Seacliff Mental Hospital – Dunedin

Seacliff Lunatic Asylum (also called Seacliff Asylum and Seacliff Mental Hospital), situated about 20 miles north of Dunedin in an isolated coastal, forest-covered reserve, was a late 19th-century psychiatric hospital in Seacliff, New Zealand.
Designed by 19th century New Zealand architect, Robert Lawson.
Work began in 1874 and the asylum was opened for business ten years later. At the time, it was New Zealand’s largest facility, noted for its scale and extravagant architecture and noted as the grandest of all mental institutions.
It was built to house up to 500 patients and around 50 staff.
Seacliff is believed to be haunted by former patients of what was at the time the largest building in New Zealand.
Around 80 percent of the reserve is densely wooded and thought to be haunted by the many wandering souls that escaped the asylum by suicide and other causes of death. This area is commonly known as the ”Enchanted forest” or the ”Haunted Forest”.
The building became legendary for its many unfortunate construction faults resulting in partial collapse. In 1887, only three years after the grand opening of the main block, a major landslide occurred, partially damaging some of the buildings – something surveyors warned might happen. In 1959 the main block needed to be demolished due to further earth movements causing the structure to become unstable and dangerous.
A fire occurred in 1938 during which the dining room was destroyed. No explanation was found.
In 1942, another fire swept through Ward 5, located in a wooden out-building, killing between 37 and 39 female patients who were locked in a ward, unable to escape.
A correct headcount was never given.
A third fire in the facility was apparently loosely attributed to the spontaneous combustion of stored coal, inside the building. Suggestions of the fires being caused by rats didn’t stick and many pointed the finger at the possibility of it being the work of an unknown pyromaniac patient. No evidence was forthcoming for either theory. To this day, the cause remains unknown.
The harsh unethical treatment of the patients at Seacliff also came into question, many considering it cruel and inhuman. Janet Frame, a prominent New Zealand writer, was held at the asylum during the 1940s after being incorrectly diagnosed as a schizophrenic.
Following years of psychiatric hospitalization, Frame was scheduled for a lobotomy which luckily was cancelled, as just days before the procedure, her debut book, a collection of short stories was unexpectedly awarded a national literary prize.
Most of the old buildings on the land were demolished in 1992 due to structural defaults and are now gone. The last few remaining hospital buildings outside the reserve have been renovated and a family now resides on the private property.

Haunted Auckland visited Seacliff Asylum in 2021, with permission from the owners.

We thank them for the access. 

NOTE: We have been asked to let our readers know that Seacliff is on private property and the land and everything on it is privately owned. The family lives on the property and is tired of people trespassing and being a nuisance. Please respect their right to peace and privacy.

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