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Photos from a Victorian Mental Asylum

Victorian asylum inmates

During the 1850s British physician Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond took a series of haunting photographs of mentally ill patients under his care. He was one of the pioneers of early photography, starting in 1839 shortly after the medium was invented, and was one of the founding members of the Photographic Society.

Diamond (pictured below) had studied psychiatry at the London’s notorious Bethlem Hospital (from which we get the term ‘bedlam’, although Bethlem was greatly reformed and improved by the mid 1850s). He then went on to be in charge of the Female Department at the Surrey County Asylum, where these photographs were taken.

Victorian doctor Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

He was interested in using his photographs as a way of seeing into the troubled minds of the patients as he describes here:

“…the Photographer catches in a moment the permanent cloud, or the passing storm or sunshine of the soul and thus enables the Metaphysician to witness and trace out the visible and the invisible in one important branch of his researches into the Philosophy of the human mind…”

Dr. H. W. Diamond – ‘ On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomy and Mental Phenomena of Insanity’, The Photographic Journal, July, 1856.

His photographs were published in medical journals as well as displayed in public exhibitions, although the viewing public don’t seem to have known what to make of them, as they were neither scientific nor art, and fell into an uncomfortable voyeuristic middle ground.

Diamond left Surrey County Asylum in 1858 to start his own asylum for private patients in Twickenham. His photography stopped at this point, presumably because well-to-do families were less keen to have their relatives documented, and of course the poor inmates of county asylums would have had little choice in the matter.

Victorian Mental Patient photo by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Victorian Mental Patient photo by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Victorian Mental Patient photo by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Victorian Mental Patient photo by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Victorian Mental Patient photo by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Victorian Mental Patient photo by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Victorian Mental Patient photo by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Victorian Mental Patient photo by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Victorian Mental Patient photo by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Victorian Mental Patient photo by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Victorian Mental Patient photo by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Victorian Mental Patient photo by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Victorian Mental Patient photo by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Source. Image source and copyright: No known copyright restrictions

 

3 thoughts on “Photos from a Victorian Mental Asylum

  1. Jean Hewitt

    Poor souls, many would have been able to live much easier lives with modern day drugs, help, & understanding.

    Reply

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