Establishment of Porirua Asylum / Hospital

Wellington’s initial mental health facility was established in 1887 that a small asylum was built in Porirua, which was later expanded.

Wellington’s initial mental health facility was established in 1844. It consisted of a building attached to the local prison, where the jailers fed and watched over the patients to ensure there was no self harm.

By 1854 the Wellington Provincial Government built an asylum in Karori which was, at the time, remote to the city. People of all kinds and ages, including children, were accommodated there. The asylums were built on rural land, so that farming and gardening would help offset costs.

By the 1870s Karori was overcrowded so a new asylum was built near the Basin Reserve, where Government House is now located. Mt View Lunatic Asylum was opened in 1873 to accommodate 56 patients (28 women and 28 men), but on the closure of Karori 70 patients were transferred. Mount View was expanded in 1879, 1880 and 1885 but the room to expand in the middle of Wellington was limited.

When the Manawatu and Wellington Railway, linking Wellington to Palmerston North, was completed in 1886, it created the opportunity for a new asylum to be built in Porirua.

The site chosen for the new asylum at Porirua was located in a rural area, miles from Wellington, which would be to the benefit of these ‘incurable’ patients, both as a protection from public curiosity, and as an opportunity for them to work outdoors and benefit therapeutically from the fresh air and exercise. It was intended that the patient labour would be used to develop a hospital farm to enable the hospital to become somewhat self-sufficient and thrifty.

At the time the Tawa Flat / Porirua area was extensively farmed with dairy on the flat area and sheep on the hills. In 1884 Mr William Earp sold 140 acres of land for the Porirua Hospital. It had good water from the hills and was close to the railway station. The area then increased to 180 acres, with land closer to what is now the city centre also being acquired.

Mr Earp died in 1888 and is interred in the Tawa Cemetery, however his son Edward William Earp, who still farmed what was left, died in 1928 is interred in Porirua Cemetery.

A tender was accepted in March 1886 and a contract lent in October 1886 for a small asylum on the farm. The small building that had 24 apartments was completed in March 1887. This building was later known as H Cottage. In May 1887 Dr Thomas Radford King was appointed medical superintendent of both Mount View and Porirua Asylums. Dr King was in the position for ten months with Dr Gray Hassell taking over in 1888.

Dr Gray Hassell managed a series of changes during his time as superintendent. In 1891 a contract was let for a new central block to accommodate 500 patients. This was completed in 1892.

The increase in the number of patients also meant on average more deaths at the hospital. The deceased would have been sent by train back to be buried at Karori. This was an expensive option, so land was purchased in 1893 and 1894 to increase water supplies, further develop the Hospital farm, and create a burial ground.

At its largest the Porirua Asylum covered 1000 acres stretching back to the top on Rangituhi/ Colonial Knob, down to what is now the city centre. The new Porirua Asylum was officially opened on 9 May 1895.