AAA2020 Virtual Conference Banner 7 - 10 Dec

From Patient to Prisoner: Social Responses to an Inconsistent Western Australian Colonial Mental Institutiona

Natalie Guetlich 
University of Western Australia 

Conceptions of lunacy in the 19th century were subjective, and institutions designed to confine the mentally unstable were done so in an effort to silence them. Elements of this control are briefly observed within the historical records of the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum; an institution built by the Western Australian convict establishment and operating from 1864 – 1908. Whilst an abundance of research into the archaeology of institutions has made its way into the literature over the years, studies explicitly focused on mental institutions in Australia have been limited. This research aims to conduct a historical and archaeological investigation, create an artefact catalogue, and perform functional analyses in investigating patient lives. By doing so, it may be determined whether or not any elements of the asylum’s function or dysfunction impacted patient ability or will to enact agency. It is hypothesised that evidence of defiance, resistance, and aspects of compliance will be observed within the material evidence, confirming that patients were able to maintain a sense of active agency during their confinement, despite institutional intentions to control them. It is hoped that observations of patient agency as a reflection of treatment, will become apparent in forming evidence-based and socially constructed narratives of these subaltern individuals, whilst contributing Western Australian specific knowledge of a convict mental institution to the field of archaeology.

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