Seaview Lunatic Asylum

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Seaview Lunatic Asylum
Established 1869
Construction Began 1869
Opened 1872
Closed 2009
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan/Villa Plan
Location Hokitika
Peak Patient Population 549 in 1955
Alternate Names
  • Seaview Asylum
  • Seaview Hospital
  • Hokitika Asylum
  • Westland Hospital


Prior to 1869, when Seaview Asylum began construction, those with mental health issues were sent to the nearby Sunnyside Hospital in Christchurch. When that became unavailable for the locals in the surrounding region, they started construction of their own asylum. It began accepting patients in 1972.

In the beginning, Hugh and Winifred Gribben, respectively the superintendent and matron of Seaview from 1872 to 1904, started programs inline with other asylums. These included recreation and work programs. Gribben was also noted for not using restrains. However, by the end of his tenure the institution had become a much more custodial hospital.

By 1921 when Buchanan took charge the buildings were in a state of disrepair. His lobbying resulted in a furor in parliament and money was allocated to rebuild the hospital. A central services block, admission and administration blocks were built along with villas to house the patients. The new buildings, Buchanan's changes in the way the hospital was run, and the use of qualified general and psychiatric staff resulted in better therapeutic and custodial care of patients. Buchanan also improved the relationship with the nearby Westland Hospital and had a road built between the two institutions.

During the 1920s and 1930s around half or more of Seaview's patients were transfers from other mental hospitals around the country. The construction of villas increased to accommodate the intakes and a custodial approach was taken in patient care.

During and after the war there was a shortage of staff and patients undertook the work needed to maintain the hospital's services. Occupational therapy for patients and building renovations were curtailed because of shortage of staff. In 1946 there were 526 patients of which 304 were working around the hospital in wards, the farm, gardens, workshops, and kitchen. Patients were not remunerated for their work until 1947. During the 1950s patient care became more curative as convulsive and drug therapies were introduced but full adoption of these new procedures was hindered by staff shortages and finances. However, modernization of the wards did continue, and patients lived in open wards.

In 1955, Seaview had peaked with 549 patients. By 1996, there were 100, and when the facility closed in 2009, it was down to 22. The hospital cared for patients with intellectual disabilities, psychiatric and psycho-geriatric conditions, and the frail elderly.

Three units were closed in the 1990s; in 2002, the hospital board sold the asylum to a property developer though some buildings were leased back. Since the facility has been closed it has been used on numerous occasions by the New Zealand Defense Force to stage urban warfare, search and rescue and public disorder exercises. Also, some of the remaining buildings have been repurposed into a hotel. [1]

Images of Seaview Lunatic Asylum[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Seaview Lunatic Asylum