Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Mental Asylum Case Books

Family historians may be surprised to find relatives' names in indexes to mental asylum records. Many patients spent only a short time in an asylum, and their descendants would probably not know about that.

Part of an entry in a Goodna Asylum case book

Reasons for the onset of mental illness (as stated in case books) include childbirth, epilepsy, head injury, alcohol, syphilis, congenital defect, jealousy, 'domestic troubles', bereavement, and 'deserted by the father of her child'.

Goodna Asylum case books often give the patient's admission date, discharge or death date, age, marital status, number of children (and age of the youngest), occupation, country of birth, residence, religion, mental disorder and its onset, changes in behaviour and general health, and a physical description. Some entries include names of 'insane relatives' (here or overseas), references to time spent in other asylums, or comments such as 'good bowler at cricket'. For some patients there are letters or photographs.

For patients transferred on 10 Jan 1865 from the Lunatic Asylum, Brisbane, to Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum, case books also give the date of first admission. Until Woogaroo Asylum opened in 1865, psychiatric patients were treated at the old convict hospital, and in some cases there are references in prison records.

Information from case books has traditionally been available only to close relatives in special circumstances via Right to Information - but I have details from case books for some patients admitted more than one hundred years ago. To help family historians, I have indexed those names (and many others). I have also created a mini-guide, Researching Queensland Mental Asylum Patients.

Note that case books are completely different from Public Curator insanity files, which are much easier to obtain and potentially even more useful for family history.


  1. It's good to remember that our ancestors may have been admitted for what we would now regard as ordinary illnesses. The information available almost makes you want to find someone in the list ;-)

    1. Yes, Pauleen - I encourage everyone to check the lists of names on my Web site. It is especially important to look for names of women, because many spent a short time in the asylum while suffering from 'baby blues'.

  2. Hello Judy I was wondering if you could help me in finding out about a family member who was buried at Dunwich cemetery. His name is John Michael Hemmling. Buried on the 16th Septemebr, 1924.

    Thanks Sonya

    1. Hello Sonya. Please see Why was my ancestor in Dunwich Benevolent Asylum? on


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