Built in 1896 and in continuous use until 1995, this pinwheel style quaker prison was a reflection of a similar one located nearby. You can tour that one for a few dollars and take as many pictures as you like. This one was not so easy....
It was the site of a controversial decades-long dermatological, pharmaceutical, and biochemical weapons research projects involving testing on inmates.
The prison is also notable for several major riots in the early 1970s.
The prison was home to several trials which raised several ethical and moral questions pertaining to the extent to which humans can be experimented on. In many cases, inmates chose to undergo several inhumane trials for the sake of small monetary reward. The prison was viewed as a human laboratory.
“All I saw before me were acres of skin. It was like a farmer seeing a fertile field for the first time.” Dr. X
One inmate described experiments involving exposure to microwave radiation, sulfuric and carbonic acid, solutions which corroded and reduced forearm epidermis to a leather-like substance, and acids which blistered skin in the testicular areas.
In addition to exposure to harmful chemical agents, patients were asked to physically exert themselves and were immediately put under the knife to remove sweat glands for examination. In more gruesome accounts, fragments of cadavers were stitched into the backs of inmates to determine if the fragments could grow back into functional organs.
So common was the experimentation that in the 1,200-person prison facility, around 80% to 90% of inmates could be seen experimented on.
The rise of testing harmful substances on human subjects first became popularized in the United States when President Woodrow Wilson allowed the Chemical Warfare Service (CAWS) during World War I.
All inmates who were tested upon in the trials had consented to the experimentation, however, they mostly agreed for incentives like monetary compensation. Experiments in the prison often paid around $30 to $50 and even as much as $800. “I was in prison with a low bail. I couldn’t afford the monies to pay for bail. I knew that I wasn’t guilty of what I was being held for. I was being coerced to plea bargain. So, I thought, if I can get out of this, get me enough money to get a lawyer, I can beat this. That was my first thought.”
I expected to find an epic medical ward only to be filled with disappointment. The practice was so common I can only assume it was conducted everywhere.
Many advocates of the prison trials, such as Solomon McBride, who was an administrator of the prisons, remained convinced that there was nothing wrong with the experimentation at the Holmesburg prison. McBride argued that the experiments were nothing more than strapping patches of cloth with lotion or cosmetics onto the backs of patients and argued this was a means for prisoners to earn an easy income.
The negative public opinion was particularly heightened by the 1973 Congressional Hearing on Human Experimentation. The hearing was supposed to discuss the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and clarify the ethical and legal implications of human experimental research. This climate called for a conscious public which rallied against the use of vulnerable populations such as prisoners as guinea pigs. Companies and organizations who associated themselves with human testing faced severe backlash. Amidst the numerous senate hearings, public relation nightmares, and opponents to penal experimentation, county prison boards realized human experimentation was no longer acceptable to the American public. Swiftly, human testing on prisoners was phased out of the United States.
Only a renovated gymnasium is considered suitable for holding inmates. That building is frequently used for overflow from other city jails.
The district attorney launched an extensive two year investigation documenting hundreds of cases of the rape of inmates.
The United States had ironically been strong enforcers of the Nuremberg Code and yet had not followed the convention until the 1990s. The Nuremberg code states: “[T]he person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, overreaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision.”
The prison trials violated this definition of informed consent because inmates did not know the nature of materials they were experimented with and only consented due to the monetary reward. America’s shutting down of prison experimentation such as those in the prison signified the compliance of the Nuremberg Code of 1947.
You look so precious.
Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital is located in Karaka, a small rural area south of the city of Auckland. The construction of the hospital, which derives its name from a hospital in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, began in 1929, when twenty patients from a nearby mental health institution were sent to the site equipped with ten shovels and twelve wheelbarrows. Following a visit to the United Kingdom, Dr. Gray (the Director-General of the Mental Health Division of the Health Department at the time) felt that it was a good idea to open a sister hospital in New Zealand.
Kingseat Hospital opened in 1932. Thereafter, the facility continued to grow and several new buildings were constructed on the site, including a two-storey nurse’s home. By the beginning of 1947, there were over eight hundred patients at the hospital. However, in 1968 a number of nurses at the facility went on strike due to ill treatment and high stress levels. This forced the hospital administration to invite unemployed people and volunteers to assist within the hospital grounds with general domestic tasks. Eventually, the dispute with the nurses was partially resolved and, in the end, normal service resumed. Nevertheless, it should be noted that more nurses are said to have died at Kingseat than patients, due to the high stress levels caused by working in such an emotionally, and physically, draining environment. As one member of staff reported after the closure of Kingseat:
… I worked here as a teenager, it was a horrible hospital with dinosaur thinking and a lot of what they say is true. How they treated the elderly and mentally handicapped people back then was horrible… It was horrible living in the nurses ‘home’, it was horrible working in the huge main kitchen and it was worse working in the separate units. The eating hall looked like a disaster swept through after each feeding… There was never enough hands to help the extremely handicapped eat, no medications to avoid being scratched or attacked… I cried with relief to learn this hospital has closed. The gardens were kept beautiful, with its tennis courts and pool, but what was behind closed door sucks… I cried looking at the elderly demented people being held here, their only crime was not being of sound mind and having no living relations…
Despite its underlying problems, further development occurred in 1973, when a therapeutic pool was constructed. It was opened by the then-Mayorness of Auckland, Mrs. Barbara Goodman. Four years later a larger, main swimming pool was installed at the hospital.
As the hospital continued to grow, various externals sites formed a connection with the facility, such as various alcoholics groups that sent patients to be treated for their drinking addictions. The hospital also started to accept voluntary patients between the 1980s and 1990s. However, in 1996 South Auckland Health sold Kingseat Hospital, following the government’s decision to replace ongoing hospitalisation of mentally ill patients with community care and rehabilitation units. Similar to the UK, New Zealand went through a period of deinstitutionalisation which involved housing mentally ill patients within the everyday community, and this resulted in most of the country’s asylums and institutions being closed down. Subsequently, Kingseat Hospital closed in 1999, after the final patients were relocated to a mental health unit in Otara. The last sixteen patients were not sent into the community because they were not suitable for rehabilitation. The final patients were moved to an old Spinal Unit complex that was surrounded on all sides by electrified fences. It is reported that local residents of Otara were concerned for the safety of their families if a patient did manage to escape from the secure unit. In contrast, South Auckland Health argued that such fears were unwarranted and unjustified, and that the secure unit’s location would allow the patients to be closer to their own families, whereas Kingseat had been much more isolated.
After Kingseat Hospital closed, it was considered as a potential site for a new prison. It is estimated that it would have been able to hold up to six hundred inmates. However, it was decided not to redevelop the facility due to the buildings on the site being potentially earthquake-prone. Since 2000, then, a large proportion of the hospital has simply been left to decay. The rest of the site is lived in by members of the Tainui tribe and other New Zealanders.
Since 2004 over two hundred people have come forward to file complaints against the national government for mistreatment and abuse during the 1960s and 70s. Many of those people are former patients and nurses. The site has also gained a reputation for being one of the most haunted places in New Zealand. According to the television programme, Ghost Hunt, the most common apparition seen at the hospital is the ‘Grey Nurse’ – a former member of staff who is reported to have committed suicide. However, despite the spooky problem, a development company has proposed plans to transform the site into a countryside living estate with four hundred and fifty homes. The plans would ensure that the original buildings and grounds would be preserved.
Our Version of Events
We’ll keep this brief, since the explore itself was pretty uneventful (it was still very interesting, but more of a chilled walk-around). To begin with, we met up in Auckland with another explorer who runs the Derelict NZ Facebook page, and from there decided to head out of the city to visit an old psychiatric hospital. Apparently, the architecture was very different to other stuff you tend to find in New Zealand, so it seemed well worth a visit. In other words, it meant we were going to find some bricks!
We rocked up sometime in the afternoon and parked the cars in an old parking bay that was presumably part of the hospital. As we got out, we were surprised at how lively the old site was. There were people walking outdoors, children playing on the grass and other people doing menial tasks outside their houses. However, as noted above, parts of the site are lived on, so in hindsight this shouldn’t have been odd at all.
Doing our best to blend in, we crossed a large, well-kept, grass field. We were heading for the abandoned looking buildings where there were fewer people. At the first dirty looking derp, we had to wait patiently for several minutes for a very unusual guy to continue on his way. He appeared to be walking his cat, and was talking on his phone to no one… It would appear, then, that not all the patients have left the facility. After a few odd glances at each other, though, the guy eventually wandered off into some nearby bushes, and that was the last we saw of him.
Accessing the buildings wasn’t particularly difficult, and it’s possible to get inside at least several of them. Most are largely stripped, as the photos show, but some do have a few unique features, such as the cells we found inside a former ward. Unfortunately, the old high secure section of the site has been torched, so there’s not much to look at inside there. The hardcore fence outside it is still in situ though, so that was something interesting to see. The final thing we found that’s worth mentioning is the old therapeutic pool. It was much different to any other we’ve seen before. After the pool we headed back to the cars as there wasn’t much else to see. It was time to crack on and find something else to explore.
Explored with Nillskill, Nadia and Derelict NZ.
Padded cells are few and far between now-a-days, so the opportunity to visit one doesn't present itself very often. So rare in fact, that I should imagine this will be the only padded cell I ever get the opportunity to visit, in situ and outside of a museum.
This particular padded cell is inside the 'G Block' of the Royal Hospital Haslar - a disused naval hospital on the south coast of England. G Block was established in 1910 as a purpose-built psychiatric unit and was comprised of 2 wards, each with 12 beds. G-Block served as an assessment centre and sailors requiring longer term treatment were transferred to a psychiatric unit at Great Yarmouth. The padded cell was built by Pocock Brothers, a company who were responsible for the creation of a few other similar padded cells around that time. In practice the cell was rarely used.
Staircase in the G-Block entrance lobby
Outside of the cell door. The makers plate has been removed.
Looking through the door into the padded cell
Inside the cell
Looking up at the door
Looking towards the back of the cell
Wider view of the padding
â€œWhen faith is kneeling by his bed of deathâ€