Mental Health Ward (Former), Porirua Hospital

26 Upper Main Drive, Porirua

  • Mental Health Ward (Former), Porirua Hospital. Mental Health Museum.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Geoff Mew, Wellington Branch Committee of the NZ Historic Places Trust. Date: 18/01/2002.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 7444 Date Entered 28th May 1999

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Extent of List Entry

Extent of registration is part of the land described as Lot 1 DP 428849 (CT 515824), Wellington Land District, and the buildings known as Mental Health Ward (Former), Porirua Hospital, including their fittings and fixtures. Registration does not include the former Workingman's Hut relocated to the site.

City/District Council

Porirua City

Region

Wellington Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 428849 (CT 515824), Wellington Land District

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The Porirua Hospital Museum is the last remnant of the original Porirua Lunatic Asylum, once the largest hospital in New Zealand. The Porirua Mental Hospital (as it later became) was also the largest employer in the Porirua area and contributed greatly to the growth of Porirua City. The asylum was established in 1884. The building known as F Ward was completed in 1910 as part of the new initiatives in mental health care that were eventually introduced by the Mental Defectives Act 1911. The building, a simple rectangle in plan, was originally divided into separate rooms for refractory (disturbed) female psychiatric patients.

In 1942 the main hospital building was severely damaged in an earthquake and the following year it was demolished, leaving F Ward as the last surviving ward. The ward continued to provide accommodation for female patients until the 1970s when it was closed. It reopened as a museum of mental health soon after. Although some modification has taken place to accommodate new office space and museum displays, the original patients' rooms, nurse's office, and dental surgery have been left as they were. Today polytechnic students, medical professionals and members of the public visit the museum for educational purposes.

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Historical Significance or Value

The Porirua Hospital Museum has great historical significance as the last remnant of the original Porirua Lunatic Asylum established in 1884. The Asylum was once one of the largest hospitals in New Zealand. It is also a significant reminder of changes in mental health care in New Zealand in the early twentieth century.

The Porirua Hospital Museum has high architectural and technological interest for its specialised design; a combination of prison, with its double-skin doors and pumice-filled walls, and therapeutic facilities, seen in the provision of a courtyard and sun shelter.

(a) The extent to which the place reflect important or representative aspects of NZ history:

The Porirua Hospital Museum has great representative significance, as it is the last remnant of the original Porirua Lunatic Asylum, once the largest hospital in New Zealand.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in NZ history:

The building is associated with methods of treating mental illness in New Zealand, including the development of new initiatives in mental health care. It is also associated with medical professionals such as Dr. Theodore Grey.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

The design of the building reflects the tensions created by the changing attitudes towards mental health care.

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Public Works Department

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Public Works Department

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

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Historical Narrative

Formal provision for mental health care in the Wellington area began in 1844 with the erection of a temporary wooden building for the insane, attached to the Wellington gaol. Under the Constitution of 1852, provincial councils were required to provide health services. The first asylum in Wellington was established in Karori in 1854. Following a parliamentary inquiry into the Colony's mental asylums in the colony in 1871, accusations of cruelty and ill-treatment of patients at the Karori Lunatic Asylum led to the building of a new facility. This asylum, opened in 1873, was situated on what is now the site of the Governor General's residence near the Basin Reserve, and was known as the Mount View Asylum. However as the population of the city increased so did the pressure on the facility. With the abolition of the Provincial Councils in 1876, mental health care became the responsibility of a new government department known as the Lunacy Department. In 1884 work began on a new asylum at Porirua, which opened three years later. In 1891 worked commenced on a new two-storey hospital building at Porirua and this was completed in 1905.

F Ward was constructed between 1910-1915 as part of the new initiatives in mental health care that were eventually introduced throughout New Zealand by the Mental Defectives Act 1911. Under this act, the Porirua Mental Asylum became the Porirua Mental Hospital, and management of the hospital was undertaken by a Medical, as distinct from lay, Superintendents. Although activities such as farming had been part of the therapy of patients at Porirua from its opening, the Mental Defectives Act 1911 formerly introduced the concept of occupational health. This led to the adoption of the villa system whereby patients could live in accommodation located away from the main building and where they could enjoy time outdoors within a secure facility. F Ward was originally divided into rooms for refractory (disturbed) women mental patients. A grassed courtyard and a sun shelter, enclosed by a security wire netting fence, were provided adjacent to the building. A key advocate for this system was Dr. Theodore Grant Gray, who was appointed to Porirua Hospital in 1911 as a Junior Assistant Medical Officer to the Medical Officer to the Medical Superintendent, Dr. Gray Hassell (Superintendent from 1890 to 1920).

Gray only spent a short time at Porirua but was to later work in other New Zealand institutions. During his time at Porirua Hospital he appears to have been instrumental in instituting the state registration of psychiatric nurses. The practical effect of this was to allow for female charge nurses to be appointed to male wards.

In 1942 two large earthquakes in the Wellington region severely damaged the main hospital building, and in the following year it was demolished, leaving only F Ward as the last surviving ward. While new facilities were being built, the patients shifted to the government run Chateau, Tongariro.

From the 1940s new treatments were offered in New Zealand, including Porirua. This, combined with new attitudes to mental health, led to the decline in the need for large institutions. F Ward continued to provide accommodation for female patients until the 1970s when the ward closed.

Not long after its closure F Ward was reopened as a museum to mental health. Although some modification has taken place to accommodate new office space and museum displays, the original patients' room, nurse's office, and dental surgery have been left as they were. Today polytechnic students, medical professionals and members of the public visit the museum for educational purposes.

In 1998 the Friends of the Porirua Hospital Museum was formed to ensure the continued survival of the Porirua Hospital Museum. The Friends aim to: promote the understanding of mental health and services for those with mental illness and disability; the collection, preservation and presentation of materials relevant to the history of the hospital; and the preservation of the Porirua Hospital Museum buildings and the site on which they stand.

Physical Description

F Ward is a single storey barrack-like building with a straight passage or corridor running down the middle with the bedrooms, including seclusion rooms and a dental surgery, arranged on either side. The seclusion rooms have double-skin diagonal doors and horizontal timber matched -ined walls. The walls were filled with pumice to deaden the noise and as a fire protection measure.

The Sun Shelter is a simple open-sided utilitarian structure, consisting of a hipped roof of corrugated iron supported on wooden posts. Seats are built into the posts under the central portion of the roof.

Notable Features

Includes the main museum building (the former F Ward Annexe of Porirua Hospital) the courtyard for the former F Ward (grassed lawn) and sun shelter in courtyard.

Construction Dates

Other
1970 - 1979
Closed

Modification
1970 - 1979
Alterations for museum

Construction Details

F Ward: Timber frame with rusticated weatherboard cladding. Corrugated iron hipped roof.

Sun Shelter: Corrugated iron hipped roof supported on wooden posts. Concrete slab floor.

Completion Date

24th August 2001

Report Written By

Helen McCracken

Other Information

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.