Kew Lunatic Asylum

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Kew Lunatic Asylum
Established 1864
Opened 1871
Closed 1988
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Echelon Plan
Location Kew, VIC
Architecture Style French Second Empire style
Alternate Names
  • Kew Hospital for the Insane
  • Kew Mental Hospital
  • Kew Psychiatric Hospital
  • Willsmere Hospital


The Kew Asylum was first opened in 1871 as a ward of Yarra Bend. For a short period Kew was also known as the "Metropolitan Asylum". Many of Kew's early patients were transferred from Yarra Bend and the Collingwood Asylum. In October 1872 Kew was proclaimed a separate institution from Yarra Bend.

After World War II there was a period of significant change in the treatment and prognosis for people with a mental illness. Drugs such as Lithium carbonate (discovered in 1948 by Australian psychiatrist Dr John Cade) and chlorpromazine (discovered in 1950's) lead to improvements in treatment. Thus many people with a mental illness could in many cases be treated in hospital for a shorter period and return to the community. The Mental Health Act of 1959 designated hospitals providing short-term diagnosis and accommodation as "psychiatric hospitals". Therefore any institution could have a section designated as a mental hospital for long-term or indefinite hospitalisation and a section designated as a psychiatric hospital for short term diagnosis and treatment of acute psychiatric illness.

In 1962 the decision was made to no longer house acute or short-term patients at Kew and therefore it was formally proclaimed a Mental Hospital under the Mental Health Act of 1959. Up until this time, Kew Mental Hospital was still colloquially known as 'Kew Asylum'

In January 1982 wards G1, G3, and G4 of Kew Mental Hospital were proclaimed a Psychiatric Hospital under the provisions of the Mental Health Act 1959 (No.6605). There wards were known as the Willsmere Unit and were established to receive and accommodate short-term acute patients. In the 1950s a new wave of reform came, with widespread criticism of the huge nineteenth century medical institutions. The Mental Hygiene Authority turned Kew into the Willsmere Mental Hospital, for the care of aged patients who had psychological problems and physical diseases such as Alzheimer's. Kew was earmarked for closure and eventually ceased operating in 1988, with the buildings and huge grounds sold for private development.

The hospital complex was eventually developed by Central Equity into residential apartments. The Willsmere residential development was officially opened on 27 October 1993 by Premier Jeff Kennett. The remaining grasslands between the Eastern Freeway and the main hospital buildings, including the site of the asylum's cricket field were developed as the Kew Gardens residential estate. The Kew Gardens project was completed in 1995. The buildings and grounds of the Kew Cottages (formerly the grounds of Kew Asylum) are currently being redeveloped as the "Main Drive" project by Walker Corporation.