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Parramatta Lunatic Asylum

The Asylum for Lunatic and Invalid Convicts opened in March 1848 and officially gazetted as the Lunatic Asylum Parramatta in 1849. 


Previously occupied as a convict Female Factory, with the cessation transportation in 1840  this institutional complex was repurposed as a Benevolent Asylum for sick and destitute convict women, then an Asylum for Lunatic and Invalid convicts  and in 1849 as a public asylum. 


Parramatta Lunatic Asylum was administered by the Tarban Creek Asylum Gladesville and was a largely female institution until 1852, when by 1855, 187 male and 92 female patients were in residence.

Cells & Iron Bars

Described as 'A frightful old factory prison at Parramatta, with its doleful cells and its iron bar doors, ' by Dr Wilson, Catholic Bishop of Hobart in 1863, Parramatta Lunatic Asylum consisted of a free and a criminally insane division.

Parramatta Lunatic Asylum c1870


View from the rear of the former Female Factory 3rd class penitentiary, used for female patients in the Asylum period. c 1870

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View from outer yard to central male ward (former  Female Factory main sleeping barrack)  c1870

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Criminal Insane Ward

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Shelter Shed

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 Male Ward 1 built c1883-85 and Main Courtyard (L) 1821 FF Matrons Residence & committee room. Mitchell Library PXA 359-2 No 36(a) Stoney, Bindon R. c1888

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Asylum admissions administration built c 1909 on footprint of Female Factory entrance. 

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Lunatic Asylum view to admissions inside front entrance. H B Ballard c 1884

Buildings, Acquisition & Expansion

Initially the Asylum land holdings covered an area of 8 acres, this changed in the 1860s firstly with the acquisition of the adjacent Marsden/Blaxland property and then an additional 26 acres from the government domain on the opposite side of the Parramatta river.

Criminally Insane ward

Among the first new buildings constructed was a new sandstone ward for the criminally insane in 1861, with a second floor added in 1863 and a third floor in 1869.

Shelter Shed

Around 1867 a large open shed where male patients took their meals was built. This shed remains today as one of the earliest examples of a shelter shed in Australia.


Ward 1

In 1876 a weatherboard range known as the Central Male Division was built and in 1877 a new two storey sandstone range with dormitories, day rooms, dining rooms and cell block was completed. In the same year work began on the construction of the Female Division, however this large weatherboard complex was not occupied until 1883 at which time the former Female Factory 3rd class penitentiary where female patients had been accommodated, was demolished to make way for male Ward 1. Completed in 1885 and located between the  Female Factory main barrack building and the former FF 3rd class penitentiary, Ward 1 utilised sandstone from the former barrack.  The northern tower of this building features a large clock gifted to the colony of NSW by King George IV in 1822, that once graced the central arch above the entrance to the main barrack. 

Ward 4, laundry & kitchen

In 1889-90 a large sandstone range - later known as male Ward 4 - was completed. Extended in sandstone in 1901, this ward was converted for use as the hospital laundry in 1975. In 1893 a spacious kitchen complex featuring a large clerestory above was built opposite male Ward 1. Most of these buildings are located within the historic core of the Parramatta Female Factory Institutions Precinct.


Many of the later buildings including Jacaranda House Nurses Quarters (c1900), the superintendent's residence Glengarriff (1906); and the Administration Block (1909) were designed by government architect, Walter Liberty Vernon and remain outstanding examples of the architecture of the day.


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.

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Glengarriff Superintendent's Residence. photo T Smith

Tranquil Gardens


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. 


Medical Superintendent Dr W C Williamson (1900 - 1921), established the Wistaria Gardens around his residence 'Glengariff' on the hospital's west campus grounds. Plantings throughout the entire site are a highly significant assemblage of Australian and exotic species with many of the fountains, kerbs, walls and structures built by patients as rehabilitation activities.​

Management & Staff

Among those who first managed the asylum was former Female Factory Matron Elizabeth Statham and her husband Edward as Storekeeper. Following Elizabeth Statham's death in 1865, Jane Burn was appointed Matron with James Robertson Firth as Storekeeper. The first medical staff were Dr Patrick Hill as surgeon superintendent (1848-1852) then Dr Richard Greenup, (1852-1866), Dr Edward Wardley (1866-1872)  Dr Charles Taylor (1872- 1883) Dr Edwin Godson (1883-1900) and Dr William Williamson (1901-1921).

An Unexpected Death

From the outset the inadequate facilities and the general poor standard of the buildings were criticised. In addressing these concerns Dr Greenup introduced a number of reforms particularly for patients held in isolation cells and in the use of restraints. Greenup was also concerned 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.

Cumberland Hospital

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 which continues to operate to the present day. Visit here for more information on plans for the site.

Other Names

Parramatta Lunatic Asylum (1849-68) / Parramatta Hospital for the Insane (1869-1914) / Parramatta Mental Hospital / Parramatta Psychiatric Centre (1915-83) / Cumberland Hospital (1983- )

'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.’  17th July 1866.

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