Medical History, 2002, 46: 175-196
Madness, Suicide and the Victorian Asylum: Attempted Self-Murder in the Age of Non-Restraint
ANNE SHEPHERD and DAVID WRIGHT*
Introduction On 20 July 1870, Catherine Tyrrell found herself transferred to another asylum. The 32-year-old nurse suffering from melancholia had previously been a private patient in Bethlem Hospital; but, having had her twelve months expire at that institution,' she was conveyed across the metropolis and into the bucolic countryside and county asylum of Buckinghamshire.2 Up to this point, Catherine had had a long and sad history of suicide attempts and food refusal. Indeed, when she was transferred the following year, this time from Buckinghamshire to the Surrey County Asylum at Wandsworth, she was listed as "very suicidally disposed".3 Now diagnosed as suffering from "mania", she managed only three months before arriving at her fourth institution in as many years-the Surrey County Asylum at Brookwood. On admission, the medical superintendent described, with transparent disapproval, the precautionary clothing that held her suicidal impulses in check:
She was brought in a canvas garment which fitted her person even down to her ankles, the arms however not going through the sleeves, but being folded across her chest close to her skin, the hands being locked in leather gloves. The jacket or whatever it is called being [fastened] at the back by 5 locks. All this complicated arrangement was immediately removed. There was no clothing of ordinary kind under it.4
* Anne Shepherd, MA, Dept. of History, Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet St, London WC1E 7HX. David Wright, DPhil, History of Medicine Unit, McMaster University, HSC 3N10-A, 1200 Main St W., Hamilton, L8N 3Z5, Canada.
The authors would like to thank the Wellcome Trust (History of Medicine Grants Panel) for grants in support of research upon which this article was based. We would also like to acknowledge the very helpful referees'...