Thomas Embling - Yarra Bend Asylum - Parliamentary Enquiry

Parliamentary Enquiry

Aware that his accusers were highly regarded by the government, Embling briefed supportive parliamentarian James Johnston on the activities and corruption he had witnessed at Yarra Bend. The story was picked up by the press, and in April 1852, only four months after Embling's appointment, The Argus newspaper called for a reorganisation of the asylum. Public support for an enquiry grew, and following a motion put by Johnston in July 1852, a Select Committee was appointed "To Enquire into the Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum and to take Evidence".

The committee sat from August to December 1852, with the final report citing evidence of mismanagement and human rights abuses including

  • Evidence of physical and sexual abuse;
  • Corruption;
  • Poor treatment of inmates, including forcing 28 people to share the same bath water,
  • Illegal use of asylum resources, including using resources supposedly earmarked for patients being funnelled into a private poultry farm run by the Superintendent;
  • Patients being frequently drunk.

The Committee found that patients had been severely maltreated and that the Superintendent was "grossly negligent as well as highly culpable". Praise was heaped upon Embling by the Committee, declaring "it is with extreme regret we observe the efforts of this gentleman to promote the efficiency of a valuable institution, and to check the abuses that so seriously affected its usefulness…"

Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe dismissed the entire staff of Yarra Bend, including Embling. Superintendent Watson was given another post which lead to The Argus launching a bitter attack on La Trobe, stating that Embling had been "turned adrift". Despite the outcry against Embling's dismissal, Dr Robert Bowie was appointed as the first Medical Superintendent at Yarra Bend and Embling set up a private practice in Gore Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne.

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