Passages of Time

CHAPTER 2 - Camisoles and Key

In 1866 the monotonous grey garb of the convicts was superseded by the sombre, navy blue of the insane. Convict and warder had been exchanged for lunatic and keeper, manacles and lash for camisoles and key. The hush of enforced silence was punctuated by the discordant babble. While the convict had awaited his release to the outside world, the lunatic was immured in a world of his own. One aspect had not altered; the function of the buildings was still one of confinement, the inmate more prisoner than patient.

This was the Dark Ages of Psychiatry, the advent of Freud and Jung was still in the future. Throughout the centuries man has regarded the insane as objects of awe, revulsion, fear or ridicule. St. Mary of Bethlehem Hospital in Bishopsgate, London, 'Bedlam' being a corruption of the word Bethlehem, had at one time exhibited its inmates to the public, where for twopence the 'sane' could view the insane. Thankfully the pathetic creatures on show were unaware that they were providing the entertainment.

In the last thirty years the rapid advance in psychiatric research and treatment has placed the insane in their correct perspective&emdash;patients with an illness requiring therapeutic treatment.

In the 1860's and 1870's, as causes and cures were unknown in most cases, the main object of the asylum was to keep the inmates under restraint. Viewed today, many of these restraint methods bring the Inquisition vividly to mind, but whereas the instruments of the Inquisition had been used for torture, those of the asylum were used for forcible confinement. However the end result in either case was often bruised or maimed limbs.

As with the convicts , the strengths defects in the system depended largely on the administrators.

The Need for an Asylum

As lunacy was a police charge, the gaols consequently were burdened by the added weight of the insane. Rules of discipline and methods of confinement were seriously hampered by the constant watch necessitated by the presence of the mentally disturbed. Although the 'lunatic offender' was only supposed to be confined in prison for seven days, the crowded conditions of Royal Park and Collins St. asylums, made transfers a slow process. Mental authorities in the 1860's were greatly disturbed by the high percentage of mental patients in Victoria.30

1867 Population Total No. Of Lunatics Proportion to Population

31/12 659,887 1,280 1 in 515

The high proportion of cases per population were thought to be due to a number of factors: large, immigrant families arriving for the goldrushes had brought with them, in some cases, their senile and 'idiot' relatives, dissolute sons and daughters were encouraged to emigrate to save the families from scandal. The intemperate habits of the Colony in general, transfers of mental patients from southern New South Wales, and one which sounds familiar today, 'the pressures of modern day living', were all contributing factors.

There was an urgency for an asylum, but where to build? Dr. William McCrea, Colonial Surgeon in 1863, stated in a letter to the Chief Secretary,

"I propose that a permanent, plain and inexpensive brick building for the accommodation of 150 quiet, harmless, incurable lunatics should be at once erected on a suitable site in Melbourne. (The slope South-west of the Collingwood Stockade is what I would point out.)"31

The Collingwood Stockade was still in operation at this time, so the plans to build on an adjacent site were shelved. Three years later however in January 1866, Dr. Edward Paley, the Inspector General of Lunatic Asylums, wrote,

"The authorities of the various gaols make frequent and urgent representations to me of the inconvenience arising from the association of insane persons with prisoners. I endeavour to diminish this inconvenience as much as possible by removing the more urgent cases as soon as I can accommodate them in an asylum . . . in my opinion no time should be lost in making the Collingwood Stockade available for their reception."32

By the 31st of August 1866 the Stockade buildings had been made ready and Dr. Paley informed the Colonial Secretary that the insane from the Melbourne gaols were being transferred.

The first Medical Officer was Dr. Gordon 'who had been transferred from Royal Park. The next year he was again transferred, this time to Yarra Bend and Dr. Henry Jackson was appointed in his place. Several months later, he was in turn succeeded by Dr. Alexander Mousse. In 1868 Dr. Mousse was appointed Superintendent of Beechworth Asylum and Dr. John Bayldon took up his position at Collingwood.

The receptions and transfers of the medical staff were far more frequent than those of the patients confined there. The new asylum was gazetted under various names; the first being the Collingwood Stockade Asylum, but with the creation of Carlton as a suburb, it then became known as the Carlton Receiving House and finally as the Carlton Lunatic Asylum.

In 1869 the asylum was no longer a receiving house for the insane, its new function was the confinement of 'harmless imbeciles and the mentally defective'. The strain on Carlton was gradually eased by the establishing in 1867 of two country asylums, Ararat and Beechworth.

In its seven years as an asylum, Carlton rendered valuable assistance by helping to clear the gaols of the insane and by accepting transfers from overcrowded Yarra Bend.

The Buildings

The wooden structures built as a temporary measure would have deteriorated by the time the inmates moved in, as it had been anticipated that they would fulfil their purpose in two to three years; yet they had been in constant use for thirteen years and were now to serve for another seven.

As they had once housed convicts there would have been little provision made for the intrusion of sunlight and fresh air. Dark, dank, badly ventilated dormitories, with the rank odour of urine-saturated palliasses, the hollow echo of footsteps, the metallic clanging of keys, the incessant muttering of the inmates, would all have added to the depressing atmosphere. No doubt bedbugs infested the excrete-soiled straw palliasses and rats feasted on food scraps secreted by the patients.

In summer the heat would have been intensified by the iron roofing, in winter the draughts and cold, stone floors would have taken their toll of patients.

On its establishment as an asylum, very few structural changes appear to have taken place as the cost of converting the buildings was only £658.2.2.33

A large building in the centre of the Asylum, possibly the former hall, was partitioned into male and female dayrooms and dormitories. Those formerly used by the convicts, were retained. The original kitchen and store would have remained virtually untouched whilst large sheds on the northern boundary were converted into a laundry. The constable's house, Superintendent's residence, hospital and surgery near the main southern entrance would have basically remained the same. A large kitchen garden at the western end bordered what is now Rathdowne St. and lavatories and bathrooms were situated at the eastern and western extremities of the yards. The latter were a long distance from the wards and could only be reached out of-doors. Considering the number of patients and staff the facilities could only be accounted as less than adequate.

In 1868 the records show:

Carlton Receiving House

No. of Wards 32

Aggregate No. Cubic Feet in Wards 64,889

No. of Beds:

Male: 91

Female: 60

Total: 151

Many of these 'wards' included single rooms the largest number to any dormitory appears to have been 25 (c.f. convicts 150).

It is interesting to note the choice of words used in Dr. Paley's first report on Carlton,

"The establishment was generally in a creditable state and considering the nature and character of the buildings it may be said to answer the purpose of a Receiving House in a satisfactory manner."35

The System

The "Regulations for the Guidance of the Officers, Attendants and Servants of the Lunatic Asylums Port Phillip" 1849, sets out patterns of desirable behaviour, however their strict adherence to would have depended on the integrity of the various stratas of administrators.

The patients were to rise at 6:00 am. in summer and 6:30 am. in winter. By breakfast, 8.00 am. summer and 8.30 am. winter, the patients' sleeping quarters were to have been cleaned and the patients washed, combed and dressed. The soiled straw from the bed cribs was taken into the yards to dry in the sunlight and any excrement was then removed, after which armfuls of the dried 'clean' straw were then replaced in the cribs. The straw would have been dry but little else, as bed bugs, bacteria and stench were thus transferred from one patient to another. The sleeping quarters were cleaned only twice a week and in wet winter months the dirty bedding may have remained unchanged for long periods. These canvas covered straw palliasses were later paint rendered so that urine saturation would not occur, but the hardened layers of paint would only have added to the patients' discomfort.

The women were commonly dressed in voluminous, navy and white pinstriped, back-buttoned, coarse cotton gowns. For those that were destructive of their clothing, and this was not uncommon, gowns were made of coarse, grey-quilted material lined with canvas, thus they would not readily retain moisture. The men's attire was equally severe, all of the clothing being rough, shapeless and very heavy. There appears to have been no change in the type of clothing with the change in seasons. The dirty and feeble were to be given clean clothing as 'often as necessary', however, as the laundry operated on specific days and the issue of clean clothing was officially on Saturdays, this rule may not necessarily have been carried out.

Cleaned, combed and dressed, the patients then shuffled into breakfast. Where a mess room was available the patients sat in strict order, 'without their hats'. There is no mention of a patients' mess room at Carlton, unless the day room was used, so it seems likely that their food was brought to them.

At the appointed hour an attendant from each dormitory collected the food and distributed it to the patients. If the food was delivered it would have been, at best, lukewarm as the kitchen was situated at the southern end of the asylum and some dormitories were over two hundred yards away across open courts.

For two meals the patients received bread and tea. The main meal of the day was pulped and primarily of vegetable content, as it was then believed that meat had a bad effect on the brain. 'Low diets' were often ordered for treatment of mental conditions. Regulations stated that, 'nothing whatever that is eatable shall be thrown into the waste tub'. Although utensils and food boilers were supposed to be scrubbed daily, the kitchen itself was only thoroughly cleaned on Fridays.


BEANS 1248 Ibs. PEAS 327 Ibs.

CARROTS 1805 Ibs. PARSNIPS 1030 Ibs.



CABBAGE 7508 Ibs. TURNIPS 1213 Ibs.

CELERY 1211 Ibs. TOMATOES 297 Ibs.

LETTUCE 1094 Ibs. ONIONS 1369 Ibs.

MARROWS 1150 Ibs. MELONS&emdash;WATER 2981bs.

PUMPKIN 185 Ibs. *PORK 1733 Ibs.

*Substituted for ordinary contract meat rations37

After breakfast the patients, stooped under the weight of their attire, filed out to their various 'occupations'.

In the 1860's the picking or teasing of oakum was a popular practice; oakum a type of jute, was used in the sealing and caulking of ships. If this employment was used at Carlton, some of the men would have been delegated to this task whilst others would have tended the kitchen garden. The women at Carlton would certainly have been employed in the laundry and in the sewing and mending of the inmates' clothing. Patients unable to work would spend their day under supervision in the day rooms or airing yards. At one o'clock dinner was served and at 6:00 pm. in summer and 5:00 pm. in winter their supper was rationed out.

The monotonous regularity of their day completed, the patients were returned to their dormitories or single rooms and were securely locked in Before entering the rooms, patients were searched and then removed all their clothes, these being left outside their doors all night Their day ended at 7:00 pm in summer and in winter.

Saturday afternoons provided a diversion bath day. One bath a week was common practice in this era even amongst workers and 'society' alike. It was the cook's task to boil up sufficient water for bathing the inmates, but how the cook, with limited facilities could boil up enough water for up to two hundred patients, is a mystery. Hot water would have had to have been carried over one hundred yards to the eastern and western extremities of the asylum, no easy or enjoyable task. It is more likely that the same bath water was used for a large number of patients. After bathing, the week's clean clothing was issued.

Care of the patients was largely in the hands of their attendants. The degree of care depended on the integrity and understanding of these 'keepers'. Attendants were engaged by the month and were unable to leave the asylum during this period unless first obtaining offcial, written permission. Their duties included supervision and the tending to patients' needs. They were not under any circumstances 'to threaten, swear at or strike a patient or apply restraints of any kind'. If a patient became violent they were to inform the Superintendent and follow his instructions. They were to furnish the medical Officer with reports as to 'the state of appetite, the nature of excretions, the habits of each patient and any mark they may detect in the person'. The majority of case records at Carlton have very little additional information after the initial entry. It would seem that the inmates were remarkably healthy or that observation was lax. If a patient were to escape from an attendant, the latter was fined £1 for the first offence, £2 for the second and found himself in danger of dismissal for a third offence.

A large number of ex-convicts unable to find other occupations were given employment as attendants. Often their signatures on registers were marked by a cross. It must have been a strange feeling to become the keeper and no longer the kept. The ex-convict may have had compassion for the 'caged' creatures or his own term of servitude may have hardened him into abusing his newly found power. The system was undeniably imperfect, that some inmates were tormented and humiliated is now a matter of history. Methods of confinement and treatments were primitive, public apathy and medical ignorance only aggravated the imperfections, but a number of doctors and administrators were striving to improve the conditions and ease the patients' misery. It would be so easy to distort the facts, exaggerate the torments, but there is no necessity as the defects in the system speak for themselves.

The Patients

A large proportion of asylum inmates in the 1860's and 1870's were suffering from mental disorders of some kind; today many of these same cases would not be confined, some would be controlled by drugs, others would make regular visits to a psychiatrist whilst Special Schools and geriatric homes would cater for others. In the 1860's and 1870's we would have found confined, patients who today would be regarded as physically handicapped and sane.

A high proportion of Chinese were committed to asylums, some of whom would have been mentally ill, but it is now realised that many of these unfortunates could have been the victims of a language barrier. They were mistrusted and disliked on the goldfields and any strange behaviour could have been regarded as 'lunacy'. Chinese interpreters were not officially assigned to asylums until late in the century. In 1894, J. McCreery wrote "If there are any Chinese patients in the asylum who are not clearly insane, I would be glad if the Superintendent will have them examined by a Chinese Interpreter once in every three months".

Julian Thomas, an American reporter, wrote a series of articles for the "Argus" in 1876-1877 under the pseudonym of "The Vagabond". Thomas was appointed as an attendant to the asylums of Kew and Yarra Bend. He reported,

"I don't thoroughly understand how colonial physicians can testify to the insanity of Celestials. Of course in some cases of epilepsy and imbecility, nature has planted indelible signs, but there were several cases I saw at Kew and Yarra Bend in which no outward sign could be discovered and the mental delusions could not be tested without knowledge of the language."

Apart from the Chinese, there was an extraordinary variety of other nationalities recorded in the registers. This is not surprising as it is post-gold rush era, but one can't help wondering if there were others committed through a lack of knowledge of the language.

Many patients at Carlton are described as being of 'intemperate habits'. Up to 1872 the Master in Lunacy (Public Trustee) was empowered to commit habitual drunkards to an asylum for any period up to 12 months. Epileptics are also to be found in the records and the senile and feeble were often committed. Women depressed after long and difficult confinements are frequently noted among the inmates or unwed mothers could be committed by their families.

Priority was at one time given to those patients who could afford to pay for their keep. Dr. William McCrea, in correspondence to the Chief Secretary stated, "Those who can afford to pay something for their maintenance get a preference of admission and the poorer classes, whom their friends are unable to keep, are compelled to remain in gaol until vacancies occur in the Asylum."38

Patients in the 1850's were classified under four general categories Maniacal, Melancholia, Idiotic, Convalescent.

General Paralysis of the Insane, the tertiary stage of Syphilis accounted for a high percentage of the inmates. These patients were marked by abnormal behaviour, grandiose delusions, paralysis affecting the legs, tremors of the lips and tongue often accompanied by convulsions. By 1894 it was the most common type of mental illness, at that time half the male admissions to Kew Asylum were suffering from the disease.

Children were not separated from adults in asylums until much later in the century. While the majority of patients at Carlton were between 20-50 years the records show the admission of an 8 year old boy. Children born to women who had been pregnant at the time of committal, were also confined.

The Inspector General's Report for 1869, shows


Ages of Admission

15-20 years 5

20-30 years 20

30-40 years 25

40-50 years 18

50-60 years 6

60-70 years 3

70-80 years 2

Unknown 1

Carlton in its latter years was reserved for 'harmless imbeciles' of an 'incurable nature'. It is strange that a large number of these 'incurable' cases are recorded as 'cured and discharged'. Sometimes the discharges are permanent, others were 'on trial' and still others 'on bond'. In several cases, diagnosis in hospital books are terms unknown today. While treatment may have relieved the patients, it is unlikely that many of them were cured, unless of course they had not been insane in the first instance. Most of the patients had been confined in other asylums or were recommitted after their discharge.

CARLTON LUNATIC ASYLUM (Inspector General's Report)

Total Rec'd Died Average %Deaths % Relived

Admitted No. & Recorded



1866 238 44 8 94 8.51 25.21

1867 106 52 28 172 16.27 64.15

1868 113 47 16 127 12.59 53.09

1869 64 41 12 136 8.82 65.62

1870 64 13 17 145 11.72

1871 64 14 175 8.00

1872 64 12 173 6.93

1873 64 5 161 76

Treatments at this time consisted of administration of drugs and methods of restraint. Drugs in use in the 1860's were DIGITALIS, OPIATES for inducing sleep or for reducing pain, QUININE for reducing fever or as a tonic, APERIENTS which are laxatives. In the 1870's POTASSIUM IODIDE was used in cases of Dementia following Meningitis. CHLORAL HYDRATE and BROMIDES were used in cases of excitement and OPIUM was prescribed in cases of Melancholia.41

Leeches were also applied in some incidences. It is conceivable that patients confined for many years could form a dependence on some of the drugs administered.

Methods of restraints are still used in psychiatric wards today, however they are more sophisticated models improved to prevent self-inflicted bodily injury. Some restraint methods used in the last century persisted until as late as 1950. Most of the cases at Carlton in the last four and a half years as an asylum, were 'quiet' patients. However in its early years at least some of the following would have been used.

Disturbed, unruly patients were sometimes shackled to cell walls and in their agitation could have suffered damage to their arms and legs.

Camisoles, a type of straight jacket were also in use; the patient had both arms inserted into the 'sleeves' the jacket was then fastened at the back, the arms were crossed over the body and then fastened behind. Violent patients could be confined for long periods. In some countries, including Victoria, bed restraints were used. Barred cribs, complete with similarly barred lids, were used to confine agitated patients; once he was inside the crib, the lid was then padlocked down. A coffin shaped apparatus with two apertures, one for the head and one for the feet was used for restraint.

In Victoria, patients lying on their backs were secured by bands of sheeting across the chest and over the thighs, the arms and legs were then chained to the bed. In 1862, Dr. Robert Bowie of Yarra Bend, introduced a blanket lined canvas bag which was fastened at the back and at the feet, this managed to restrain the patient but allowed him freedom of bodily movement.

It was believed until as late as 1939 that masturbation was a cause of insanity, so patients had their hands padlocked into leather gloves. These were used until 1950 and are exhibited in the Old Melbourne Gaol Museum.

The dousing or hosing of over-excited patients with cold water is a very old method. One 'treatment' found in our asylums of the past was the Hydrotherapeutic Shower Cabinet. It was formerly believed that one cause of insanity was circulatory abnormality of the blood. The wooden shower, closely resembling a tall cupboard, contained a window through which the patient could be observed. When placed in the shower the patient was restrained by ropes and chains whilst standing or slumped on the floor. The door was then locked and deluges of cold water were thrown down onto the patient from the open top of the cabinet. The use of the instrument was discussed in Parliamentary debate in 1852 and its abolition was strongly urged, however it was still in use at Yarra Bend in 1890. It was believed that patients had been unnecessarily tormented by being imprisoned fully clothed and left wet, cold and miserable more as a punishment than as a treatment.42

Typical Case Histories at Carlton 1870-1871

1. The Young

Case A: A male child of 8 years was transferred from Yarra Bend in May, 1871. His illness was diagnosed as 'idiocy from infancy'. The boy, a deaf mute, was transferred to Kew Asylum in June 1873.

Was the boy really an idiot, or was he a physically handicapped deaf mute?

Case B: In May 1871 a 14-year-old boy, whose parents were unknown, was transferred from a temporary asylum. His record states, 'has slight epileptic fits, but seems quite sane otherwise'. He was transferred to Kew in June, 1873.

The boy could have been suffering from petit mal, a relatively slight form of epilepsy, which today would not necessitate confinement in an asylum.

Case C: A 10-year-old boy described as 'an idiotic little Jew boy' was admitted from Yarra Bend in May 1871. His illness is diagnosed as 'idiocy from birth'. His parents were unknown. He was also transferred to Kew in 1873.

2. The Intemperate

Case D: Born in Ireland this 32-year-old male was formerly a chemist and druggist at Wangaratta. He was admitted from the Melbourne Gaol in July 1866, his habits are described as 'intemperate' and his illness diagnosed as 'Melancholia' He died on June 30th 1871 from 'abscess of the liver'.

Case E: A former medical practitioner, a 48-year-old male born in England, was admitted from Yarra Bend in 1871. He is described as 'intemperate' and the diagnosis was 'delusional insanity'. The record states that he was 'harmless and healthy with the exception of occasional attacks of asthma'. He was transferred to Kew in 1873.

3. General Paralysis of the Insane

Case F: Originally from Ireland, the patient was a 33-year-old married male. His former occupation was that of a cabman. Admitted from Yarra Bend in 1870, his record states, 'case of approaching General Paralysis; still able to go about and never confined to bed. Should have a single room at night as he is restless and dirty in his habits. Small sore on knee.' Patient died of 'disease of the brain' in 1871.

4. Ex- Convict

Case G: Born in Ireland, this single 50-year-old male, was sent from the Collingwood Stockade to Yarra Bend. He was admitted to Carlton in 1871, the diagnosis being 'Dementia'. His former occupation was 'gardener and groom'. His record states that he was 'clean, healthy, requiring no treatment'. It is interesting to note that he has marks of violence on his body. 'Old fracture of ribs right side, and marks of burns'.

5. The Chinese

Case H: A 38-year-old male Chinese, formerly from Castlemaine who was admitted from Yarra Bend in 1871, was described as suffering from 'Dementia'. His record states that he was 'quiet, harmless and healthy'.

6. Female

Case I: A 46-year-old female born in Ireland, whose former situation was that of a domestic. Admitted from Yarra Bend, she is described as being, 'sometimes dirty, quiet and imbecile'. She was fond of picking up dirty rags and putting them away in secret corners. She died of apoplexy in November 1872.

7. Effects of 'Modern Living'

Case J: A 44-year-old former detective constable was admitted from Yarra Bend in 1871, his birth place was Dublin. He was suffering from 'delusional insanity' and his record states that he 'has numerous delusions regarding Electricity, Magnetism and Freemasonry about which he sometimes declaims otherwise quiet and healthy.'

His delusions about electricity are reflected in the fears of some mental patients today regarding atomic warfare. It is also interesting that this Dublin born Irishman declaims about the Freemasons.

There were three ways in which a patient could leave the asylum; he could be discharged, die, or escape. There are quite a number of escapes recorded at Carlton, the majority ended in recapture. Up until 1922 the police received a reward of 10/- for the recapture of escaped lunatics.

Two of these escapes are interesting. The first case is that of a male patient admitted to Carlton in November 1867, who managed to escape one month later. He was at large for a month being recaptured in January 1868. A mere seven months later he was discharged as cured. One can't help but wonder how insane he was in the first place.

The second case is that of a male patient who was admitted to Carlton in July 1868 and nineteen months later managed to escape. He was recaptured a month later in March 1870 and made a further escape bid in July of that year. This time he spent two months at large before recapture. He was recommitted in September and two months later on the 17th of November was at large again, his liberty this time was short-lived; a brief five days. Not to be discouraged he escaped for the fourth time on January 15th 1871, another five days of freedom followed by recapture. On December the 6th 1871 our tenacious patient escaped for the fifth and final time, just in time for Christmas, his first as a 'free man' in four years. No record exists of his recapture. Our patient rightly or wrongly believed he belonged on the other side of the wall.

A convict stockade, a mental asylum, both the penal and mental authorities had had a need which this site in Carlton had fulfilled, however imperfectly. For the first time in twenty years the citizens also had a need and this time their voices were strong enough to be heard as they agitated for its closure. In 1870 the Crown had offered for sale in Carlton, land lots at £200 per acre, Suburbia had closed in right to the Asylum walls. When Kew Asylum opened in 1872, Carlton became one of its wards and between the 6th and the 14th June 1873 all patients were transferred from Carlton to Kew.