Frances Mary Antionette Spackman. Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

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.

Did losing a child to Scarlet fever and suffering three miscarriages give this woman a
breakdown?
Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

 

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.

“There’s machinery moving in my mind” – John Phillips of Gower, whose facial growth led
him to believe he was cursed.
Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

 

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.

Cardiff hairdresser Charles Henry Minton, 54, claimed his estranged wife had him committed after confessing to him that she’d slept with her own son.
Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

 

The original black and white images were painstakingly colourised by housewife Nicola Branson (47), from Wellingborough, UK.

Mining engineer Joseph Thompson was convinced he’d come up with a world-changing invention and was being persecuted by those who wished to steal it.
Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

 

“I chose these images originally after reading up about the history of how people were treated during the Victorian times,” she said.

Henry John from Pontypridd believed he was a multi-millionaire – “grandiose ideas” which saw him part with reality.
Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

 

“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.

Acute melanchoilia sufferer Llewellyn Salmon from Pontardawe thought he was the devil.
Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

 

“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.

Louise Hinton.
Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

 

“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.

Elizabeth Vowles.
Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

 

“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.”

Elizabeth Webb.
Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

 

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.

Edward James Weeks.
Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

 

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.

ca. 1850-58, [Patient at Surrey County Lunatic Asylum], Hugh Diamond Following Sir Alexander Morison as the superintendent of the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum, from 1848 to 1858, Hugh Diamond updated—with photographs—his predecessor’s atlas of engraved portraits of the patients. Working in the belief that mental states are manifested in the physiognomy and that photographs are objective representations of reality.
Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

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.

One of these examples, has been photographed as an illustration for this Paper by Mr. George Bracey, and fairly typifies its physiognomy. The vacant expression, open mouth, dribbling saliva, and fixed attitude, which is preserved by this patient constatnly, are very characteristic. Perhaps the fault of the photograph is that the expression is not quite vacant enough for a case of acute dementia, in which there is generally some drooping of the eyelids, with a half-sleepy voidness and blurred stolidity of countenance.
Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

 

Treatments included restraints and the padded cell, water therapy and drug treatments.

Colney Hatch asylum records.
Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

 

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.


Nicola Branson / mediadrumimages.com

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