Wrongful confinement


Title: Editorial, The Times, August 19, 1858, p.6.

Keywords: private lunatic asylums, liberty, Comissioners of lunacy, security, licence, medical men, certificates.

Pages: Introduction |  


In the summer of 1858, several men and women were wrongfully confined in English private lunatic asylums. Upon escape or release, they recounted their experiences in the newspapers, the courtroom (in claims for compensation), and in formal inquiries instituted by the Commissioners in Lunacy. Their sensational stories gripped the Victorian reading public and provided the topical framework for Charles Reade’s Hard Cash (1863).

The Times editorial is typical of many newspaper responses to the spectre of wrongful confinement. Read in conjunction with medical, legal and literary texts, it demonstrates the powerful role that publicity played in manipulating public opinion, and conveys what was a common belief in this period: that the private lunatic asylum was no more than a ‘commercial speculation’ run for the benefit of the asylum proprietor.

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