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Picturesque Dunedin: or Dunedin and its neighbourhood in 1890

Ashburn Private Lunatic Asylum

Ashburn Private Lunatic Asylum

This useful Institution is the only one of the kind in New Zealand, and it is for the whole Colony. It is situated in the Waikari District, some two miles in a south-westerly direction from the outskirts of Dunedin. It is a lovely spot, and there is nothing in the cheery-looking block of buildings and picturesque surroundings to suggest the idea of a home for the insane. That it is the residence of some retired gentleman in very comfortable circumstances, is more likely to be the conclusion of any onlooker ignorant of its purpose. It was established in 1882 by Mr. James Hume and Dr. Alexander, upon the retirement of the former gentleman from the Superintendency of the Dunedin Lunatic Asylum. It is managed by Mr. Hume, who has had more than 43 years' experience of Asylum work in the Home Country and in the Colony, while Miss Ferguson, previously Matron of the Government Institution, presides over the female page 233division, and Dr. Alexander is the medical attendant. It is licensed under the Lunacy Act, and is subject to the rigid inspection of the Inspector-General of Asylums, who visits when he thinks fit, and examines the patients, and also the buildings in all their parts, and the books, &c, and reports to the Government. It is also visited by Mr. F. R. Chapman, the local inspector, and Mr. J. P. Maitland, the official visitor, and, though a private undertaking, it is, in common with the general asylums of the country, subject to all the provisions of the Act.

Ashburn Hall has accommodation for 40 patients—22 on the male side, and 18 on the female side, and at present it has 33 inmates. Since it was opened, on October 23rd, 1882, there have been 122 admissions, and last year (1888) the discharges equalled the admissions. In important respects it differs from the Government Asylums. There are no airing courts, no high palisades, and no locked doors or gates, those who can be trusted being allowed freely to go out and in and to roam over the grounds, while patients who require surveillance are accompanied by attendants; and attached to the institution is a comfortable waggonette, in which on fine days the inmates are taken out for drives. Every endeavour is also made to interest the patients in some kind of healthful recreation or employment, in-door and outdoor, instead of them being allowed to wander about in absolute idleness; and thereby their attention is drawn away from their own troubles, and their thoughts turned into rational channels, and sleep induced, and, it may be added, recovery facilitated. Altogether, the buildings, the arrangements, and the surroundings, are in a marked degree adapted to the mentally afflicted. In the nature of things, public asylums cannot provide such advantages as are ensured at this institution. With reference to this the Inspector-General, in his report to the Government, dated April 16, 1888, says:—"It is becoming more and more evident that at present the Government cannot undertake to provide separate wards, specially furnished, and having special attendants and other advantages, for such persons who are able to pay a sufficient price. In Seacliff the attempt had been made for some years to provide, by means of special attendants, for persons whose friends were willing to pay for them; but it was found impossible to make any real difference in their treatment and page 234surroundings, and there were so many indirect evil results to the organisation of the staff, that the efforts had to be abandoned. Ashburn Hall is admirably adapted and managed with a view to provide for all such cases; and as long as the Government Asylums are compelled to over-crowd their wards with poor and helpless people, and cannot even find proper accommodation for them, persons who can afford it, ought, if they require exceptional treatment, to be sent to a Private Asylum."

Ashburn estate consists of 94 acres. With the exception of the level part immediately around the buildings, most of the property is slightly undulating, but the hilly part on the north side rises to a considerable height, and the natural bush on that slope has an exceedingly beautiful effect. A large proportion of the estate is under cultivation, the produce being consumed in the establishment. The pleasure grounds, with upper and lower garden and orchard, are extensive and tastefully planted with ornamental trees and shrubs; the paths and avenues are well gravelled and lined with flower-plots; comfortable seats are stationed in all directions; and the lawn-tennis court, bowling-green, and skittle alley (now in course of formation) are at the free use of the inmates. Facing the entrance to the grounds is an extensive up-raised lawn and terrace, with balustrade in old English style of the time of Queen Anne, and on the lawn a fountain is shortly to be placed. In the centre of a lower lawn fronting the terrace a high flagstaff has recently been erected, and arrangements are now being made to illumine the place by means of electric light placed at the cross-trees of the flagstaff:, and in connection with the electric light a water-mill of 12 horsepower, used for cutting chaff, &c, is to be utilised. From the Asylum buildings an expansive view is obtainable, including the Peninsula and Ocean Beach and the ocean beyond.

The estate derives its name from the Ashburn stream, which runs through it. On the higher ground the stream flows into two ponds, in which the trout sport and leap, and then the water sweeps in cascade form down to the flat, the ever-rushing sound being far from unpleasant. The water is also led to the building in sufficient abundance to supply all the requirements of the establishment, and the force is sufficiently strong to bring the •water to bear, by means of the hose, on to the highest parts of page 235the buildings in such an emergency as fire. In addition to a plentiful supply of fire-hose, fixed fire-escapes are so placed that the building can be emptied of their inmates in two or three minutes.

Inside the buildings, as outside, there is really nothing, apart from the eccentricities of the occupants of the rooms, to indicate that Ashburn Hall is a home for the insane. As has already been said, altogether it has the appearance of a country seat, of which comfort and refinement are the chief characteristics, and with a home farm attached to it. This Asylum, it should be added, is also designed for the accommodation and treatment of dipsomaniacs.

It deserves to be noted that the spiritual interests of the inmates of Ashburn Hall are not overlooked. The Rev. R. R, M. Sutherland, of Kaikorai, holds the office of chaplain, and by him services are conducted and visits made.