Francis Galton (1822 – 1911) was a scientist who worked on biostatistics and human genetics, as well as a traveller and inventor of scientific instruments. This panel (TypecastPanel_09) explains why his material is in University College London.
This panel used a photograph taken in 1882 by Galton of six patients in the Bethlem Royal Hospital to illustrate his attempts to locate traits of heredity and common features in people with mental health illnesses. I choose these photographs as the image of ‘Horror and Agony’ by Guillaunne Duchenne from Charles Darwin’s The Expression of Animals and Man (1872) was reproduced widely during the 2009 Darwin Centenary. I was bothered by the fact that the person experimented on (one of Duchenne’s patients at Salpêtrière hospital) in this image was rarely referred to as an individual nor was the context of such experimentation and photography considered. In an attempt to address this silence in Typecast, I wrote that Galton took the photographs of the Bethlem patients ‘without their consent’. However, I found that in turn I may have made an assumption about the ability of asylum patients to make decisions.
Colin Gale, the archivist at the Royal Bethlem Hospital, and Sarah Chaney, a PhD student in the history of medicine at UCL working on self-mutilation within late Victorian psychiatry, pointed me in the direction of the case notes for the patients that Galton photographed. There are no records of Galton’s visit in the Bethlem archive but by a process of elimination I think we found accurate histories for 5 of the 6 patients on the image. Galton must have photographed the patients in the late summer /early autumn of 1882. He did not find photographs of asylum patients useful for composite images as there were not enough shared features to indicate common heredity for people with mental health illnesses, though this did stop him applying eugenic ideas to people termed ‘idiots’ and ‘feeble-minded’ later.
Colin, Sarah and I discussed how to humanize people photographed in an asylum and recorded with just a last name and number. One of the ways we thought we could do this was by making information about their admittance and history available. Is it ethical to publish case notes? I made the decision that it is OK to publish such notes after so much time and due to the motivation to put a story, albeit incomplete, to a numbered photograph. I recognize that people will disagree and welcome comments. There is an event at UCL on 10 November that explores this issue and others in more detail.
Below are the condensed case notes for one of the patients, Mr Hickson:
William Hickson 49 years. Lived at Southwark London. Occupation: Commercial Traveller. Single
Not before confined in a lunatic asylum.
Supposed Cause of Insanity: Over worked brain
Whether Suicidal: No Whether dangerous to others: No
Has the Patient been of sober habits: Yes Degree of Education: Good
Religious Persuasion: C of E
Relatives similarly afflicted: Yes. Sisters – three
1st Medical Certificate:
1. Facts indicating Insanity observed by myself.
The patient is wandering and incoherent in his manner states that he has done criminal acts that will involve his sister and friends in disgrace & that he has been dishonest and untruthful to his employers (this is imaginary).
2. Other facts (if any) indicating Insanity communicated to me by others
The sister Maria says that he gets no rest at night but wanders about that lately he has carried a razor with which to injure him & that he has on two or three separate occasions tried to strangle her.
Alfred Matcham [signature]
2nd Medical Certificate:
- Facts indicating Insanity observed by myself
He is exceedingly restless, continually moving about and exclaims that he is a villain & hypocrite and murderer. That he has only a few hours to live. That it is of no use taking food.
- Other facts (if any) indicating Insanity communicated to me by others
His cousin Matilda Blanchett, said that while he was staying at the house, she had the greatest difficulty in persuading him to eat. His sister Maria also informs me that he is constantly wandering about the house at night and sometimes strays from home.
Charles F. Middleton [Signature]
Relation of informant to Patient: Sister
Family History: Three sisters insane. 1 mother died of Pthisis.
Pthisis: 1 mother died of Pthisis
Acute Rheumatism or Cholera: No
Fits – epileptic or hysterical: No
Temperament: Formerly very gentle – since accident 18 years ago at times excitable.
Any injuries or shocks: Injury to head 18 years ago. Favourite sister died last June and another became insane in America in 1880.
Time of earliest symptoms: About 6 months
Nature of earliest symptoms: Wandering and restlessness
Progress of case: delusions appear
Suicidal or dangerous (facts): Not dangerous to himself but has attacked his sister.
Tendency to leave home: Wanders from home & has to be watched.
Hallucinations: Thinks that he is ruined and disgraced so much depressed. Sits about by himself and thinks over his imaginary troubles. Has had much family trouble lately.
Has had to be fed as he thinks that he has so short a time to live that the food would be wasted. Has lost flesh a great deal lately – suffers much from insomnia; has been taking tonics – no sleeping draughts.
On admission: Rather tall. Dark hair is rather grey. Very despondent and solitary. Stands about in anxious manner with expression of deepest melancholy. Sleeps very badly and does not take food well.
Case Notes March Autumn No happier No change. Delusions about food.
In Spring 1883 rapidly goes down hill . Refused food and grows more feeble.
Died on 18th April 1883