The Hanwell Lunatic Asylum

by Harriet Martineau (1802-1876)

Tait's Edinburgh Magazine. June 1834

(¶1) It is commonly agreed that the most deplorable spectacle which society presents, is that of a receptacle for the insane. In pauper asylums we see chains and strait-waistcoats, - three or four half-naked creatures thrust into a chamber filled with straw, to exasperate each other with their clamour and attempts at violence ; or else gibbering in idleness, or moping in solitude. In private asylums, where the rich patients are supposed to be well taken care of in proportion to the quantity of money expended on their account, there is as much idleness, moping, raving, exasperating infliction, and destitution of sympathy, though the horror is attempted to be veiled by a more decent arrangement of externals. Must these things be ?

(¶2) I have lately been backwards and forwards at the Hanwell Asylum for the reception of the pauper lunatics of the county of Middlesex. On entering the gate, I met a patient going to his garden work with his tools in his hand, and passed three others breaking clods with their forks, and keeping near each other for the sake of being sociable. Further on, were three women rolling the grass in company ; one of whom, - a merry creature, who clapped her hands at the sight of visitors, had been chained to her bed for seven years before she was brought hither, but is likely to give little further trouble, henceforth, than that of finding her enough to do. A very little suffices for the happiness of one on whom seven years of gratuitous misery have been inflicted ; - a promise from Mrs Ellis to shake hands with her when she has washed her hands, - a summons to assist in carrying in dinner, - a permission to help to beautify the garden, are enough. Further on, is another in a quieter state of content, always calling to mind the strawberries and cream Mrs Ellis set before the inmates on the lawn last year, and persuading herself that the strawberries could not grow, nor the garden get on without her, and fiddle-faddling in the sunshine to her own satisfaction and that of her guardians. This woman had been in a strait- waistcoat for ten years before she was sent to Hanwell. In a shed in this garden, sit three or four patients cutting potatoes for seed, singing and amusing each other; while Thomas, - a mild, contented looking patient, passes by with Mrs Ellis's clogs, which he stoops to tie on with all possible politeness; finding- it much pleasanter, as Dr Ellis says, " to wait on a lady than be chained in a cell."

In the bakehouse, meanwhile, are a company of patients, kneading their dough; and in the wash-house and laundry, many more, equally busy, who would be tearing their clothes to pieces if there was not the mangle to be turned, and a prodigious array of linen in the drying closet to be ironed. A story higher, are coteries of straw-plaiters, and basket-makers, and knitters, among the women, - and saddlers, shoemakers, and tailors among the men. A listless or moping one may be seen here and there ; and the greater number can think of nothing but their own concerns ; but certain curious arguments and friendly discussions may be perceived going on in corners ; kind offices are perpetually exchanged. The worst grievance, for the time, is a good deal of senseless chatter; while here is the actual fact of a large company of lunatics, clean, orderly, sociable, busy, and useful. When the dinner-bell rings, what a cheerful smile runs round ! and how briskly they move off to the ward, where their meal await them! feeling, perhaps, what one of them expressed, -

" However little intellect we may have, we all know what the dinner-bell means."

There is another place where the greater number of them go, with, equal alacrity; to the chapel, where they may be seen, on a Sunday evening, decked out in what they consider their best, and equalling any other congregation whatever in the decorum of their deportment. Where are the chains, and the straw, and the darkness ? Where are the howls, and the yells, without which the place cannot be supposed a mad -house ? There is not a chain in the house, nor any intention that there ever shall be ; and those who might, in a moment, be provoked to howl and yell, are lying quietly in bed, talking to themselves, as there is no one else present to talk to. They will probably be soon ready to make a rational promise to be quiet, if they may get up and join their companions. A few, who are not to be trusted with the use of their hands, but who are better in society than alone, are walking about their ward, with their arms gently confined ; but, out of five hundred and sixty-six patients, only ten are under even so much restraint as this. Almost the whole are of the same harmless class with the painter in the hall, who hastens to remove his ladder and paint-pot to let us pass, and politely hopes to see us all in London very soon; or the self-satisfied knitter, who concludes me to be a foreigner, because I do not know Mrs A. B - - - , of C - - , who is a great friend of hers, and because I have nothing to do with the Bank of England.

This section for the 1868 Ordnance Survey map shows the gardens to the north and the asylum with the chapel at the centre.
Hanwell 1868
Immediately to the south of the building and airing courts the service yards ran alongside the canal, including the farmyard, farm buildings, stores and a coal shed surrounding two sides of the dock leading off the canal, and beyond the dock the cemetery. The map has "Burial Gd" on an area of land to the east.

(¶3) This institution is for pauper lunatics alone. Here - thanks to Dr and Mrs Ellis - we see at length, an instance of the poor receiving from. society as much of their rights as the rich, and more. Here, if Dr and Mrs Ellis had their will, we should enjoy the animating spectacle of the most dependent class of society, receiving their due of enlightened aid as well as support. That Dr and Mrs Ellis have not their will fully gratified, is owing far less to any fault of individuals, than to circumstances of society hitherto uncontrollable. These circumstances will be, must be, over-ruled, so that the rich shall be raised to an equality of advantage with the poor, in the single instance in which they are at present sunk below their pauper fellow-sufferers.

(¶4) The inferiority of condition of the rich lunatic will not be questioned. It is only in circumstances of subordinate importance that he is more favoured than the most wretched patient in the worst cell of a bad workhouse; and, in all that is essential, his situation is not to be compared with any one of the paupers under Dr Ellis's care. What matters it how his meal is cooked, and of what delicacies it may he composed, if he must eat it alone, and be reminded that he is not to be trusted with a knife and fork ? He would be happier sitting at one of Dr Ellis's long tables, enjoying his dumpling with the rest, and plying the knife and fork which answer his purpose, while they are so contrived as to be as harmless as a spoon. What is it to him that his bed is of down, if he cannot sleep ? He might annoy Dr Ellis's patients in their clean and quiet wards, sleeping through the night, because they have been busy through the day. What is it to him that his chair is of damask, if he is to be strapped down in it because in his restlessness he is destructive ? He would be far happier painting Dr Ellis's hall, or patching a shoe-sole, with hands shaking with eagerness.

(¶5) Of course, it is not meant that the occupations of the. rich lunatic should be like those of the poor; but only that the rich should have occupation, and the blessings which accompany it, - free action, variety of scene, and social sympathy. The chance of the rich lunatic for recovery, or for happiness, if he be not recoverable, is undoubtedly much better than that of the pauper, if it be duly improved. Being educated, he takes cognizance of a much wider range of objects; his sympathies .are more numerous as well as keener ; and the arrangement of external circumstances has much more influence over him. He is infinitely more susceptible of moral influence and of intellectual occupation. Yet it is the ignorant, gin-drinking pauper whom we now see entertained with constant employment, and governed by a look or a sign, while the educated gentleman and accomplished lady are left helpless, to be preyed upon by diseased thoughts, and consigned to strait- waistcoats and bonds ! This is barbarity, this is iniquity, whatever may be done for them besides. Let their secret be ever so carefully kept, let their physicians have their forty or fifty guineas a week, every week of the year, let heaven be wearied with prayers and tears on their behalf, they are each still as oppressed and injured beings as any wretch for whose sake the responsible shall be brought into judgment. There is far more truth and reason in the perpetual complaints of such sufferers,

"I ought not to be here," - " It is a barbarous thing to treat me in this manner," - " They have no more right to use me in this way than others have to use them so,"

- there is far more truth and reason in these complaints than in the excuses of those who inflict the confinement. Where is the right to conclude that because disorder is introduced into one department of the intellect, all the rest is to go to waste ? Why, because a man can no longer act as he ought to do, is he not to act at all ? Why, when energy becomes excessive, is it to be left to torment itself, instead of being more carefully directed than before? Why, because common society has become a, scene of turmoil and irritation to a diseased mind, is that mind to be secluded from the tranquillizing influences of nature, and from such social engagements as do not bring turmoil and irritation ? In this case, it is clearly the insane who have the best of the argument; their guardians are in this case the irrational. These guardians will not be justified in their arguments on this head, till their charge is placed in some such public institution as that at Hanwell, where the inmates shall compose a cheerful, busy, orderly society ; where there shall be gardening, fishing, walking, and riding, drawing, music, and every variety of study, with as many kinds of manual occupation as the previous habits of the patients will admit. Till all insane persons are admitted into such public institutions, under the care of official guardians, the almost universal complaint of the lunatic will be justified. He may believe himself made of glass, but he is justified in his complaint. He may speak in the character of the Great Mogul, or of the angel Gabriel, but he is justified in his complaint.

(¶6) Why must such institutions be public, and under the superintendence of official guardians, some will ask: and then they will tell us of private asylums, where gardening and study go on, and which are fitted up with turning lathes, and musical instruments. But the question is not whether any private asylums are so conducted, but whether all are. It is not enough that, by a happy accident, two out of four lunatics, (or, more probably, two out of fifty), may belong to families who will not sacrifice them to their selfish desire of secrecy, or to their pecuniary interests, or to their horror of renewed intercourse with one who has been insane; while, by an equally accidental happiness, their physician may be fully qualified to "minister to a mind diseased." It is not enough that two out of four should be thus protected, if the other two are left to the tender mercies of selfish relatives, and interested physicians. The other two have a claim to a home, where they cannot be thrust out of sight, because their family are ashamed of their misfortune; where they will be permitted and assisted to recover, instead of being treated in a manner which would upset the strongest brain; where their remaining will be no source of gain to their physician; and whence their return to society cannot be impeded by the fears and interests of their relatives.

If it be thought malignant to suppose that relatives and physicians are apt to oppress their unfortunate charge, let it be remembered how strong are the temptations, and how feeble the counteraction of circumstances.

Let it be remembered that insanity is still considered as more disgraceful than crime, and that it is therefore made the immediate interest of the family of the insane to bury him in oblivion.

Let it be remembered that to bring him forth again, and reinstate him in society, is to revive a family stigma, and involves a sacrifice of good things enjoyed in consequence of the sufferer's affliction.

Let it be remembered that the physician feels it a thankless office to restore his patient, and knows that his emoluments will cease with the cure of his charge.

Let it be remembered how much easier it is to go on in the old and undisputed way, which brings credit and profit, than to begin with anxiety and labour, a new method which will cause opposition, censure, and loss.

Let it be remembered that the subject in whose behalf this new method is to be undertaken, is singularly helpless, and absolutely defenceless.

Let all this be considered, and then who will say that the case of the opulent insane should be left to the chance of the perpetual victory of unsupported moral principle, over a host of ever-active temptations ? If any one still doubts, let him compare the proportion of rich lunatics restored to society, with that of cures of recent cases in the Hanwell Asylum; let him inquire of conscientious physicians engaged in private asylums, whether they find it easy to dismiss their cured patients; and let him, moreover, ascertain whether there are no instances of a long struggle of disinterested affection, before certain sufferers could be released from the most exasperating bondage, to enjoy the free gifts of Providence, from which they had been for a long course of years iniquitously debarred. There is but one available precaution against iniquities like these ; and that is, having the officers of asylums placed above the influence of the families of the patients, rewarded otherwise than in proportion to the hopelessness of the cases under their charge, and made responsible to some disinterested authority.

(¶7) The attempts at secrecy in cases of insanity are already generally useless. There is no occasion to waste words in showing that they are selfish and cruel. Every one knows that it is for their own sakes that families consign an afflicted member to forgetfulness. Every one knows that the chances of recovery are incalculably lessened by the patient being withdrawn from congenial occupation and companionship. The only question is, Whether the secret is any better kept now than it would be if the sufferers were placed under a new kind of guardianship. Now, the family, the physicians, the intimate friends, the dependants, the lawyer and other men of business with whom the sufferer is connected, and his companions, if he have any in his retreat, all know his state. If he were placed under official guardianship, his official guardians would also know. This is all the difference. No one dreams of such institutions being laid open to the gaze of curiosity, of their being subject to the visits of any but the friends and legal protectors of the sufferers. It is only meant that, instead of a jail under an irresponsible jailer, such an institution should be a retired colony under the protection of law, - an infirmary for a kind of disease which cannot be cured at home, and which experience has shown will not be cured in private hospitals. The case is just this : The disease may be kept secret at home, but it cannot be cured. It may possibly be cured at a private asylum, but cannot be kept secret. It will not be kept secret at an institution under official management ; but it will, in all probability, be cured. What, therefore, does duty to society and to the sufferer require ? That the attempt at secrecy should be given up, and the cure sought by the most promising means.

(¶8) If proof of this strong probability of cure be desired, let the inquirer go to Hanwell, and see what has been done there. If he wants enlightening as to the philosophy and fact of secrecy about cases of insanity, let him go and hear what is known at Hanwell. " Learn what is doing at Hanwell," is an entreaty which may fairly be addressed to every member of civilized society. It is the duty of the great number who are connected with the insane. It is the duty of every one who is interested, first in the diminution, and then in the extirpation of a disease which is known to be rapidly on the increase. It is the duty of all who desire that the fallen should not be trampled on. It is the duty of the rulers who are guardians of the public welfare ; and especially of any one who may have official influence over the lot of any of the wretched class of opulent lunatics. If they would but go and see with their own eyes what may be done, there would be a prospect of the staying of this great plague, and of the deliverance of not a few who are now groaning under it.

(¶9) The proportion of cures in a lunatic asylum, must always depend very much on the circumstances under which patients are admitted. In a Quaker asylum, for instance, the proportion of cures is not likely to be great, because Quaker lunacy, being seldom caused by drunkenness or the violence of the passions, usually proceeds from some deeper and more unmanageable cause. The proportion of cured in the Hanwell Asylum must also hitherto be small, because very few of the cases now there were recent. The malady of the greater number was brought on by gin-drinking, and rendered irremediable by a long infliction of chains and idleness. Subjects originally so bad, and then kept in a state of exasperation for years, cannot be expected to yield a good proportion of curables. But, taking the recent cases, (which is the only way of estimating the treatment fairly,) it will be found that Dr Ellis cures ninety in a hundred. It should be remembered, too, that cases which are commonly called recent, (that is, in which absolute insanity has been manifested for three months or so,) are not what enlightened medical men would call recent. They know how long - how many months or years - the evil must have existed, though the patient may have been unconscious of it, or have been driven by fear to conceal it. If, under this disadvantage of concealment, ninety out of a hundred are yet cured, who will say that any kind of insanity is incurable, if its beginnings be but watched ?

(¶10) These beginnings would be watched if the guardianship of the insane were placed in proper hands. The pernicious desire of secrecy being put an end to, proper methods of management would be adopted in an early stage. At present, when the nerves begin to be affected, the patient's first object is to keep his uncomfortable feelings from his friends - a notion which would never have entered his head, if he had not been educated in it. The agonies of his sleepless nights, his dreamy feelings by day, his failure of memory, his unaccountable agitations, are all kept secret, with more and more pain, till his eccentricities can be self-restrained no longer. His horror-stricken family then pursue the same plan. They try to fancy him rational to the last moment, and keep him shut up from everybody but his physician, till he becomes too ill to remain longer at home. Scarcely a beginning is yet made in overcoming a prejudice, and consequent custom, which would all along have appeared absurd enough if applied in any other case. It is difficult to see why an inflammation of a little portion of the brain should be more disgraceful than an inflammation of the throat; yet how absurd would it have been called, any time within this century, for a man with a quinsy, to have struggled to conceal it, in the hope that it would go away of itself, before any body found it out, - struggling to speak, and swallow as if all was right about his throat, - and in perpetual agony lest the unlucky choke, which must come at last, should happen to betray him.

There is all possible certainty that inflammation of the brain may be stopped as easily as any other inflammation, if it is attacked in time; and when people have learned to consider it in the same light as any other ailment, (except in as far as the importance of its consequences should induce a greater watchfulness,) they will first train their children, as wise parents do, to give a simple account of any uneasiness that they may feel, and then be ready to put them, with like simplicity, under the management most likely to effect their cure. When those days come, insanity will probably be no more of an evil than the temporary delirium of a fever is now; and those days will be at hand whenever a blameless disease shall cease to be considered a disgrace, and the absurdity of concealment shall be abandoned. That this delusion should be surmounted, will be found the heart's desire of every enlightened and benevolent physician of the insane. If there be any who help to maintain it by humouring the prejudices of the friends of their patients, they expose themselves to a violent suspicion of caring more for their gains than for their science or their duties.

(¶11) The commonest objection to the true method of managing lunatics, - treating them as nearly as possible like rational beings, - is the supposed danger of letting them be at large. What is to be learned at Hanwell about this ?

(¶12) It is nearly twenty years since Doctor and Mrs Ellis began to treat lunatics as much as possible as if they were sane; and in all that time no accident has happened. This was, of course, the point of their management most anxiously pondered by them, when they took the charge of the Wakefield institution, which was conducted by them with high honour and success for many years. The question of confinement or liberty was that on which the whole of their management hung. They decided for liberty; determining that the possible loss of a life, perhaps of their own, would be a less evil than the amount of wo inflicted by the imprisonment of a great number of irritable persons for a long series of years. They threw open their doors, were lavish of air, sunshine, liberty, and amusement to their patients; and have been rewarded by witnessing the happiness they proposed, without paying the possible penalty.

It should be remembered that the irritable are exasperated by opposition, and not by freedom. How much of the safety of Dr Ellis's patients may be owing to the recognition of this principle, and how muck to the system of classification to which he has been led by his adoption of phrenological principles, it is for himself to declare; but no one who witnesses the results can doubt the wisdom of his methods. I saw the worst patients in the establishment, and conversed with them, and was far more delighted than surprised to see the effect of companionship on those who might be supposed the most likely to irritate each other. Some are always in a better state when their companions are in a worse; and the sight of wo has evidently a softening effect upon, them. One poor creature, in a paroxysm of misery, could not be passed by ; and while I was speaking to her as she sat, two of the most violent patients in the ward joined me, and the one wiped away the scalding tears of the bound sufferer, while the other told me how " genteel" an education she had had, and how it grieved them all to see her there.

Why should it be supposed that the human heart ceases its yearnings whenever confusion is introduced among the workings of the brain ? And what is so likely to restore order, as allowing their natural play to the affections which can never be at rest?

For those who cannot visit Hanwell, it maybe enough to know that no accident has happened among Dr Ellis's many hundred patients, during the twenty years that he has been their guardian; but there is a far higher satisfaction in witnessing and feeling the evident security which prevails in the establishment, where the inmates are more like whimsical children, manageable by steadiness, than wretched maniacs, controllable only by force.

"O, do let me out! Do let me go to my dinner !"

wailed one in her chamber, who had been sent there because she was not "well enough" for society in the morning. The dinner-bell had made her wish herself back again among her companions.

" Let me out, and I will be quiet and gentle."

"Will you?" was the only answer when her door was thrown open. In an instant she dispersed her tears, composed her face, and walked away like a chidden child.

The talk of these paupers often abounds in oaths when they first enter; but the orderly spirit of the society soon banishes them.

" I cannot hear those words," Mrs Ellis says. " I will hear anything that you have to say in a reasonable manner. I am in no hurry. I will sit down : and now let me hear."

No oaths can follow upon an invitation like this; and the habit of using them is soon broken.

(¶13) An observation of what is passing within the walls at Hanwell may be found to throw much light on what is done in the world; and, on this account, it is to be desired that all who have any share of the welfare of humanity in charge, should visit the place for higher purposes than those of curiosity. They may gain even much more than guidance towards the true principle of treating insanity. Let them inquire the chief cause of all this mental disease among the women who compose the majority of the society, and they will be told, "gin-drinking". Let them next inquire what led to gin- drinking, and take the answer to heart. Let them mark the direction taken by the sorrow and anger of the murmurers.

"How do I do ?" said one, in answer to a gentleman present, who had once incautiously promised to see what could be done for her. "Pretty well, only pretty well. How else should I be, in this place ? It is a barbarous thing to keep me here, when you said long ago you would do something to get me to London. You are like all the rest. You are a delusive man."

It is as true of these helpless sufferers, as of the proudest among the wise, that not a word of their lips is forgotten before God. Alas, for those against whom the idlest of those words is rising up in judgment !

(¶14) One blessed consequence (among many) must ensue from the Hanwell institution being more visited and becoming better known. There could not but be a speedy abatement of that popular horror at the inmates, which, when they arrive at the stage of convalescence, is an affliction and an injury, from which their benevolent guardians are wholly unable to protect them.

Mrs Ellis's efforts to procure for them a gradual and safe re- admittance into the world have failed, though her wishes were complied with by the committee.

She petitioned for a pony chaise, in which the convalescent patients might go backwards and forwards between Brentford and Hanwell, when a messenger went to Brentford on business ; and every one must see the advantage to the patients of witnessing a little of the bustle of the world before they were called on to engage in it for themselves. The pony chaise was granted ; but, alas ! the people in the neighbourhood were frightened, and the permission to go to Brentford is withdrawn!

Hanwell in Middlesex 1836
On this 1836 map segment, I have marked the triangle of land on which Hanwell County Asylum was built in yellow. Hanwell village is to the east, Norwood Green to the south west and Southall Park to the north west. The river Brent flows north to south, past the asylum, to Brentford. It is joined by the Grand Junction (Grand Union) Canal south of the asylum. The road to Brentford runs from Hanwell Village, past Boston House. There is open country to Mayfair and Westminster, the western limit of London.
The full copy of Thomas Moule's 1834 map of Middlesex is on Alan Stanier's web.

For the same reason, no patient is now permitted to show himself in the parish church, however well he may be. The trial was made, and the patients conducted themselves perfectly well; but it disturbed the devotions of their neighbours that they should be there, thanking God for their relief from the worst of calamities ; and at that church they are to be seen no more.

This popular prejudice seems to render necessary the fulfilment of Mrs Ellis's anxious desire that there should he a liberty asylum, an intermediate resting-place, for these poor people between their present quiet home and the bustling abodes to which they must return.

These people are paupers. They cannot command leisure when they feel troubled, or rest when their new strength fails them. However, they may feel overcome during their first weeks of re-entrance upon life, they must seek for work, and do it to get bread. This is their happiest lot. Few of them escape being wounded by some shyness, some intimation that, having been in a mad-house, they will never again be on equal terms with the rest of the world. They are well aware of this beforehand, as is shown by their falling tears when Mrs Ellis's last benevolent smile is upon them. Her parting blessing is a blessing. She invites them to come "home", whenever they find themselves uncomfortable; and the feeling that they can do so, supports them when they go forth from their safe and kindly retreat, to shift for themselves in the cold world. The use made of the invitation shows this. A painter who had long experienced the kindness of Dr and Mrs Ellis, at Wakefield, was grieved to leave them. Some time after he had returned to his business in the world, he had a typhus fever ; and when he was recovering, his first desire was to get back into his old quarters.

"I will go up to the asylum," said he ; "I am sure they will give me a nursing till I get strong."

And so they did. But no invitation to return, no possible ordering of circumstances with respect to them in the Hanwell institution, will serve the purpose of a liberty asylum, where all will be rational, and at perfect liberty to go in and out in pursuit of their daily labour and. other business in the world. It is to secure them quiet nights, and a clean and orderly home, and a refuge from wounding treatment when first resuming labours and anxieties, which are quite enough for a delicate brain to bear, that this liberty asylum is desired. Till such an establishment exists, there will be a failure of justice tor wards Dr and Mrs Ellis, and of mercy to their charge.

(¶15) But there is another arrangement even more desirable than this. In witnessing the results of this splendid philanthropic experiment, nothing painful was intermingled with my delight but the thought of how much hangs upon two lives. This is too frail a dependence for a scheme which involves so vast an amount of human happiness. The best acknowledgment which society in its gratitude can make to Dr and Mrs Ellis is in take care that their work shall be perpetuated when they rest from their labours. They have still the sorrow, after their long and Intrepid toils, of finding themselves unaided, even in their own institution, by the services of hearts and minds like their own. How is it possible that servants should be fit for so peculiar an office as that of tending the insane, when no pains have yet been taken to train them ? By common consent, lunatics have hitherto been treated as babes, or as wild animals, soothed by falsehoods, kept in awe by harshness, or controlled by violence. The race of servants is not likely to be the first to perceive the folly and iniquity of these methods, and to set about speaking nothing but truth, and uttering nothing but mildness, through all the temptations and provocations they must meet with in the discharge of their office. It is high time that some arrangement was adopted for training governors for their responsibilities, and servants for their work. Mrs Ellis truly says that there is little to be taught, - good sense and kindness (unteachable requisites !) being the life and soul of the system, if system it may be called. But there is much to be unlearned ; and people are disabused of their prejudices by example, not by precept. Dr and Mrs Ellis ought not to be left to pick out the best assistants they can select from the multitude of ignorant mercenaries who apply for service. It should be the care of the benevolent to be on the watch for persons worthy to assist and succeed them, and bring those persons under the operation of the benignant examples of the governor of the Hanwell house, and of his lady. We may then feel certain that the social benefit originated by them is made fast and safe, and that future generations will have cause to bless their names.

(¶16) Some future generation will perhaps be more sensible than we are of the remarkable circumstance which this institution presents to us, in the equal participation of a woman in one of the most magnificent achievements by which society is served, in this age of magnificent achievements. The grandest philanthropic experiments which have hitherto proved undoubtedly successful, have been, the work of men; and it has been thought enough for women to be permitted to follow and assist. Here is an instance, unsurpassed in importance, where a woman has, at least, equally participated; an instance, too, where more was required than the spirit of love, patience, and fortitude, for which credit has always been granted to the high-minded of the sex. A strong and sound intellect was here no less necessary than a kind heart. The very first act was an intrepid stripping off of prejudices, and an enlightened discernment alike of the end to he attained and the means to be chosen. The instrument has been proved perfectly equal to the work, and the sex is placed in a new state of privilege. Some will be doubtless found to perceive and make use of it. Women who are dejectedly looking round for some opening through which they may push forth their powers of intellect as well as their moral energies, will set Mrs Ellis's example before them, and feel that the insane are their charge. They may wait till the end of the world, for a nobler office than that of building up the ruins of a mind into its original noble structure. Not the faithful Jews, re storing the temple of Jehovah by night, with arms by their sides, were engaged in so hallow 1 a task. It involves some few perils, and a multitude of irksome toils; and the weight of the sympathies which it puts in action, are at times as much as can be sustained : but the spirit rises to meet its responsibilities; and it has never yet been proved to what peril and what toil the bravery and patience of woman are unequal. They will not fail, in an instance like this, where it is known that the contest is with an evil which has only to be fairly met, to give ground, day by day. If it is true of woman that she en a hope against hope, and "toil against unceasing discouragement, there is no question what she can and will do towards a work whose completion is, if she will believe it, in her own hands.




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Harriet Martineau's article on Hanwell was sent to me by Andrew O'Brien, who saw the original for sale on ebay and bought it. I have scanned it in and made some corrections to the scan - but it is still only a rough copy.

Andrew has also sent me a report from the Illustrated London News for 1848. I have given this its own page, but will link the two pages.

(¶) The paragraph numbers, which I have added to assist referencing, are to the long paragraphs in the printed original. I will break these into shorter paragraphs to make web reading easier.

A large part of Harriet Martineau's article reflects on the condition of rich lunatics. Her descriptions of Hanwell precede and follow this.

The proportion of cures at Hanwell was low, but this, Harriet argues, is because it is not receiving patients early enough in their illness.

In contrast to the internal workings of the asylum and its garden, Harriet describes a popular horror at the inmates when they visited Brentford or the local parish church.

Throughout, the figure of Mrs Ellis is larger than that of her husband, Dr Ellis and Harriet concludes by discussing "the equal participation of a woman".

Observation of Hanwell casts light on what goes on in the world. Gin drinking is the main cause of women being admitted and the cause of gin- drinking is hinted at by an inmate who tells a visitor You are a delusive man.

The system at Hanwell appeared to depend on Dr and Mrs Ellis. If it was to be established, Harriet thought that governors and servants would need training.






"The malady of the greater number was brought on by gin-drinking, and rendered irremediable by a long infliction of chains and idleness"