Gladesville derives its name from John Glade, a settler who was in the district as early as 1806, according to the Sydney Gazette. Transport to the locality via the Parramatta River had been stimulated by the creation of two major institutions, the convict settlement on Cockatoo Island in 1838, and the Tarban Creek Asylum of the Insane, constructed in 1834-38. In 1835 Surveyor H.F. White went to Tarban Creek to measure three portions of land applied for as a purchase by Thomas Stubbs (see Herberton Avenue and Salter Street). The Deputy Surveyor-General noted that the sales were to be suspended as one of the lots was required as a paddock for the lunatic asylum, a landing was to be reserved, and ‘nobody but a madman would want to buy the rest’. White was then instructed to prepare a detailed survey of the ground for an asylum. The site chosen was known as ‘Bedlam Point’ before its selection.
The main building of the Asylum, forerunner to the present Gladesville Hospital, was designed in 1835 by Mortimer Lewis, Colonial Architect. His first design was of a rectangular facade with a small break forward in the centre, surmounted by a pedimented roof, and he added a portico with Ionic columns. The building was estimated to cost £4000, but was completed for £3,500. During construction Lewis changed the proportions, making it wider and more squat, replacing the pediment with a gable. The building is of stone with a slate roof, situated near the original main gates at Punt Road. Joseph Digby, the first Keeper, arrived in 1838 and clashed with the architect over the darkness of the corridors and suggested skylights, but Lewis replied that this was planned so that the Keeper should not easily be perceived moving from one group of cells to another.
Dr Francis Campbell was appointed the first Superintendent in 1848. At his retirement twenty years later he wrote of his attempts to change the ‘hereditary system of inhuman expediency transmitted from one generation of unreflecting men to another’. Dr F. Norton Manning, a former sea-sick naval surgeon, became Superintendent and he described the building as ‘prison-like and gloomy’.
Recommendations were made to Parliament for erection of a piggery and byre, extension of accommodation for patients and staff and acquisition of an adjoining twenty-eight acre property for agriculture, a superintendent’s house and improved recreation facilities for patients. Large dormitories of wood and galvanised iron were erected in 1869 and a two-storey building for women in 1871. Gas lighting was installed in 1887. In 1888 The Priory (see ‘The Marists’) on the northern side of Victoria Road was added to the Gladesville Hospital complex.
The present Hospital grounds contain many fine old buildings, vistas of early landscaping, stone walls built by convict labour and magnificent foreshores enjoyed by the public.