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If we are honest to ourselves, many of us would acknowledge that we have a prurient interest in prisons, psychiatric hospitals and other places where people are confined against their will.
In South Australian history, there would be few places more unpleasant than behind the forbidding walls of Z Ward at Glenside Hospital or the Old Adelaide Gaol.
During construction Z Ward was described by the Architect-in-Chief's Office as being constructed for criminal and refractory (meaning obstinate, disobedient or stubbornly resisting) patients. However in reality it housed a broader group.
With the assistance of the Glenside Historical Society I can now reveal the story of State Heritage Listed Z Ward's past.
It was not long after European settlement that the need for a mental hospital (then known as a lunatic asylum) became apparent. In the absence of a purpose built facility, people suffering mental illness were originally sent to gaol.
Adelaide's First Lunatic Asylum Was Located Near Here
Between 1852 and 1870 the Adelaide Lunatic Asylum was located in a building on North Terrace near the south-eastern side of the current Botanic Gardens, until the Parkside Lunatic Asylum (later the Parkside Mental Hospital and now Glenside Hospital) was built in 1870. It was intended to house 700 patients and staff.
Glenside Hospital grew steadily in size over the years, and a convention was followed in locating buildings: those closest to Fullarton Rd (such as Cleland House) were reception centres used to accommodate new patients.
Thus the nurse's home (later called Eastwood Lodge) was located near the Fullarton Rd entrance.
As one progressed further from Fullarton Rd, the patient's need for incarceration was higher.
The majority of the patients were housed in the large main building, later called the Administration Block and now the Adelaide studios of the SA Film Corporation. It's likely that some of these patients were held because they were destitute, and without visible means of support.
Finally at the rear of the grounds lay Z Ward - home to the criminally insane, and also used to house prisoners from Adelaide Gaol who were at risk from others.
The Z Ward was originally named L ward and opened in 1885. The change in name from L to Z became necessary because of the likelihood of misinterpretation with the advent of the telephone ("Hell Ward").
It had two floors with service and recreation areas and several rooms for the supervising attendants. The intent was to provide accommodation for violent and other difficult patients who could not be managed in the general hospital areas.
Z ward could accommodate up to 40 patients mainly in single cells with minimal and secured furniture. Windows were barred and the entrance had double barred doors.
From the outside Z Ward presents as a grand and imposing building. The high brick walls adorned by contrasting bricks, and the large iron gates add a forbidding aspect to the building which is not relieved on entry.
Signs on the walls caution against entry. This warning must not be taken lightly, and local youths have occasionally committed this folly. It is far easier to get inside Z Ward than it is to get out (as a smart person might expect).
Part of Z Ward's security is a Ha Ha wall. Immediately inside the 3m high walls is a large 3m deep ditch around the entire circumference. This ditch makes it impossible to scale the wall without ropes or some other aid.
Nowadays Z Ward has many plants growing randomly in the grounds, but these were not present when the ward was in use.
Staff & Patient Enter Airing Court (November 13 1963)
Entering Z Ward was a cumbersome but secure process. After passing through the main gates and doors, a new arrival would be held in a small lobby while the main door and grille was secured. The Charge Nurse would then retreat to their office off the lobby, and lock themselves in their room.
Inside the ward, the high ceilings are curved galvanised iron with a layer of concrete above for the upstairs floor. The floors were made of large slate tiles, although sometime in the 70's (after the ward closed) some of the slate was lifted and then stolen after being left unsecured. The un-tiled area was later covered with concrete.
The interior looks stark and grim with natural light coming from large windows at either end.
The cells were small with a single window containing a strong cast iron frame. Ventilation was supplied via a vertical duct arrangement seen in the corner of the cell. Floorboards were of hardwood, possibly jarrah.
The doors were very thick, very solid, and had two holes. One at eye level, and one near the ground. At one time it would have been necessary to hold a candle to one, while looking through the other.
Life in Z Ward must have been quite regimented, in a similar manner to a prison. Surprisingly I found nothing in my research describing discipline and punishment of patients, although this must surely have occurred.
Meals were eaten in the ward corridor, although at another time an external dining room was used, with an additional gate being added to the exterior wall leading to the dining room.
While outside for exercise, some inmates would walk around the building trailing their hand along the walls. Over the years this caused indentations, and it is possible to feel and see the shape of their fingers where the wall was eroded.
The layout upstairs was quite similar to the ground floor, although the cell windows had small openable apertures and fly screens.
Patients were required to strip before going to bed, leaving their clothing in the corridor.
Z Ward would have contained a mix of inmates - some confined there for their own personal safety, rather than being incarcerated in gaol.
A typical case was that of Thomas Hand, 29 years of age who was admitted to Parkside in 1885 from Adelaide Gaol to serve a six month sentence. His crime was malicious damage and he was not considered dangerous. Hand was transferred from Adelaide Gaol because he thought he had a pea travelling through his body.
Some of those who entered Z Ward would have been detained at the governor's pleasure, effectively for life.
There seems little doubt that upon their death some of the bodies would have been used for anatomical experiments. This would have been particularly prevalent if there were no relatives to claim the body.
Dr Cleland, Colonial Surgeon and Resident Medical Officer of the Parkside Lunatic Asylum, said that the body of the Chinaman Chun Ah Kiom, who died in the Hospital. was taken to the morgue at the asylum.
He sent a notice to the City Coroner through the police, and as the deceased had no friends, it was his intention to send the body to the School of Anatomy. He. sent a notice to that effect to the Inspector of Anatomy.
Dr. Smith telephoned the witness the day after the death and asked if witness would allow him to dissect the body. Witness said certainly, and Dr. Smith came and proceeded to remove the flesh from the skeleton. When he had finished he left the skeleton and the flesh on the table.
After its closure in 1973 there is strong evidence that Z Ward was planned to be used as a museum to house artifacts collected by the Glenside Historical Society. The newspaper report above refers to the proposal, and informal commitments were made by people then in government.
However after some years the prevailing mood changed. The Society was evicted from a building it used as a museum, and told to return all artifacts for disposal, as they were government property.
Virtually the entire museum collection was then destroyed.
In the intervening years little has been done to maintain the premises. There is salt damp in a number of areas, water ingress to the Day Room, and many windows broken by vandals. Despite that, the building overall seems quite sound.
However given the current government's poor heritage preservation record Z Ward may not survive its next 100 years.
Very interesting reading. I can remember my mother saying when I was growing up how the lunatics could be heard screaming on a full moon. Back in the 1950's. We lived in Cleland Avenue very close to Greenhill Road. I am pleased to say after 25 yrs as a Mental Health Nurse, there have been huge advances in the treatment of those with Mental Illnesses. I am interested in seeing Z ward but dont feel it would be an uplifting visit, given the suffering that was contained within those walls. B. Earl
It is fortunate that advances in mental health has seen many barbaric practices removed in its treatment. Even now there is alot of stigma and prejudice faced by people with mental illness. Much of this is potentiated by inaccurate reports/stereotyping of mental illness by the media. It is important to sort out the myths from the facts:http://www.mentalhealthvic.org.au/index.php?id=112
A very interesting and well-written article. Such a shame that Z Ward is being allowed to fall into ruin. Imagine how much more useful it would have been as a museum. People are always interested in places like this, just look at the numbers of people who pass through the old Adelaide Gaol. I can't understand what the Government was thinking in evicting the Glenside Historical Society and destroying their collection. Does anyone know if any reasons were ever given to explain these actions?
An interesting read, however, it's not very well explained from a 'things to do' perspective (unless I missed something). So Z ward is open for anyone to go and look through, for free, any time...day or night? Sounds unlikely. I would love to go and have a look but some more information about that side of things would be great.
"The Society was evicted from a building it used as a museum, and told to return all artifacts for disposal, as they were government property. Virtually the entire museum collection was then destroyed." I can't comment on the artifacts, but all the patient records (c600 plus boxes) dating back to the 1840s are now in the custody of State Recordswww.archives.sa.gov.au
awesome reading thanks for sharing a sad case of yesteryear for some on the inmates they did not know much about mental health which is more clearer today and a lot more happier for some as they do not have to go through misery as they did in the past years
Brings back a lot of memories from my childhood.
My Father was a nurse at (Parkside Mental Hospital) mostly
in "Z" ward.
I remember going there every year for their carnivals.
Also remember each time we drove into the main gates there would be patients screaming out the windows, which was frightening to me as a child.
When my Father passed away in 1961 the patients from "Z" ward wrote a letter to my Mother, that of which I still have today.
I went on to nurse, now retired, and my son is also a nurse.
During my career I had the privilege of nursing a patient ( he was then out of that institution ) my Father had nursed him as a child at Parkside, it was very moving to me.
Thank you for your write up and photos.