Moves to acknowledge history of hospital at Truby King Reserve

Patients watch a game of cricket at Seacliff Lunatic Asylum during the 1920s. Photo: Percy Godber
Patients watch a game of cricket at Seacliff Lunatic Asylum during the 1920s. Photo: Percy Godber
Ground markings at the former Seacliff asylum could be used to help get across the significance of the main hospital building that once stood there.

At 228m long and 70m wide, the psychiatric hospital was New Zealand’s largest building when it was completed in 1884.

The asylum north of Dunedin was at one stage the main employer in Otago.

Marking out the footprint of the hospital is among a series of moves proposed for the 16.4ha Truby King Reserve.

Others include adding a car park, upgrading the tennis court, re-establishing the cricket ground for informal use, creating loop tracks and setting up a picnic and barbecue area.

The Dunedin City Council hearings committee is to meet today to listen to submitters express views about how they believe the recreation reserve should be managed.

The council received 20 submissions from consultation last year and the committee will decide whether to accept a late submission from James Imlach, of the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association, arguing for allowing some form of freedom camping at the site.

Ten submitters argued for better maintenance of plants and gardens and for improved safety and maintenance of the trees and bush areas.

Six submitters supported historical storyboards, four agreed with upgrading the tennis court, four wanted an accessible toilet and two asked to keep the area dog-friendly.

Submitters were split 5-5 on developing a car park.

Three said the reserve was perfect the way it was.

One wanted the name changed to Seacliff Historic Reserve.

The reserve is named after prominent physician and health campaigner Sir Frederic Truby King, who was a pioneer in treatment methods at Seacliff and went on to found the Plunket Society.

The decision to establish an asylum at Seacliff came despite concerns about the site’s stability.

A fire in 1942 killed 37 female patients who were locked in ward 5.

The hospital closed in 1973.

The reserve and private adjoining institutional buildings have been listed as a category 1 historic place since 2012.

Two submitters said the city council should buy the privately owned asylum buildings. 


Pity there won’t be a plaque debunking the ‘great man’ theory of Truby King. He exploited people unfortunate enough to be incarcerated at Seacliff and was in favour of the sterilisation of ‘moral delinquents’ to preserve ‘genetic purity’. Time for ‘Mad history’ to be written by the survivors and their descendants.



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