The Wellcome Library has digitized and publicly released for free viewing the complete records of over 1,000 people who were incarcerated at the Ticehurst psychiatric asylum between 1793 and 1925. These include journal writings from the patients, and physician notes about patients’ mental states, attitudes towards staff, sleeping habits, drug treatments, food intake, bowel movements, day leave trips and more.
On the library’s blog, Dr. Richard Aspen quotes from the British barrister Herman Charles Merivale’s notes about his first night in the asylum.
“I was therefore ‘removed,’ half-dying, in a state of semi-consciousness, I can scarcely remember how, to the castellated mansion… The wrong should have been impossible, of course; but it is possible, and it is law. My liberty, and my very existence as an individual being, had been signed away behind my back. In my weakened perceptions I at first thought that the mansion was an hotel. Left alone in a big room on the first evening, I was puzzled by the entrance of a wild-looking man, who described figures in the air with his hand, to an accompaniment of gibber, ate a pudding with his fingers at the other end of a long table, and retired. My nerve was shaken to its weakest, remember; and I was alone with him! It was not an hotel. It was a lunatic asylum.”
A Victorian lunatic asylum begins to reveal its secrets (Wellcome Library Blog, October 8, 2014)