Site of asylum’s hidden and forgotten cemetery acknowledged on Qld Heritage Register

A black and white photo showing some cleared land near some buildings.

Around 75 years ago, thousands of asylum patients were reported to have been exhumed from a cemetery on the grounds of the Brisbane Mental Hospital (also previously known as Wolston Park or Goodna Asylum) and moved to the nearby Goodna General Cemetery.

Now impacted by road development, the site of this cemetery was this year recognised as a “significant element of the State heritage place 600340 Wolston Park Mental Hospital“. This is great news. I first explored evidence of the third cemetery site in a blog I wrote four years ago. The blog has received 40,000 views which shows the high level of public interest in the hospital, especially as more people research their family histories and hit a brick wall when trying to find the graves of ancestors who were patients at the hospital. It’s wonderful to see the cemetery site and its story preserved.

The site of the mental hospital’s third cemetery is now bushland and Orford Drive, Wacol. I believe there are still the remains of some patients here. (Details in a forthcoming blog.)

The exhumations and the unknown location of the remains

The remains of patients were moved from the hospital’s third cemetery because new wards to be built for returning soldiers would have been overlooking the cemetery – not an ideal view for “mentally unbalanced” and “war-affected” soldiers returning from the Second World War.

It’s thought thousands of bodies buried in this third cemetery were exhumed between 1945 and 1948. Newspaper reports in 1946 say 2,800 bodies were removed, while another article in 1947 claims 4,000 were exhumed. Records have only accounted for around 200 of those who were moved to the nearby Goodna General Cemetery. A hospital tradesman at the time, Mr. Ferg Brindley, believes patient remains were buried in trenches at the cemetery. In my discussions with 90yo Ferg, he said not all patients in the third cemetery were able to be exhumed.

Ferg told me, “They didn’t dig the whole coffin up. They dug down, smashed the top open and took the remains out and put them in a box.

“As far as I know all the coffins are still there. But I imagine there are still some whole corpses there. I doubt if they removed the whole lot. They couldn’t dig up anything under 10 years old. That’s what I was told, he said.

The Heritage acknowledgment

One of the few great things to come out of 2021 was that the Heritage Register entry for Wolston Park was reviewed and substantially updated. The entry now includes the third cemetery and the second cemetery.

The second cemetery site (1895-1912)

“The site of the second cemetery associated with the hospital is located on the western side of the Male Patients Area and is an area of archaeological potential. Historically located north of the main hospital buildings and west of the cricket ground, the cemetery was operational between 1895 and 1912, when it was closed to allow construction of the two-storey male wards and burials were reportedly reinterred to the third cemetery to the north by 1913. The area was subsequently developed for residences (1910s-c1958), and kitchens and workshops (1970s), which were later relocated or demolished.”

Queensland Heritage Register, Wolston Park Hospital Complex

The remains that were in the second cemetery were said to have been exhumed and moved to the third cemetery. In 1913, hospital superintendent Henry Byam Ellerton reported that the ‘disinterment of remains from the old cemetery and re-interment in new cemetery – to make room for new wards’ had been completed. (Annual Report of Inspector of Hospitals for the Insane, 1913, p. 34.)

The Heritage Register reads that “between 1895 and 1912 when Cemetery no 2 was operational, more than 1500 patients died at Goodna and were presumably buried in Cemetery no 2 and possibly some in cemetery no 3. In addition, the remains of staff members and their families who were also interred in the cemetery”.

Third Cemetery Site (c1913-1945)

Using a 1946 aerial photograph, what’s thought to have been the 1946 cemetery boundaries have been transposed onto a recent Google aerial image.

“The site of the third cemetery associated with the hospital is located immediately northeast of the Wacol Repatriation Pavilion Complex. The area operated as a cemetery for the hospital from c1913 to 1945, when burials were reinterred to the Goonda Cemetery. Historically cleared of vegetation, the site comprises regrowth bushland bounded to the northwest by Wolston Park Road and a carpark and southeast by Orford Drive. The surfaces of both roads are built up above the ground level of the cemetery site.”

Queensland Heritage Register, Wolston Park Hospital Complex
There is bushland regrowth at the site of the third cemetery in Wacol, Brisbane.

Digging up the past

The register also acknowledges that there is potential for archaeological digs which could uncover evidence of “burials and reinterments, stone and metal grave markers, and other artefacts and features associated with burial practices”.

Archaeological investigations have the potential to “yield information about the treatment of deceased patients and burial practices at the hospital; spatial distribution and arrangement of graves; and the extent and methods of reinterments“.

Wow. That statement in the Register is so exciting. I really don’t see any type of government-funded archeological dig happening anytime soon, if at all, but if it did the findings would be fascinating and important.

In recent months I’ve been in touch with archaeologists to determine if a privately-funded project to explore the site of the third cemetery using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) could reveal any data and information about the exhumations and undisturbed graves. Unfortunately, the tree cover and vegetation would be problematic and prevent a comprehensive survey, so using GPR is not a feasible option.

[An archeological dig would be far more costly and time-consuming. If you’re a philanthropist and would like to fund a dig, please get in touch. (If you don’t ask, you don’t know, right?!)]

What’s left of the cemetery site is now bushland.

If you have anything to add about Wolston Park Mental Hospital’s cemeteries and patient remains, I’d love to hear from you via

In the meantime, congratulations to the Heritage team at the Queensland Department of Environment and Science for its work to review and significantly update the Wolston Park Hospital Complex entry on the Heritage Register on 26 March 2021. It is important that the people who died at the hospital, and have no known graves, are not forgotten.

Entry in the Queensland Government Gazette Vol 386

About the author

Author Lisa Herbert

Lisa Herbert is a death awareness advocate, a cemetery wanderer, journalist and audio producer, and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan – an informative, modern, and quirky workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The third edition is available in Australia for $29.95.  For international buyers, The Bottom Drawer eBook is AU$11.99 on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Booktopia and Google Books. To purchase, click HERE.

10 Responses

  1. Hey there
    My grandmother was buried at the asylum cemetery in 1892 Minnie johnson 517
    Then at some stage she was removed to Goodna
    Can I have any details on exactly where .

  2. My Great Aunt, my Grandads sister, Lillian Jean Young, was admitted to Goodna Mental Hospital and later passed away there 5 weeks later, on the 18th March 1926 and buried in the asylum cemetery, I guess I will never know exactly where see is buried.

  3. My great grandmother Mary Sampson died on 2 February 1923 and was buried in the asylum cemetery. She was 64 years old. I visited the site of the 3rd cemetery today and was absolutely mortified to find nothing acknowledging these people. It was like they never existed. I was looking forward to giving her a proper grave or plaque in remembrance that she was my relative and I am not ashamed of her, but instead found bushland and a construction site for a new youth detention facility further along the road. And now, after reading this article, I feel that I will never know her final resting place. How can we acknowledge the people buried on this site? They deserve much better

  4. My Great Grandmother, Margaret (neé Freel) Walsh/Pratt died 24 July 1938 (1938/40451) at the Goodna Mental Hospital and was interred in the Asylum Cemetery.

  5. My great grandfather, John Vallas, died of Epilepsy in Woolgaroo Asylum on 23 Oct 1889.
    I have only just discovered this and was wondering where the first cemetery was located and what happened to the graves.

    1. Hi Paul,
      Nothing is known about what happened to the graves of the first hospital cemetery, I’m afraid. The first cemetery was down near Woogaroo Creek near where it meets the Brisbane River. Whether they were all moved up the hill to the second cemetery after the big flood is unclear. Some may have been, but I doubt if they all were. Lisa

  6. I have the death certificate of Edward James Douglas MACKAY, a Barrister from County Antrim in Northern Ireland. He was originally sent to Dunwich Benevolent Asylum – 5th February 1901 and Struck-of the register for being absent without leave in 29th May 1902. He died in the Goodna Asylum and was buried there – 14th June 1926.

  7. My grandfather, Ebenezer John Herriot was buried in goodna mental hospital cemetery in 1922 August

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