Hugh Welch Diamond & Surrey County Lunatic Asylum, 1848–58

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Hugh Welch Diamond (1809–1886) was an early British psychiatrist and photographer who made a major contribution to the craft of psychiatric photography.
Diamond studied medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons and St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, and first practiced in Soho, where he became interested in mental illness. From 1848 to 1858, after a period at London’s Bethlem Hospital, became superintendent of the female department of the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum. There, he began a systematic photo-documentation of the inmates to supersede the engraved portraits commissioned by his predecessor Sir Alexander Morison. He worked in the belief that mental states are manifested in the physiognomy and that photographs are objective representations of reality.

Diamond described himself as a photographer, as one who
catches in a moment the permanent cloud, or the passing storm or sunshine of the soul, and thus enables the metaphysician to witness and trace out the connexion between the visible and the invisible.

Diamond was fascinated by the possible use of photography in the treatment of mental disorders; some of his many calotypes depicting the expressions of people suffering from mental disorders are particularly moving. These were used not only for record purposes, but also, he claimed in the treatment of patients – although there was little evidence of success.
Diamond was one of the founders of the Photographic Society, and became the editor of the Photographic Journal. Perhaps it is for his attempts to popularize photography and to lessen its mystique that Diamond is best remembered. He wrote many articles and was a popular lecturer, and he also sought to encourage younger photographers.

Seated Woman with a Bird, ca. 1855 (Hugh Welch Diamond / The J. Paul Getty Museum)

Seated Woman with a Bird, ca. 1855 (Hugh Welch Diamond / The J. Paul Getty Museum)

Patient in Surrey County Lunatic Asylum, 1850–58 (Hugh Welch Diamond / The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Patient in Surrey County Lunatic Asylum, 1850–58 (Hugh Welch Diamond / The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Seated Woman with a Bird, ca. 1855. This patient’s diagnosis is unknown, but the fact that the photograph was made in an insane asylum leaves open the interpretation of the scene.
The way the woman cradles the dead bird with its limp, broken neck while wearing a surprised, slightly bemused expression presents an uneasy question of whether she mourns the bird’s death or was the cause of it.
Patient in Surrey County Lunatic Asylum, 1850–58. This photograph may have been made to identify the patient or, by recording a phase of the disease, to serve the doctor’s diagnosis. Because the image is not annotated the viewer may, like the metaphysician, muse on whether the woman’s engaging but ambiguous smile and almost cocky pose denote a state of madness, a return to health, or a challenge to society’s parameters of sanity.
The Springfield University Hospital opened in 1841, as the Surrey County Pauper Lunatic Asylum. The hospital admitted 299 patients that had all be examined by Sir Alexander Morison, the visiting physician to Springfield, and taken out of various private madhouses around Surrey.
The estate, with 97 acres of land, was considered an ideal location for the Asylum because of its nearness to population centres, its southerly aspect and clean air, and a suitable water supply.  Springfield Park contained an 18th century mansion house, stables and a coach house, as well as farm buildings.
During WW1 the Asylum became the Springfield War Hospital. It was one of the principal reception centers for the mentally disabled from the front in France.
South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust was formed in 1994 and has provided mental health services across south west London, serving 1.1 million people in the boroughs of Kingston, Merton, Richmond, Sutton and Wandsworth. The site is still currently the headquarters of NHS Trust and provides a range of local mental health care services as well as a number of leading specialist services.
Sources / More to Read:
Wikipedia: Hugh Welch Diamond
Wikipedia: Springfield University Hospital
The Time Chamber: Surrey County Asylum, Springfield Hospital
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Surrey Wildlife Trust

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