Published June 14, 2010
Education , history
Tags: alexander morison, chance encounters, chance encounters in the museum, daniel hack tuke, everts, guislan, history, history of psychiatry, mental health, nineteenth century, psychiatry, travel writing, victorian psychiatrists
The Archives and Museum regularly receives visits from psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. This is unsurprising, given that it is itself part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, with strong links to the Institute of Psychiatry and other partners inthe provision of mental healthcare. Every now and then, however, visitors arrive from further afield, sometimes as part of a pre-arrangedschool or university group visit, at other times entirely unannounced in ones or twos. Recently we hosted a visit from a group from Athens, and we will be welcoming students from a college in Connecticut later this week. In the past fortnight, we have also bumped into visiting psychiatrists from Vienna and Oslo, both with an interest in the history of European psychiatry in general, and the prominent and a typical place occupied within it by Bethlem Hospital in particular.
This puts us in mind of a parallel phenomenon of the nineteenth century: that of the intra-European collegial visits made by doctors intent on discovering what provision other countries had made for the care and treatment of the mentally ill. These visits, and the reports that were made of them, were a means of highlighting ‘best practice’ (as well as worst), and formed part of a drive towards the ‘moral management’ of patients, the construction of more appropriate hospital buildings, and the establishment of psychiatry as a medical discipline.
A few years ago, the Archives & Museum partnered with museums of psychiatry on the continent to produce a electronic resource to makeavailable (at www.europeanjourneys.org) the reports of four of these nineteenth-century journeys, made by Drs Morison of London and Edinburgh, Guislain of Ghent, Everts of Noord-Holland and Hack Tuke of York respectively. As those who browse the site will discover, the honeymoon of one of these doctors effectively doubled as a psychiatric fact-finding mission. We can only guess at what his spouse made of this.
Artists – and others – have always learnt and drawn inspiration from the work of others. But restricted display space in the Archives and Museum makes it possible to show only a fraction of our collection at any one time. The rest of the artworks we hold are in store. We are always on the lookout for new ways to make our paintings available to a wider audience.
The Archives and Museum have begun working with Bethlem’s Occupational Therapy Department on a new initiative to use pieces from our collection to inspire creative responses from others. Each month, copies of three chosen paintings will be displayed in the Department’s art studio as a visual starting point for others to create their own pieces. One of these three will be selected by a member of Archives and Museum staff as our ‘picture of the month’ to feature on the Bethlem blog, along with details of what made it catch our eye. This month’s picture is Lynda Bamford’s ‘Mother and Father Reading’.
Yesterday Hull History Centre played host to local schoolchildren out on a visit to celebrate National Storytelling Week. By all accounts, great fun was had by all. But these and others missed out on the mini conference of archivists held in the meeting room next door, devoted to the “New Archive Buildings and Services.” Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives & Museum sent a representative because of our plans to relocate elsewhere on the Hospital site in the (reasonably) near future. A series of presentations drew attention to various recent new building projects. Much of the day was devoted to recounting technical challenges encountered and solutions found in the course of relocation projects, but one contributor (Ian Mason from The Treasure House in Beverley) encouraged the conference to regard the time and effort expended on any move as an investment which will in time pay off.
The papers presented were, however, not the only source of inspiration available to participants. Hull History Centre is itself a brand new facility, which was seen and used at its best in yesterday’s glorious Yorkshire sunshine.
Many delusions can be regarded as an attempt by patients to explain the odd sensations and hallucinations caused by their illness. From the industrial revolution on, rapid technological change seemed to many to account for the symptoms of their illness. Modern psychiatrists might be very familiar with the idea of the control of the body by a machine, but Mike Jay has suggested this was unusual prior to the “Air Loom” of James Tilly Matthews, admitted to Bethlem in 1797. In late nineteenth century Bethlem, the most common apparatuses of control suggested were wires and telephones.
While electrical wires had been used for experimental purposes by eighteenth century scientists, it was only in the late nineteenth century that they came into more common use, as indicated by the introduction of regulations for the installation of electrical wiring in England and Wales in 1881. Widespread use of the electric telegraph for the transmission of messages meant that the presence of wires might seem a likely explanation for hallucinations of hearing. Wiring in institutions might serve a practical purpose – in 1884, George Savage reported the trial of electric lighting to the Medico-Psychological Association. It might also be therapeutic: Galvanism, the application of electrical currents, was still in common use as one treatment for a variety of illnesses, including insanity and “nervous” illnesses, such as neuralgia. When John Jacoby declared in 1886 that the Doctor had put telephones and telegraphs on his bed, his delusions may in fact have had born reference to previous treatments he had undergone.
Following its invention in 1876, many patients connected the disembodied voices of the telephone with both their hallucinations, and the electrical control of the telegraph. Joseph Haskill was “annoyed at night by telephones and electronic arrangements,” while Annie Payne thought that her doctor “attendend her professionally through the telephone.” Moreover, the adoption of such explanations by patients indicates the intense interest provoked by such progressive seeming inventions; many patients, like Annie, adopted their ideas despite the fact that “there is no telephone in the house.”
Further Reading: The Air Loom Gang Mike Jay, 2003.