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Misery and Shadows - Beechworth Lunatic Asylum - The HDR Experience by Philip Johnson

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Misery and Shadows - Beechworth Lunatic Asylum - The HDR Experience by 

Beechworth’s Mayday Hills Hospital is significant for many reasons – the people, the buildings and the gardens. Developed as the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum in the 1860’s, it’s retained much of its character and history in its new guise as LaTrobe University’s Beechworth campus. By day it’s a beautiful example of early 19th century buildings and gardens, but at night… well it has a life all of its own.

But first, a brief history, when the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum opened in October 1867, it stretched half a kilometre from one end to the other. But a fire swept through the male wing in August 1951 destroying buildings and causing considerable damage. New buildings were built, but the site never returned to its vast size. In the 1860’s Victoria’s only mental institution, Yarra Bend was overcrowded so the government of the day built two new hospitals one in Ararat, the other in Beechworth.

Six keys were all you needed to open the asylum, which was built on a hill in Beechworth. It’s believed the site was chosen because of the belief the town’s altitude would cleanse the patients of their illnesses, with the winds carrying away their mental afflictions. At its peak the hospital had 1200 patients, 600 men and 600 women. To be committed, only two signatures were required, but for a release, you needed eight.

Very few would ever walk out alive there were many legitimately ill people, including alcoholics and opium addicts from the goldfields, there were also many people who were not ill. Some people became inmates by refusing, or being unable to answer a judge’s or police sergeant’s question.

A room which was the first laboratory and we are told this is where operations and autopsies took place. The first person to be cut open was William Whitehead, a former Beechworth Jail inmate who died within hours of the hospital opening, his death certificate states he died of “insanity”. Apparently the laboratory had a floor to ceiling bookcase with shelves that were filled with jars of body parts stored in formaldehyde. In the 1950s when restoration work was being carried out the jars disappeared, but it’s believed they are stored in a sealed cavity of the original cellar of the asylum.

Spooky well the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum is now a hit , for ghost tours do you dare?

As you walk through the grounds , by moon and lantern light, the rustle of the leaves, the feeling of a cool wind or is it something else the old matron, the old doctor checking you pulse, the blur in a photograph but there is nobody in the room?

This photo is of the oldest surviving wing the womens wing , is that someone looking out at you , he he he he

Visit Beechworth do the ghost tour do you dare ?

Also visit Beechworth for other things like good food , wine , drop in at beechworth bakery for a Tom’s curry pie. And the grand preserved colonial gold rush buildings

Equipment: Nikon D300, Nikon 18-20mm
Technique: HDR 5 Bracketted Images, Photomatix

Beechworth Ghost Tours:

Philip Johnson is a Photographer located on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Specialising in HDR photography his works have been shown in galleries,published in Tourism campaigns. His work will also be available as Jig Saws through Crown & Andrews

Winner of the Art Unlimited Photography prize 2011

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  • Rick  Friedle
    Rick Friedleover 4 years ago

    Great work!

  • Colleen Sattler
    Colleen Sattlerover 4 years ago

    Love the colours and texture Phil!

  • thanks colleen the building is the old women’s ward it is essentially untouched therefore in the worst condition, but thank god the building survives. its very dark and sinister when doing a midnight ghost tour

    – Philip Johnson

  • Chris Clark
    Chris Clarkover 4 years ago

    brilliant work Phillip

  • gibbandy
    gibbandyover 4 years ago

    great shot Phillip…really atmospheric place

  • SteffyDee
    SteffyDeeover 4 years ago

    Really well done, It’s almost like the building is trying to suck you in…eerie.

  • lol definitely has a feeling at midnight, lol thats the reason i went in the day

    – Philip Johnson

  • Rosalie Dale
    Rosalie Daleover 4 years ago

    Well done – love the result.

  • thanks rosalie walking the old grounds there are many similarities to gladeville and rozelle hospitals in sydney

    – Philip Johnson

  • Sean Farragher
    Sean Farragherover 4 years ago


  • Mrswillow
    Mrswillowover 4 years ago

    Great work Phillip! I have visited Beechworth years ago…it is (was)spooky then too!
    The other asylum, you mentioned(,Ararat) I visited there once, when I lived and worked at Beaufort …it was interesting, but I was pleased to leave…it seemed such a sad place.

  • yes they definitely hsave a feel about them , there is a story of a 8 year old boy committed by a judge to beechworth. his crime stealing a horse. he left beechworth eventually but when he left he was 80!

    – Philip Johnson

  • Kylie  Sheahen
    Kylie Sheahenover 4 years ago

    Wonderful capture Philip, this building has an rather sinister mood. :))

  • kellbellrauch
    kellbellrauchover 4 years ago

    This is an instant fav and definiitely a place my husband and I would like to visit and tour! Magnificent work, I just love the texture and the mood set from this… wonderful history you added about the place, quite intriguing!

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