I have just finished reading “Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty & The Mad-Doctors of Victorian England” by Sarah Wise and jolly interesting it was too. There must be something in the air because FindMyPast has today released the hospital records for Bedlam, one of the world’s oldest mental health hospitals. The hospital has had a chequered history and I am sure that the release of this dataset will bring forth many stories.
FindMyPast is scanning both staff and patient records. The records released today go into detail about each patient, in many cases documenting their mental state and including photographs of the inmates once photography became available. The records also detail the reasons why they had been deemed insane, with first-hand accounts of the behaviour of the inmates and their families.
“These records provide an extraordinary level of detail about the patients of the Bethlem Royal Hospital as far back as the 17th century,” said Debra Chatfield, family historian at Findmypast. “Containing letters written in their own words and handwriting, photographs at different stages of their illness, and reports on their day to day behaviour by close family members and the medical staff at the hospital, these records provide, for the very first time online, real insight into life in this infamous institution. It’s hard not to empathise with the inmates as you learn about their often harrowing and tragic stories. Publishing these records online allows those stories to be told for the first time to a wider audience, and you might discover that you had an ancestor who was sent to Bedlam.”
Also of interest is the website of the Bethlam Museum of the History of the Mind which offers background history and information on Bedlam.