A Quaker’s View of Hamilton Asylum

When researching Rose’s life, I looked for accounts of Hamilton Asylum that were contemporaneous to the time. One of my favorites comes from an 1885 book, “The Insane in the United States and Canada” by Dr. Daniel Tuke.

Dr. Daniel Hack Tuke came from a long line of Quaker doctors who developed the philosophy of “moral treatment” of the insane. He was the great grandson of Samuel Tuke, the founder of the Quaker’s York Retreat in England, and was famous for his role in encouraging the humanitarian treatment of the mentally ill. Among his other accomplishments, Daniel Tuke was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in London and Co-editor of The Journal of Mental Science.

Dr. Daniel Hack Tuke (Etching by C. Callet. courtesy Wellcome Collection)

In 1884, Dr. Tuke visited North America to research his book, “The Insane in the United States and Canada”.  Since he had no reason to sugarcoat his findings, I find his representation especially valid compared to those of the Medical Superintendents who ran the place. His visit to Hamilton took place after Century Manor had been erected but was not yet occupied.

Of the Hamilton Asylum, Tuke writes, “This institution, opened in 1875, is beautifully situated, overlooking Lake Ontario at the point of Burlington Bay. The situation, however, is not altogether advantageous. It is inconveniently near a precipitous descent, and the approach to the asylum is troublesomely steep… There are 567 patients in the house, of whom 270 are males and 297 females. About 5 percent of the patients pay, but only from 6 to 10 shillings a week… When I was going round, a number of patients of both sexes were dining together – 105 men and 95 women. The dietary was good. The heating and ventilation of the house are well secured.

“With regard to restraint, Dr. Wallace” (Medical Superintendent at the time) “informed me that when he regarded it necessary, he employed leather muffs for the men and the camisole for the women. Were a patient actually suicidal, he would at night, if not in the day, be placed in restraint, a trustworthy patient being placed in the same room. Some months had elapsed since a male patient had been restrained. At the time of my visit a woman was in restraint, who persistently mutilated her face. When the camisole was removed, she immediately resumed her injurious work. Judging from the reports of the Inspector, I should conclude that there has been a remarkable diminution of restraint during the last few years. “

Tuke specifically writes about East House (now Century Manor), “A separate building for a certain number of the refractory” (resistant to treatment) “class has been erected, and will be shortly occupied. This is another illustration of the tendency there is to adopt the plan of separation of classes of patients, which has been carried out for some years in Great Britain. It is a neat red-brick building, with a limestone basement, and consists of a centre and two wings, having two storeys. It will accommodate 60 men. The cost seems high compared with some of the separate building which I have mentioned – 120 pounds a bed – but this is due to the class of cases for which the building is designed being acute instead of chronic. There are rooms on both sides of the corridors. The single rooms are well adapted for their purpose, but the provision for ventilation appears to be scarcely sufficient. The construction of the building readily admits of separating the most from the least noisy patients, and also for placing patients, on admission, under special observation, if desirable. When the building is occupied, an assistant medical officer is to be resident in this building.” “I was glad to find that at the Hamilton Asylum, an assistant medical officer resides in the main building” (Barton Building). “It is to be regretted that this is not the case in every institution for the insane.” He goes on to say, “No asylum is free from the possible, or rather probable, ill-treatment of patients when out of sight of the heads of the institution.”

“The attention paid to the dirty patients is highly creditable. The night-watches carry out the system of getting this class up to the fullest possible extent. I looked at the reports handed in to the superintendent in the morning, and found the number of beds reported soiled remarkably small.” “We were struck with the cleanliness of the bed-linen in the division where it was most likely to be foul. “

In all, Dr. Tuke’s report on the Asylum was very favorable. Hamilton was a good place to be.

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