Women, migration, and madness : a case study of Seaview Lunatic Asylum, 1872-1915.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameBachelor of Arts (Hons)
This dissertation examines the interconnections between migration, madness, and femininity through a case study of the women committed to Seaview Lunatic Asylum on New Zealand’s West Coast from 1872 to 1916. Psychiatric histories that include discussions of the effects that migrating to the goldfields can have on migrant’s mental health have been a recent development, although a number of these studies tend to focus on men. Moreover, while there have been studies of the connections between migration and insanity on nineteenth-century goldfields in Otago and Victoria, this has never been attempted for the West Coast. In order to bridge this gap, I examine women’s migration and mobility patterns during the West Coast rushes in addition to demographics within the asylum and the West Coast population to locate the Seaview women with the framework of broader cultural and societal trends. I then consider the ways which ‘social stressors’ and dominant attitudes towards femininity and ethnicity on the goldfields are reflected in women’s experiences of madness. The Seaview women were highly mobile, both nationally and internationally, and were part of strong Trans-Tasman migration patterns. Like many other nineteenth-century asylums, diagnoses of insanity became highly gendered because of the influence of colonial views of femininity, making perceptions and experiences of women’s madness different from men’s. Asylum records also mirror the blurred ethnic boundaries that characterised the West Coast in this period, and ‘social stressors’ such as the harsh environmental conditions on the goldfields, domestic concerns and working conditions greatly influenced the deterioration of women’s mental health and committal to Seaview.