37 Haunting Portraits Of 19th Century Mental Asylum Patients

Published October 17, 2016
Updated January 24, 2020

The mental asylums of 19th century England housed the criminal, the insane, and the unwanted. These are their portraits.

The Victorian Era ushered in several significant changes with regard to medicine and the treatment of the ill. Shifting political mores brought forth increased investment in public health institutions — one of which included the lunatic asylum, a product of the nascent medical practice of psychiatry.

Though intended as a refuge for the sick, the asylum operated more as a correctional institution than a treatment facility. This perhaps stemmed from the fact that not just the ill resided in the site: as prisons became overcrowded, criminals often carried out their sentence in the asylum, while others used the institution as a dumping ground for unwanted dependents.

Given the need to generate funds in order to maintain the burgeoning medical institution, the asylum used its residents — sick, criminal, poor — as revenue sources. This culminated in the general public paying to visit the asylum, creating a circus-like environment for those in treatment.

Below, we look at the striking portraits of those whose lives were confined to the brutish mental institutions of Victorian England:

Arms Crossed
Harriet Jordan, admitted in 1858 and diagnosed with acute mania.Museum Of The Mind

Beard
Captain George Johnston, admitted in 1846 with mania and charged with homicide.Museum Of The Mind

Mental Patients
Asylum patient, name unknown.The National Media Museum

Doll
Esther Hannah Still, admitted in 1858 and diagnosed with chronic mania with delusions.Museum Of The Mind

Father Son
John Bailey and his son Thomas Bailey, both admitted in 1858 with acute melancholia.

Mentally Disabled
Asylum patient, name unknown.The National Media Museum

Bedlam
Eliza Camplin, admitted in 1857 and diagnosed with acute mania.Museum Of The Mind

Mental Asylum Portraits
William Thomas Green, admitted in 1857 and diagnosed with acute mania.Museum Of The Mind

Strapped In
A criminal inmate at West Riding Asylum is restrained while photographed.Europeana Collections

Hair
Unidentified female patient diagnosed with acute mania.Museum Of The Mind

19th Century Mental Asylums
Unidentified female patient admitted with chronic mania.The National Media Museum

Reading
Eliza Camplin, admitted in 1857 and diagnosed with acute mania.Museum Of The Mind

Despondent
Asylum patient, name unknown.The National Media Museum

Blanket
Asylum patient, name unknown.Museum Of The Mind

Chronic Mania
Unidentified woman admitted to West Riding Asylum with chronic mania.Europeana Collections

Crying
Eliza Josolyne, admitted 1856 and diagnosed with acute melancholia.Museum Of The Mind

Acute Mania Patient
Eliza Josolyne, photographed again in 1857 in convalescence.Museum Of The Mind

Mono Mania Of Pride
A patient at West Riding Asylum diagnosed with "mono-mania of pride," a condition where an otherwise sane patient suffered from partial insanity due to a singular pathological occupation.Europeana Collections

Looking Away From The Camera
Asylum patient, name unknown.The National Media Museum

Eyes
Unidentified female patient admitted to West Riding Asylum with general paralysis.Europeana Collection

Sitting For A Portrait
Asylum patient, name unknown.The National Media Museum

Held Up
A criminal prisoner housed at West Riding Asylum is held up by a guard.Europeana Collections

Madness
Unidentified female patient admitted to West Riding Asylum in 1858 with acute mania.Europeana Collection

Picture Of Mental Asylum Patient
Asylum patient, name unknown.The National Media Museum

Mania
Asylum patient, name unknown.Museum Of The Mind

Restrained
Asylum patient, name unknown.Europeana Collections

Sad
Asylum patient, name unknown.Museum Of The Mind

Victorian Mental Asylum Patients
Asylum patient, name unknown.The National Media Museum

Schizophrenia
Museum Of The Mind

Sewing
Fanny Barrett, admitted in 1858 and diagnosed with intermittent mania.Museum Of The Mind

Stare
Asylum patient, name unknown.The National Media Museum

Smile
Eliza Griffin, admitted in 1855 and diagnosed with acute mania.Museum Of The Mind

Staring
Asylum patient, name unknown.The National Media Museum

Strapped Down
Asylum patient, name unknown.The National Media Museum

The Look
Asylum patient, name unknown.Europeana Collection

Vintage Photos Of Mental Asylum Patients
Asylum patient, name unknown.The National Media Museum


Next, see our other posts on creepy vintage Halloween costumes and the real story behind Bedlam, the world's most infamous insane asylum.

author
Alec
author
Alexander is a cofounder of All That's Interesting with an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia in History and Economics and an MSc from the School of Oriental and African Studies in Economics. He specializes in American history, the Cold War, and true crime.
editor
Jaclyn Anglis
editor
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
Cite This Article
Baldwin, Alexander. "37 Haunting Portraits Of 19th Century Mental Asylum Patients." AllThatsInteresting.com, October 17, 2016, https://allthatsinteresting.com/victorian-mental-asylum-portraits. Accessed April 19, 2024.