Murray Advertiser, that the Gaol was unable to properly care for those classified then as "insane" but that they would endeavor to treat them above the other inmates (which he notes is not always the case in other establishments). Castieau wrote this in favour of supporting the building of the Mayday Hills Hospital in Beechworth. It was stated that at the time the Mayday Hills Hospital was built, there were 83 prisoners kept in the Gaol who were to be rehoused to the Hospital on the grounds of "insanity". The classification as someone as "insane", in this period of time is a reflection on the inability to cure and understand illnesses of the mind during the mid to late 1800s.
Opening on the 24th of October 1867, the Mayday Hills Hospital was originally named the "Ovens Lunatic Asylum", a title which is very much a product of its time. Whilst controversial, changes to the name is part of the history of the Hospital and can provide much insight into the understanding of mental illness throughout history and the use/disuse of this term provides information into the reception/changing opinions of mental illness in society. The Hospital would later become known as the "Mayday Hills Asylum" and/or "Mayday Hills Hospital" with the latter being the most commonly used title. An article in the Ovens and Murray Advertiser notes that on the 7th of March 1865, the foundation stone of the Hospital was laid (it would officially open in 1867) and that it was such a moment of accomplishment and joy for Beechworth that a letter to the editor even suggested that there should be a holiday dedicated to the day the foundation stone as laid. This reveals an extent to which the townspeople of early Beechworth valued the construction of the Hospital in their town. It provided the town with a sense of prestige and honour.
At first glance, the remains of the Mayday Hills Hospital in Beechworth, Victoria, inspire tragedy, trauma and beauty. The buildings themselves, with their Italianate style Renaissance architecture designed by J.J. Clark (Craig 2000, 49 & Smith 2016, 203) reflect a bygone period of European and Australian history. The gardens provide a sense of tranquility and beauty. The experience of those within these walls remains a valuable area of study to provide a more complete understanding. This particular hospital is considered the fourth of its like and one of three identified as the largest of their kind. The Mayday Hills Hospital is a sister to the Kew and Ararat Asylums in Melbourne which are both located in relative proximity.
Understanding the role of the Mayday Hills Hospital in Beechworth history is integral to understanding the development of the goldfields town, but also for providing important information as to the history of caring for, and the reception of, mental illnesses in Australian and wider European history. Mayday Hills provides a case study which can be researched through oral history, an analysis of the grounds/buildings and through images like these. Images like these depict the strong façade of the Hospital and provide a glimpse into the tranquility of the gardens. This has been done deliberately to provide a sense of comfort and healing about the building to those looking from the outside. Further research into the importance of the Hospital in Beechworth and it's connection to the town will be supported through images like these kept in the Mayday Hills photo album in the collection of the Burke Museum.
Black and white rectangular photograph printed on photographic paper mounted on card
Inscriptions & markings
"Early nurses quarters, Beechworth Mental Hospital, now May Day Hills Hospital."