OUR MENTAL HEALTH JOURNEY
"Out of sight, out of mind" - Unknown
Henry Schultze died on a bloody mattress at Mt View Lunatic Asylum in 1895. Laura Walters and Katie Kenny explore how his life, and countless others, were affected by society's attitude towards some of our most vulnerable.
The apple trees wind their way up the orange brick, at home in the manicured gardens of Wellington’s Government House.
Principal attendant Frances McCaffery knows every inch of the property that used to be Mt View Lunatic Asylum. She reaches between the leaves and runs her fingers over the wall, revealing the history of the site’s previous residents.
A small windmill; a crudely drawn house. The 19th century graffiti adorns the bricks, along with a smattering of small arrows.
Henry Schultze stands out from the other names on the Convicts’ Wall — named for those who built it, rather than those who spent their lives on the inside.
Schultze had been a patient at the asylum for four years when he left his name on this wall, which then separated the airing court from the male exercise yard.
In 1895, at a coronial inquest following Schultze’s death, Mt View medical superintendent Ernest Edward Fooks described the 53-year-old as suffering from “chronic mania”.
“Mentally, he was well behaved and industrious but with constant delusions and now and then acute attacks of excitement lasting for a few days at a time under the impression he was subjected to several mysterious influences through the walls and ceilings of his rooms at night.”
Schultze died on a mattress with blood pouring from his mouth after an ulcer burst in his aorta. The doctor’s injection of whisky and morphine was little help. Schultze had syphilis.
As with thousands of people who were locked away in New Zealand’s early institutions, his condition - which led to psychosis and eventually death - would now be not only treatable, but preventable.
Mt View was built in 1872 and opened the next year as a solution to overcrowding at Wellington’s Karori asylum. Karori, which started as one house with one patient, was established soon after the adoption of The Lunatics Ordinance in 1846 — the first legislation relating to mental illness. The law stated a lunatic could be admitted to a jail, house of correction, public hospital or asylum.
By 1905 more than 250 people were contained in Mt View’s imposing building, which sat on a 46-hectare block in the heart of Wellington - a site now home to Government House.
New Zealand’s asylums were designed to be a refuge for the mentally ill, who were once left on the street, or hidden away in dark corners. But a lack of understanding meant the system didn’t differentiate between those with “chronic mania”, the “feeble-minded”, drunks, and those with sexually transmitted diseases. Asylums became a catch-all for society’s ills.
Government House educator Owen Mann says it wasn’t hard to end up in a mental asylum in 19th century New Zealand.
“We like to talk about kings and queens and wars and things like that. This is a really human story about people who came here… and something’s gone wrong.”
At Mt View, staff treatment of patients became subject to two royal commissions of inquiry.
In 1881, Schultze took the stand as a witness and talked of being “thrown to the ground and kicked about the face” by an attendant named Cook. “Little and Harvey, other warders, kicked me at the same time. I have marks now of their kicks.”
The asylum closed in 1910 and patients were moved to the rural setting of the Porirua Lunatic Asylum.
McCaffery says Mt View’s remains were pushed over the edge of the surrounding banks during the demolition. Now little can be seen, other than broken bits of asylum-branded china buried in the hills, an old concrete fountain among the bushes and Henry’s wall.
Those with mental illness too frequently find their stories buried — out of sight, out of mind — their lives crumbling from the inside out, like the bricks of New Zealand's old asylums.
We know societal attitudes have changed over time, but as our mental health system enters a crucial era of reconstruction we ask whether attitudes have progressed enough, and what more we can do to not only care for society’s most vulnerable, but give them the chance to flourish.
A preference for forgetting
Barbara Brookes sits next to a table piled high with books. The sun streams into her University of Otago office as she searches for a book on asylum photography and adds it to the mound.
“Although they’re truncated and not a full life in any sense, what interests me is the captured biographies of ordinary people who wouldn’t otherwise enter the historical record,” the historian says.
Brookes believes psychiatric medical records tell the stories of those with no public voice.
“You have to record why you’re denying someone their liberty.
“The difference about being found a criminal is that you get a sentence and you get out. But being found a lunatic you have an indeterminate sentence. So there is a continual stream of paperwork to justify denying the liberty of the subject.”
That paperwork now sits in Dunedin Archives in heavy, leather-bound medical casebooks.
While Brookes specialises in 19th century psychiatric patients, particularly those admitted to Seacliff Lunatic Asylum north of Dunedin, her profession arms her with a wider lens.
“The history of mental health care demonstrates that from time to time, an event will lead to an eruption of public concern about the mentally ill,” she writes in the foreword of Unfortunate Folk.
“Yet, for most of the time, the mentally ill take a low profile in the preoccupations of the community. The public preference is for forgetting… because the fear of madness reflects a deeper fear of self-disintegration.”
Her role is to make sure society doesn’t forget.
I suppose you want a madwoman?
Johanna Beckett’s sepia-toned photo is glued in one of the leather-bound medical casebooks in Dunedin Archives. She stares out from the page, her hands pressed to the sides of her head.
She’d fixed her stare on medical superintendent Truby King as he photographed her in 1890, on her second admission to Seacliff.
“I suppose you want a picture of a mad woman? I’d better stick some straw in my hair and make faces.”
The 44-year-old's Southland miner husband was believed to be a violent “biblical literal”. Meanwhile, King described Beckett as suffering from “religious mania”.
There was “no chance of Mrs Beckett’s recovery”, King submitted in 1910, as Justice Williams granted Henry Beckett the divorce he wanted on grounds of lunacy.
The institutionalisation model was not, even for much of the 20th Century, focused on people getting better, or allowing them return to their families and live a life beyond their illness.
Beckett’s page in the casebook is overwritten with the words: “Discharged — recovered.”
More than a century later, Arthur Wright waits at the edge of Seacliff’s enchanted forest. The usually cloudy skies have given way to misty rain. The droplets not caught by his greying beard slide off his oilskin coat.
“You picked the worst day,” he says as he strides onto Truby King Reserve.
Wright tucks a leather folder under his arm, and squelches across the vast lawn in his gumboots towards the site of the once-grand asylum — the largest building in the country when built in 1884. “It would’ve dwarfed Larnach castle,” Wright says. He paints a picture of the boiler house, nurses' home, farmer’s cottage, ward for the criminally insane, the vegetable garden, poultry farm, superintendent’s house and ward 5 — where 37 women died in a fire in 1942, their remains unidentifiable.
Wright moved to Seacliff, 30 minutes north of Dunedin, as a teenager when his stepfather took a job as an attendant. They’d often have wandering patients stop by for a cup of tea.
Wright walks past a struggling magnolia tree. Beneath it is a moss-covered stone with writing from Janet Frame.
“... the others too old or too ill who had not been out walking looked up dully as we entered with our cheeks pink, excited with what we had seen — the pigs the calves the doctor’s washing on the line the magnolia tree (the pride of the hospital) in bloom. And we had been to the gate, to the cattle stop at the gate!"
A grand vision
One morning, quite recently, Helen Bichan passed a man she recognised on the street.
It was 9am, and he was “mooching around the city”. He was a former resident who was resettled — the term Bichan prefers to deinstitutionalised — in Wellington after Porirua Psychiatric Hospital’s closure.
“In here, he was occupied,” she says, “but out there …”
The asylums, the hospitals, were supposed to be places of safety and compassion for those who couldn’t cope on their own.
Society agreed to a “beautiful vision” when it built the institutions. But, Bichan says, we then proceeded to overload the system.
“That’s been the story over and over.
“Although they tried to follow the moral management model, all the failures tended to relate to overcrowding and all-round under-resourcing particularly of skilled staff. That’s where we start.”
Ministry of Health director of mental health and addiction services John Crawshaw echoes Bichan’s thoughts. The institutional movement started “as a humane exercise to actually give people a life”, he says.
“But what we now know from the sociology and psychology of institutions is if you don’t actively work against them, the institution itself imposes a depersonalising and dehumanising environment on everyone.”
Bichan walks room to room in the old F ward at Porirua, where she served as superintendent from 1986 to 1988, before becoming chief medical officer for the Wellington Area Health Board. Thanks to Bichan and others, it’s now Porirua Hospital Museum.
Context is vital to understanding the evolution of services, she says. The current community care model was the grand vision of the 20th century, like the asylum model was the grand vision of an earlier time.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see what was wrong with the institutional approach: Problems were exacerbated by overwhelming demand. Likely the same thing will be noted in 50 years, when reflecting on today’s system.
As Bichan points out photographs, medical devices, case files, training tools, her talk turns to the intellectually handicapped women whom she cared for as a medical officer in the women’s villa. They had grown up in the hospital, in a time before separate services were developed for people with intellectual disabilities.
“I learned from them just what it meant to be a real community. It was the happiest ward in the hospital."
Over several visits, Bichan repeats this story: “We had a school, and one of the triumphs in my day was to sneak a number of the intellectually disabled women into the school, until the education department said they were too old… they'd never had the chance.”
In the end, some learned to write their names.
A messenger from God
Building One is nestled in the heart of Unitec’s Auckland campus. The yellow brick building is a formidable sight.
Opened as Whau Lunatic Asylum west of the central city in 1865, the building is now home to design students who say they’re inspired by its history — the original tiles, long corridors and winding staircases. The main building of the old institution, which was renamed Carrington Hospital, hasn’t always housed pleasant memories but its preservation pays homage to those who came before.
Auckland’s Kingseat Hospital, 45 minutes south, is a very different sight to the respectfully preserved Building One. Pulin Investments bought the 59 hectares of hospital land and decaying buildings from Tainui Maori Trust for $9.75 million in 2010. A real estate sign at the gate suggests the decrepit property could be leased as a filming location or for residential purposes. DIY washing lines are strung up outside the old, brick villas. Inside, are bathrooms with no doors, bedrooms with no carpets.
Other buildings are used for entertainment — Asylum Paintball and haunted attraction Spookers occupy the former maximum security unit and nurses hostel.
Debra Lampshire takes in the scene from outside the fence. This was her home for 18 years but today the owners say she’s not allowed past the gate.
Lampshire remembers the day she left the hospital. She piled into a blue van with other patients and they made their way down the palm-lined driveway. The van with “Kingseat” on the side was the same one used for outings. This would be Lampshire’s last outing.
Now 60, the Aucklander was admitted to Kingseat when she was 17.
Lampshire started hearing voices when she was six. Soon the maternal voice that soothed her to sleep gave way to ones saying she was “stupid and dumb”. By high school the voices intensified: “they don’t want you here”, “they’re planning to kill you”, “they’re going to beat you up”.
Lampshire’s psychosis reached a point where she jumped off roofs because she believed she could fly. She ran naked through the neighbourhood and cut herself to remove demons. The voices told her she had super powers — she could kill people just by staring at them.
“I thought I was a messenger from God,” she says.
The doctor suggested admitting Lampshire to Kingseat. When she arrived at the white stucco gate, with ‘Loony Bin’ painted on the side, she wasn’t worried; she didn’t realise she would be staying.
But “once you get committed, you don’t get uncommitted”.
During the next 18 years, Lampshire became “madder and madder”.
There wasn’t any therapy, just medication.
“The concept of recovery didn’t exist. It was a maintenance process; it was glorified babysitting. It was there so that people in the community would feel safer and could feel better. It was never, ever about me.”
The woman with the vibrant red hair and expressive face says she was told she would never leave - like Johanna Beckett and countless others locked in New Zealand’s institutions for more than 100 years.
Lampshire’s mother visited until the staff told her to stop. When they transferred her to Porirua Hospital without informing her family, the letters and gifts ended.
Lampshire was discharged in the 1990s. Not because she had recovered but because the hospital was closing. At 33 she was “mad as anything” and unable to take care of herself.
Her turning point came when she was talking to a man who restored classic cars. People were ready to throw the cars away, he said. But in the end, given some care, they did what they were always made to do.
“The only thing that made a difference was somebody listening, somebody who could be bothered,” Lampshire says.
She now works at Auckland District Health Board, helping other people who hear distressing voices. She also teaches health professionals at Auckland University. She’s received awards for her work in mental health and talks at conferences around the world.
“I found my peers in madness,” Lampshire says.
It’s those peers she hears when she stands looking through the fence. Some of them never left the system but they tell Lampshire they’re glad she did.
She says she’s no longer a messenger for God but she speaks for those who have no voice. She never again wants people to be locked away, dehumanised and abandoned.
“The idea that someone else wouldn’t have to go through what I went through keeps me going.”
Trying to behave normally
Paula Jessop’s house isn’t cluttered. Her fridge isn’t adorned with magnets or shopping lists. It’s minimalistic, a symptom of her autism.
She doesn’t do small talk. “We love deep and meaningful conversations,” she says.
Jessop’s Asperger’s went undiagnosed for a lot of her life. She believes this is part of the reason her mental health reached breaking point.
She was a teenager when she was first admitted to Waikato’s Tokanui Hospital.
“It was quite frightening at first, being admitted to a psychiatric ward. All I knew of people in psychiatric wards was that they were crazy and I didn’t consider myself crazy.”
Tokanui opened in 1912 and was land banked by the Office for Treaty Settlements after its closure.
Jessop’s time in and out of the hospital during the 1990s is hazy but she remembers her ward. She takes in the sight of the crumbling building as the security contractor and his arthritic fox terrier look on.
The hospital was “an extremely disempowering environment”, she says. “You were treated somewhat like naughty children.”
Like many psychiatric patients, Jessop had stints in and out of care. But the system meant to help led to further discrimination.
“At one stage I’d been in Tokanui and then went back to work and my supervisor told everyone where I’d been, then people called me a nutter and stopped talking to me.”
Even inside the hospital, Jessop didn’t feel able to tell the truth about her experience. Fearing judgment and reprimand, she hid her illness as best she could.
It was only after spending time in a community respite centre, where she ran into an old friend from Tokanui, that Jessop decided to it was time to stop lying and embrace who she is. She became a support worker and in 2010 ran a group for adults with Asperger’s.
“When we got together, and talked about our experiences, and stopped trying to behave normally, that experience for all of us inspired us to feel good about ourselves.”
Ordinary humans, terrible problems
“The concentration camp” — that’s what the former patient calls Lake Alice.
He was first admitted to what became New Zealand’s most notorious modern-day institution in 1989, when he was 16.
The hospital located in the rural back-blocks, 30 minutes north-west of Palmerston North, opened in August 1950 as a response to overcrowding in the country’s other asylums. With its National Secure Unit — known by its occupants as ‘The Block’ — the hospital became a dumping ground for the country's most difficult patients.
This patient, who now lives at home with his parents, recalls bullying staff and being forced to walk the 'mad mile' around a paddock behind the villas. He remembers the silent, 6ft 4in (193cm) Bulgarian affectionately named Coogie Bear, and his best friend at Lake Alice, the child sex offender Lloyd McIntosh.
He also recalls an ally in an unlikely position of power — the hospital's first and last chaplain.
When Jonathan Boyes started at Lake Alice in 1987 the New Zealand Hospital Chaplains’ Association featured him on the cover of its monthly newsletter.
A crudely drawn Boyes sits atop an ark. “Induct a chaplain: break a drought,” it reads.
“They were just ordinary human beings with terrible problems,” the Wellington retiree says, his eyes welling with tears.
“I loved them; I still feel for them. They were damaged but amazing people… Almost everything was harsh and terrible. They couldn’t see beyond the walls. Very few had anything to look forward to.”
Boyes and a handful of forward-thinking staff took it upon themselves to implement small-but-meaningful changes for those written off as hopeless cases, like the “rockers and moaners” in villa 15 at the back of the hospital.
A group of nurses fundraised to take patients on a trip to Picton. “In 20 or 30 years, they’d have never had any hopes like that,” he says.
A psychiatrist ordered a carpenter to remove the locks from the villa doors while the charge nurse was on a day off.
In Boyes’ view, the last years of Lake Alice were the best years. The years when patients experienced the little pleasures — fish and chips on a Tuesday and trips to nearby towns.
But those small acts of compassion didn’t come from a system looking to restore hope and dignity. They were initiatives taken by compassionate staff who saw an opportunity to make a small improvement.
The local farming family who bought the property when the hospital closed in 1999 has secured signs to the gates: "private property", "trespassers will be prosecuted".
Most of the villas and hospital buildings have been torn down. Soon the physical evidence of Lake Alice will give way to grazing land.
But the stories of those who lived through the institutional era will not be forgotten. Behind the overgrowth, they're etched into history.
Where to get help
Need to talk? 1737: free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Youthline: 0800 376 633 free text 234 or email email@example.com
Samaritans: 0800 726 666
Healthline: 0800 611 116
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 or free text 4202 or www.depression.org.nz
The Lowdown: www.thelowdown.co.nz or free text 5626
SPARX.org.nz: online e-therapy tool
OUTline NZ: 0800 688 5463 for confidential telephone support for the LGBTQI+ family, as well as their friends and families
Note: all helplines are available 24/7. For further information about supports available to you, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free resource and information service (09 623 4812 or firstname.lastname@example.org) during business hours.
This project was made possible by funding from the Frozen Funds Charitable Trust, through the Mental Health Foundation.
Words: Laura Walters and Katie Kenny
Illustration and layout: Jemma Cheer
Visuals editor: Alex Liu
Copy editor: Joanne Butcher