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Lives in the Asylum Record, 1864 to 1910: Utilising Large Data Collection for Histories of Psychiatry and Mental Health

  • Angela McCarthy (a1), Catharine Coleborne (a2), Maree O’Connor (a3) and Elspeth Knewstubb (a4)

This article examines the research implications and uses of data for a large project investigating institutional confinement in Australia and New Zealand. The cases of patients admitted between 1864 and 1910 at four separate institutions, three public and one private, provided more than 4000 patient records to a collaborative team of researchers. The utility and longevity of this data and the ways to continue to understand its significance and contents form the basis of this article’s interrogation of data collection and methodological issues surrounding the history of psychiatry and mental health. It examines the themes of ethics and access, record linkage, categories of data analysis, comparison and record keeping across colonial and imperial institutions, and constraints and opportunities in the data itself. The aim of this article is to continue an ongoing conversation among historians of mental health about the role and value of data collection for mental health and to signal the relevance of international multi-sited collaborative research in this field.

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Our research, which this article retrospectively examines, was generously supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund, 08-UOO-167 SOC.

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1. Examples include studies of India, the African colonies, and Canada. See James H. Mills, Madness, Cannabis and Colonialism: The ‘Native-Only’ Lunatic Asylums of British India, 1857–1900 (London and New York: Macmillan/St Martins, 2000); Sloane Mahone and Megan Vaughan (eds), Psychiatry and Empire (Houndmills, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). See also Catharine Coleborne, Madness in the Family: Insanity and Institutions in the Australasian Colonial World, 1860–1914 (Houndmills, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Leonard Smith, Insanity, Race and Colonialism: Managing Mental Disorder in the Post-Emancipation British Caribbean, 1838–1914 (Houndmills, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

2. Swartz, Sally, ‘Colonial Lunatic Asylum Archives: Challenges to Historiography’, Kronos, 34 (2008), 302.

3. Swartz, Sally, ‘Lost Lives: Gender, History and Mental Illness in the Cape, 1891–1910’, Feminism and Psychology, 9, 2 (1999), 152158.

4. Andrews, Jonathan, ‘Case Notes, Case Histories, and the Patient’s Experience of Insanity at Gartnavel Royal Asylum, Glasgow, in the Nineteenth Century’, Social History of Medicine, 11, 2 (1998), 266.

5. Taylor, Barbara, The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times (London: Penguin, 2014), 268.

6. McCarthy, Angela, ‘Future Directions for the Study of Migration and Ethnicity in New Zealand: Comparative, Transnational, and Multidisciplinary Approaches to Records of Insanity’, Journal of New Zealand Studies, 9 (2010), 7998.

7. Ödegaard, Örnulv, ‘Emigration and Insanity: A Study of Mental Disease among the Norwegian-born Population in Minnesota’, Acta Psychiatrica et Neurologica Supplementum, 7, 4 (1932), 5052, 54, 57, 82.

8. Fox, Richard W., So Far Disordered in Mind: Insanity in California, 1870–1930 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978), 80, 84, 87.

9. Ibid., 105, 112.

10. For summaries of this issue and relevant literature, see Angela McCarthy, introduction in Migration, Ethnicity and Madness: New Zealand, 1860–1910 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2015); and Angela McCarthy and Catherine Coleborne (eds), Migration, Ethnicity, and Mental Health: International Perspectives, 1840–2010 (London and New York: Routledge, 2012).

11. Garton, Stephen, Medicine and Madness: A Social History of Insanity in New South Wales, 1880–1940 (Kensington, NSW: New South Wales University Press, 1988), 6, 102, 104.

12. Melling, Joseph and Forsythe, Bill, The Politics of Madness: The State, Insanity and Society in England, 1845–1914 (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), 66, 72.

13. See, for instance, David Wright, Mental Disability in Victorian England: The Earlswood Asylum, 1847–1901 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001).

14. Melling and Forsythe, op. cit. (note 12), 84, 91, 80, 82.

15. Porter, Roy, ‘The Patient’s View: Doing Medical History from Below’, Theory and Society, 14 (1985), 175198.

16. Roy Porter, A Social History of Madness: The World through the Eyes of the Insane (London: George Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1987); Mary Elene Wood, The Writing on the Wall: Women’s Autobiography and the Asylum (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994); Jeffrey L. Geller and Maxine Harris (eds), Women of the Asylum: Voices from Behind the Walls, 1840–1945 (New York: Anchor, 1995).

17. Geoffrey Reaume, Remembrance of Patients Past: Patient Life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870–1940 (Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, 2000); Bronwyn Labrum, ‘The boundaries of femininity: madness and gender in New Zealand, 1870–1910’, in Wendy Chan, Dorothy E. Chunn and Robert Menzies (eds), Women, Madness and the Law: A Feminist Reader (London, Portland, OR, and Coogee, NSW: Glasshouse Press, 2005), 59–77; Mills, op. cit. (note 1); Roy Porter and David Wright (eds), The Confinement of the Insane: International Perspectives, 1800–1965 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Angela McCarthy, ‘Ethnicity, Migration, and the Lunatic Asylum in Early Twentieth-Century Auckland, New Zealand’, Social History of Medicine, 21, 1 (2008), 47–65.

18. Coleborne, Catharine, Reading Madness: Gender and Difference in the Colonial Asylum in Victoria, Australia, 1848–1888 (Perth, WA: API Network/Curtin University Press, 2007), 5779.

19. Akihito Suzuki, ‘Framing psychiatric subjectivity: doctor, patient and record-keeping at Bethlem in the nineteenth century’, in Joseph Melling and Bill Forsythe (eds), Insanity, Institutions and Society: A Social History of Madness in Comparative Perspective (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), 115–36.

20. Coleborne, Reading Madness, op. cit. (note 18); Nancy Theriot, ‘Negotiating Illness: Doctors, Patients and Families in the Nineteenth Century’, Journal of the History of the Behavioural Sciences, 37, 4 (2001), 34–68; Coleborne, Madness in the Family, op. cit. (note 1).

21. O’Connor, Maree, ‘Mobilizing Clouston in the Colonies? General Paralysis of the Insane at the Auckland Mental Hospital, 1868–99’, History of Psychiatry, 26, 1 (2015), 6979.

22. Swartz, Sally, ‘The Regulation of British Colonial Lunatic Asylums and the Origins of Colonial Psychiatry, 1860–1864’, History of Psychology, 13, 2 (2010), 160177.

23. Smith, op. cit. (note 1), 12–19.

24. See, for example, Shula Marks, ‘What is Colonial about Colonial Medicine? And What has Happened to Imperialism and Health?’, Social History of Medicine, 10, 2 (1997), 205–19; Warwick Anderson, ‘Postcolonial histories of medicine’, in Frank Huisman and John Harley Warner (eds), Locating Medical History: The Stories and Their Meanings (Baltimore, MD, and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 285–306.

25. For more examples of this transcolonial context, see Coleborne, Madness in the Family, op. cit. (note 1); Rollo Arnold, ‘The Australasian peoples and their world, 1888–1915’, in Keith Sinclair (ed.), Tasman Relations: New Zealand and Australia, 1788–1988 (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1987), 52–70.

26. Coleborne, Catharine, Insanity, Identity and Empire: Insanity and Institutional Confinement in Australia and New Zealand, 1873–1910 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015).

27. For further details, see Coleborne, Insanity, Identity and Empire, ibid.; Maree Dawson, ‘National Fitness or Failure? Heredity, Vice and Racial Decline in New Zealand Psychiatry: A Case Study of the Auckland Mental Hospital, 1868–1899’ (unpublished PhD thesis: University of Waikato, 2012); Elspeth Knewstubb, ‘Respectability, Religion, and Psychiatry in New Zealand: A Case Study of Ashburn Hall, Dunedin, 1882–1910’ (unpublished MA thesis: University of Otago, 2011); McCarthy, Migration, Ethnicity, and Madness, op. cit. (note 10).

28. On the differences between archival records across four colonial institutions, see Coleborne, Madness in the Family, op. cit. (note 1), 145–53.

29. This was also the case elsewhere in the world. See, for instance, Andrews, op. cit. (note 4), 260.

30. Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (hereafter AJHR), 1879, H-4, 6.

31. David Wright also comments on the array of certification processes across institutional and national sites. See ‘Getting out of the Asylum: Understanding the Confinement of the Insane in the Nineteenth Century’, Social History of Medicine, 10, 1 (1997), 146–9.

32. Interestingly, there was no formal legal requirement for casebooks to be maintained in Scottish asylums, the requirement instead being an admission book. For asylums that did keep casebooks, printed forms were generally introduced after 1800. For instance, a pro forma was only introduced in Edinburgh in 1874, Woodilee in 1900, and Gartnavel in the 1920s. See Gayle Davis, ‘The Cruel Madness of Love’: Sex, Syphilis and Psychiatry in Scotland, 1880–1930 (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2008), 24–5.

33. Andrews, op. cit. (note 4), 260.

34. Ibid., 262.

35. This was an area of interest for Roland Littlewood and Maurice Lipsedge, Aliens and Alienists: Ethnic Minorities and Psychiatry (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989).

36. Swartz, ‘Colonial Lunatic Asylum Archives’, op. cit. (note 2), 291.

37. Knewstubb, op. cit. (note 27).

38. For some international examples of restrictions surrounding access to patient records, see David Wright and Renée Saucier, ‘Madness in the Archives: Anonymity, Ethics, and Mental Health History Research’, Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, 23, 2 (2012), 68–70.

39. Stephen Garton, ‘Shut off from the Source: A National Obsession with Privacy Has Led to Fears for the Future of Australian Social History’, The Australian, Higher Education Supplement, 22 November 2000, reproduced accessed 3 December 2015).

40. See for example Catharine Coleborne, ‘Reading Insanity’s Archive: Reflections from Four Archival Sites’, Provenance, 9 (September 2010), 29–41, accessed 5 May 2017).

41. See Wright and Saucier, op. cit. (note 38), 73–76, for further discussion about these ethical issues.

42. Maree Dawson, ‘A degenerate residuum? The migration of medical personnel and medical ideas about congenital idiocy, heredity, and racial degeneracy between Britain and the Auckland Mental Hospital, c.1870–1900’, in McCarthy and Coleborne (eds), op. cit. (note 10), 93.

43. Archives New Zealand, Auckland Regional Office (hereafter ANZ ARO), YCAA, 1048/5, folio 751.

44. G. W. Grabham, ‘Remarks on the Origin, Varieties and Termination of Idiocy’, British Medical Journal (16 January 1875), 73, cited in Dawson, ‘A degenerate residuum?’, op. cit. (note 42), 100.

45. ANZ ARO, YCAA, 1048/6, folio 221.

46. Shuttleworth, G. E., ‘Discussions on the Prevention of Insanity, Part III’, British Medical Journal (1894), 521.

47. Knewstubb, op. cit. (note 27), 36–9.

48. Hacking, Ian, ‘Making up people’, in Heller, Thomas C., Sosna, Morton and Wellbery, David E. (eds), Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1986), 223.

49. Dawson, ‘National Fitness or Failure?’, op. cit. (note 27), 206, 210.

50. ANZ ARO, YCAA 1048/2, folio 91.

51. Ibid.

52. ANZ ARO, YCAA 1048/7, folio 207.

53. ANZ ARO, YCAA 1048/4, folio 29.

54. ANZ ARO, YCAA 1048/5, folio 571.

55. Dawson, ‘National Fitness or Failure?’, op. cit. (note 27), 186.

56. Coleborne, Catharine, ‘White Men and Weak Masculinity: Men in the Public Asylums in Victoria and New Zealand, 1860s–1900s’, History of Psychiatry, 25, 4 (2014), 468476.

57. Ibid., 469–70.

58. Garton, op. cit. (note 11), 118–31.

59. Picard, Liza, Victorian London: The Life of a City 1840–1870 (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2005), 120.

60. Robinson-Tomsett, Emma, Women, Travel and Identity: Journeys by Rail and Sea, 1870–1940 (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2013), 1819.

61. Gothard, Jan, Blue China: Single Female Migration to Colonial Australia (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2001).

62. Kingston, Beverley, My Wife, My Daughter, and Poor Mary Ann: Women and Work in Australia (Melbourne: Thomas Nelson, 1975), 30.

63. Ibid., 48–9.

64. See Penny Russell, A Wish of Distinction: Colonial Gentility and Femininity (Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1994), 170–1. On domestic servants with stories of fear and abuse by men, see Coleborne, Madness in the Family, op. cit. (note 1), 90.

65. See Coleborne, Madness in the Family, op. cit. (note 1), 52.

66. Public Record Office Victoria, VPRS 7400/P1, unit 8, folio 78, 5 May 1885; VPRS 7400/P1, unit 13, folio 302, 17 February 1903.

67. A larger number of women were listed as working in the home, home duties, household work and related terms, but this commentary is confined to those designated as servants.

68. McCarthy, Migration, Ethnicity, and Madness, op. cit. (note 10), 77–78.

69. Ibid., ch. 6.

70. See, for example, Ashburn Hall, Register of Admissions, 1882–1948, Hocken Collections, AG-447-5/01.

71. Knewstubb, op. cit. (note 27), 64.

72. Ibid., 65.

73. Ibid., 66.

74. See, for example, Mark Finnane, ‘Asylums, Families and the State’, History Workshop, 20 (1985), 135. Finnane stretches the doctor/priest metaphor even further to include an equation of the asylum and the church.

75. John Stenhouse, ‘Religion and society’, in Giselle Byrnes (ed.), The New Oxford History of New Zealand (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2009), 343.

76. Warwick Brunton, ‘The New Zealand lunatic asylum: conception and misconception’, in R.E. Wright-St Clair (ed.), Proceedings of the First New Zealand Conference on the History of New Zealand and Australian Medicine (Hamilton, NZ: Waikato Postgraduate Medical Society, Waikato Hospital, 1987), 162.

77. Knewstubb, op. cit. (note 27), 75, 98–99.

78. McCarthy, Migration, Ethnicity and Madness, op. cit. (note 10), ch. 2.

79. ANZ Dunedin Regional Office (hereafter DRO), Seacliff Hospital Medical Casebook, DAHI/D264/19956/45, case 2711 (1893).

80. For Patrick’s immigration record and the number of Irish-born people on the vessel, see ANZ Wellington Regional Office, IM 15/295, 16, 37. Patrick was nominated from Otago 3171.

81. Various records for Peter’s admission in 1884 are: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (hereafter PRONI), Omagh District Asylum Register of Patients, HOS/29/1/3/4, no. 4057; Committal Papers, HOS/29/1/5/11, no. 4057; and Case book, HOS/29/1/61/1, no. 4057, 81. The Omagh District Lunatic Asylum was later known as the Tyrone and Fermanagh Mental Hospital.

82. Documents relating to Peter’s admission in 1889 are: PRONI, Register of Patients, HOS/19/1/3/4, no. 4821; Committal Papers, HOS/29/1/5/14, no. 4821; Case book, HOS/29/1/6/2, no. 4821.

83. PRONI, Committal papers, HOS/29/1/5/14, no. 4754. Also see Register of Patients, HOS/29/1/3/4, no. 4754; and Case book, HOS/29/1/6/2, no. 4754.

84. A newspaper notice of the inquest is included in Patrick’s case record. The paper appears to be the Otago Witness, 10 June 1903. An account also appears in the Auckland Star, 29 May 1903, 4. Patrick was 41 years of age at the time of his death and had four surviving children. See Births, Deaths, and Marriages, 1903/162.

85. See, for instance, Mills, op. cit. (note 1), 16–24.

86. Peter Bartlett, ‘The asylum and the Poor Law: the productive alliance’, 56, and Lorraine Walsh, ‘ “The property of the whole community”. Charity and insanity in urban Scotland: the Dundee Royal Lunatic Asylum, 1805–1850’, 195, in Melling and Forsythe (eds), Insanity, Institutions and Society, op. cit. (note 19).

87. See McCarthy, Migration, Ethnicity, and Madness, op. cit. (note 10), 106–110.

88. Catharine Coleborne, ‘Regulating “Mobility” and Masculinity through Institutions in Colonial Victoria, 1870s–1890s’, Law Text Culture, 15 (2011), 60.

89. See Coleborne, Insanity, Identity and Empire, op. cit. (note 26), 51–83.

90. AJHR, 1881, H-13, 2.

91. McCarthy, Migration, Ethnicity, and Madness, op. cit. (note 10), 109; Elizabeth Malcolm, ‘ “The house of strident shadows”: the asylum, the family and emigration in post-Famine rural Ireland’, in Elizabeth Malcolm and Greta Jones (eds), Medicine, Disease and the State in Ireland, 1650–1940 (Cork: Cork University Press, 1999), 181.

Our research, which this article retrospectively examines, was generously supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund, 08-UOO-167 SOC.

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