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Silent house of pain

an old brick building

Sydney’s asylums are haunting monuments to a shameful chapter in our criminal and medical history.

Shut away from a public that was fearful of the “wild-eyed lunatic”, the city’s poorly-funded asylums became a dragnet that would catch the forgot, the poor, the criminal and, of course, the mentally ill.

There were plenty of success stories, but for many others primitive electric shock therapy, murder, rape, neglect and outright sadistic brutality on the part of staff made Sydney’s asylums nothing more than silent houses of pain.

Any place built on top of more than 1000 anonymous corpses would send a shiver up anyone’s spine.

Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum was Sydney’s first purpose-built asylum, opened in 1838 at the aptly named Bedlam Point, on the shores of the Parramatta River.

It was hoped the asylum doctors would befriend their patients, not chain them up, and help them become normal citizens once more.

But the end of transportation between 1839 and 1840 meant the aged, infirm, invalid or lunatic convicts, who had no means of support and had been in chains most of their adult lives, were sent to asylums like Tarban Creek. Built for 60 patients, by 1844 there were 148 inmates.

The 1000-plus corpses under the asylum illustrated the stigma that mental health had at the time. Families refused to pick up their relatives’ bodies when they died, forcing the institution to create mass graves. Other deaths will forever remain a mystery, with many patients having no relatives or friends to speak of.

It is regarded as one of the most “haunted” places in Sydney. Take a night time stroll if you dare!

IMAGE CREDIT: PinkGraffiti

a large brick building with grass and trees