Man released from asylum after suffering ‘religious-mania’ ransacks Bulli pub

Star of the Sea Hotel BUlli 1890s

The Star of the Sea Hotel, Bulli, where John Reynolds went berserk, ransacking a bedroom in 1896. Picture: Wollongong City Library

A MAN discharged from a ‘lunatic asylum’ in 1896 caused headlines when, armed with a knife, he ransacked the Star of the Sea Hotel at Bulli, south of Sydney.

John Reynolds and his brother, William were sent to a lunatic asylum in May 1895 after they “showed great violence and armed themselves with iron bars”.

The Sydney Evening News reported that their committal to an asylum for “several months” was due to “religious-mania”. Religious-mania or hyper-religiosity is a psychiatric condition in which a person experiences intense religious beliefs or experiences that interfere with normal functioning.

Religious-mania generally includes abnormal beliefs and a focus on religious content or even atheistic content, which interferes with social functioning.

The Reynolds brothers were Welshmen, John aged 43, and William 46, when they first made the news in 1895. Prior to their rampage, they were said to be “industrious, sober men”, and were “well read”, and “greatly attached to each other”. They had resided in the Bulli district for 12 years, working as coal miners, when they first made the pages of the Illawarra Mercury for their “religious insanity”.

The Mercury reported that the brothers’ “madness” was first shown at a concert in May 1895, owing to a Biblical recitation, one brother having travelled several miles to “interview the reciter”. The Illawarra Mercury reported on Thursday June 6 1895:



(From our Correspondent.)

Austinmer, Tuesday.

On Saturday last some of the residents of our quiet little village were the spectators of a scene which will not readily fade from their memories. Two brothers, named Reynolds, whose conduct for a short time previously had been of a peculiar nature, on Saturday morning terrified their neighbours by behaving in a manner which left no doubt that their minds were unhinged. First they smashed the windows of the cottage and then almost everything breakable in the place – crockery, pots, etc., -shared the same fate, the unfortunate fellows the whole shouting loudly in the most distressing manner. It was soon seen that something would have to be done in the matter, and as Dr. Sturt happened to be on a visit to the locality, the manager of the colliery asked him to visit the men. This the doctor did, and narrowly escaped a very serious injury, for the elder brother made a charge at him with an iron poker, the full force of the blow fortunately descending on the door, which was split its entire length, Dr. Sturt escaping with only a slight bruise on the hand. The doctor informed the Bulli police of the case by a telephone message from Thirroul, and Senior-constable Ross and Constable Kelly were soon on the scene. It was seen that the capture of the men would be anything but an easy matter, but as there was no lack of assistants it was at last effected, although the poor fellows were most violent. They were secured with handcuffs and ropes, and escorted to Bulli by the 7.30 train, being lodged in the cells and straight jackets being made use of. On Monday morning they were brought before the court, when Dr. Sturt and Dr. Kane certified that they were suffering from religious mania, and they were ordered to be placed under restraint. They were taken to Sydney by the milk train. Great sympathy is felt here for the unfortunate men, as they were quiet and inoffensive and of temperate and industrious habits. The elder brother had for some time been a member of the Salvation Army. It may be mentioned that the police exercised the greatest consideration in their treatment of the patients.

Just over 12 months later, in October 1896, John Reynolds was released from the lunatic asylum. His brother, William remained  locked away.

The Evening News reported John Reynolds became “dangerously mad” soon after arriving at Bulli in October 1896. He visited the Wesleyan Church, now the Uniting Church at the corner of Point Street and the Prince’s Highway, and St Augustine’s Anglican Church in Park Road, where he frightened parishioners during Sunday services, with his “strange” and “eccentric” behaviour.

On Tuesday October 13 he made his way to Bulli’s Star of the Sea Hotel, a single storey timber inn, just north of today’s Uniting Church. There he began smashing up a room.

The police, with the assistance of eight people in the pub, burst the door open where he had barricaded himself, and, after a struggle, Reynolds, who was armed with a knife, was overpowered.

The Evening News reported that “great indignation is expressed throughout Bulli at the action of the authorities in releasing Reynolds from the asylum”.

Reynolds was taken to the Bulli lockup, where he was “muffed and guarded”.

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