150 years of Specialist Mental Health Services in Canterbury

Friday November 29, 2013

Mental Health Services 150 Years

The 150th anniversary of specialist Mental health Services in Canterbury was commemorated 25 November – 1 December 2013.

The official opening of the commemorations was held at Hillmorton Hospital on Monday 25 November.

The event included:

  • Art Exhibition - Destination Wellbeing, featuring artwork created by consumers/Tangata Whaiora, their family-Whānau and Staff from the Mental Health Sector.

  • Historical Display - 1863 to 2013 and beyond - a timeline of key developments in Mental Health Services in Canterbury

  • Mental Health Community Family Day, Sunday 1 December

More than 200 people gathered at Hillmorton Hospital on Monday to commemorate 150 years of mental health services in Canterbury.

It was a heart-warming afternoon of karakia, connections, waiata, remembrance and talk of the future. While the rain curtailed many of the outdoor elements of the afternoon, a raft of speakers shared their experiences of their involvement in Canterbury mental health services.

Toni Gutschlag, General Manager, Mental Health for Canterbury DHB spoke of how proud she was of Hillmorton Hospital and the people who work there. Despite changes to the care of people with mental health issues and resulting decentralisation of services, there is, she said, still a need for facilities like Hillmorton which has become a place for rest and recovery. Toni paid tribute too, to the work done by Edward and Esther Seagar who first set up the mental health facility that was to become Sunnyside.

Dame Margaret Bazley opened the historical display and shared her memories of her time as Matron of Sunnyside hospital from 1965-1972. She especially remembered the tea chests of donated clothing that was provided for consumers and her farewell at which staff and consumers were present.

John Coleman, a relative of Mary Anne Libeau who was 'Patient 20' at Sunnyside spoke of the courage of his ancestor. Mary Anne developed a mental illness and was taken from her home in Akaroa to the local gaol, onto the Lyttelton gaol and then the Lyttelton Asylum. The Seagars transferred her from the asylum to Sunnyside Hospital where she received the care she needed.

Canterbury DHB personnel including Sue Nightingale, Chief of Psychiatry, CEO David Meates, George Schwass, Senior Operations Manager and Director of Nursing Stu Bigwood spoke in turn with other mental health professionals such as Fiona Clapham Howard, Project Manager / Facilitator at Blueprint for Learning and Coordinating Consumer Advisor.

Particularly moving were the words spoken by Eric Biddington, a composer and former consumer of mental health services. Eric was the first Consumer Advisor employed by mental health services and he spoke of how consumers ask for more now from our mental health services than before. How they want to take an active role in their own care.

A lone piper, former SMHS Health & Safety Officer Ian Bensemann led the brave out into the weather to complete the planting of two Dogwood trees in the grounds. While not native to New Zealand, the Dogwood was chosen to mark the anniversary because of its resilience and how it moves with the seasons. The tree blossoms in spring, before its leaves unfurl. Autumn sees those leaves turn to rich oranges and browns and red fruit adorns the branches. It is a symbol of endurance and durability.

The final spadesful of dirt were put in place by Tareha Kipa and Ada Barrett, two longtime residents at Hillmorton and Alan Burlton secretary of the local branch of the Schizophrenia Fellowship. The plaques were unveiled by Marion James, the longest serving current employee at Hillmorton and Caitlin Ruddle, the newest employee.

Rose Henderson and Calum Hay (see his speech below) opened the Artist exhibition – Destination Wellbeing and passed on artist Tony Cribb's best wishes. The afternoon concluded with the cutting of an impressive cake and afternoon tea. Guests were then invited to enjoy the historical display and the art exhibition.

Both the historical display and art exhibition are open for viewing 10am-4pm until 4pm on Sunday 1 December.

Sun, fun and laughter at Family Day

Hundreds of people enjoyed the Mental Health Community Family Day held last Sunday. The day was the final event in a week of commemorations to mark the 150th anniversary of Specialist Mental Health Services in Canterbury. Education and food stalls appealed to many and entertainment on a big stage included:

  • Plasticine Heroes

  • Amokura-Kapahaka Group

  • Grace

  • Puree

  • The Smoking Decibels

Non Government Organisations (NGOs) and the wider community ran stalls which ranged, amongst many, from Indian curry to whitebait and educational to a variety of art and crafts stalls. Games (including old fashioned egg and spoon and sack races), pony rides and sideshows kept children busy for the day.

it was a reminder of days gone by and the spirit of fairs held to raise funds to build the hospital chapels at the then Sunnyside, TPMH and Burwood Hospitals.

The highlight of the day was the drawing of the major prize – return airfares for two to Singapore (courtesy of Singapore Airlines) and a $500 travel voucher from Orbit Travel.

Photographs of the events

Click on a photo to view a larger version

150th Cake-220px.jpgHillmorton Toni-147px.jpg
Crowd gathers in the rain220px.jpgDavid Meates addresses crowd-220px.jpg
Dame Margaret Toni Gutschlag cut the cake-147px.jpgSMHS oldest and youngest current staff-147px.jpg
Outdoor stalls by the Avon Cafe220px.jpgTowards the stage220px.jpg
Colourful characters220px.jpgThe nursery stall220px.jpg
Face painting and goods for sale inside220px.jpgArt exhibition220px.jpg

Thanks to our supporters

We would like to thank the following for their support of our commemorations:

Orbit Travel


  • Airforce Museum

  • Air New Zealand

  • Antigua Boatshed

  • ASB Bank

  • Blackwell Motors

  • Brumbys

  • Budget Rental Cars and Trucks

  • Café Prima

  • Christchurch Yacht Club

  • Court Theatre

  • Dowsons

  • Drexels

  • Eco Frames & Mirrors

  • Ferrymead Heritage Park

  • Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa

  • Hoyts

  • Just Cuts

  • Milieu Café

  • Muffin Break, Barrington

  • NZ Army

  • NZ Fire Service

  • Oderings

  • ProfessioNail

  • Pearsons

  • Redcliffs School

  • Roxx Climbing Centre

  • Salon E

  • Science Alive

  • Scorpio Books

  • Spark Photography

  • SpecSavers

  • Stevens

  • Strawberry Fare

  • TC Construction

  • Transdiesel Ltd

  • ToyWorld Tower Junction

  • USAR

  • Vanessa, Kikki K

  • Zealandia

Destination: Wellbeing exhibition opening speech Calum Hay 25 November 2013

Dedicated to Melissa McCreanor

The artists of Destination: Wellbeing worked with light revealing textures and contours describing form, context and content. The art here is about colour in the service of ideas. It is the life of the mind that these pieces celebrate and these minds are alive.

The ideas evident here are not what one might be forgiven for thinking they would be. Where, for example, are the jagged lines, the migraine visuals. There aren't many moody colours or nightmares, in fact the frame overall is one of positivity. We have a Sunlight God, Hulk Hogan and squares and diamonds like lights in a sea of chaos. These are objects found at the center of storms, at the eye where it is still and quiet, where an artist can create.

So, after a while, the work is finished on the easel and it is a map of a state of mind. What is noteworthy is the general tenor of Destination: Wellbeing, that of all things being equal. The colours are clear, the lines are bold, the shapes are coherent. Here are confident, intelligent photographs: that is, renderings of times (real or unreal) and places (interior or exterior).

Let these images and objects speak to you of the day or days when time was made, to sit and draw paint, photograph, sculpt or quilt. While the artist created with patience and care the sun curved across the sky, trees moved and a concept took shape becoming a physical object, traveling in crafted increments from the mind to the 4D world, from abstract and imperceptible to the tangible. And now, as a result, we have this exhibition: a record of a number of journeys on the road to wellbeing, a collection of snapshots taken along the way for our enjoyment.

Finally… I don't care what anybody thinks about consumers like me, or our art whether it be music, painting, photography or sculpture. What we have created comes from our hearts in all honesty and dedication. For a while we believed in ourselves and what we were capable of producing, and these are the results. Tread lightly for you tread on our dreams.

Historical information about mental health services in Canterbury

Edward Seager was appointed the first steward of Sunnyside Hospital in 1863. Edward was a great humanitarian, and a great believer in sleep, diet, fresh air and meaningful occupation through work, music, and arts or crafts for those in his care; he saw these were critical to recovery. Edward was also an entertainer and party host, who enjoyed performing magic tricks for his family and patients.

He would often have groups of performers/artistes visit and entertain the patients in his care, and the local community was always invited to these concerts and dances at his home, and later at the hospital. Every year, Edward would hold a Fete to raise funds for patients' comforts, such as a wagon which was purchased that transported patients to Sumner Beach for salt water bathing and picnic lunches.

Over the years many changes have taken place including:

  • An integration of wards and end to the separation of male and female staff and patients.

  • Wards being "unlocked" and patients given the freedom to walk outside. They were able to wear their own clothes and to mingle with members of the opposite sex.

  • A change of name from Sunnyside to Hillmorton Hospital.

  • 1950 – the creation of Chlorpromazine, the first drug developed with specific antipsychotic action. It dramatically improved the prognosis of patients in psychiatric hospitals worldwide.

  • New medications meant that rather than just sedating patients, health care professionals were now able to treat them. The medications also enabled patients to be discharged to live in their own homes rather than be in hospital.

  • 1983 - A change from hospital based training to Polytechnic training for nurses.

  • Changes to the Mental Health Act. These gave patients more freedom while making health professionals more accountable.

  • Advances in technology. The development of computers has enabled quicker access to patient health information.

  • Society too has changed - The 'shut away' mentality has switched to one of much more tolerance for people who may behave a little differently.

Page last reviewed: 20 December 2013