Dunwich Benevolent Asylum provides significant evidence of Queensland history

Buildings at the Dunwich Benevolent Institution, North Stradbroke Island, ca.1935. State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 62921

Buildings at the Dunwich Benevolent Institution, North Stradbroke Island, ca.1935

Guest blogger: Elisabeth Gondwe – North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum

The Dunwich Benevolent Asylum operated from 1864-1947 and forms a significant part of the history of North Stradbroke Island.  A 2010 Significance Assessment by Dr Thom Blake identified the Benevolent Asylum Collection held at the Museum as of national significance.

Most colonial governments in Australia established substantial benevolent asylums in the 19th century.  All were closed by the mid 20th century and the buildings either demolished or adapted for quite different uses.  The extent, purpose and nature of their operations remains a largely forgotten chapter in Australian history.”

Benevolent asylums were part of a wider group of institutions of social control.  While asylums for the insane, prisons and aboriginal settlements have now been reasonably well documented, the history of benevolent asylums remains largely unknown, forgotten or ignored. 

The Dunwich Benevolent Asylum objects are therefore highly significant as evidence of an important chapter in Queensland and Australia’s history.  They provide a window into how the asylum was managed and the conditions for inmates.”  (North Stradbroke island Historical Museum Assessment of Significance , Thom Blake, Feb 2012, p11.)

Using our unique collection of objects, buildings, documents, photographs and sound recordings, we hope to bring this history to light for visiting school children.  The objective of the educational resource we are in the process of developing is to direct the children in a thoughtful way to engage with the various items in the Benevolent Asylum Collection.  The means to do this is through a canvas map of Dunwich with old buildings superimposed over the contemporary landscape.  From this point the children will explore ca1906 Dunwich and then be directed to various areas and items in the museum that tell that story.  It aims to be a directed journey to imagine daily life in the Benevolent Asylum.  State Library of Queensland has provided support with images from its collections for the project.  Most of the content is assembled and we are in the process of fine tuning the logistics of how the activity will flow and work. Objects will be available that can be handled, touched, worn, tasted, smelt to evoke the senses and thoughts about the past.

Elisabeth Gondwe – North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum