Analysis of admission register records in mid-nineteenth century Tasmania

Kenneth C. KIRKBY ; Ann RAND ; Brett A. DANIELS ; David A. HAY

Psychiatry, University of Tasmania, GPO Box 252-27 Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia
Tel. 03-62264885, Fax. 03-62264777


Tasmania, an Island State of Australia, has extensive archival records from the era of Colonial Administration. The hospital for pauper invalids first took insane patients in 1829 and was designated an asylum in 1848. The Admission Register dates from 1830 and contains 23 categories of information, listed under thirty column headings. For each person this includes age, sex and marital status, admission and discharge dates, "Form of mental disorder" (i.e. diagnosis) and "Duration of existing attack", "Supposed Cause of Insanity", and "Condition of Life and previous occupation". Data de-identified for name was entered in a computer database and analyzed to describe the inpatient population of the period 1830 to 1880. Trends in diagnostic categories, aetiologies mooted, length of admission, and social characteristics of the population are summarized. Insane convicts were increasingly segregated as their condition was medicalized, and were transferred to the asylum as the penal transportation system drew to a close. Thus in the mid-1850s at the end of the transportation era around 75% of admissions were of "convict paupers". The rigid social hierarchies are evident in the asylum records, which differentiate convict paupers and free paupers, and the occasional fee paying gentleman or gentlewoman. The classification of insanity was simple with most diagnoses recorded as mania or amentia. A range of aetiological factors were entered in the Register including hereditary, puerperal, injury to the head, ill treatment, "the murder of her husband", and intemperance. Because of the bureaucratic, top down organization of Tasmania initiated in the penal era the archival records form a valuable historical record.


Poster Session
Tuesday, 14 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999