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Portraits from Bedlam: 17 photographs from one of the most infamous mental hospital of the 19th Century

3 min read

It was called Bethlem Royal Hospital, but it was nicknamed “Bedlam”, London’s famous horror hospital. Founded in 1247, It was the first mental health institution to be set up in Europe, and reaches up to the present day, resulting still active today in the heart of the English capital.
Among the most famous treatments are the “rotational” treatments, invented by Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of the most famous Charles, which involved positioning the patient on a chair suspended in the air that was turned for hours, with the declared aim of induce vomiting.

Below some portraits depicting patients of the hospital around the middle of the 1800s. It is a photographic work done by Henry Heiring which aimed to identify the mental illness thanks to the study of the face physiognomy.
These haunting photographs show people who attended the infamous Bethlem Royal Hospital where patients were “treated” by being spun round in chairs in front of paying punters. Most of the patients at the London asylum were diagnosed with acute mania and some arrived after killing people.

This unidentified female patient was admitted to the hospital in the mid 19th century after she was diagnosed with acute mania:

William Thomas Green, admitted in 1857, was diagnosed with acute mania:

Esther Hannah Still, admitted in 1858 and diagnosed with chronic mania and delusions:

Eliza Josolyne, admitted in 1856, was diagnosed with acute melancholia:

Captain George Johnston was charged with homicide and served his time in Bedlam in 1846 after being diagnosed with mania:

Eliza Camplin was admitted in 1857 after being diagnosed with acute mania:

A second portrait of Eliza Camplin, who received ‘treatment’ at the facility:

Members of the public could pay to take a look inside Bedlam and gawp at patients, such as this unidentified woman:

This unidentified female patient was one of the unfortunate souls who was incarcerated in the hellish hospital in the mid-19th century:

John Bailey and his son Thomas, both admitted in 1858 with acute melancholia:

Another unidentified patient managed to crack a smile as she was snapped by Henry Hering in the mid-19th century:

Famous artist Richard Dadd was admitted to Bethlem after he was accused of killing his father, who he believed to be the Devil:

Sarah Gardner, a 26-year-old domestic servant, was admitted to Bethlem in 1857 after a diagnosis suffering from ‘great mental depression’:

Fanny Barrett was admitted in 1858 and diagnosed with intermittent mania:

Eliza Griffin faced the same plight as Harriet, as she was also housed in Bethlem after being diagnosed with acute mania in 1855:

Harriet Jordan was admitted in 1858 after being diagnosed with acute mania:

This moving portrait of an unidentified patient really captures a sense of vulnerability:

Source: designyoutrust.com

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