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
Mental Patients
37 Haunting Portraits Of 19th Century Mental Asylum Patients
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Next, see our other posts on creepy vintage Halloween costumes and the real story behind Bedlam, the world's most infamous insane asylum.

Alexander is a Brooklyn-based 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.