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History of wine articles:Who imported the first documented Shiraz vines into AustraliaWhy is different to other alcoholid beveragesAustralia's Lunatic Asylum VineyardsThoughts on wine from America's Elder Statesment

Wine & health articles

Drunkenness is simply voluntary insanity.

– Seneca

History of Wine

Australia's Lunatic Asylum Vineyards

Wine is the oldest medicine known to man, having been used by doctors since Egyptian times. It has been used as an anaesthetic, anaemia treatment and antiseptic; to cool fevers and relieve constipation, as a digestive aid, hypnotic, sedative, tonic, water purifier and a medium for blending less palatable medicines.

Famous physicians such as the Greek, Hypocrites (450-370 BC), the Romans Celsus (25 BC-37 AD), and Galen (131-201 AD), and the Arabs Rhazes (820-932 AD) and Avicenna (980-1032 AD), known as the 'Prince of Physicians', thought highly of wine as a medicine and were great advocates of its use. It was these early doctors who wrote about the different wines of their time - they were the original wine writers and critics.

Australia has a long and unique history of 'medical-vignerons' or 'wine doctors'. The first two were from opposite ends of the social spectrum. In 1818 at his property 'Campbellfields' near Campbelltown, south west of Sydney, Dr William Redfern established a vineyard.

Dr Redfern had been transported to Sydney in 1801 for advising mutineers on board HMS Standard, while serving as a Naval surgeon.

At the other end of Sydney and the social scale was Sir John Jamison, past surgeon to the King of Sweden's fleet. He planted his vineyard at Penrith, on a property he named 'Regentville', after his close friend the Prince Regent, later King George the 4th.

Other wine-doctors followed, many establishing vineyards to make wine for their patients. More than 160 wine-doctors including the founders of some of Australia's largest and best known wine companies such as Lindemans, Penfolds, Hardys, Angoves, Stanley, Houghtons and Minchinbury established vineyards.

Of all the vineyards started by doctors in Australia, the most unusual were those established in the lunatic asylum.

There were many causes of insanity last century. The main ones were due to tertiary syphilis, alcohol abuse and contamination of alcohol. Other causes included fever, 'hereditary taint' ie epilepsy, mental anxiety due to business failure caused mainly by drought and economic depression, sunstroke, domestic troubles, lack of sustenance, 'congenital mischief' such as meningitis, destitution, old age, isolation and head injury.

In the late 1800s the more enlightened doctors in charge of psychiatric institutions tried to help patients reduce the boredom of their austere surroundings, by providing them with meaningful outdoor activities such as gardening and small scale farming.

These activities not only helped the patients, but provided supplementary food for the institution. Produce in excess of the institutions needs was sold to supplement budgets. The grapes and wine produced provided variation in the patients monotonous diet and supplemented the meagre vitamin C intake. This helped to prevent scurvy, a common complaint in large institutions in the nineteenth century.

Dr Frederick Norton Manning established a vineyard at Gladesville Psychiatric Hospital, formerly Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum, in 1870. He was born at Rothersthorpe, Northamptonshire, England, in 1839. Manning trained at St. George's Hospital, London, graduating MRCS and LSA in 1860 and as MD at St. Andrew's Hospital in 1862. In 1864 he was the surgeon on board HMS Esk, a brig that took part in the Maori wars in New Zealand. He was present at the savage fighting at Gate Pa, where most of the officers in the naval brigade were either killed or wounded.

When HMS Esk arrived back in Sydney in 1867, Manning had suffered so much from sea-sickness that he gave up his naval career. He asked the Colonial Secretary, Henry Parkes, for permission to visit Tarban Creek and Parramatta Asylums and he was invited to be Superintendent at Tarban Creek. He returned to London aboard HMS Esk, to assess the latest psychiatric facilities in Europe and the USA.

On returning to Sydney he was appointed Superintendent of the Tarban Creek Asylum in October 1868. Dr Manning immediately set about improving the lot of the patients. They lived in 'prison-like and gloomy conditions', ate poor rations and had few facilities for employment or recreation.

The Bishop of Hobart had commented, in 1863, that the Tarban Creek Asylum had 'no green trees and no gardens'. In his initial report, Dr Manning stated that 'the chief question of importance as regards this institution is the possibility of the acquisition of land for agricultural purposes'.

In his annual report for 1870 Dr Manning noted that 'a tank with capacity of 30,000 gallons had been excavated out of solid rock to contain water for the garden', also that, 'scurvy had appeared, manifested by tender gums and purpuric blotches and it had been necessary to supplement the diet with wine, beer, lemons and salads'.

The annual report of 1872 stated 'the vineyard which had been planted at Gladesville some years before was bearing well'.

In 1876 Dr Manning was made Inspector General of the insane. In 1898 he resigned from this position to enter private practice. He died from a stomach ulcer in June 1903 and was buried at the Gladesville Hospital.

Following Dr Manning's example, other doctors established vineyards in asylums in Victoria and South Australia. After the gold rush began in Victoria in 1851, many people had become restless and mentally disturbed. This was often caused simply by drunkenness and unemployment, especially after the easily found surface gold began to run out.

Victoria's population during the gold rush period expanded rapidly and there was a significant increase in the number of insane people needing accommodation. Two new asylums were established in the goldfield areas, the first since Yarra Bend in Melbourne in1848. One was at Beechworth in the north east, the other at Ararat in the west of Victoria.

The vineyard established at Ararat had been credited to Dr Beattie-Smith. However, he only continued its cultivation while he was Medical Superintendent from March 1887 until January 1899. In 1899 he made 450 gallons of wine he called 'Golden Chasselas'.

The first Medical Superintendent to mention the vineyard at Ararat was Dr William Armstrong. In his report to parliament for the year 1883, he noted 'A vineyard which the gardener planted some three years ago gives good promise for the next vintage'. The name of the gardener is unknown.

Eventually, wet seasons resulting in depleted crops forced the government to close the vineyard in 1891.

In 1882 Dr William Longworth Watkins, Medical Superintendent at the Sunbury Asylum reported that 'endeavours are being made to cultivate fruit and vines', but it wasn't until 1886 that a small vineyard was planted. The vineyard was abandoned following flood damage in 1887 and Dr Watkins' transfer to the Yarra Bend Asylum in 1888.

The other vineyard planted at an asylum was that of Dr William Lennox Cleland (1847-1918), at Parkside Asylum in Adelaide, now the Glenside Hospital. Dr Cleland had been adopted by his aunt Margaret Davenport, wife of South Australian wine identity Sir Samuel Davenport. He had spent some time as a labourer on properties, including a year with Dr Alexander Kelly at the Tintara Vineyard. During this period Dr Cleland became intensely interested in viticulture and medicine.

In 1872 he became Medical Superintendent at Parkside Asylum, a post he held until 1913. During this period he developed an extensive vineyard and olive grove. He also planted almond, fruit and many mulberry trees to feed a pioneering silkworm industry at the asylum.

Dr Philip NORRIE
MBBS,MA,MSc,MSocSc[Hons],PhD, currently doing MD

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