28 January 2017

Debating the Porirua Asylum

The Porirua Lunatic Asylum, to give it its original name, was founded in 1887 to care for the 'incurably' mentally ill and to provide space for an asylum farm, both for economic and recuperative reasons. Much like the grand Seacliff Lunatic Asylum north of Dunedin, the idea was to house the patients in a rural setting as far away from the main urban centres as possible. The construction at Porirua was not cheap; below are the debates from Parliament on 16 December 1887 on the £11,000 spending appropriations set out in the Public Works Estimates:

The Porirua Asylum, £11,000, excited a spirited discussion. Dr. NEWMAN created some amusement by asserting that Dr. Grabham was an excellent authority on Asylum buildings "from a lunatic point of view." Mr. ALLEN strongly advocated a reduction of the vote. The COLONIAL SECRETARY expressed the opinion that the item could be reduced by £400. Mr. ALLEN moved that the vote be reduced by £100. Mr. FISHER reminded the Committee that Wellington had to provide Asylum accommodation for Wanganui on the one side and Hawke's Bay on the other, and therefore Porirua Asylum was a necessity. Dr. NEWMAN gave it as his opinion that the time had arrived when harmless lunatics might be boarded out. This raised a laugh, and Dr. Newman went on to explain that in many Continental countries the experiment had been successfully tried. Mr. Valentine condemned any niggardliness in providing suitable accommodation for the poor creatures confined in asylums. The amendment was lost by 30 to 15.
- Hansard, reported in Evening Post, 17 December 1887

In 1887 and 1888 New Zealand was suffering from the Long Depression, and the 'Scarecrow Ministry' of Premier Harry Atkinson was desperate to cut spending and raise revenue wherever possible. Even so, Parliament authorised the Asylum's £11,000 appropriation.
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