Mayday Hills Asylum, Beechworth

Beechworth sprung up in the 1800s with the discovery of gold, luring people from all over the world. By 1852 around 8,000 miners lived in Beechworth. Similarly to Ballarat and Ararat, the Beechworth goldfields had a sizeable Chinese influx. In Beechworth’s case, there were around 5,000 living in the area. The Chinese subsequently formed their own community establishing market gardens, shops, a joss house, and temples.

Beechworth Shire Hall
Beechworth Shire Hall
Historic and Cultural Precinct

By 1854 over 100,000 ounces of gold had been mined from the diggings. The gold brought in a large influx of workers, and the tents were slowly replaced by more permanent structures. Beechworth became the central town of the Ovens Goldfields. When the population swelled to 30,000, courthouses, jails, telegraph stations and many other public buildings were built. These buildings were constructed from beautiful sandstone that was abundant in the area. Now known as the Historic and Cultural Precinct, Heritage Victoria and the National Trust protect the over 30 buildings.

Kelly Armour, Beechworth
Kelly Armour, Beechworth
Kelly Country

North East Victoria is ‘Kelly Country’, and Ned figures large in the history and lore at Beechworth. Ned Kelly won a bare-knuckle prize-fight there that lasted twenty rounds. He also spent time in Beechworth Gaol, as did his mother, Ellen Kelly. Ellen Kelly was sentenced to three years with hard labour for attempted murder. His Uncle James was a patient at the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum after shooting dead his sister in law and trying to burn the house down with seventeen family members in it. The Hyperion Hotel hosted the wedding reception of another family member.   Ned was also brought to Beechworth after his capture at the siege of Glenrowan. He received care for his 27 bullet wounds before being shipped to Melbourne for trial and subsequent execution.

A display Ned memorabilia, including armour, guns and a table from the Glenrowan Hotel is housed in the old sub-treasury.

Mayday Hills Asylum

Just up the hill and overlooking Beechworth is Mayday Hills, one of Victoria’s early Lunatic Asylums. Opening in 1867, it was one of the largest asylums, with 1200 ‘beds’ at its peak. The asylum was situated on 106 hectares of farmland, with orchards, kitchen gardens, stables, piggery, and a barn. With medicine¬†being typically grim in victorian times, there was little in the way of treatment. Additionally, it was very easy to commit someone. It took two signatures to be committed (usually a relative and a doctor) but eight to be discharged. Consequently, most who came through the doors never left again.

Signs that you were a lunatic were: hanging out washing on a Sunday, burning the dinner, being an alcoholic or homeless, suffering a nervous breakdown or depression. And in women’s cases, being ‘hysterical’. Children were institutionalised for cerebral palsy, down syndrome, ‘imbecility’, blindness, deafness and answering back to a parent or employer. Men committed their wives as it was simpler to commit them than divorce them.

Mayday Hills, Beechworth
Mayday Hills, Beechworth
Mayday Hills, Beechworth
Children’s ‘airing’ grounds

The sight of children’s play equipment in a place like Mayday Hills was quite creepy. Closing in 1995, it remains intact but mostly abandoned save for the tours run by Beechworth Ghost Tours. A lot of the buildings are for sale, but sales are slow. It seems not many people want to buy houses that are reputedly haunted and on grounds where 3000 patients are buried.

Dangerous Patients Ward
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