Passions and Paradoxes
With its self-supporting farm and gardens, Porirua Lunatic Asylum, opened in 1887, was a big step up from Wellington's first Asylum, established in 1844, which was an extension to the town jail. If criminality and insanity were barely distinguishable to the early colonists, by the 20th century, lunatics had become inmates and the Asylum renamed Porirua Mental Hospital.
An earthquake in 1942 severely damaged buildings and many inmates were evacuated to sample the luxurious lifestyles of Chateau Tongariro and Wairakei tourist Hotel. But by today's standards there was nothing luxurious about treatment of the mentally ill back then: electroconvulsive therapy, still used today, was first used in the early 1940s but drug treatments did not arrive until the later '50s and '60s with the first tranquillizers and anti-depressants.
Of course, over the last 30 years Porirua Hospital has shrunk to become a specialist facility, part of a much wider mental health service; a far cry from its peak in the 1940s when it was a settlement in its own right caring for 1500 inmates. Jack Perkins walks the grounds of the hospital with former staff and visits the museum.