Lunatic & Invalid Asylum

In 1847 the Female Factory was re-purposed as an Asylum for Lunatic and Invalid Convicts and in December 1848 was gazetted as the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum administered by the Tarban Creek Asylum at Gladesville. Until 1852 it was a largely female institution and by 1855, 187 male and 92 female patients were in residence. Numbers steadily increased with 675 male and 384 female patients in residence by 1885.  

Elizabeth Statham, earlier Matron Superintendent of the Female Factory, was first appointed to manage the Asylum, with her husband Edward, as Storekeeper. In 1865 Jane Burn was appointed Matron following Elizabeth Statham’s death and James Robertson Firth appointed Storekeeper. The first Surgeon Superintendents were Dr Patrick Hill who died a few months after taking up the position in 1852, and Dr Richard Greenup.

Inadequate Facilities

From the outset the inadequate facilities and the general poor standard of the buildings were criticised. These concerns were addressed by Dr Richard Greenup who introduced a number of reforms particularly concerning patients held in isolation cells and in the use of restraints. Greenup also raised concerns about the number of troublesome criminals transferred from gaols to the asylum which contributed to further overcrowding. His more humane methods, ironically perhaps, lead to his own death from stabbing wounds inflicted to him by an unrestrained patient in 1866.

‘Considerable excitement was created throughout the town this morning when it was reported that Dr. Greenup, the medical superintendent of the Lunatic Asylum, had been stabbed by one of the inmates. It appears that the Doctor was engaged in making his customary morning inspections-proceeding to the new wing recently erected for the criminal insane. …On coming to the cell occupied by a man named James Cameron, Dr Greenup - who seems to have noticed something unusual in the mans appearance- said to him. “You look pale this morning Cameron.” To which Cameron replied, “You don’t see any green in my eye, do you.” Immediately and with extreme rapidity, drawing a pair of large scissors from his sleeve in which they had been concealed. These he held with both hands, and with great force stabbed the Doctor with the closed blades, which entered the lower part of the abdomen apparently to their full extent, immediately withdrawing them.’ Tuesday 17th July 1866.

Additions & AlTerations

Under Greenup’s administration, the Asylum went through a period of expansion with many new buildings constructed and the neighboring Marsden property 'Mill Dam farm' and a further 26 acres from the Government Domain acquired. Part of which is the present day site of Westmead and the new Childrens Hospital.

Soon after the Criminal Lunatic Act was passed in 1861, work started on a new ward for the criminally insane. Situated on the present day corner of Greenup Drive and River Rd, this 3 storey sandstone building was the subject of much criticism and eventually demolished in 1963. 

These additions did little to improve conditions and by 1872 the institution was in a very poor state. In 1876 a Parliamentary Select Committee of Inquiry heralded a new era which saw the building of a large two storey 'spinal' range (wards 2,3) in 1877.

Criminal Insane building photo courtesy T Smith

A large clock once located in the central arch above the main entrance to the Female Factory Barrack was relocated in a purpose built tower in the new Ward 1 building. This clock was 1 of 5 gifted to the colony of NSW by King George IV in 1822 and manufactured by Thwaite & Reed, Clerkenwell London, its insignia appeared on items associated with the Female Factory.

Ward 1 Bell Tower Cumberland Hospital

In August 1883 the Female Factory Main Barrack was approved for demolition and by June 1885 Ward 1 was erected partly over its footprint. Next built was Ward 4 in 1889; Ward 8 and Ward 9, bathrooms and a Main Kitchen in 1892. 

During the 1890’s the Asylum went through an intense period of reconstruction with wards for the dangerous and refractory non-criminal patients built in 1889-90. Until then the Third Class (1838) penitentiary building had been used for female patients but this too was demolished when a new weatherboard division was built. Many of the later buildings constructed were designed by government architect, Walter Liberty Vernon and are outstanding examples of the architecture of the day, such as Glengarriff  - built as the Superintendent’s Residence in 1906 and Jacaranda House Nurses Quarters c1900, and the Administration Block built in 1909 over the original entrance gate and porters lodge of the Female Factory. 

Female Factory complex entrance photo courtesy Society of Australians Genealogists
Admissions building Cumberland Hospital

In the late 19th century new ideas in the treatment and care of people in mental hospitals was introduced. An important component was the creation of tranquil environs with extensive plantings, landscape elements, pathways and other features.  A glimpse of what these gardens once looked like at their peak, can be seen today during the annual Wistaria Festival in September. The famous Wistaria gardens were established by Dr W C Williamson Medical Superintendent 1900 to 1921, in the grounds surrounding ‘Glengarriff’ located on the opposite side of the river in the hospitals west campus. Plantings throughout the site are a highly significant assemblage of Australian and exotic species and many of the fountains, kerbs, walls and structures were built by patients as rehabilitation activities.

Wistaria Garden, Cumberland Hospital
Glengarriff Cumberland Hospital photo courtesy T Smith


Overcrowding remained a persistent problem and in 1888 the former Protestant Orphan School at Rydalmere (now UWS Campus) was converted into a hospital for the insane and was annexed to the Parramatta Asylum until 1892. The hospital also utilised the adjacent Parramatta Gaol complex from 1918 until 1922. In 1923 a Royal Commission recommended that the adjacent Girls Industrial School (former Roman Catholic Orphanage) be re-purposed as a hospital for the criminally insane, however this did not eventuate. By the 1970s emphasis had changed from that of in-patient care to community based services and the development of psychiatric units in general hospitals. In 1983 the institution was renamed Cumberland Hospital.

Other Names

Parramatta Convict Lunatic and Invalid Establishment, Lunatic Asylum, Hospital for the Insane, Mental Hospital, Psychiatric Hospital, Cumberland Hospital & NSW Institute of Psychiatry.

Site Map & Key to Buildings

Cumberland Hospital Site Map