Victorian England had its share of medical and science breakthroughs such as the discovery of anesthesia, vaccines, and pasteurization. However, for all of these medical advancements, there were also dehumanising institutions known as insane asylums. Before the advent of the asylum, people were cared for by their families. Yet not all families could afford the time and money necessary to care for relatives struggling with mental illness. As a result, Victorian streets were filled with wanderers, beggars, and the permanently homeless. The government responded by building large Victorian asylums to house and medicate the sufferers.
The asylums in England were home to over 100,000 people, with many criminals lumped in with men and women who had mental illness. Some families used the asylums as dumping grounds for family members who they thought were burdens. The facilities earned a deserved reputation for its dehumanizing conditions. These photographs of people who lived in insane asylums demonstrate the human toll the institutions took on the many innocent inhabitants.
Eliza Camplin was admitted to Bedlam, one of the most notorious asylums, with a diagnosis of acute mania in 1857. Today Camplin’s illness would be known as bipolar disorder. Bedlam was previously named Bethlem Royal Hospital. The term “bedlam” was derived from the hospital’s name.
Unidentified West Riding Inmate
This criminal inmate was photographed wearing a restraint at West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum. West Riding was a self-sufficient institution and assigned its able-bodied residents tasks, requiring them to work in the laundry, kitchen, dairy, and other parts of the estate.
Harriet Jordan was admitted to Bedlam in 1858 for a diagnosis of acute mania. It was common in the Victorian Era for women like Jordan to be sent to the insane asylum by their husband or family, as it only took two family members to have a person admitted.
Captain George Johnston
Captain George Johnston captained the HSS Tory, a merchant ship, in 1845 but was sent to Bedlam for murdering one of his crew members. He was admitted to the hospital in 1846 for mania after being found “not guilty” by way of insanity.
Fanny Barrett was admitted to Bedlam in 1858 for intermittent mania, a disease that was characterized by lucid moments interspersed with mania.
The Bailey Men
John Bailey (69) and Thomas Bailey (41) were both admitted to Bedlam in 1858. The men were diagnosed with acute melancholia, a type of depressive disorder.
Unidentified Patient at West Riding
This West Riding patient was diagnosed with a condition called monomania, what the Victorians considered a form of “partial insanity.” Doctors deemed he had monomania of pride, meaning he believed himself to be a historical figure of importance.
At 23, domestic servant Eliza Josolyne was admitted to Bedlam in 1856 with a diagnosis of insanity due to “overwork,” according to hospital notes. The young servant was the only staff member in a 20-person household and acted out of stress by self-injuring herself. Her photograph was one of many images at Bedlam taken by photographer Henry Hering of Regent Street, London.
Eliza Josolyne in Convalescence
Josolyne was admitted to Bedlam again in 1857 and is shown here in convalescence. She was said to be “improving,” however, hospital notes show that in 1859, she was deemed “incurable” thanks to a varying mental state.
William Green was a Grenadier Guard who was admitted to Bedlam in 1857 at age 33 and had his photograph taken upon entering the asylum. His diagnosis was paroxysmal and intermittent mania.
William Green one year later
William Green was released from Bedlam a year later, having “fully recovered,” and left after this image was taken.