Mental health patient graves 

HUNDREDS of Morisset Hospital patients were buried in unmarked graves in the mental institution’s cemetery, a history group says.

The discontinued practice reflected the stigma of mental illness and a tendency for families to ostracise afflicted relatives.

A surge of interest in this history led Lake Macquarie City Council to erect a memorial wall at Morisset Cemetery for families to remember dead relatives.

Bill Denby, a patient at the hospital for 52 years, was one of those buried and forgotten. He arrived at the hospital in 1909, in one of the first intakes of patients transferred from overcrowded psychiatric hospitals in Sydney.  

He died in 1961, aged 74.

Mr Denby’s parents divorced and he was abandoned at age five and placed in foster care. He became mentally ill and had little contact with family.

Mr Denby was a relative of Anne Wilmshurst’s husband, Stephen Ecob.

Ms Wilmshurst, of Hobart, investigated Mr Denby’s history in a bid to learn the truth about him.

‘‘I think if you know where you come from and know your story, it grounds you,’’ Ms Wilmshurst said.

Her family plans to erect a plaque at the memorial.

Ms Wilmshurst said Mr Denby’s story was ‘‘tragic and heart-wrenching’’.

‘‘I understand the realities of mental illness in those days, but it’s shocking to think he was left there and forgotten,’’ she said.

Morisset Hospital History sub-committee member Chris Gavenlock said hundreds of patients were buried at Morisset Cemetery in unmarked graves.

‘‘Back then if someone was mentally ill, people didn’t talk about it and they were considered gone,’’ Mrs Gavenlock said.

‘‘Because of the stigma of mental illness, they didn’t want to know about them.

‘‘The state was given the job of disposing of them when they died.’’

She said the popularity of family history research had led to many inquiries from people whose relatives died at Morisset Hospital.

She said the council’s gesture of erecting a memorial wall ‘‘means recognition for these people’’.

Hunter New England Mental Health general manager Jude Constable said the organisation was pleased about the memorial wall.

‘‘It provides a place where descendants can focus on the memories of those patients who were buried at the cemetery in unmarked graves,’’ Ms Constable said.

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