By Mark McConville
THE HAUNTING portraits of Victorian asylum patients have been brought back to life after being expertly colourised following World Mental Health Day.
The striking pictures show Frances Mary Antoinette Spackman whose husband Henry had her declared insane in 1901 and sent her to a private asylum near Bristol.
Other haunting photographs show a woman with a vacant expression, open mouth, dribbling saliva, and fixed attitude, John Constantin who was deaf mute and admitted aged just 10 before spending 55 years in containment and care and John Phillips of Gower, whose facial growth led him to believe he was cursed.
The original black and white images were painstakingly colourised by housewife Nicola Branson (47), from Wellingborough, UK.
“I chose these images originally after reading up about the history of how people were treated during the Victorian times,” she said.
“How people were quick to condemn people to the lunatic asylums not just for mental health issues, but for minor offences to husbands wanting to get rid of their wives.
“The photos I was seeing through researching, suggested that some were ordinary people with ordinary lives, look deeply into their eyes and they portray their individual story without the need for words.
“One of the men stares blankly, a lost soul forever forgotten in history. Yet here he is in an old photo being remembered for his troubled life that put him in an asylum. Some lunatic asylums had very harsh ways of dealing with patients, I think colour adds to the realities of what these people went through.
“Thankfully lunatic asylums of the Victorian era no longer exist, however history does remain of the people who were committed to these places. Thankfully in today’s society there is a lot more help and understanding of the different conditions that exist.”
Although institutionalisation of patients with mental health problems may not have been invented in the Victorian Era, there was a huge rise in the numbers of asylums and their patients.
The first known asylum in the UK was at Bethlem Royal Hospital in London. It had been a hospital since 1247 but began to admit patients with mental health conditions around 1407.
Patients were often considered as ‘mad’ as suggested by The Mad House Act of 1774. This was superseded in 1853 by The Lunatic Asylums Act.
Treatments included restraints and the padded cell, water therapy and drug treatments.
The old asylum system in the UK had become too big to manage by the 1960s and it was announced in 1961 that many would close.