Retired Historian, Peter MacFie to lead Fiddle Excursion

(c) Copyright 2017 Peter MacFie and Anne Salt

Retired Port Arthur Historian Peter MacFie will lead the Fiddle Excursion through the Derwent and Lachlan Valleys on Sunday the 14th of May 2017. His extensive research of convict musicians at Port Arthur and a successful sell out Sorell tour, will make him the ideal person to explain the history of Alexander Laing, his music and connection to the community and the people.

Anne Salt, Chairwoman of the Friends of Willow Court sat with Peter and heard that there were a number of fiddle players at Port Arthur, but Alexander Laing was the one musician who had the skills to play and write.

Some ticket still remain for sale, but this is limited because of the coach size and early sales. Visitors will experience historic homesteads and buildings in the region, light lunch, afternoon tea and a separate tour of Glen Derwent. Another local Historian will tell the history of the places visited and there will be live music from Alexander Laing tunes played by Folk Trio, Green Hills Gathering at each venue. Two solders, in original uniform will escort visitors throughout the day.


This is a National Trust Heritage Event.

Click images above for ticket sales or contact the Derwent Valley Council. 


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Don’t you know there’s war on?!

During war years there are many changes, shortage of staff and the stopping of building programs. The first World War was no exce6ption. The planned recreational hall was drawn up and amounted to a cost of 1000 pounds, it was to be on the same site as the Administration Building and was to be a main hall of 90 feet by 60 feet with a stage of 20 feet by 60 feet and there were to be two clock rooms and a bio-scope platform,  but the Government of the day decided against building while the country was at war. However extensions to the laundry and the additions of a new hydro-extractor, drying machine, washing machine and six-roller mangle were welcomed at the hospital. We also see the long serving Dr MacFarlane taken ill and being temporarily replaced. By 1915 Dr MacFarlane, after 34 years of service to the hospital died after “a short illness”.

A new Doctor was appointed as Superintendent, Dr E. Sydney Morris had a big job ahead. The defense Department wrote to the Hospital in 1915 and asked for “separate treatment, terms etc. for Returned Soldiers”. After each war the population of the hospital had a dramatic increase. Returning Soldiers, and families baring the stress and strain of having family away and being killed all added to the greater number of patients the hospital would have to cope with, often during difficult financial times.


The rise of admissions was evident during the First and Second World Wars and you can also see a rise between 1899-02 during Australia’s involvement in the Boer War.

“The war has somewhat depleted our staff, there being at present two clerks and ten attendants serving with the forces”, it was also noted in the report that the death of Private A. A. Anderson was recorded with great sadness. This wasn’t  going to be the last sad news for the staff at the hospital, the war had only just begun. Dr Morris resigned and enlisted by 1918 and Dr Lalor from Victoria’s Kew Mental Hospital was to be appointed Acting Medical Superintendent.


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Changing and evolving ideas of disability support

This organisational chart from 1973 today looks very different with the roll out and empowerment that comes with the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Australia is falling into line with it’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and previous theories of Normalisation and Social Role Valerisation (SRV). Today’s idea of person-centred-practice fits neatly into the NDIS model. This has been a major change in attitude of policy makers driven by self advocates and families for a number of decades.

Each organisation chart opens up in a separate tab. The idea of the NDIS placed the person in control of their support services.

The structure of a Medical Hospital Model at RDH in 1973.


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Royal Family at the Hospital?

From: The Hobarton Mercury Mon 10 Mar 1856 Page 3

ON Wednesday, en route to Hamilton, we stopped at New Norfolk for a short time, and
being desirous to inspect the Lunatic Asylum, we proceeded thither, accompanied by a friend, and, introducing ourselves to Dr. Houston (Dr. George Francis Huston), were very politely received by that gentleman, who afforded every facility to the object of our visit. Under
his guidance we viewed every part of the establishment, and we ware much gratified with the good order, cleanliness, and general arrangement.

There are about two hundred patients, male and female, for whose comfort every means are supplied: they are carefully classified with Nos. 1, 2, and 3 classes, according to the particular nature of their maladies, cells being appropriated to the more furiously maniacal: of these there are several, and we witnessed two poor fellows whose abhorrent antipathy to bright colours, red or scarlet particularly, we were informed, excited a paroxysm.

Instances of extraordinary delusion are common: one remarkably fine woman fancies herself a princess, with a duke for a father and a duchess for a mother, and who very graciously held out her hand for us to kiss. Another young female imagines herself to be twelve hundred years old, and requested our assistance to procure for her a comfortable cottage. The majority of cases are those of melancholy and idiotic madness, sad enough, indeed, but not so terrible as raving madness. 

The dietary is ample, even luxurious, and the garden set apart for the recreation of those who are in a condition to enjoy it, is in first-rate condition. An excellent feature in the management is the employment of patients in gardening, milking the cows, and other occupations, calculated to find them pleasurable and healthy employment: some patients engaged in this manner receive extra rations of milk, rice, &c., while the occupation
itself is a well-prized indulgence. In fact, the whole arrangements of the establishment are most admirable, and reflect the highest credit upon the superintendent, Dr. Houston (Dr. George Francis Huston), whose attention to the health and comfort of the unfortunate inmates are worthy of all praise. As in England, so here, the old system of coercion, except in cases actually
requiring it, is abolished, and the soothing treatment is fully appreciated by those who are enabled to judge of and feel its influence.

The expressions of gratitude, nay, even of affection, towards the worthy doctor are warm and sincere, and it is pleasing to witness in so melancholy an abode this due appreciation of conduct so judicious and inestimable.

In conclusion, we may add that we were pleased, yet saddened, with the result of our
visit; pleased with the kind attention of the medical officer, and indeed of all his subordinates, and with the arrangements provided for the comfort and well-being of the poor patients; – saddened by the contemplation of so many of our fellow creatures afflicted with the most grievous and melancholy of all maladies–loss of reason.

Original story HERE

This story was written 6 months after the Hospital had changed practices from being run by the Imperial Government to having autonomy along with the Colony This change and hand over of the New Norfolk establishment was on October 18th 1855.

This was an important time because we start to see better record keeping practices develop around patient notes and treatments. The visit by the reporter wasn’t a coincidence, this is how news was gathered and the Hospital had just been criticised for the lack of documentation and also the total lack of any form of investigation into complaints nor inquests conducted.

Dr Huston, as it was reported was actually Dr. George Francis Huston and was most likely very excepting of the visiting reporter and wanted to show off the Hospital, and clearly the visitors were impressed. However the quote from Gowlland’s book paints a very different picture of the time:

From An Imperial to A Colonial Establishment with the change in responsibility came the establishment of a Board of Commissioners who were given charge of the New Norfolk Hospital and the first snapshot of conditions within the Hospital. The Commissioners were to find much wrong with the Hospital as indicated in their initial report to the Governor: …

its condition very far behind that of similar institutions in the Mother Country. The internal accommodation of the several buildings were small, badly constructed, ill ventilated, dark dismal, while the day rooms, so called, afforded very inadequate convenience for the purpose intended. The yards and grounds were subdivided by high walls, and the spaces allotted for exercise and outdoor recreation were of the most limited character (Quoted in Gowlland 1981: 50).

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Future plans for Archaeology at Willow Court in 2018 and 2017 Report

The outcomes of the 2017 field season included:
 The excavation of three underfloor areas beneath rooms in the Barracks (the old
hardware store room, pharmacy and Assistant Superintendent’s office) and the
excavation of three trenches at the rear of Frescati.

 To enable the excavations at the Barracks, floorboards were removed from parts of
the floor of the hardware store and pharmacy. These were removed by the Centre for
Heritage at Oatlands. These boards will be replaced by the Centre for Heritage at
Oatlands. No boards were removed in the Assistant Superintendent’s office.

 The artefacts from the Barracks included hundred of pieces of butchered animal bone
(mainly sheep and cow), buttons, clay pipes and discarded medical equipment. This
will all be documented, analysed and interpreted by Flinders University Honours
student, Calvin Logan, as part of his Honours thesis. A copy of this thesis will be
provided to the DVC upon completion at the end of 2017.

 The excavations at the rear of Frescati did not reveal any outbuildings and contained
very few artifacts. A short report on these trenches will be provided to the DVC upon
completion in late 2017.

 A Community Open Day held on Sunday 12th February. We estimate that c300 people
attended this event.

 A special ‘Kids’ Dig’ was trialed as part of the Open Day and was very successful.
Feedback from parents indicated that it was both engaging and valuable.

 50 year 7 history students from Ogilvie High School visited the site on Friday 17th

The Council provided the following ‘in-kind’ and financial support for this project, all financial assistance was requested to be allocated to the Willow Court Reservation Fund 2016 budget allocation as noted in the decision of the Council. This excludes the cost of time allocated to this project by indoor staff.

Future plans for Archaeology at Willow Court in 2018 (YET TO BE APPOVED)
Several community members asked whether they could participate in the excavations in
future. To facilitate this we would like to excavate next year in the Carlton (C Ward) yard, at the location of the former Gentlemen’s Cottage (A Ward above). This is a large outdoor area that could easily accommodate community participation. We would like to invite members of the community to take part in all aspects of the archaeology for the duration of the field school (to be held in February 2018 – precise dates to be advised).

Flinders University, the University of Tasmania and the University of Canberra are interested in applying for two grants for various aspects of Archaeology at Willow Court.


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Reflective Dark MOFO

After going through the site during Dark MOFO I was taken by surprise how some people had written messages on their mirrors to loved ones. It doesn’t take much to realise how profound these are. I started to look through the documents that I have to see if I could find a matching name and time frame. I could only find this:  

In 1975 in M Ward I found someone with the same name. They were 9 years of age at the time and had already been there for 2 years which would have made them 7 when that entered the Hospital in 1973. This part of the hospital closed in 2000 and the children were the first to move out, so I don’t think this is the person or the right fit for the data I have.


On another issue, in excess of 260 mirrors were found and counted during the week leading up to the recent Open Day. This is after the staff from Dark MOFO had “removed” them after Mike Parr’s performance during the Dark MOFO 2016 event. Some had been stuck to Heritage walls and there is now damage. Some people had pushed their mirror onto the walls by finding cracks or even creating new places in the old walls  to leave their mirror.

One original plaster wall collapsed shortly after the event and it was believed to be because of the foot traffic up the stairs. Another ceiling plaster had also collapsed, this was believed to be original and dating back to the first construction in 1830 according to Brett Noble, Archaeologist.

The Archaeology team from Flinders University are preparing a report of what they found when they visited the site in January 2017. It is hoped the the Derwent Valley Council can then look at this and make informed decisions about the use of the site, obligations of users and create policy and procedures about the sensitive use and compensation around damage caused to the site in the future. The Council manage this site on behalf of the people of Tasmania. 

The site is unsafe to walk around because of the broken glass (mirrors). Also left behind are power cables and even a large screen that was used for one of Mike Parr’s films.

It is unclear who was responsible for doing a final inspection of the site after it was handed back to the Derwent Valley Council, but it appears to be a big fail in ensuring that the site was left in a condition it was found in.

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Council staff made it up!

Russell Penman was the Director of Nursing and the CEO of Willow Court Training Centre during a major part of the downsizing of the institution, as it started moving from a medical (care) model to a social model of support.

Through this interview we can hear what it was like to manage a place that was reported to have a ghost and what the reality was. The Derwent Valley Council heard Russell in a workshop last year and he recorded this interview with myself and local resident, Anne Salt shortly before. The interview reveals Russell’s personal history within the Disability Support System, the job of closing Willow Court Training Centre and the interaction between the community and the hospital.

While it is clear that to perpetuate this story and attempt to bring it back to life, the people who can profit from that will be doing so. We would like to interview the person who worked at the Council during this event who told Russell it was about creating employment, because they knew that the Hospital was downsizing.

We approached this interview with an open mind, because we didn’t know what we were going to discover and what Russell was about to reveal to us. He revealed much more than a simple Ghost Story, he was able to explain the affects it had on staff and patients alike.

The collection of audio memories is a part of the joint project between the Willow Court History Group and the Friends of Willow Court. The copyright holder is the speaker, in this case Russell Penman.

1 Introduction and relocating from South Australia.

2 Russell loved the town being so close to the hospital. The Ghost and managing the media.

3 The setup to raise and encourage employment opportunity by creating Winston. Historical search for Winston. Historical books in the Barracks. The “mad town”

4 Group homes are up and running, family, staff and the uncertainty of de-institutionalisation. After the job.

(c) 2017 Copyright Story: Mark Krause,

(c) 2015 Copyright Audio: Russell Penman.

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Government Apologizes for Abuse of Disabled

Icelandic Government Apologise BY VALA HAFSTAÐ

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

The Icelandic government has issued an apology to those who suffered abuse at Kópavogshæli, an institution for the disabled, which was operated 1952-1993, reports.

A report published this week revealed deplorable conditions at the institution, where children suffered physical and psychological abuse, along with severe neglect, causing them permanent damage.

The report criticized authorities for a lack of a clear legal policy regarding what sort of institution Kópavogshæli was meant to be. Health authorities were blamed for failing to live up to their duty to monitor the operation of the facility.

The report was discussed at a government meeting today.

The statement, signed by Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, reads, “It’s hard, but necessary, to face how difficult the conditions of disabled individuals, children and adults, were at Kópavogshæli.”

The statement continues:

“Today I address all those who as children were placed at Kópavogshæli and their families:

On behalf of the government, I apologize for the inhumane treatment and various neglect suffered by children at Kópavogshæli. Likewise, I apologize to all disabled people, children and adults, who have been placed at institutions in this country and suffered abuse or ill treatment.

Painful experience can never be fully compensated for, but on the basis of laws regarding compensation, we will now work to compensate those who suffered abuse or ill treatment for the damage it has caused, to the extent of our ability. Government ministers are reviewing suggestions made in the report and evaluating what measures will be taken in order to protect the human rights of disabled people in Icelandic society.”

Related Story: Report Reveals Abuse of Disabled at Institution


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The Florence Nightingale connection

Sharon Hutchison (Matron)

For those that attended the successful plays at the last Open Day at Willow Court (11-12 February) you could be forgiven for thinking that Sharon Hutchison (The Matron) was the only person who had a connection with the most famous Nurse in our history, Florence Nightingale. But only a week before the open day, I received an inquiry that started a new chapter in research and this involved the famous Nurse Educator herself. I can say that she is not known to have visited or worked at the hospital but her influence reached around the world. We have discovered that there are a number of connections so far, the first is Selina Alexander. 

Selina Alexander, a qualified nurse, later to become the Matron of the Hospital, with a reference from Florence Nightingale. She was responsible for raising the pay and conditions of her staff. In 1890, aged 35, Selina married, as his second wife, Robert Shoobridge of hop-producing Valleyfield who was a government visitor of the asylum. They were to become parents of Nancy Hope Shoobridge.

Florence Nightingale

We also know that once married, women weren’t allowed to hold employment in the hospital. But further there was sad news, the connection is that the young girl, Nancy Hope Shoobridge wasn’t to survive the passage back to England to visit her Grandparents. 

In the east of the Sanctuary of St Matthews Church, New Norfolk is a stained-glass window of the manger scene. The child holding a Bible behind the angel at the crib is Nancy Hope Shoobridge (1890–98), who died at sea aged eight on her way to England to see her grandparents. In 1910, her parents donated a cottage hospital to the town in her memory and continued to contribute much to the social welfare of the community.

Donated Cottage Hospital

This all came to light after an email arrived. The sender was looking for more news and connections because she has the reference note that was Selina Shoobridge (nee Alexander) and it is forming part of a presentation at the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation.

The Official Visitors wrote about Miss S Alexander (Matron) in the book, Troubled Asylum on page 106:

“Staff Changes;
The ranks of the Official Visitors were not the only ones unsettled in
the year (1890). Dr MacFarlane in his report list two important resignations and two subsequent promotions: – There have been several changes in the staff during the year. Miss Alexander resigned her position as Matron, and was succeeded by Miss J R Ayres, the Sub Matron Miss Alexander, now Mrs R W G Shoobridge, had been Matron since December 1883. She performed her duties in a most highly satisfactory manner.”

It is a great day to celebrate International Women’s Day by researching and writing about two wonderful Women that are connected to the Hospital and it’s long history.

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Susan Piddock new links and articles

 The Dr Susan Piddock page has been updated with the latest links and articles. Susan has a strong interest in Asylums and has created some well researched, evidence based material and has offered it for you to read. Click the image below to go to the page.

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