For nearly a hundred years Z Ward Glenside Hospital was a high-security prison for criminals and dangerous mentally ill people. During most of that time the thousands of Z Ward inmates were men, but by the 1960's some women were also incarcerated in separate cells.
Although originally known as the Hospital for Criminal Mental Defectives, in the early days some people were detained simply because they were poor. Others were mentally ill patients who lived their whole lives in Z Ward, and were ultimately buried in a pauper's grave at West Terrace Cemetery.
Some People Kept in a Lunatic Asylym Were Not Mentally Ill, Just Poor
The true stories of some of the people held at Z Ward can now be heard on the new Murder and Madness tour from Adelaide's Haunted Horizons. Unlike the Paranormal Night Tours, the Murder and Madness tour focuses on the tales of patients at Z Ward, and the reasons why they were there.
One mentally ill man was lucky to be imprisoned at Parkside Mental Hospital for less than a year. Elias Gaha was a 24 year old Lebanese immigrant who "ran berserk with a rifle on the Railways Oval during the country cricket carnival, and shot two fieldsmen, one fatally". He was certified insane, and held in Z Ward of Glenside Hospital for a year before being deported.
Murderer Koorman Tomayeff Was Mentally Ill, Certified Insane and Died in Z Ward
In 1921 Riverton railway station was the scene of a tragedy. The peace in this quiet town in the Gilbert Valley was shattered when Koorman Tomayeff fired shots, injuring several people and killing Member of Parliament Percy Brookfield. He too was certified insane, and lived the rest of his days in Z Ward. When he died in 1948, Tomayeff's body was sent to the Anatomy School.
Riverton Railway Station, Scene of a Murder and Madness (Image: State Library)
When Frederick Ruskin murdered George Hillburn at Gilles Plains in 1913, he split Hillburn's skull open with a slashhook. Despite a spirited defence from Sir Josiah Symon, it took the jury only 14 minutes to find Ruskin guilty of murder. His Z Ward patient notes record that Ruskin had "delusions of persecution - otherwise quiet - physical condition good".
Of course not all patients within the walls of Z Ward were murderers. Some were more of a risk to themselves, and needed more care than available within Parkside Mental Hospital (later Glenside Hospital). Before the Second World War little medical treatment was available for the mentally ill, and restraints were routinely used when required. After the war pharmaceutical medicine progressed steadily, and patients were medicated to control their behaviour.
Mentally Ill Patients at Z Ward Glenside in 1963 (Image: Glenside Hospital Historical Society)
Few people in the general public knew of Z Ward, and even fewer knew what happened within its walls before it closed around 1976. Many of the stories of the patients held here are sad, and some are shocking.
The Murder and Madness tour at Z Ward tells the historical facts about life in this secure hospital sensitively and without exaggeration. It relies on carefully researched histories from the archives, and where possible draws upon patient records. It also benefits from the real life oral testimony of staff who worked in the former Hospital for Criminal Mental Defectives at Glenside Hospital.
Tour Guide Alison Oborn Takes a Murder and Madness Tour at Z Ward Glenside
Tour guide Alison Oborn is passionate when telling stories about our history, and this is immediately apparent on the Murder and Madness tour. She shows compassion and respect for the people incarcerated here, and demonstrates a good depth of knowledge for this tour. Alison is owner of Adelaide's Haunted Horizons, named "Best Tour Operator in S.A" in the State Tourism Awards 2015 and 2016.
The Z Ward Day Tours with Glenside Hospital Historical Society guide David Buob are still available regularly. They concentrate more on the history of the institution and medical treatment of patients, while Murder and Madness speaks of specific patient case histories. For privacy reasons there is no mention of patients who lived at Z Ward in the last fifty years.
In 2014 Z Ward was bought by Beach Energy, and since that time they have permitted the National Trust to use Z Ward for tours, functions, Open Days and other events. Income raised from these is used to maintain this beautiful State Heritage building, and to fund an oral history project documenting the history of Z Ward, Glenside Hospital.
The Murder and Madness Tour Supports the National Trust and Organisations Supporting the Mentally Ill
Adelaide's Haunted Horizons has partnered with the National Trust of South Australia to operate tours here. Part proceeds of tours goes to the National Trust, and to mental health charity Beyond Blue. For more about the history of Z Ward, see this article.
Glenside Hospital Staff at Z Ward ca 1940 (Image: Glenside Hospital Historical Society)