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Insanity, Identity and EmpireImmigrants and institutional confinement in Australia and New Zealand, 1873-1910$

Catharine Coleborne

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780719087240

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719087240.001.0001

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Conclusion

Conclusion

Chapter:
(p.183) Conclusion
Source:
Insanity, Identity and Empire
Author(s):

Catharine Coleborne

Publisher:
Manchester University Press
DOI:10.7228/manchester/9780719087240.003.0007

Abstract and Keywords

This concluding chapter brings together the range of findings from the qualitative and quantitative work explored in the various chapters of the book with an emphasis on suggesting how categories of gender ethnicity interact to produce specific colonial identities in medicine and in particular, through the institutional setting of the colonial hospitals for the insane.

Keywords:   Narratives, Identity formation, Mobility, Gender, ethnicity

In 1891, Charles Daniels, aged thirty-eight, was taken to the Yarra Bend Asylum by police from the Immigrants’ Home. Believing he was ‘on board a ship’, he was partly paralysed on admission, and diagnosed with GPI. Born in England, he was a labourer, and without any family in the colonies.1 Like the many other brief vignettes of institutional lives presented in this book, his story captures some of the aspects of the multiple narratives of insanity in the imperial world: those who travelled to the colonies came on ships with small cell-like berths. Other immigrants whose stories are told in this book came to worlds peopled by others who they found to be both strange and, at times, sympathetic. Their stories of identity formation are told in this volume through the careful accretion of details from institutional case records about them.

Victoria and New Zealand were two colonies of the British Empire in the process of social and cultural formation in the period under examination here. That process produced social institutions and their populations as part of a wider set of structures: the overlapping assemblages of institutions and their shared apparatus of care and control. This book has argued that by teasing out the role of the institutions for the insane – one inside a web of welfare institutions – in the formation of colonial identities, historians might ask new questions about the colonial and the national past.2 Who were the insane of the British Empire? Their stories have the potential to shed new light on the literature of the ‘imperial turn’, and add to the many accounts now of ‘transnational lives’, ‘moving subjects’ and of medicine and gender in the imperial age. If there was, as Catherine Hall asserts, a ‘complex web of gender relations across the [British] Empire’, the evidence from the institutions for the insane might help to more fully explain how this web functioned inside colonial spaces, how it was articulated and contributed to the formation of colonial identities.3

(p.184) Australia and New Zealand were remarkably diverse societies with complicated immigration histories, even while they aspired to visions of homogeneity and privileged a ‘white’ identity over time. Arguably, colonial social and medical institutions perpetuated and even refined social differences and distinctions in their efforts to make sense of the presence of need and illness in the population. This occurred in spite of the fact that the colonial asylums discussed here were public institutions, and took people from all walks of life, thus signalling the collapse of such distinctions between classes of person; they were also multiracial sites of the institutional treatment of insanity. The brief stories about immigrant women and men, from all walks of life, as well as the mobile lives of prostitutes and vagrants provided here, underscore the notion that immigration processes created ‘complex diasporas’.4 The visible and invisible identities in these records, such as the taken-for-granted identities of white Europeans who were the focus of most anxiety in the official reports of institutions, further complicate these diasporic worlds of the colonists.

This book has returned to the rich scholarly exploration of ideas about patients and constructions of them through official case records to uncover new interpretations of this material in the Australian and New Zealand context, with the aim to examine the way that social differences were produced inside the colonial institutions for the insane. It has done so with an awareness of the work already produced around the gendered patient, but it also extends the analyses of institutional sources in the process. It argues that in their constructions of patients’ bodies and behaviours, clinical case records produced new social identities and categories for those who were institutionalised. Cases, then, had a productive power. In their quest to identify colonial subjects through institutional medical confinement, forms of social difference were notable to contemporaries. Whether these social differences came to affect treatment and discharge rates for different inmates of institutions also needs to be assessed in future scholarship.5

Scholars have implicitly but consistently argued since the early 2000s that institutions effectively produced people in social categories, especially as they were (and are) obsessed with collecting details about individuals and arranging these into tables, using them to measure institutional populations. Power (and thus powerlessness) became ‘intelligible’ through the bodies of individuals, as Michel Foucault suggested.6 My argument is that institutions operated with existing formulations of ‘social identity’ but produced these within the medical context as coexistent with pathology; that is, they equated some social categories with ‘disease’, mostly mental, but also physical.7 Further and more detailed research and analysis of some of the many cases only (p.185) suggestively drawn upon for parts of this book will help to illustrate the ways that disease and colonial identity were produced alongside each other over time. However, despite historians’ ability to weave together a reading of a patient case for the purpose of creating a short narrative, such as that of Jenny described above in Chapter 6, we might also say that individuals, in some senses, defied social categorisation. Just as individual cases remind us of this problem, so too did social groupings within the populations of the insane.

Narrating the stories of individuals, as opposed to featuring the stories and collective ‘experiences’ of groups as patterned by the data collated for this study, has involved negotiating a sometimes tense boundary between different forms of historical narrative. In writing about ‘Europeans’ I have also come to see the differences between groups of people as layered by notions of age, gender, occupation and marital status. Diagnostic categories, too, suggest groupings that might disguise the variations in and duration of a mental illness episode for individual sufferers. It has been, as reinforced by contemporary writing, difficult to distinguish some peoples from their collective identities: the ‘Chinese’, for instance, occupied a specific discursive space as Chinese inmates but their individuality is relatively muted. And perhaps the great number of the insane became the ‘mad’ and ‘institutionalised’, too, both at the time and in later historical accounts, in ways that extinguish their identities as individual people.

Additionally, this book has argued that by using ‘mobility’ as an interpretive framework, the relevance of the histories of insanity around empire can be understood in a new light. Traditionally applied to migration histories, but reimagined more recently as a new lens through which historians might view moving ideas, currents of intellectual change, and the transfer of institutional practices and discourses, the turn to ‘mobility’ has enabled historians to think again about the imperial world of migration with a different appreciation of the meanings of movement. The mobility of peoples made shifting and chimera-like identities out of imperial subjects, who passed through places on their way to becoming new colonial ‘settlers’, and whose movement was sometimes the cause of their discontent. This book has suggested that we might usefully think about its extension to the study of migrants in and out of place, and across sites and locations, to investigate how migration processes themselves produced complex and contradictory meanings around mobility and movement. Future work could productively examine the multi-layered nature of the concept of colonial mobility in ways which enhance and highlight our understandings of the ‘multiplicity of relationships to place’ in the past.8 Without mobility, settlement had little to hit against, or to define (p.186) the very importance of ‘settling’ and ‘settlers’. It was in the impact of movement and mobility that settler colonies found and made their own meanings of settler culture.

The two urban and institutional sites studied in this book provide opportunities to examine categories of colonial identity. Both Penelope Edmonds and Philippa Levine, looking across colonial sites by using transcolonial modes of inquiry and analysis, find evidence for the closer attention being paid by contemporaries to the social categories of ‘vagrant’, ‘prostitute’ and to those of mixed race.9 By adding ‘lunatic’ and ‘insane’ to this list of emerging marginal social categories, and reading these against the descriptors in the patient case records, the different chapters in this book show how colonial social identity was constantly being formed in relation to an institutional identity. In other words, we might find evidence of social identities for colonial populations being formed inside the social institutions, but we also find new categories of identity being formed through the process of institutionalisation and confinement.

The gendered and raced identities of the insane in Melbourne and Auckland have been the major focus of this book. The fact that gender relationships were fragile, in flux and changing in the transition not only from old worlds to the new colony, but in the shift towards modernity as the nineteenth-century world became increasingly mechanised and industrialised, meant that gender relations in particular were under scrutiny. While more opportunities for work emerged for both men and women, women’s worlds, like the lives of the non-white subjects in this study, were still constrained and limited by expectations of them as more subservient. White women were to be rescued and rehabilitated into family life, a life framed by middle-class expectations of settler identity. Vagrant women, prostitutes or alcoholic women, whose lives had been violent and difficult, were on the very fringes of consciousness for institutional authorities. It was difficult to break out of the mould for many of the women whose stories are threaded throughout this book; Chinese men, too, had fewer opportunities to belong outside their ‘group’ and were classed as Chinese rather than viewed as colonial men in search of new futures. Among the Indigenous subjects of the institutions, Māori women and men led lives that were barely visible. Where these collided with those of Europeans they met across a linguistic and cultural divide that registered or reflected very little empathy in the institutional records and reports.

One of the critical contributions of New Zealand and Australian scholars to the debates around the institutionalisation of the insane has been to question the scholarly implications of the work of English historian Elaine Showalter, who argued that madness was increasingly (p.187) feminised in the Victorian era; this meant that historians tended to assume that women were in fact over-represented among institutionalised populations everywhere.10 In particular, Bronwyn Labrum shows that men were committed more frequently than women to Auckland Mental Hospital in the second half of the nineteenth century, and Barbara Brookes finds similar patterns for institutions in the South Island of New Zealand. Stephen Garton also comments on the way that colonial populations of the insane in New South Wales were different to those in the British context. In New South Wales, young, single men were more likely to be committed than women in the colonial era.11 Joanna Besley and Mark Finnane indicate that colonial Queensland’s largest institution at Goodna was home to a substantial population of white men, with women inmates comprising 40 per cent of admissions until the 1930s.12 So despite the existence of a powerful myth that women were highly vulnerable to asylum committal by ‘cruel’ husbands and fathers, the reality was that men numerically dominated colonial populations and found their way into the hospitals for the insane in greater numbers. Their vulnerability to institutional confinement was also shaped by their mobility outside the space of the home, as Brookes explains, a point also noted by contemporary medical observers who saw women’s domestic role as protecting them from the harsher aspects of the peripatetic and rough life of the male labourer or miner.13 Gender was an enduring and productive category in the shaping of patient identities through space, regulations, treatments and attitudes. Another argument previously made about the gendering of nineteenth-century insanity concerns the etiology of insanity and how it was tied to notions of the gendered body. The way that prescriptions for gender continued to define female insanity, for example, paid scant regard to the realities of asylum statistics as outlined by historians, with theories about the female bodily propensity towards insanity entrenched in asylum discourse. However, interestingly, there is evidence that male bodies were also caught up in discussions about ‘the body’, as arguments about labouring white men and sunstroke show.14

Finally, as the Introduction to this book argued, scholars have shown an appreciation for the formation of whiteness in colonial societies where white Europeans were in a minority but in power. In those worlds, whiteness was barely articulated while colonial governments spent time worrying over non-white populations, their health and their control. Yet this book has shown that in white settler colonies, the appearance of whiteness in the colonial record, in the archives of the social institutions set aside for Europeans and ‘others’ was both highly visible and yet also opaque. What was whiteness, to the administrators of the hospitals for the insane?

(p.188) Although whiteness can be shown to have been formed across the colonies through shared immigration restriction practices, few historians have examined the link between the institutional populations of the weak, needy and mentally ill and the discursive work of identity formation. The very ‘instability’ of whiteness around empire, as Catherine Hall suggests, means that it must also be read and understood in relation to the other categories of identity at work in the colonies; settler societies, Hall argues, depended on ‘particular ideas … of manliness and femininity’.15 Gender categories were also forged through class divisions and ‘played an important part’, writes Hall, ‘in unifying the middle class’ in England in the nineteenth century.16

Colonial identities were not formed in isolation but were delineated inside the context of the imperial world, and were part of a larger fabric of identities which patterned the mobile world of this period. This book has set out to show that the intersections between ‘white’ identities and other forms of social identity, including gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity (and hybridity) and religion, helped to delineate and invent whiteness in these settings. These ‘axes of differentiation’ produced hierarchies and layers of power for colonial societies.17 Such forms of identity would then have a much wider set of meanings for the emerging colonial nations of the twentieth century.

Notes

(1) PROV, VPRS 7399/P1, unit 8, folio 316, 12 January 1891

(2) ‘Historicising Whiteness: Towards a New Research Agenda’, in Leigh Boucher, Jane Carey and Katherine Ellinghaus (eds), Historicising Whiteness: Transnational Perspectives on the Construction of an Identity, Melbourne University Conference and Seminar Series 16 (Melbourne: RMIT Publishing, in association with the School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne, 2007), p. xii.

(3) Catherine Hall, ‘Of gender and empire: Reflections on the nineteenth century’, in Philippa Levine (ed.), Gender and Empire, Oxford History of the British Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 52.

(4) A. James Hammerton, ‘Gender and migration’, in Levine (ed.), Gender and Empire, p. 179.

(5) My thanks to Caitlin Murray for raising this question with me.

(6) Jann Matlock, Scenes of Seduction: Prostitution, Hysteria, and Reading Difference in Nineteenth-Century France (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 3.

(7) Catharine Coleborne, ‘Locating ethnicity in the hospitals for the insane: Revisiting case books as sites of knowledge production about colonial identities in Victoria, Australia, 1873–1910’, in Angela McCarthy and Catharine Coleborne (eds), Migration, Ethnicity, and Mental Health: International Perspectives, 1840–2010, Routledge Studies in Cultural History (New York and Abingdon: Routledge, 2012), pp. 73–90.

(8) Tony Ballantyne, ‘On place, space and mobility in nineteenth-century New Zealand’, New Zealand Journal of History, 45:1 (2011), p. 59.

(p.189) (9) Penelope Edmonds, Urbanizing Frontiers: Indigenous Peoples and Settlers in Nineteenth-Century Pacific Rim Cities (Vancouver and Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2010), p. 244; Philippa Levine, Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (New York and London: Routledge, 2003).

(10) Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830–1980 (Michigan: Pantheon Books, 1985).

(11) Bronwyn Labrum, ‘The boundaries of femininity: Madness and gender in New Zealand, 1870–1910’, in Wendy Chan, Dorothy E. Chunn, and Robert Menzies (eds), Women, Madness and the Law: A Feminist Reader (London, Portland, OR, and Coogee: GlassHouse Press, 2005); Barbara Brookes, ‘Men and madness in New Zealand, 1890–1916’, in Linda Bryder and Derek A. Dow (eds), New Countries and Old Medicine: Proceedings of an International Conference on the History of Medicine and Health (Auckland: Pyramid Press, 1995); Stephen Garton, Medicine and Madness: A Social History of Insanity in New South Wales, 1880–1940 (Sydney: New South Wales University Press, 1988).

(12) Joanna Besley and Mark Finnane, ‘Remembering Goodna: Stories from a Queensland Mental Hospital’, in Catharine Coleborne and Dolly MacKinnon (eds), Exhibiting Madness in Museums: Remembering Psychiatry through Collections and Display, Routledge Research in Museum Studies (New York and London: Routledge, 2011), pp. 116–36.

(13) Brookes, ‘Men and madness’, p. 209.

(14) Leigh Boucher, ‘Masculinity gone mad: Settler colonialism, medical discourse and the white body in late nineteenth century Victoria’, Lilith, 13 (2004), pp. 51–67.

(15) Hall, ‘Of gender and empire’, in Levine (ed.), Gender and Empire, pp. 49, 52.

(16) Catherine Hall, White, Male and Middle Class: Explorations in Feminism and History (Cambridge: Polity, 1992), p. 95.

(17) Hall, ‘Of gender and empire’, p. 49.

Notes:

(1) PROV, VPRS 7399/P1, unit 8, folio 316, 12 January 1891

(2) ‘Historicising Whiteness: Towards a New Research Agenda’, in Leigh Boucher, Jane Carey and Katherine Ellinghaus (eds), Historicising Whiteness: Transnational Perspectives on the Construction of an Identity, Melbourne University Conference and Seminar Series 16 (Melbourne: RMIT Publishing, in association with the School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne, 2007), p. xii.

(3) Catherine Hall, ‘Of gender and empire: Reflections on the nineteenth century’, in Philippa Levine (ed.), Gender and Empire, Oxford History of the British Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 52.

(5) My thanks to Caitlin Murray for raising this question with me.

(6) Jann Matlock, Scenes of Seduction: Prostitution, Hysteria, and Reading Difference in Nineteenth-Century France (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 3.

(7) Catharine Coleborne, ‘Locating ethnicity in the hospitals for the insane: Revisiting case books as sites of knowledge production about colonial identities in Victoria, Australia, 1873–1910’, in Angela McCarthy and Catharine Coleborne (eds), Migration, Ethnicity, and Mental Health: International Perspectives, 1840–2010, Routledge Studies in Cultural History (New York and Abingdon: Routledge, 2012), pp. 73–90.

(8) Tony Ballantyne, ‘On place, space and mobility in nineteenth-century New Zealand’, New Zealand Journal of History, 45:1 (2011), p. 59.

(p.189) (9) Penelope Edmonds, Urbanizing Frontiers: Indigenous Peoples and Settlers in Nineteenth-Century Pacific Rim Cities (Vancouver and Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2010), p. 244; Philippa Levine, Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (New York and London: Routledge, 2003).

(10) Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830–1980 (Michigan: Pantheon Books, 1985).

(11) Bronwyn Labrum, ‘The boundaries of femininity: Madness and gender in New Zealand, 1870–1910’, in Wendy Chan, Dorothy E. Chunn, and Robert Menzies (eds), Women, Madness and the Law: A Feminist Reader (London, Portland, OR, and Coogee: GlassHouse Press, 2005); Barbara Brookes, ‘Men and madness in New Zealand, 1890–1916’, in Linda Bryder and Derek A. Dow (eds), New Countries and Old Medicine: Proceedings of an International Conference on the History of Medicine and Health (Auckland: Pyramid Press, 1995); Stephen Garton, Medicine and Madness: A Social History of Insanity in New South Wales, 1880–1940 (Sydney: New South Wales University Press, 1988).

(12) Joanna Besley and Mark Finnane, ‘Remembering Goodna: Stories from a Queensland Mental Hospital’, in Catharine Coleborne and Dolly MacKinnon (eds), Exhibiting Madness in Museums: Remembering Psychiatry through Collections and Display, Routledge Research in Museum Studies (New York and London: Routledge, 2011), pp. 116–36.

(14) Leigh Boucher, ‘Masculinity gone mad: Settler colonialism, medical discourse and the white body in late nineteenth century Victoria’, Lilith, 13 (2004), pp. 51–67.

(16) Catherine Hall, White, Male and Middle Class: Explorations in Feminism and History (Cambridge: Polity, 1992), p. 95.