Baillie Henderson Hospital

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Baillie Henderson Hospital
Established 1885
Construction Began 1887
Opened 1890
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Architect(s) J.J. Clark
Location North Toowoomba
Peak Patient Population 1953, 1228 patients
Alternate Names
  • Toowoomba Lunatic Asylum 1890-1898
  • Toowoomba Hospital for the Insane 1898-1940
  • Toowoomba Mental Hospital 1940-1963
  • Toowoomba Special Hospital 1963-1970


Early Years

Toowoomba, one hundred and twenty miles by road from Brisbane, had been linked by rail with Brisbane in 1867 and was known as the gateway to the west and south. The town, with a population of about ten thousand people, was the center of a developing agricultural and industrial region. It was becoming quite a cultural and educational center with its Austral Hall and schools. At two thousand feet, its climate was cool and fresh, giving it the reputation of being a healthy place. Brisbane people came for holidays, mothers came from the west to have their babies, and men came to trade horses and property. The many wide verandah’d hotels did as good a trade in family accommodation as in alcohol. The Toowoomba Base Hospital was proving an important treatment center for the Downs and country areas. Toowoomba seemed ideal for an asylum outstation.

Planning a public facility in Queensland took a long time last century as decisions were made by the British Parliament. All correspondence was with the Colonial Secretary in London and had to go by sea. After some initial exploratory work at the Australian end correspondence which began in 1877 led to approval in 1878 to build on one hundred and seventy-five acres (71 hectares) near Toowoomba. The cost of the land was £2,800.

In 1885 the Colonial Architect, J.J. Clark, drew a sketch plan of the land and even then recommended the purchase of more land. A plan for the asylum was ready by December.

The Department of Public Works and Mines called tenders on 29th July, 1886 for the contract to erect “a Lunatic Asylum at Toowoomba". The plans, drawn up by the Government Architect were for buildings similar to those built in England at the time with verandas added for Australian conditions. Plans for the first stage could be examined at the Toowoomba Court House where a deposit of one hundred pounds had to be lodged with each tender. The price accepted for the first section of four buildings was £28,750.

This was made by Mr. James Renwick, whose deposit was lodged with the Bank of New South Wales as a fixed deposit. The work was supervised by George Conolly as Colonial Architect. The land purchased for the asylum adjoined the Police Paddock, where there were some initial problems when Mr. Renwick's employees camped on the paddock. Permission was sought and refused to quarry and make bricks there.

The main buildings were brick and it is probable that the bricks for the first wards came to Australia as ballast in the holds of ships. Some bricks, dated 1842, can be seen built into walls. By mid 1887 most of the bricks were being made at Murphy's Creek. The brick walls stood on concrete foundations and the roofs were of corrugated iron. Tenders for a residence for the medical superintendent were called in the Queensland Gazette early in 1889 requiring a £30 deposit. This contract also went to Mr. Renwick. In the middle of the year, tenders were called for the building of an assistant medical superintendent's residence. The Gazette invited contractors to supply ironmongery, drapery, stationery, furniture, china, and glass in 1890.

Long lists of requirements were made. These were for carpenter's tools, general ironmongery including horse combs, a large bell to weigh 20lbs. and swing on an iron frame, stone breakers and grubbing axes. Numbers of hurricane hand lamps, a large fuel stove, heavy pots and pans, earthenware and enamel cups, saucers and plates and cutlery were itemized. Details of furniture and bedding were specified. Amongst the desks one was to be a cedar table six feet by three feet six inches with the best blue carriage cloth top, five inch turned legs, two drawers and the best lever locks polished. The iron bedsteads were to be as made at Woogaroo. The first mattresses were to be hair mattresses with sturdy tick.

Mr. Keogh's tender from Ipswich for furniture was accepted in June 1889. The present charming Willowburn Railway Station was just a stop along the line where a siding known as Asylum Siding was built for unloading materials for the new asylum. The contractor had to pay half the cost. For many years, goods and people came “up the line" from Brisbane or Goodna to this siding, to be met by horse or hand carts for heavy items or an escort to accompany them as they walked up the slope to the asylum.

The buildings, once built, stood empty for some time after they were finished, to the annoyance of the administrators in Brisbane who were trying to cope with increasing admissions. The delay was due to the lack of a reliable water supply. From the beginning there had been problems between the Department and the local Council over providing water. At first, water was carted daily from a well near the present K.R.Darling Downs Factory.

Very soon this supply was inadequate. By September 1889, arrangements had been made to pump water from a better well in the Toowoomba Railway yard. In April, 1890 William and John Erskine tendered £332.10s to sink and slab a well in the Lunatic Asylum Reserve. In June that year the Toowoomba Foundry Company Ltd. sent a sketch of a windmill suggesting one should be installed for pumping water. The delay was exacerbated by many of the pipes arriving broken from Sydney on the "Barcoo" due to severe weather on the voyage. Eventually enough water could then be pumped to a reservoir on the hill for distribution to all buildings. Water was needed for general household, farming and gardening work but not for sewerage as earth closets were used.

Finally the authorities decided buildings, equipment and staff were ready for inmates to be admitted. There were the four main brick buildings, exercise yards with ten foot high hardwood fencing, furniture and equipment for a modern asylum and staff appointed for maintenance of the property and others ready at to accompany the first inmates.

It is clear from the records that Doctors Scholes and Hogg selected the first patients from for transfer to Toowoomba according to the following criteria: Good physical health, links with Toowoomba or the area beyond, and some ability to work. The first ten, who arrived on 17th May, 1890, were women capable of working in the kitchen and laundry. Many of the larger group of men and women who came three days later were soon at work chopping and carting wood, building paths and fences, working in wards, sewing and doing kitchen and laundry work.

The patients travelled by train with their attendants. The male attendants were recruited from the prison service and they wore blue serge suits with metal buttons and wide brimmed hats. In summer they wore a khaki uniform, also with metal buttons. The female attendants were untrained. They wore blue serge dresses with white cuffs and collars and white aprons. All trooped up from the Asylum Siding to be greeted by Dr. Hogg and Mr. Burn. Together they laid the foundation of the community that became home to generations of patients and staff.

At the turn of the century, the young hospital impressed rail travellers as their trains chugged up the Range. Its massive buildings stood out starkly and were described in the Darling Downs Advertiser and Gazette as "The Lion of Toowoomba … set in a noble park over Gowrie Creek." The land around was being developed like a country property with plenty of well controlled, if sometimes reluctant labour. Dr. Nicoll was very conscious of the practical problems of country living and their effects on health and behaviour. Some such problems were overcrowding which provoked disturbances in wards and dining areas; flies causing ophthalmia; drought with its subsequent water shortages restricting bathing, laundry and cleaning; and heatwaves leading to sunstroke.

WW 1

The 1914-18 War hardly affected the hospital. There were some economic restrictions and three attendants joined the A.I.F. but the life of the hospital had to continue. The building programme went on with four wards and a hospital block being completed in 1917. The hospital within the hospital (now Tredgold) boasted a bath, hand basins on wheels and a disinfecting room. Considerable effort went into building gardens on the female side and into increasing recreational opportunities. Maintenance, as buildings and fittings aged, white ants and dry rot in the floors and cracks in some of the older wards, drought causing water shortages and crop failures, stretched the steward and his staff.

The engineer had to use two assistants to pump water in shifts up to the reservoirs. In 1913, the railway authorities had given notice that it was unable to supply any more water. All water then was pumped from a well in the hospital grounds to a reservoir at the top of the hill. In 1915 a new pumping house improved reticulation so that water closets could be built into the new wards.

In the inter-war period, caring reflected a military style system whereby staff had long hours and formal ward inspections. Patients were made to rise early in the morning, put on, or have put on, whatever issue clothing was most intact and cleanest. It did not help when some patients shredded bedding, clothes and even tore blucher boots. Toileting was primitive and the smells in the buildings by morning were overwhelming for new staff, let alone for patients used to the fresh air of the bush. Beds had to be made and everywhere tidy before the breakfast arrived at 7.00a.m. Food was always plentiful and similar to that provided for men in stock camps. Food was delivered in big tins and bread in huge baskets. Breakfast was corn meal and porridge followed by bread and treacle.

The farm workers rose first and went off to their jobs. Other able patients went to other tasks such as ward cleaning or lighting the kitchen range. It is worth saying that many patients were well most of the time and these considered themselves superior to the wet, dirty, sloppy, rowdy patients. The men in the gangs and the women who worked in the sewing room, kitchen and laundry looked after themselves with a minimum of supervision and many "adopted" the more helpless patients and helped look after them. Workers generally took pride in their work and built up good relations with staff. These were the ones who helped build up the community spirit with staff, establishing a tradition of pride which carried through to recent times when men boasted "I worked on the farm", and women, "I helped in the sewing room." Smokes were often the reward for good behaviour and work. The workers were the ones who shared recreation with staff after work - football, cricket, quoits, dances, games and entertainment. Some patients even had occasional town outings.

Caring for the many who were deranged and the seriously retarded before modern medication was hard and distressing. Most staff survived with a spirit of camaraderie. A newcomer might be the butt of jokes at first, but as in any community, the one who was able to "take it" and come up laughing was accepted for good. Staff had to be alert enough to be a jump ahead to keep control of jobs and watch for signs of psychosis or disturbance. By 1927 the average daily residency was 598 males and 581 females. From the beginning there were always some who could be discharged because they had been inappropriately admitted or because they were considered to have recovered. Many were re-admitted, but always the tradition was kept that no-one was detained without good reason.

Many patients continued to come "up the line" from Goodna. Others were brought by the police from the south and west. Some arrived in canvas straight jackets to prevent them attacking their escorts. On admission a patient was kept in a room for a day or two under observation and then allowed into a yard with others. The observations made in the admission ward enabled staff to make broad classifications of patients. Patients in the twenties included those we would now say had psychiatric illnesses. There were also many including children who were intellectually handicapped (then described as mentally deficient, aments, dements, idiots, imbeciles), epileptics, alcoholics and people with G.P.I. (General Paralysis of the Insane). The assumption of society was that anyone seriously disturbing the peace that seemed unable to control themselves should be removed or "put away".

Medical staff strove to find cures for the conditions they identified. They and nursing staff observed and wrote their observations of each patient, and tried to provide skilful management of the various conditions year in and year out. This custodial care was restrictive to many patients and staff and not unlike military discipline, and yet it was tempered by sympathetic care especially for the young, sick and elderly. Overcrowding and difficulties with classifying patients in the large wards made treatment difficult. Staff worked long shifts e.g. 6.00a.m. to 6.00p.m.

During the day, staff members spent two hours at a time in yards with a variety of unpredictable patients, some of whom were aggressive enough to require physical restraint. In such cases, a staff member blew his whistle for someone to take his place by the fence while he restrained the disturbed patient. At night most patients slept in dormitories where there were rows of beds. Violent patients had single cell-like rooms with wooden shutters. Staff on night duty patrols had to clock in at fixed points. The unpredictability of some patients made life dangerous. Sudden changes of mood might mean a blow or kick or even a head charge strong enough to Jay out someone who turned his back or relaxed attention.

The improved knowledge available to medical staff in the thirties was illustrated in the way schizophrenia began to attract research interest. The Annual Report for 1937-38 said, "This mental disease, attacking as it does the promising youth of the community, presents a scourge that is probably greater than the combined effects of cancer and tuberculosis. The treatment of this condition has aroused world-wide interest." Research into a wide range of drugs focused attention on mental conditions in time for war casualties to benefit, and success with such treatment accelerated the psychological-neurological research focus.

Staff training improved and certificates for nursing staff became obligatory in time to match the new knowledge available to medical officers. The Handbook for Mental Nurses was reprinted in 1938 to include the advances in knowledge and to ensure nurses would be able to observe and report the effects of medication. In it advice was given on restraints for epileptics, delusional, suicidal and surgical cases, and there were warnings about them. "Now and then, it may be necessary to control the actions of such patients by mechanical restraint. This term signifies the restriction of the bodily movements of a patient by any appliance whatever, such as a sheet, bandage, towel, strait-waistcoat, strap or pack. Such restraint, of course, must never be applied except under medical order, which specifies both its nature and duration. If continued for more than a short time, the patient should be released from it every hour or so, and care should be taken to prevent any chafing of the skin. Any use of mechanical restraint must be reported to the Board of Control."

The Queensland Government's Mental Hygiene Act of 1938 was very significant legislation. It required active treatment for the mentally ill, and attempted to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness by referring to 'mentally sick patients' instead of 'lunatics' and using the words 'mental hospitals' not 'asylums for the insane'. Voluntary patients could be admitted and the powers of the Public Curator were written in modern language.

The war years inside the hospital were difficult in many ways. Admissions increased as families requested care for relatives with whom they could no longer cope at home. The rationing of food and fuel added to management difficulties and the need for accommodation was desperate. There was such a serious shortage of staff that nurses were reluctant to work in certain areas.

1945 saw the end of the War and changes to the Mental Hygiene Service. A Director in Brisbane planned a northern mental hospital, separate institutions for the criminal insane and for backward persons, special accommodation for returned soldiers, the elderly and epileptics. That year money was made available for improvements inside the hospital, for wireless sets, electrical equipment such as refrigerators, urns and toasters, and machinery for the kitchen and laundry.

Custodial care became easier as facilities and conditions improved. During the war, a large air-raid shelter was built. Towards the end of the war, the main building programme began again with the addition of fire escapes to Wards A and 1 and shelter sheds for Wards A, C, D and 1, 3 and 4. An occupational therapy building was mooted. New entrance gates, a proper blacksmith's shop, accommodation for the engineer, assistant engineer and assistant matrons were built. Town water and electricity were extended throughout the hospital and a toilet block built on the farm. The nurses’ quarters were enlarged and kitchen, laundry, sewing room and artisan facilities were improved.

Post-War Years

Patient numbers reached a peak with nearly 1,400 in 1950. A new post war era with changing attitudes to mental illness and hopes of effective treatment also ushered in immense changes in the society to which the institution and its patients belonged. Smaller nuclear families, many urban, were replacing the extended rural families. The world was shrinking as communication through books, personal contact and the electronic media reached ordinary people. Migration, rapid transport and economic expansion made Toowoomba feel part of the wider changing world. The quiet country mental hospital was emerging like the rest of Australia into the bustling twentieth century.

In the early fifties activity in real work and in recreation was still expected of patients of all ages. Adults worked on the farm or in the garden, in wards, laundry, kitchen or sewing room. Some of the children attended Miss Dorothy King's school at the Rockville Epileptic Home. A playground with see-saws and swings was established for patients and their visitors. Recreational activities and entertainments were encouraged by Dr. Henderson. When Miss Watson arrived she re-introduced the annual fancy dress ball and began a hospital magazine and Christmas Carol service. Like Occupational Therapists through the years she had her eyes open to see how life could be enriched for patients and what was available for use.

A new Mental Health Act in 1962 ushered in a new era. The detention of psychiatric patients was made easier and a Mental Health Tribunal was set up as a safeguard to protect people from unnecessary detention. It sought the integration of mental health with the Health and Hospital Services of the State by developing psychiatric services in general hospitals to enable patients to be treated at community level and reduce the number requiring treatment in special hospitals. Handicapped children and geriatric patients were to have care and treatment in more appropriate areas. Toowoomba Mental Hospital, colloquially known as Willowburn, became Toowoomba Special Hospital.

As late as 1965 the Director said, "A unique situation exists at the Toowoomba Special Hospital. The Medical Superintendent has established a status in the community and developed such an atmosphere in his hospital that informed patients readily consent to admission to the hospital". He pointed out that the congestion made it imperative that an inpatient service be established at Toowoomba General Hospital.

In 1974 a new Mental Health Act allowed for both informal and regulated admissions to be implemented with consideration for patients and relatives, protection against unnecessary admission or continued detention, and attention to the mentally ill involved in criminal proceedings.

Just as country life for many people was changing so it was for the workers, both staff and patients, at the hospital. The dairy and vegetable gardens were closed in 1970 because they were considered to be no longer therapeutically valuable or justified economically. The therapeutic emphasis went on to community preparation. Any building or decoration came to be planned for greater similarity to life outside. Three modern low ceilinged hostel style houses designed to allow for personal privacy and possessions were built and named Digby, Tuke and Conolly. [1]

A psychiatric ward was established at Toowoomba General Hospital in 1979, staffed by Baillie Henderson paramedical and medical staff and by Toowoomba General nurses. Clinics at Baillie Henderson Hospital and Toowoomba General Hospital as well as the Day Hospital became the entry points for most people needing psychiatric treatment.

At the beginning of 1982 the hospital took over a complex on the hill above Bedford Street for the Alcohol Rehabilitation Unit and for K.B.H. Enterprises. This was a few kilometres away from the main base and was an attractive, new building around which staff and patients soon built a prize winning garden.

As inpatients established themselves in the wider Toowoomba community, wards became smaller in size (a maximum of thirty patients) and the old wards housing over 100 patients each, a thing of the past. Concurrently, staff were also redeployed in community support work and day hospitals and a new need; sadly arising from the increase in motor vehicle accident was able to be met.


The Extended Inpatient Service provides medium to long term inpatient assessment, treatment and rehabilitation for individuals who are sufficiently ill or disabled by their mental disorder to be unable to be cared for by their local integrated community and acute inpatient mental health services. Specialist services

Services are organised in to five specialized clinical programs; Services for persons with severe mental disorder, and associated severe disability requiring extended treatment and rehabilitation. Services for people with Dual Diagnosis (DD) of mental disorder and concomitant intellectual disability. Services for people with acquired brain injury and associated mental disorder and /or severe behaviour problems (ABI). Services for people who suffer a mental disorder and require treatment in a specialised secure facility. Services for persons aged 65 years and over who require both specialist psychiatric and aged care and who cannot be cared for in any other setting. [2]