As the name suggests, Yarra Bend was established in a curve of the river outside Melbourne. Completed in1848. It was Victoria’s first, purpose built mental asylum.
There was an initial intake of ten patients;
Burials at the asylum in the 1870s were horrific, as a newspaper correspondent reported in a letter to the editor;
For some time back the bodies of patients who die in the Yarra Bend are buried by “contract”, and the contractor is in the habit of conveying the dead bodies to the cemetery in an open spring cart, without a particle of clothing except a small bit of well worn oil-cloth. A coroner’s inquest is held on nearly every one of these bodies; this causes delay – indeed it very often happens that a body is not placed in the contractor’s cart until nearly three days have elapsed after death. The effluvia from the card is often something horrible, and to make the matter worse, the contractor is in the habit of driving along this road at the rate of about 10 miles an hour – portions of the road are rough patches of new metal etc.
‘Rattle his bones over the stones,
He’s only a looney whom nobody owns
Surely this should not be allowed in this Christian land,
The quote included by ‘Humanitus’ was from the poem The Pauper’s Drive, by Thomas Noel. It concludes;
Bear softly his bones over the stones,
Though a pauper, he’s one whom his Maker yet owns.
It’s important to remember that these inmates were ‘owned’ and mourned by their loved ones.
FAMILY NOTICE – The Age, Saturday 8 March 1902
Yarra Bend Asylum. Henry Hayes, the beloved husband of Annie Hayes, of 5 Studley Park Terrace
As time went by, overcrowding became a serious problem at Yarra Bend. Also, the original design meant that inmates did not receive any benefit from the beauty of its riverside location. The man who would orchestrate the asylum’s closure was Dr Ernest Jones. He aired his feelings of dismay following an inspection of the institution shortly after his appointment as Inspector General of the Insane in 1905;
The final patient admission to Yarra Bend was in 1924. Inmates were moved to other, more modern mental hospitals when it closed a year later.
In June 1927 a newspaper portrayed a bleak picture of the old asylum burial ground;
A rabbit warren and a grazing ground for cattle is the description that has been applied to the cemetery attached to the Yarra Bend Mental Asylum. At present the cemetery contains the remains of more than 1,000 former patients and is in a shockingly neglected condition. A water course more than 6ft deep in places runs through the centre. Only a few of the graves can be identified by the small, weather scarred crosses left standing. On them the dates go back to 1853. Immediate steps, however, are to be taken, to put the cemetery in a proper state of repair.
It is estimated that there were 1,200 burials during the years the asylum was open, but only 400 graves. This was because families of the dead were charged more to have an individual plot. Many of the lost, unmarked graves lie below the practice fairway of a golf course.
All that is left of the asylum itself is a single pillar from the entrance gates.