Z Ward: a perfectly preserved abandoned criminal asylum in South Australia.
In the sleepy suburb of Glenside, Adelaide, South Australia, rests a building long abandoned and protected from trespassers by a wall far taller than it first appears, the only complete Ha-Ha Wall in Australia. The wall doesn’t look too high from the outside but, once over it, it is soon discovered that on the other side, a deeper moat hinders any escape.
The building is known as Z Ward, and it was for years closed off to the public, even though recently, access to the building was allowed to the general public and long thought suspicions that the building was haunted were confirmed.
Z Ward was built in 1885 and first opened to patients in 1887 as part of the Glenside Hospital campus. The ward was built more like a jail and has maximum security features to ensure those held within would not be able to escape. Its purpose was to contain the state’s criminally insane, who were too violent, dangerous and mentally unfit for remaining in a normal correctional facility.
In the beginning the building was actually named L Ward. However, its name was swiftly modified into Z Ward after the nick name Hell ward developed, since it was so phonetically similar to L Ward. A term that, of course, was deemed inappropriate for a building that housed rapists, murderers and the mentally ill. If we talk of “criminally insane”, we think of murderers and people who commit violent crimes when not in their right mind. However, in the early days, often you only had to commit a minor crime to be deemed “insane”, and attempted self harm would be put into the this category.
The institution, which could hold up to 40 patients at a time, was finally closed in 1973 when its remaining inmates were dispersed between other correctional facilities in the state.
Since its closure Z Ward has remained mostly vacant. It was used for a while as storage for a mining company before being purchased by Beach Energy, an oil and gas exploration and production company based in Adelaide, who still hold ownership of the building. Although the final fate of the building is uncertain and it is likely to be converted to office space in the future, Beach Energy are for now allowing tours to operate through the abandoned asylum. Of course, the long intrigued public embraced this opportunity to explore the building and soon after ghost tours and hunts were developed.
Ghost tours are run several night a week and for those especially brave ghost hunts are also available directly after the tour.
Tours begin with an overview of Z Ward’s history, are followed with free time to explore the building for photos and then have participants regroup to be taken around to the supposedly haunted hot spots in the building.
According to local stories, a man named Richard Blight was found dead in cell 14, which he shared with 6 other men and a post mortem examination found that he was stabbed through the chest with a needle. In any case, to this day, his death remains a mystery as to whether he was murdered or chose to commit a sort of suicide.
Tour guests are also taken to a room popular known as “Scratchie’s Cell”, where some have reported being scratched and the so called “Mirror Room”, a former bathroom where apparitions have been seen standing behind visitors in the mirrors. One tour participant reported breath blowing in her face when standing inside the mirror room, while another standing directly next to her reported the sensation of something brushing the back of her neck and hair and had to leave the room. In addition, flashing lights were seen emanating from within the room once the group left.
The tour group was then allowed the opportunity to be shut inside any given cell of their choice for 5 minutes, in the dark, completely alone.
Ghosts apart, tales of suicide, murder and pain set the mood for a tour of Z Ward, and a visit to the building helps to provide a glimpse of that sad piece of history.
Author’s notes: numerous tours are available of Adelaide’s Z Ward including heritage tours and ghost tours run by the National Trust and Haunted Horizons. Haunted Horizons also run other tours and hunts of South Australia’s many supposedly haunted locations including Old Tailem Town, The Railway Museum and The Old Adelaide Gaol (but these are other stories). I highly recommend taking any tour with this company, if you are interested in the dark history within Adelaide.