chapter  6
16 Pages

A Degenerate Residuum? The Migration of Medical Personnel and Medical Ideas about Congenital Idiocy, Heredity, and Racial Degeneracy between Britain and the Auckland Mental Hospital, c. 1870–1900


Congenital idiocy, a condition dominant in popular ideas about asylums, has often been neglected in social histories of the asylum.1 This chapter explores the migration of ideas in psychiatric medicine about congenital idiocy, a condition ‘analogous to intellectual disability’.2 It focuses on the circulation of ideas relating to heredity and racial degeneracy between the Auckland Mental Hospital in New Zealand, and the ‘hubs’ of British medicine, London and Edinburgh. This chapter argues that the migration of ideas about congenital idiocy occurred through the migration of key personnel at the Auckland Mental Hospital from Britain, specifi cally, England and Scotland, to Auckland, as well as the availability of British medical journals in New Zealand. It shows that the prevailing medical concerns about congenital idiocy as expressed in Britain diff ered slightly from those expressed in New Zealand. This is established through a survey of medical journal articles from the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the New Zealand Medical Journal (NZMJ), reports from the Appendices to the Journal of the House of Representatives (AJHR), and patient case notes from the Auckland Mental Hospital. In addition, this chapter shows that although British medical discourses were dominant in New Zealand, there were also infl uences from elsewhere in the British Empire and beyond, extending to continental Europe and the United States.