Fremantle Lunatic Asylum

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Fremantle Lunatic Asylum
Established 1857
Construction Began 1861
Opened 1865
Closed 1909
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Single Building
Location Fremantle, WA
Alternate Names


The first mentally ill patients in Western Australia were cared for in temporary accommodation, including the wreck of the Marquis of Anglesey, the Fremantle Round House and in the Colonial Hospital. When convict transportation began in 1850, the numbers of people with mental illnesses in the colony began to increase. Official care began with the transfer of ten convicts from Fremantle Gaol to a new asylum located in Scots warehouse in November 1857.

Fremantle Asylum was completed and occupied in July 1865 and accommodated a wide range of patients. Initially most were male convicts, but gradually more patients were admitted from the civilian population. Common causes of admission were sunstroke, sexually transmitted diseases, alcoholism, delirium and diseases of old age. Patients could be admitted from anywhere in the colony. After proclamation of the Lunacy Act 1871, patients could be admitted by certification.

The Asylum was under the direction of a Surgeon Superintendent, and was administered jointly by the Imperial and colonial governments until 1886 when control was transferred to the colonial government. After the 1890's gold rushes, the Asylum became drastically overcrowded, forcing a reorganization of facilities (including the purchase of Whitby Falls as an asylum farm in 1897) and plans for a much larger institution. Fremantle Lunatic Asylum was no longer used after 1909 once all patients had been transferred to the new Claremont Hospital for the Insane.

The building was used shortly after for housing for homeless women and later as a midwifery school. Until World War II it was known as the Old Women's Home. During World War II it became the headquarters for the American armed services based in Western Australia, who built the asbestos-clad laundry building on the north-east corner of the site. After the war the Arts Centre building was used for a time as an annexe of Fremantle Technical School, and in 1957, the State Education Department proposed its demolition to use the land as playing fields for the adjacent John Curtin High School. A public outcry and opposition campaign led by the Mayor of Fremantle, Sir Frederick Samson halted the demolition. After many years of lobbying for State and Federal government funding, a major restoration project commenced in 1970 and since 1972 it has housed the Western Australian Maritime Museum (now relocated to Victoria Quay), and Fremantle Arts Centre.

In 2001, the City of Fremantle adopted the Fremantle Arts Centre Conservation Plan, a guide for its conservation. In January 2007, conservation works were completed with the gable finials on the west façade restored to their original state, following their demolition at the turn of the 20th century.