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Beechworth Asylum in 1867

The Ovens and Murray Advertiser of 30 September 30 1905, reported on the burial of “The Late Dr. Samson…The obsequies of the late Dr. Samson, medical superintendent of the Beechworth Hospital for the Insane, were performed on Sunday afternoon…The internment took place at the Beechworth Cemetery…”.   Dr Samson, aged 50 years, died prematurely while in Melbourne.


Henry Augustus Samson was born in Leigh  on 17 July 1855, the son of Edmund Augustus and Sarah Mary Samson. Sarah’s maiden name was Fairchild and she had been born in Leigh in 1833 to John and Judith Fairchild.  John Fairchild had been the landlord of the Peterboat but by 1841 had left Judith a widow of 40 with a young family.  Their sons became fishermen but Sarah, like Henry Augustus Samson, became a teacher.


In 1865 Henry's father was appointed English and elocution teacher at Scotch College, East Melbourne, Australia and after initially going to Australia alone, Sarah and the children followed shortly afterwards


Henry studied medicine at Melbourne University and became a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in 1880 and whilst studying he met and married a nursing assistant, Mary Savage.


Dr Samson became a GP in 1882 but decided to specialise in Psychiatry and was appointed Senior Medical Officer at the Kew Asylum, moving on to Beechworth Hospital for the Insane. 


In 1890 Henry held the position of Medical Officer at the Ararat Asylum. Between 1893 and 1896 the family were at the Ballarat Lunatic Asylum but then Henry was promoted to Medical Superintendent back at the Beechworth institution.  


In the book ‘Early Victorian Psychiatry’, C.R.D. Brothers, mentions “Samson as a rather interesting figure because of his many ideas, not all of which were practicable in his time, but some of which may have received more attention today.  An example of his interest in the industry of patients was his suggestion of the planting of willows for basket-making.” 


The Hospital had at times 1200 beds and the family lived on the top two floors of the Administrative Building.  The accommodation was “very comfortable” and described as “palatial”, with patients attending to all the housekeeping duties, including keeping the fires stoked. The family joined in with the Beechworth community and enjoyed life for the next 9 years until Henry’s premature death. *


Today the Beechworth Asylum is a major attraction for ghost tours - you can find out more about some of its famous inmates at and  for pictures of the institution at




*The basis for this information is an article by Sandra Dumble, who I was unable to contact, but the full article won a competition run by the  Mid Gippsland History Society in Victoria, Australia and my thanks to them for allowing me to use the information.


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