A visit to Ararat wouldn’t be complete without experiencing a tour of J Ward Asylum. J Ward is Ararat’s Old Gaol and Lunatic Asylum. In 1887 the Ararat Gaol was taken over by the Lunacy Department to house the criminally insane until it closed in 1991. The tour guide we had was very informative and used to work at the nearby Aradale Lunatic Asylum. She had great first hand knowledge/experience of the types of people that called the Asylum home and what they went through.
Whilst the J Ward Asylum was for the criminally insane it was also used to home people claimed to be insane that were of risk of self harm or harming others.
Our experience at the J Ward Asylum Tour
We arrived within 10mins of the tour. Whilst we waited for the tour to begin we were free to read up on the history on display near the ticket office, and to explore inside the grounds.
The tour starts by showing you the wardens quarters and paintings on the tall bluestone gaol walls of ships which were painted by inmates when it was a gaol.
We then were shown the West Wing which originally would’ve been a very horrible place to say the least to stay. It would’ve been exceptionally cold lying on concrete flooring. It wasn’t until 1940 that the conditions started to improve, with parquetry being installed and beds. This was a place where heating was in the corridors but never in the rooms. When we visited the corridor was very cold, we could imagine with no flooring etc it would’ve been freezing.
The tour was extremely moving and educational. One of the inmates became a criminal after being misdiagnosed as a child as being insane. He was far from insane, its thought that measles resulted in him struggling to speak and being deaf. Due to this it was first thought he was insane. He committed a murder and ended up in J Ward Ayslum. Whilst today the word “dumby” is not acceptable to call someone, this is what he was named. They soon realised he was very talented with his hands and made many pieces of woodwork and needle craft pieces.
He was later transferred to Aradale where he assisted the mentally insane. “Dumby” spent 48 years between J Ward and Arydale Asylums and ended up dying as an inmate.
From the West Wing we were shown where inmates were taken for their baths/showers and the morgue. There are trolleys on display which were used to transport the dead and perform autopsies to try and learn more about mental illness.
Shower head roses were placed high on the ceiling to make it difficult for inmates to hang themselves. Throughout our visit we were shown the restraints and bedding that were provided for those that were likely to self harm.
It is said that the longest inmate was at J Ward for 70 years…!!! He claimed it was his home!!
There are so many inmate stories to read up on, one being about the oldest inmate who died at the age of 107 yrs and 11 months in July 1989. He died at the Aradale Asylum after being originally sent to Ararat Mental hospital in 1926.
It was very moving to see where patients mainly those with depression were given electric convulsive treatment which they say many benefited from.
We saw where some were hung !! How gruesome that must’ve been for the other inmates to be aware of.
We went on to explore the exercise yard where inmates engraved pictures into the blue stone wall. One inmate who didn’t receive mail engraved a letterbox!! There were plaques on the wall placed by friends of the 3 inmates that were hung at the Ararat County Gaol.
From the watch tower we looked down onto the exercise yard at the blue stone wall which was worn due inmates over 100 years leaning up against it to get warm. From here we went to the kitchen which felt like it was from the middle ages, it was quite airy.
At the end of the tour we watched a video of when Mike Willesee interviewed some of the inmates and wardens. This was a touching way to end the very moving tour. After spending time imagining what it would’ve been like to be an inmate and what the inmates were like we got a great insight by watching this.
There are many attractions in Ararat and the surrounding areas. The area is full of history and is very scenic. So many places to hike, water recreation sports, wineries and camping places to name a few. Below are some of the places we have explored. Click on the links to read up on our journey to the below places:
- Historical town of Ararat
- Alexandra Gardens Park
- Green Hill Lake Reserve
- Halls Gap, Grampians
- Avoca, heart of the Pyrenees
If you are wanting to explore Ararat, we suggest you pop into the Visitor Information centre which is at the Ararat Train Station. There are so many brochures and maps to give you ideas on places to explore. We left the Visitor Information with a bag full of inspirational places to visit. After exploring Ararat we spontaneously headed of to Avoca which is the heart of the Pyrenees.
To avoid disappointment ensure you check the tour times of the J Ward Asylum and nearby Aradale Lunatic Asylum if they are on your go to list. Whilst we are yet to visit the Aradale Lunatic Asylum, we totally recommend you visit J Ward Asylum.
J Ward Asylum Location
- 1 Girdlestone St, Ararat, Victoria 3377
- Approximately 206km, 2hrs 17 mins from Melbourne CBD
Our 3 day escape
Ararat was part of a weekend road trip for us. Leaving the hustle and bustle of Melbourne behind we spent a night at Greenhill Lake Reserve, the day exploring Ararat before heading to Avoca then back to Melbourne via Maryborough. If you would like to read up more on our weekend trip and places we explored click on the below links.
- Alexandra Gardens Park
- Valley Walk, Percydale
- Governors Rock Lookout Tower
- Avoca Chinese Gardens
Nearby free campgrounds
You can also follow our 3 day itinerary Melbourne – Ararat – Avoca – Melbourne by clicking on the link.
Another great place and what we consider a must go to place to explore is Halls Gap, Grampians. Check out our following link to see how we have spent 3 nights at Halls Gap, Grampians which is approximately 49km, 40mins from Ararat
We also enjoyed our 3 day escape at Mt Franklin reserve which is a free campground situated on an extinct volcanic crater and is within an easy drive to the popular tourist destination, Daylesford. This would be a great place to stop on your way back from Avoca to Melbourne if you have more than 3 days.
We are looking to explore and learn about other historical gaols, if you have any experiences or stories to share we’d love to hear from you.