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Glenside Hospital in Adelaide's leafy eastern suburbs is outwardly a place of tranquility. Built in 1870 and originally known as Parkside Lunatic Asylum, it was once a place where those abandoned by society were confined.
Fortunately in Victorian times more enlightened approaches to dealing with the mentally ill were being tried. Fresh air, good food, and exercise replaced the practice of chaining patients for the amusement of visiting socialites. However it wasn't even necessary to be mentally ill to be admitted to a lunatic asylum - some patients were homeless, prostitutes or just poor people who were unable to care for themselves. Inmates found to be criminally insane were later kept in the notorious Z Ward of the lunatic asylum.
Main Entrance of the Former Parkside Lunatic Asylum
For much of its history more than 1,000 people were confined at Glenside Hospital at any one time. Overcrowding was not uncommon and patients at times shared cells, or lived in the corridors outside wards. However contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that patients were ever confined in the underground cellars at Glenside Hospital.
The Parkside Lunatic Asylum was built with two large underground cellars on either side of the main kitchen and their location gives a clue to their primary purpose - food storage. With over a thousand inmates and no refrigeration it was vital to keep food in good condition as long as possible, and the many storage rooms in the underground cellars stayed constantly cool all year round.
It is true that iron beds were placed in the cellars, but the reason for that is not the obvious one. A hundred years ago Adelaide's water table was much higher, and the cellars regularly flooded in the early days. Placing sacks of vegetables on beds kept the food dry and further away from vermin.
Food Would Stay Cool All Year Round in the Underground Cellars
Alcohol for medicinal purposes was also stored securely in the cellars. Patients were sometimes treated to a tot of rum or whiskey, for example to loosen phlegm while suffering a cold. Goods were loaded into the cellars through large double doors at ground level, similar to those still found outside old pubs today. When required, food was taken back up internal stairs which surface near the former kitchens.
Food and Dining at the asylum
Former Staff Dining Room, Now Recreation Room for South Australian Film Corporation at Adelaide Studios
The Parkside Lunatic Asylum staff kitchens were located on the ground floor. The kitchen measures 48 feet by 24 and the roof, which is ornamented more like a chapel than a kitchen, and is of pine, has been stained and otherwise improved so that it presents the appearance of a place of worship. It overlooked an airing court where are the 'unable' and 'unwilling' to work inmates.
A large internal courtyard separated the kitchen from living areas at the front of the building. This design reflected a serious concern for safety and minimised the risk of fire spreading from the bakery or kitchen. Nowadays the former staff dining room is used for a recreation room by staff at Adelaide Studios.
The Courtyard Gardens at Adelaide Studios Once Contained Fountains and Fish Ponds
A Lunacy Royal Commission was appointed in 1909 to look into the operation of Parkside Lunatic Asylum. At one hearing evidence was given that rotten potatoes were purchased, meat was exposed to flies, rats, and mice and that bread purchased contained too much water. Another writer commented that the bill of fare daily is plain and plentiful but on looking over the list and making enquiries, it struck us as somewhat monotonous.
Daily Life in The Wards
Parts of Adelaide Studios Were Used as a Film Set for the Anzac Girls Mini Series
While Adelaide Studios have remodelled parts of the former Glenside Hospital, most of the building remains much as it was in the days of the Parkside Lunatic Asylum. Cells and wards remain intact, with bars set in the windows of rooms that were occupied by men.
Aerial View of the Magnificent Gardens at Parkside Mental Hospital 1938 (Image Courtesy State Library SA B7524)
The asylum had large gardens which grew vegetables for the patients, and kept sheep, cattle and pigs for food. One year 30 tons of trombones were successfully harvested. Patients were expected to work in the garden or laundry where possible, but those that did not could remain in day rooms or exercise in the secure airing courts.
In the evening entertainment was provided sometimes, including a magic lantern show of travel in foreign countries.
Dedicated accommodation for nurses was built in 1954 and called Eastwood Lodge, but despite being nominated for State heritage listing the building was demolished in 2014.
Life and Death in a Lunatic Asylum
Decorative Cast Iron on Gables at Adelaide Studios
In the early twentieth century there was a high death rate at Parkside Lunatic Asylum. There were around 120 patient deaths per annum, being about 10% of the inmate population. Of course many residents were elderly and nearing the end of the their lives, but death by suicide was not uncommon too.
In 1924 more than 40 returned soldiers were said to have been living at the Parkside Mental Hospital, probably suffering from shell shock. The community and the Red Cross rallied to look after these men, although concerns were expressed that the soldiers should be treated elsewhere.
As recently as 1943 a patient died while violently resisting being placed in a straitjacket. Evidence was later given at his inquest that suggested that castor oil was sometimes given to patients as a punishment - even when in a straitjacket.
The Bell in the Clock Tower of Former Glenside Hospital Administration Building
In 1949 there were further allegations that the straitjacket was used to threaten patients who did not want to eat their dinner. Other patients were threatened that they would not get an egg for breakfast if they did not do as they were told.
A stay at Parkside Lunatic Asylum was never a holiday for the mentally ill.