A Day in the Archives

It is almost two years since I first began work on this project, Personal Effects: a history of possession, and still startling, sometimes shocking, facts and personal histories continue to emerge. A recent look at the first Register of Admissions for the Richmond Lunatic Asylum ( 1814) reveals how individuals from all strata of Irish society were admitted, or committed, to its care.

Fragile1 008 (2)

Musicians, engravers, labourers, sailors, gentlemen, gentlemen’s wives, merchants, farmers, farmers’ wives, hosiers, clergymen, surgeons, housekeepers, broguemakers, scriveners, victuallers, married women, spinsters, graziers, tobacco spinners, lawyers, hotel keepers, bank clerks, butchers, clothiers, naval officers, printers, coachmen, hatters, plaisterers (sic), maltsters and fiddlers. Inmates as they were then known came from all walks of life and from every county in the country. Their confinement was often for reasons or afflictions common or familiar to us all.

Some of the causes of the  afflictions appear in the Register as :  disappointed affections, pecuniary distress, religious enthusiasm, supposed hereditary causes, paralysis, jealousy, domestic affliction, continued and excessive drunkeness, grief, falls, fright, and, most surprisingly of all, too much reading.

The cause of some afflictions would seem unlikely today especially the unsafe use of mercury. Mercury was used by hatters in their trade but it was also used in the treatment of syphilis which was not an uncommon disease at the time. Perhaps most extraordinary of all is the entry below which lists the inmate’s malady as having been caused by being trepanned to enlist, & getting unruly , in consequence receiving severe corporal punishment.

Register of Admissions 1814

There is so much to be discovered within the pages of these Registers over the centuries!



One thought on “A Day in the Archives”

  1. In his book The Infinity of Lists (2009), Umberto Eco refers to practical lists and what he calls ‘poetic’ – i.e. imaginary – ones (e.g. Borges’ ‘Chinese’ classification of animals). He then considers how each kind might be read as an example of the other: poetic for practical were you to memorise the Borges list for a literature exam, or practical for poetic if, say, it was of Torino soccer players and the reader-supporter knew all died in an air-crash in 1949.

    But the list of the applied identities of Grangegorman inmates seems neither practical nor poetic, nor can it be confused with either. Eco’s lists at least respect the listed; the naming is either playfully arbitrary (animals) or purposive tagging (players).
    What makes the Grangegorman list so chilling is that it cares just enough to list its persons badly.

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