chapter  12
10 Pages

Afterword: Madness Is Migration—Looking Back to Look

ByForward BRONWYN LABRUM

As was remarked on at the symposium upon which this volume is based, madness is migration-in space, time, socially, culturally, or in a more interior mode. Movement and mental health has been a staple of much of the existing historical literature on psychiatric hospitals and patients, although not always with a focus on migration. My own much earlier work on this topic in the New Zealand context illustrates this trajectory, especially in terms of work in social and cultural history. Infl uenced by the anti-social control concepts animating the work of historians of psychiatry such as Mark Finnane and the gendered analysis of feminist historians such as Elaine Showalter,1 I examined the committal and treatment of female patients at the Auckland Lunatic Asylum from 1870 to 1911.2 My fi ndings supported Finnane’s contention that families were an important set of actors in the decision to commit patients, and that for women it was often only when the family could spare them that they were reluctantly let go. In other ways I modifi ed the more emphatic equation of women with madness. Although it was true that doctors viewed women as being captive to their biology, developing categories of madness related directly to their biology, such as puerperal (childbirth) and climacteric (menopause), married and single women were committed far less often than men, especially single men. In a detailed consideration of the committal certifi cates and case notes I concluded that the material circumstances of families and individuals, as well as the responses of families, neighbours, and police were critical. My study also considered the question of ethnicity in terms of indigenous patients, very few of whom utilised public hospitals and asylums in this period. It became clear that consideration of Māori was rather more related to Pākeha (non-Māori, European). Some patients who showed sympathy with Māori grievances over land or behaved in ways that seemed more Māori than Pākeha were more likely to be considered mad and in need of incarceration, illustrating that ethnicity related to white as well as non-white populations, a point which has only been taken up slowly in the wider literature. Once inside the asylum, I explored the way that female patients entered a woman’s world in the asylum. Treatment was emphatically segregated by gender. Whereas the men could work on the farm and

in the gardens and move around the huge asylum complex, the women were restricted to ladylike occupations and recreation, mostly indoors. Because of the increasing overcrowding during the late nineteenth century, the female wards became wretched places of confi nement, and women only went outside to the ‘airing courts’ which still kept them walled in. Any treatment was rudimentary before large-scale dispensing of drugs or occupational therapy and relied on food, exercise, and ‘suitable’ occupations.