Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Asylum in the news

News about the Auckland Lunatic Asylum appeared regularly in the press from time to time. They do give us an insight into the 19th century institution.

Lunacy.—Elizabeth Blagrove, a little girl, 10 years old, was charged with being of unsound mind. On the medical testimony of Drs Honeyman and Wine she was sent to the Lunatic Asylum.

NZ Herald 18 July 1879

Elizabeth Minnie Blagrove died aged 14 in 1884, perhaps still in the Asylum. I'm going to try to find out more about her, if I can. Her father was Valentine Blagrove, a local Pt Chevalier character and entrepreneur from the 1860s-1870s.

A former inmate of the Lunatic Asylum named Richard Marsh has been busying himself for some time past in making charges of ill-treatment, wanton brutality, etc, against the attendants of that institution. Several of his letters have appeared from time to time in the Star, and a number of gentlemen of position in the community have been the recipients of communications similar in substance. One of those missives came addressed to His Worship the Mayor.
The graveness of the complaints preferred in it is disclosed in the following excerpts: “The subject has been brought under the notice of Mr Thomas Macffarlane, who has the principal supervision of the Lunatic Asylum. It would appear, sir, as if when that gentleman has looked through the dining hall and other apartments of that institution, and examined the shirt buttons and seen that the boots are well-polished, that his duty is done … In my letter through the Star mention was made of the piercing SW west wind that sweeps the bleak yard from end to end without a break worth speaking of. When I was there the men would congregate in dozens for shelter in the urinal and closets … inoffensive men, at what is more dreadful to think of perhaps, men of intelligence, are compelled to herd with dangerous lunatics. I was on two occasions struck a heavy blow from behind when reading or writing, and on three other occasions had a boot flung at my head without provocation. I have seen a man assaulted by an attendant because of his refusal to dry his face upon a towel on which was to be seen human filth. I have many times seen men thrown on their backs on the hard asphalt pavement, and kicked and otherwise abused by several of the attendants, who it is only right to mention are very badly paid for their services—this low pay bringing only men of a very low grade. It is a common thing, if the order of a warder is not instantly obeyed, for two of them to get hold of the man, each by an ear, as I have seen two dogs take a pig; and he is walked off in this fashion between them." There was also a charge of minor importance. 

Upon receipt of this bill of indictment, the Mayor at once forwarded it on to Mr Thos. Macffarlane, Government visitor to the Asylum. This gentleman returned it with the request that His Worship would go out to inspect the institution for himself. He agreed to this, and on Thursday afternoon set out on his mission, accompanied by representatives of the daily papers. On arriving at the institution, he was met by Mr Thos. Macffarlane, the visiting justices, Messrs R. C. Barstow and A. K. Taylor, and the chief attendant, Mr Hardy, by whom he was courteously received. An inspection of the building was immediately commenced. 

Everything was found to be in apple-pie order, and in the best condition. The floors, walls, and bedding were scrupulously clean, cooling currents of fresh air pervaded all the wards and corridors, and the beds were all made and appeared to be well supplied with perfectly clean sheets, blankets, and quilts, while as regards furnishing there appeared to be no distinction whatever between the rooms of the attendants and the patients' wards. Lavatories and other conveniences were found attached to the various wards, and proved to be both clean and odourless. A number of the female patients were gathered in a well-lighted room on the basement floor; others were taking exercise in an enclosed court, while a third detachment were sewing or resting idly in a cheerful sitting room on the first floor. Others again of the female patients were subsequently discovered reclining or sitting about the grounds under the shade of trees. These were explained to be patients who had been engaged in housework during the morning, those who had been previously idle having, according to rule, relieved them for the afternoon. 

The visitors next proceeded to the male quarters, where the same order and cleanliness were everywhere noticeable. It would perhaps be desirable that the number of beds placed in each ward should be somewhat less, but until the accommodation is enlarged, this cannot be done. Here again lavatories and urinals were found in convenient places, while the patients' sitting-room contained such means of recreation as books, draughts, and a bagatelle table. The majority of the men were in the exercise yard, the larger number stalking or sauntering about singly with that strange unsociability which lunatics evince, and the others sitting, reclining, or leaning against the walls. Fijian Joe, of whose insanity the attendants have entertained a doubt ever since he was admitted, was squatted upon the ground, calmly smoking his pipe; Gschnell, the sinister-looking murderer of Mills, was doing some vigorous exercise; a Maori wife-killer was lazily blinking in the sun; while Dick Feltus, who was curled up in a corner, roused himself at the intrusion of visitors, and came over to inquire from the Mayor how much longer a sane man like himself was to be kept incarcerated there. The man who imagines that he has an organ secreted within his internal economy ground out a variety of tunes in honour of the visit, and the poet of the establishment presented for criticism the latest effort of his demented muse. This unavoidable association of homicidal and criminal lunatics generally with those of a harmless character is an objectionable feature, but until further accommodation is provided and the staff of attendants increased it cannot be obviated. 

The new Auxiliary Asylum, in which 60 patients, under the charge of Mr White are housed, was also visited. As a result of the inspection, all Mr Marsh's charges except that touching the unavoidable association of criminal with inoffensive lunatics in the exercise yard, were found to be without foundation. We are informed that since the removal of the night soil nuisance at Point Chevalier, the inmates of the Lunatic Asylum are allowed to visit the sea-side, where they remain for some time enjoying the salubrious air, a privilege which they highly appreciate. 

Auckland Star 8 November 1884

Two of the patients of the Avondale Asylum were encountered on Wednesday evening in Karangahape Road, marching with a handcart, by Sergeant Bernard and Constable Russell. As one of them had on the Asylum dress it was once concluded who they were, and in reply to questions one of them confirmed the suspicion by stating that he and his mate were off to Tamaki, and ware taking the cart with them. They were taken into custody, and soon afterwards intelligence was received from the Asylum that the two men had been sent out for milk, and had never returned. They had got hold of the handcart on the way into town. While passing through Archhill they had been identified by a former warder, Mr. Ness, who telephoned to the police station, and followed the lunatics. They were taken back to the Asylum the same evening.

NZ Herald 8 April 1892


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  2. Wow what a great read! Love anything about the asylum in Pt Chev.