Saturday, 20 April 2013

Children in Mental Asylums

This week someone asked me about children admitted to mental asylums. From notes that I made while indexing records at Queensland State Archives, I was able to give a few examples. The list below (which is in random order) shows the child's age, mental disorder, and my comments based on what I read in various sources.

Records from previous centuries contain many terms that, though considered normal then, are offensive to us today. Conversely, certain 'minor swear words' are now used in everyday language, but a hundred years ago we would have been arrested for saying them in public. Police watchhouse charge books are full of examples! Putting information into the proper historical context is a challenge faced by all family historians.
  • Age 3, 'idiocy from the age of six months'. Died of pneumonia five years after admission.
  • Age 14, 'imbecility; epilepsy for five years'. Transferred to Toowoomba. Died aged 40.
  • Age 15, 'dementia; epilepsy'. Discharged into the care of a sister four months after admission. Father had several attacks of insanity and committed suicide.
  • Age 8, 'idiocy; epilepsy'. Died five months later. Post mortem held.
  • Age 5, 'idiocy; congenital'. Died six years later (epilepsy).
  • Age 15, 'imbecility; epilepsy'. Died the following year. Post mortem held.
  • Age 9, 'imbecility'. Died five months after admission.
  • Age 9, 'idiocy since birth'. Died seven years later. Mother was already in the asylum and father was admitted later.
  • Age 9, 'idiocy since birth'. Died from measles six weeks after admission.
  • Age 5, 'idiocy; epilepsy'. Always climbing; tried to get onto the roof.
  • Age 7, 'idiocy; congenital'. Died six years later.
  • Age 12, 'imbecile; fell on her head'. Suggestion of hereditary syphilis. Died four years later.
  • Age 15, 'imbecile; congenital defect'. Mother is deficient in intelligence and earns a living as a washerwoman, and can't look after the child, who wanders around the street. Transferred to Toowoomba.
  • Age 11, 'imbecility since sunstroke at age 5'. Child was taken home by father the following month, and died two years later.
  • Aged 13, 'dementia; epilepsy for two years'. Always asking about her mother and says she is lonely without her. Always nurses a doll. Transferred to Toowoomba. Died aged 19.

These particular examples are from the 1890s and early 1900s. Surnames of the children are (in alphabetical order, not the order shown above) AHNFELDT, BULCOCK, CHAMPION, DUMPHY, HAY, HORN, JOHNSON, KYLE, MANSFIELD, McKENZIE, MORRIS, PATTEN, PEDERSON, STUBBINGS and WEBB.

For more information about these children and their families, use Goodna Asylum case books and Public Curator insanity files, and various other records, as explained on my Web site and in my mini-guide Researching Queensland Mental Asylum Patients.

6 comments:

  1. Very interesting Judy. There has been a measles outbreak here in the UK, currently confined to Wales. There have been over 800 different cases caused by a failure to have the vaccination. We have had our first reported death. I note one of these individuals died of measles, some things I guess never change.

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    1. In the 1880s my great-grandparents lost three little children within two weeks, and I know (from a death certificate) that at least one of them had measles. But today's vaccines are not perfect, and my sister (a registered nurse) has seen many unlucky children with devastating side effects. It's a shame that more people don't know about the natural products that can reduce the risk of side effects.

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    2. I am horrified to see that children were stated to have imbecility or idiocy since birth... often aligned with epilepsy. As someone who has epilepsy in the family, I wonder what, if any, the treatment was then. Too often, epileptics have been treated as mentally deficient.

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    3. Chris, records from previous centuries contain many terms that, though considered normal then, are offensive to us today. Conversely, we now use certain 'swear words' (eg, some of the B words) in everyday language, but a hundred years ago we would have been arrested for saying them in public. Police watchhouse charge books are full of examples! Putting information into the proper historical context is a challenge faced by all family historians.

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  2. Such sad stories behind those short phrases.

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    Replies
    1. Yes Pauleen, and some of them become even more sad as you read the entire case book entry plus the Public Curator insanity file plus the Justice Department inquest file.

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