No Escape: Step Inside Australia's Beechworth Lunatic Asylum

Its brutal past has made it home to some of the most intense paranormal activity in the area.

beechworth asylum
  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

In the rolling hills of Beechworth, near Victoria, Australia, you’ll find a dilapidated old building formerly known as the Mayday Lunatic Asylum, once one of the largest asylums in all of Australia. By the time the asylum closed its doors for good in 1995, numerous patients had died during its 128-year reign.

All it took was a pair of signatures to land you in Beechworth–the request of a friend or relative and that of a medical doctor. So if a husband wanted to get rid of his wife, all he had to do was get a doctor to agree she was unstable. Once there, the new patient would be interviewed by the ward physician. Beechworth was one of many mental institutions operating in Australia at the time, alongside Ardale Mental Hospital and the Sunbury Lunatic Asylum. Some physician interviews have survived to the present day. They speak of troubled patients, brutal treatment, and little hope of escape. 

Related: 10 Insanely Spooky Places in Australia 

beechworth lunatic asylum
  • Beechworth Asylum, circa 1950

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It's no wonder, then, that a place like Beechworth is haunted by reports of otherworldly activity. One sighting involves the ghost of a beloved nurse, Matron Sharpe, wandering the halls of the asylum–a comforting presence in a place filled with such foreboding. Those brave enough to wander in have seen an elderly man staring out the window, and the ghost of a young girl who tries desperately to communicate with anyone she comes in contact with. 

Both Dooley and Shannon were likely subjected to the typical medical treatments of the day, including straight jackets, restraint chairs, and isolation cages. Pre-1950, the standard treatment of the day for those suffering from mental illness (and neurological illnesses like epilepsy) was restraint. Then came lobotomies and electro-shock treatments. 

Related: 6 Haunted Asylums You Can Actually Visit 

One particularly cruel feature of Beechworth was what is known as “Ha-Ha walls.” The key feature of a Ha-Ha wall was a trench built on the interior of the asylum’s walls. This made the wall appear low enough that inmates weren’t imprisoned from the outside, while ensuring that none of them could actually escape. 

beechworth asylum
  • The remains of the Ha-Ha at Beechworth Asylum, from the inside of the wall, showing the sloping trench.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Its particularly brutal history has made Beechworth home to some of the most intense paranormal activity in the area. The Grevilla Wing was where patients waited for electro-shock therapy. Visitors today report that the area is icy cold. And there are a number of patients and doctors who some say still wander the halls of Beechworth even in death. One woman was pushed out the window because another patient wanted her cigarettes. The chilling vision of her body, lying where it fell from the window, has been seen by a number of visitors. 

According to one spooky legend, even the garden is haunted by Beechworth’s dutiful gardener: a man named Arthur who was never without his green jacket. When he died, nurses discovered why–nearly 140 pounds, the equivalent of about four years’ wages, were found sewn into its seams.

Related: What is Bedlam? The Hospital That Defined Madness 

One visitor claimed to hear the sounds of children laughing and playing, though the grounds were deserted. Her son, who had come along for the adventure, was caught talking to himself. When she asked whom he was speaking to, he replied that it was a little boy he’d met named James who said he lived at the asylum.

beechworth asylum
  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

Once you were admitted to Beechworth (or any asylum of the era) it was near to impossible to be discharged. Thanks to the Ha-Ha walls and the crude medical practices of the time, there was virtually no escape–approximately one third of all patients who entered Victorian Australia's network of asylums never made it out alive. 

Now, the remaining building and grounds are used as a hotel and conference center by LaTrobe University. The gardens, which date back to the 19th century, are open to the public, and the college rents out the Chapel of the Resurrection, which used to be the asylum’s morgue, for weddings. Although much of the building has been repurposed, you can still visit the asylum for historical and ghost tours. Who knows what you’ll see... 

Featured photo: Alchetron 

Published on 25 Apr 2018