Spatialising the ‘Underlife’ at Willow Court: the conceptualisations of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ patient behaviour in Australia’s oldest and longest-serving mental health facility

Author: Shay Hannah

Hannah, Shay, 2020 Spatialising the ‘Underlife’ at Willow Court: the conceptualisations of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ patient behaviour in Australia’s oldest and longest-serving mental health facility, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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The lunatic asylum of the nineteenth century was the primary site of treatment and housing of the mentally ill throughout Europe and European colonies. For many, the environment of the asylum is a place of great misery, pain and deprivation with its inhabitants as passive sufferers. However, these institutions and the people within them are more complex than this assumption. By examining the records of Willow Court (The Royal Derwent Hospital), this thesis aims to create a new research framework that will be more effective in the understanding and interpretation of Australian colonial institutions that will reveal the complex lives of the patient within them. Spaces within the asylum were more than just their designated function, these were spaces that had both positive and negative connotations for patients and staff. Employment spaces were associated as positive spaces, whilst cells were negative due to their relationship with punishment. Willow Court was a space where female patients were punished more severely and their illnesses recorded in greater detail to their male counterparts, due to nineteenth-century societal attitudes to female lunacy. The staff of Willow Court were imperative in the creation and maintaining of positive and negative associations of space. Through the built spaces, staff had a means of social control, giving a positive or negative meaning that patients would then associate with punishment or reward. Most significantly, despite the staff bias and lack of detail, the language and details within the patients case notes provide a glimpse into the world of the underlife of Willow Court.

Keywords: Archaeology, nineteenth-century, nineteenth-century asylums, asylums, colonial history, Tasmania, Tasmanian institutions, mental health facilities, New Norfolk, Royal Derwent Hospital, Willow Court, mental health, Tasmanian history, institutions, historical archaeology

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2020
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Heather Burke