The Porirua Hospital Museum and Resource Centre

In 1987 the Museum in F ward was formally opened by the then Governor General, Sir Paul Reeves, as part of the celebrations to mark the centenary of the founding of the Hospital. A book was commissioned and “Out of mind, out of sight – A history of Porirua Hospital” was written by Wendy Hunter Williams.

The Museum contains a unique collection recording the development of mental health services in this country over the last 150 years. It is the only museum in New Zealand providing such a history so is of importance both regionally and nationally. It has the potential to serve as a focus for input from mental health services and medical history groups throughout the country.

The Friends

From its inception the Museum was managed by a part time curator and volunteers and this was formalised in 1997 by the formation of the Friends of Porirua Hospital Museum as an Incorporated Society. Application was made to the Historic Places Trust and the Museum buildings; F Ward, the Shade Shelter and the Courtyard, were given a category 1 NZHPT classification.

Formation of the Trust

In 2003, Ken Gorbey a respected international Museum expert, was commissioned by the Porirua City Council and the Friends to advise on the future of the museum. This report has formed the basis of the Museum’s subsequent development. One of his recommendations was the formation of a Trust with representation from the Friends of Porirua Hospital Museum, Porirua City Council and the Capital and Coast District Health Board. The Trust was duly formed in 2006 with Dr. Helen Bichan, a previous Medical Superintendent of Porirua Hospital, as its founding chairperson.

The Trust has a 10 year lease on the Museum building and grounds with a right of renewal. The first building restoration project, renovation of the Shade Shelter, was recently completed.

The Porirua Hospital Museum and Resource Centre Trust is a Charitable Trust established to ensure the preservation of the collection of artefacts and the building in which they are housed. They have a good relationship with the Friends, a committed group of volunteers, who have continued to care for and catalogue the collection, maintain regular days for the public to visit, and assist with visiting polytechnic student groups and researchers using the Museum’s collection for their studies. Both Capital and Coast District Health Board and Porirua City Council have given valuable assistance and support. With the support of the latter an extensive survey of the building and prioritisation of work has been done as recommended by the Historic Places Trust.

Looking to the Future

Mental illness remains a major public health issue in New Zealand. While much progress has been made and more effective methods of treatment have been developed it is important to recognise both the values and the mistakes of the past. Controversy still surrounds the level of care given in Mental Hospitals and historical allegations of inappropriate care continue. The museum and resource centre records much of this history, and of the community of patients and staff that developed at Porirua Hospital, and is there to contribute to development of better services for people with mental illness and disability. While today there is a much increased appreciation of the rights of individual people, particularly the right to personal freedom; it is important not to forget the right of people to adequate treatment for mental illness and to adequate care for disability, whether in the hospital or in the wider community to which we all belong.