‘Madness’ in the Family: The Australasian Colonial World and Insanity, 1860–1914
Dr Catharine Coleborne
Tuesday 25 March 2008
Conference Room, free
After the death of a child in her employer’s family in Victoria in the 1860s, governess Louisa Geoghegan wrote to a friend that ‘her death has cast a great gloom on everything’. Perhaps this ‘gloom’, a mood that pervades diary entries and letters by many colonial women and men, is a clue to understanding the emotional lives of families in this period. Case records and letters to and from asylums indicate that people in the 1860s understood that, in asylums, the term ‘insanity’ meant severe mental illness. But how did people characterise depression, unhappiness and mood changes in their everyday lives in the colonies? Using both public and private writings, such as letters and diaries, from the Library’s collection, this presentation examines mental illness and medical care in Australia and New Zealand from the 1860s to the First World War. Dr Catharine Coleborne is a senior lecturer in history at New Zealand’s University of Waikato.