This Trove of Case Records from a Victorian Asylum Is Fascinating

Here is an unsettling way to while away the hours on this muggy October day: Browsing case records from a Victorian asylum. They’re not exactly a lark!

The U.K.’s Wellcome Library is an enormous medical history collection (which contains some weird shit). They’re currently digitizing huge swaths of documents related to mental health, ranging from ledgers and salary lists to patient artwork. As Motherboard points out, that includes Victorian case records from Ticehurst House Hospital, one of the leading institutions of the time. Apparently the premises boasted “a pagoda, a gothic summer house and an aviary for gold and silver pheasants … hothouses, greenhouses and its own pack of harriers.”

That doesn’t mean the place wasn’t grim, though. The records offer a peek at the methods of professionals who were trying, I guess, but in a system that was pretty fucked. It’s not even creepy—just sad. Via Motherboard:

They recall how a woman committed to Ticehurst in 1876 keeps crying out, without warning, “I did not do it,” or “You must not kill.” By December, she was condemning everything as wicked and troubling the other ladies during reading or games. The one bright spot is how, by August 1877, she “takes pleasure in music” and attends weekly singing, where she doesn’t sing, but instead does needlework. She’s reported to be quiet, but still hearing and responding to voices in late 1878. They tell her the world is a wicked place.

But there is something almost chilling about how utterly straightforward these Nineteenth Century Men of Science and Progress Ahem are when recording their interactions with patients:

That he believes himself to be the King of Kings, that his wealth is unlimited, that what he says here is at once known in all the Capitals of Europe. That by means of a magical wand he possesses he can transform the World and all in it at pleasure; that he has thousands of houses and carriages and that he means to construct a house of pure malachite capable of holding three million people—general raving of the most extravagant kind.

Also, doctors used to have much better handwriting.

Victorian Hospital in the Countryside — Image via Getty.

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