The Death of Mary Ann Russell- the asylums

Years ago I did a series of blog posts that looked at the death of Mary Ann Russell nee Gransden. At the time I had written all of the information up but I got caught up with work and didn’t publish the final possibility on my blog. A few weeks ago I was going through my research and realised that my blog was missing that final post. So, this is the final possibility for the death of Mary Ann Russell. This is also the possibility that I think is the most likely.

Newington Asylum

Mary Russell died in the Newington Asylum age 70 (NSW BDM Russell, Mary 1890/4311). The Newington Asylum was a pauper asylum for women. Whilst men were being sent to either the Parramatta Asylum or the Liverpool Asylum women were also sent to a number of different asylums. One of those was the Newington Asylum. This Mary Russell died in the Newington Asylum.

The Newington Asylum was located where the Silverwater Penitentiary is located now. The Asylum building is apparently still on the grounds of the Penitentiary. It is difficult to find out about Asylums for women in NSW during the period that Mary Russell was in the Newington Asylum. Dates conflict and there seems to be little real information on who was where and when.

Hyde Park Barracks

Figure 1 Hyde Park Barracks, NSW- Authors Collection

In 1862 the Hyde Park Asylum became the first Government-run Asylum for the aged and infirm. Unfortunately, none of the records for the Hyde Park Asylum has survived making it near impossible to identify the women who lived out the last of their lives in the Hyde Park Asylum. However, the Asylum at Hyde Park lasted only around 20 years before a purpose build Asylum at Newington took on the role of housing the infirm and destitute women of New South Wales.

The women living at the Hyde Park Asylum were transferred to the Newington Asylum in 1886. With no records to go on it is unknown if the Mary Russell who died at the Newington Asylum had lived at the Hyde Park Asylum or had joined her compatriots at the Newington Asylum.

Within a short space of time after the Newington Asylum was opened it was the subject of scandal and an investigation due to the lack of facilities and the harsh conditions.


A lady, writing on behalf of the Ladies’ Board of the Newington Asylum, N.S.W., contributes to the Sydney press a letter, the publication of which is authorised by Lady Martin, the president, and the other members of the board. The writer, referring to the charges of cruelty and brutality, published in the Times of 13th inst., says:– “I cannot accept the testimony of inmates who for years, maybe, have assisted in the work of oppression against the evidence of my own senses. I have seen the eyes, nose, and mouth of the dying full of flies, no screen or net being near. I have seen Mrs. Crother, a young consumptive woman, dying, and since dead, who told me that the first night she was at Newington a woman died in the adjoining bed, and was left there until noon the next day. In the ward in which the young woman died there are 35 beds, and the wardswoman has the charge of all, night and day. I have not seen the woman very harsh, but I have seen the women in charge of the other wards cruel to the sick and dying. I have seen the women dying with the sheets over their faces to protect them from the flies. I have often heard the groans and cries of poor women suffering with some inflammatory disease, and I think it was almost impossible for the doctor to have his orders carried out with the system of nursing which is exercised. I have seen sago taken in a bucket (after Mr Didds had ordered more medical comforts) to the sick, and put into tin pannikins, and partaken of with black looking iron spoons. The bucket may have been clean, but it looked dirty. On Thursday last every pillow in one of the wards of the Cancer Hospital was made of coarse holland, about a quarter filled with chaff, and no pillow cases. The drinking water for due want of the latter hospital on the occasion of my last three visits was kept in a galvanised slop pail. The old people present a strong contrast to a similar institution in Melbourne, where day and night nurses are provided, and where the cost is only 2s 11½d a week per head.

In the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday night, says the Age, in reply to Mr Dibbs, Sir H. Parkes, said it would take him another week before he could inform the House what he was going to do with regard to the Government asylums report, but he could promise that the asylums would be placed under good management.

1887 ‘THE NEWINGTON ASYLUM SCANDAL.’, The Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), 20 May, p. 2. , viewed 05 Nov 2016,

In December of 1887 the condition of Newington Asylum was still being debated with little or no progress having so far been achieved.

Newington Asylum.


The Colonial Secretary has not lost sight of Newington Asylum as some people, whose wish is father to the thought, seem to suppose. Oh the contrary, the matter has been for months past and is now occupying the attention of Sir Henry Parkes. He has resolved upon some very  weeping changes in the management and personnel of this particular asylum as soon as they can possibly be made with advantage and without prejudice to the health and comfort of the inmates. While the Premier is of opinion that the management of Newington Asylum is not all that can be desired, he is convinced, from personal observation and inquiry that the sick, decrepit, enfeebled old women there are as well treated as the circumstances will permit, and as well as this class of patients are treated in similar institutions in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, changes of a very sweeping character are to take place shortly; but, although the Government is anxious to effect them with as little delay as possible, probably two months will elapse before this can be done. What the charges are is not exactly known; but it has been decided to remove certain people attached to the asylum, but whose removal is surrounded with special difficulties, one of which is that of getting properly qualified persons to take the places of those whose services are to be dispensed with. Another difficulty in the way of the contemplated change is the difficulty experienced by the Government in finding a building which shall offer all the requisite, accommodation and conveniences. The Government would like to secure the Randwick Aylum for the Newington Asylum patients; but there are legal obstacles in the way at present, which, it is hoped, may ultimately be overcome. The necessity of trained nurses being: attached to this institution has been recognised by the Government, and authority has been given for engaging the services of four trained nurses, to whom is to be given the care of the very old and feeble of the inmates. The ultimate intention is to classify the whole of the patients in accordance with the ages and complaints, and the more aged women and hopeless cases will be placed entirely under the care of trained nurses. In short, old Newington is to disappear altogether, and the care of the aged is to be conducted on more thorough and scientific lines, and entrusted to those most competent to carry out so important a trust.

1887 ‘Newington Asylum.’, Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), 30 December, p. 6. , viewed 05 Nov 2016,
1890 ‘CHATS ON OUR CHARITIES.’, Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1881 – 1894), 20 February, p. 10. , viewed 05 Nov 2016,

By 1890, the date of the death of Mary Russell, the Newington Asylum does seem to have gone through some of the badly needed reforms. An overview of daily life in the Newington Asylum can be read, 1890 ‘CHATS ON OUR CHARITIES.’, Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1881 – 1894), 20 February, p. 10. , viewed 05 Nov 2016, At the time of Mary Russell’s death the Newington Asylum held 450 inmates. The original house, Newington House, was still being used for the Asylum but by this stage, it was more an admissions house rather than the main quarters for the inmates. As the new regulations and changes occurred the death rate for the inmates went down and the quality of food and care increased.

Newington House. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia. C.1895 Boileau, F. (Francis) Sir, 1830-1900. Public Domain,_(New_South_Wales).jpg

Mary Russell died at the Newington Asylum. There are no admission or patient records for the Asylum prior to 1897 according to the NSW State Archives Like with the Mary Russell who died at Athlone Place it may never be possible to tell if this Mary Russell is Mary Russell nee Gransden. If she is our Mary Russell then it is possible that she was in both the Hyde Park Asylum and the Newington Asylum. William Russell, the one most likely to have been married to Mary was transferred to the Liverpool Asylum for aged and infirm men in 1883 after having requested support in 1882 from the Bathurst Police as he was aged and unable to look after himself.

VAGRANCY. – William Russell, 70 years of age, was charged with vagrancy. He had come into town from Rockley and applied at the lock-up for relief, seeking admission into the Benevolent Asylum. He said he was without friends and was suffering from rheumatism.

The Bench gave him an order for admission into the Bathurst Hospital, from which place he could be forwarded to the Benevolent Asylum if proved to be a fit subject.

1882 ‘POLICE COURT.’, Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904), 18 November, p. 2. , viewed 17 Apr 2016,

It appears likely that Mary Russell was not living with William at this stage. So either she was already in one of the Asylums or she was living elsewhere and earning a living or living with one of her children. Given this and if this is the correct Mary Russell, it is possible that Mary Russell was in one or both Asylums for a considerable period of time.

Aside from the newspaper articles included detailed here, a lot of the information contained in this article and a lot further information can be obtained here:

Hughes, J. N. 2004. Hyde Park Asylum for Infirm and Destitute Women, 1862-1886: An Historical Study of Government Welfare for Women in need of Residential Care in New South Wales. School of Humanities, University of Western Sydney, Australia

It is my belief that this is the most likely Mary Ann Russell nee Gransden death. Mary left her husband in the mid 1840s. It is possible that she returned to him, however, it is also very obvious that Mary was a very independent woman who was happy to make her own way in life even if that meant travelling halfway around the world to a new land. I think that it is highly likely that Mary Ann left her husband and when she was no longer able to look after herself and support herself she ended up in the Hyde Park Barracks before being transferred to the Newington Asylum. Unfortunately, it is probable that we will never know for certain.

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The Death of Mary Ann Russell- the asylums — 5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Death of Mary Ann Russell nee Gransden- Camperdown Cemetery and Athlone Place | Gransden Family

  2. looking for any information on Felix Russell married Cecelia Ellen price, also lo oking for wiliam robert price
    and mary ann moon
    also there were some Russell children admitted to queens orphan school Sarah Elizabeth Russell, mother listed as Sarah Wilkinson father William Russell, Kate Russell mother listed as Ann Russell, James Russell, also Marie Jane Russell , Mary Kathleen Russell Millie Russell, Stella Russell, taken in by aboriginal board

    • Thanks Deidre,
      None of these Russell’s are in my family tree at the moment, so I am unable to help you. It is possible that I will come across them in the future. However, Russell is a very common surname and many of the Russell families in Australia are not related, so you may need to search other families for these Russells.
      Thanks for your email.

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