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Peter Barham with book, Outrageous Reason
History and philosophy, Race, ethnicity and culture

Colonial legacies still reverberate loudly, and disquietingly

Our editor Jon Sutton fires some questions at Peter Barham, author of ‘Outrageous Reason: Madness & Race in Britain and Empire, 1780–2020‘.

24 January 2024

To me, one main take-home message from your book is that we can't hope to understand now without understanding then. I think most of our readers would have at least a superficial appreciation of that, but perhaps not truly appreciate that 'long fuse of traumatised memory'.

Yes, that's right. I first drew on the notion of the long fuse of traumatised memory when I was writing about ex-servicemen from the First World War, and I have re-deployed it here in writing about the legacies of colonial violence because it seemed singularly apt.

It frequently catches people unawares in diverse ways; and it can crop up, and repeat, across different fronts, both individual and collective. Thus the killings on the Zong slave ship from 1781 are still being retold today, and reenacted, in multiple genres, painting, poetry, song and so forth. In my accounts of traumatic episodes, in Jamaica especially, in the aftermath of slavery, I have tried to retain a rawness and incoherence that avoids rationalising the experience unduly and conveys an awareness of history, and hence of traumatic memory, as a living organism.

You write that your journey with this book forced you to re-consider some of your most basic assumptions. Such as?

The lines of division and demarcation between disciplines, topic areas, historical periods, and geographical territories. Between colonial and domestic psychiatry, for example; between British domestic and imperial history; between 'home' and 'away'; between the colonial and post-colonial periods.

In actuality, the accent across the board is on continuity, and spillage between spheres, not on segregation. The conventional fences and lines of division are mostly either mistaken or wilfully, sometimes ideologically, deceptive. Colonial legacies from places and periods that I had supposed annexed into the past still reverberate loudly, and disquietingly, in the present. Histories such as Black history, or Mad history, have frequently, and quite wrongly, been treated separately and eviscerated of their significance for mainstream historical narratives.

Perhaps most fundamentally, I had not really grasped, and perhaps still have not fully grasped, the sway of whiteness as a pervasive and insidious form of power, not least the challenges and indignities of having to negotiate everyday life as a Black person in a society that to a considerable extent is still in denial about the extent, and nature, of racial injustice. Even more pressing, as I have discovered, are the double jeopardies of people with mental health issues whose life situations are perched at the fraught intersection between racial justice and disability or mental health justice.

A central message of your book is that race is not just about colour, it is about power, class, history. How integral has Psychology itself been to this 'racialised terrain'?

Not at all and hugely! The origins of the cultural and historical developments I write about, the formation of this racialised terrain, pre-date the emergence of psychology as a distinct discipline. However, the emergence of psychology is intimately connected with, and enmeshed in, this racialised terrain to which it contributes a consolidating, and validating, force. Perhaps the most compelling (though still controversial) account of this development is that of Michel Foucault in his History of Madness. Later, in Psychiatric Power, his lectures at the College de France, 1973-4, where he writes the 'history of the things that made possible the very appearance of a psychology', a psychology that alienates madness in mental illness within 'the great re-transcription of madness as mental illness that was begun in the 17th and completed in the 19th century'.

You write of 'civility', 'humanity', 'alienation', 'credibility'. Your point is that at the intersect of race and humanity, people are not only seen as in some way inferior, they begin to see themselves as inferior, is that right? And do you see that play out to this day?

Yes, absolutely. You capture this demeaning dynamic very accurately. It demonstrably still plays out to this day. As I describe in the book, drawing on extensive case studies collected by the campaign and support group Inquest, complainants are frequently dehumanised or demonised and treated as nuisances or as threats. Racism undoubtedly raises the stakes but long-term users of contemporary psychiatric services also describe being made to feel inferior. 'What we are experiencing', writes one, 'is a hierarchy of disempowerments that stretches from the psychiatrist's consulting room to the queue for bread and jam at bed time. It is interlinked and greater than the sum of its parts. In the end, it is sustained by our own suspicions that we are truly inferior. We come out of these isolating places and we are much too afraid to tell ordinary people what it was like.'

You write vividly of the Zong affair, a Dutch slave ship. The lessons around 'sick cargo', 'thrust overboard as worthless', seem much more than historical?  

Indeed. This episode continues to resonate, and exert a hold, over the modern imagination. As the cultural critic Ian Baucom has remarked, the continued witnessing of the Zong atrocities by writers and artists is indicative of an order of historical time that does not so much pass, or fade away, as accumulate.

This is one of several traumatic episodes in my account for which there can be no satisfactory closure, regardless of the time that has elapsed. They cannot be banished to the past since they are still very much alive as sources of continuing critical attention and concern in the present. Certainly there are parallels here with contemporary attitudes towards immigration, as I have tried to bring out. For instance, there is a disturbing continuity between Lord Justice Mansfield in trying the Zong case in 1783 and Mr Justice Robin Spencer at the Old Bailey in presiding over the trial of security guards accused of the manslaughter of an African deportee on a British Airways flight to Angola in 2010. In both cases, it is the humanity and personhood of the victims that is obscured or distorted by the manipulation of the legal process, demonstrating that a black man can all too easily be done way with and disposed of, both in the actual event and subsequently in the process of the law, because he counts for so little and does not really matter in the gaze of the state. Of course, there are a multitude of other examples that could be adduced to make this case.

In 'retrieving minor lives from oblivion', was there a particular person, and story, that stood out to you?

Two persons who affected me especially are Henrietta Dawson, a former inmate of the Kingston Lunatic Asylum in Jamaica [see chapter 3, below]. and Alice Rebecca Triggs, who was successively a mental patient and a residential domestic servant [see chapter 8].

In Henrietta Dawson's case, it was her fortitude in maintaining her composure, and holding on to her command of detail, in a series of extremely distressing and physically challenging circumstances that moved me, together with her determination to give voice, and to bear witness publicly, to what she had experienced and observed, since otherwise as she put it 'the real state of the Lunatic will never be ascertained'.

In the case of Alice Triggs, a young woman who was by all accounts vivacious, energetic and talkative, perhaps too much so for her own good, I was flabbergasted to discover that she was given a diagnosis of moral imbecility at Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in 1915, one of those labels that had been spawned by the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 to address concerns over racial degeneration and the sapping of the national strength by 'weak' or 'degenerative' groups, resulting in Alice's incarceration, with no scope for appeal, as a blot on the white race in a mental institution from 1920 until the time of death in 1962.

You mention Afua Hirsch's comment that 'Most British people simply can't understand whiteness'. Did you have reservations around whether you would be up to that task, or how your thesis would be received?

Indeed, I had enormous reservations and qualms about my ability to weather the challenges of this inquiry and to secure a reception from black scholars and activists that was anything less than politely dismissive. It is fair to say that I have not been entirely successful in putting these uncertainties to sleep, not least because of my nagging feeling that my grasp of whiteness is perhaps inevitably wanting in certain respects that I cannot identify with any precision. I have, however, been reassured, and emboldened up to a point, by the encouraging and positive responses that I have so far received from a number of black scholars, activists and therapists.

Can you explain how it's key to your arguments that these are not solely stories of Black people?  

What really counted for the imperial governing classes was not primarily race, or black skin colour, as such, but the capacity for what were thought of as civilisation-bearing skills, above all emotional self-control and self-mastery. For observers like H.G. Wells and Beatrice and Sidney Webb, only a minority of Britons counted as adult or civilised, as capable of controlling their appetites or judging their own best interests. Officials frequently applied racial metaphors to the poorer classes of Britons, referring to them as a 'backward people' or a 'race apart'. Against the background of these anxieties about the quality of the white race, the mad poor in Britain were racialised as 'poor whites', as damaged or tainted goods, or as racial deviants.

You're a Fellow of the British Psychological Society. How do you feel the BPS is positioned on these issues?  

This is a tricky one because the essential thing is not necessarily to point up this, or that, deficiency in the BPS but, above all, to instil, and maintain, a permanent climate, or culture, of collective self-awareness, self-scrutiny, and self-criticism over these matters, especially as regards the interrogation of a culture steeped in an unacknowledged whiteness, where the power exercised by an implicit whiteness frequently nestles, and hides, just below the surface. In this regard, we can never say that everything is alright. Or at least, it can only be on the road to becoming alright, to the extent that there is a widespread, and deepening, appreciation that things are not alright at all and there is ever more work to be done.

The fact that you bring the timeline virtually up to date with the stories of Winston Rose and Orville Blackwood emphasises that you see the racialisation of mental patient destinies as very much a current concern. Do you see any signs of 'hope and renewal'?

Well, I have long been, and remain, a hopeful traveller. At a structural level, there are no real grounds for optimism, it is true, with obstacles at every twist and turn that are hard-wired into the system. So it is difficult to envisage a wholesale transformation in any conceivable span. Yet, set against this, must be the recognition that increasing numbers of people are becoming alert to these questions and are challenging and resisting the dominant culture, and discovering in African world views, for instance, radical methodologies of hope and renewal embracing the notion that everything in the universe is interconnected and that, as in the philosophy of Ubuntu, 'a person is a person through other persons'. It is to this task of reinscription, of the renewal of connections that have been severed, that my book is explicitly dedicated and, in this sense, it may be thought of as a kind of imaginary political algebra, from the Arabic, 'al jabr', meaning 'reunion of broken parts'.                 

A testimony from the female lunatic asylum: Henrietta Dawson and her distress

'I am a single woman. I was born in Spanish Town in the year 1825.' So begins the narrative of Henrietta Dawson, a mixed-race woman who was admitted to the female Lunatic Asylum in Kingston, Jamaica, on two occasions between 1858 and 1860. All the medical staff in the asylum and the adjacent public hospital were white, as were some of the hospital officers. Mrs Ryan, the matron, whom we shall shortly encounter, was most probably white creole, and all the attendants and nurses were black or mixed race, as were all the inmates, variously referred to as lunatics and patients. However, this is emphatically not the story of a wrongful admission. Henrietta was emotionally deeply distressed and agitated, to the point that her friends and family and the local physicians were unable to manage her. The asylum was their only recourse, and Henrietta and her friends approached it in a spirit of hope.

Quite unbeknownst to them, however, the Kingston asylum was in the throes of a scandal. Allegations about the maltreatment of patients were soon to attract the attention of the colonial authorities in London, resulting in a major inquiry, held in Jamaica, where Henrietta and other patients were made to testify. This is the story of how a patient, finding herself in a situation wholly at variance with anything she could have anticipated, discovered in herself a resolve that enabled her to become a witness, not only to her own suffering, but also to that of her fellow inmates. In this period, the voices of ordinary mental patients scarcely figure in the historical record, least of all those of women of colour in colonial settings. Were it not for these exceptional circumstances, the emotional travails of Henrietta Dawson would have passed quite unremarked and we would never have known of her.

Henrietta's father was Mr James Dawson, an attorney at law, 'who, as long as he lived, supported me'. By implication, they did not share the same household. When she was three years old, she was sent away to school, to an establishment run by a Miss Bevan, where she remained until 1840. Her mother, sister and one of her brothers were among the first to be stricken by a scarlet fever epidemic in 1841, and after her mother's death she lived first with an uncle and then, when he left Spanish Town, with her aunt, supporting herself by doing needlework. In 1848, she took a situation as a governess to a lady with three children, but by the late 1850s she was living in the home of her friend Mrs John Grant, who kept a lodging house. One night in September 1858, learning of a great fire in the town in a house that had been struck by lightning, she went out to see it. Seeing the flames and the confusion, she felt very much alarmed: 'I felt very much excited; I could not sleep at all that night.' The next morning she was drawn back to the spot:

I felt very strange, there was an indescribable feeling about me. I did my best to conceal it, but about two weeks after, Mrs Grant noticed that there was something wrong about me, and asked me if I would like to go to the country for a change.

After three days away, she found her unpleasant sensations increasing and returned home:

I told Mrs Grant I was sick… but I had not the power to describe my feelings… I was low spirited and could not help crying. I kept my bed for weeks, and during this time Dr Philippo continued to visit and prescribe for me.

Two months after the fire, Mrs Grant and Henrietta's brother took her by carriage to the Public Hospital in Kingston, some 10 miles away, where Mrs Grant told Dr Scott, the medical attendant (as Henrietta describes him), that she did not know what the matter was, she had done all she could, but nothing appeared to make a difference. After a few minutes, a nurse, Mary Jones, came and took Henrietta down to the adjacent Asylum:

I was desired to sit down on the bench in the yard, with the other people, which I did. The only food I received that day was a loaf of bread, which was given to me at dinner time. At bed time I was locked up in a cell with three others, Rosa Storks, Catalina, and another whose name I forget. We each had an iron bedstead with a canvas bottom to it, but no mattresses. All my clothes but my chemise were taken from me before being locked up. Each of us had a pillow and a coarse sheet, both of which were marked in large letters PUBLIC HOSPITAL, with the letters F.L.A., meaning Female Lunatic Asylum, underneath. The next morning we were taken out of the cell and ordered to dress ourselves, and to sit down on the bench in the yard. At breakfast time, 9-o-clock, I got coffee and bread which I refused. Mrs Ryan insisted I should drink it, I would not as I did not want it, I do not like coffee. As soon as the people had finished their breakfast, they were ordered to bathe. When my time came, Mrs Ryan ordered Mary Jones to call the washerwomen to assist her and directed her to 'tank me well'. This they certainly did and they continued to do so for several mornings in succession.

'Tanking them well'

As Henrietta quickly learned, the administration of punishment in the institution centred on the 'tank', a cistern of brick and plaster about 7 foot long, 4 foot wide and 2½ foot deep, enclosed within a wooden screen, with a gutter leading to it by which it was filled, and at the bottom of it a plug, by which the water was let out.

In what follows I have, at points, interspersed Henrietta's own account of these procedures with others drawn from the collective account of a number of inmates in the report of the Commission of Inquiry.

Each morning the tank was filled with water, and as soon as the patients had swallowed their coffee and bread, the bathing and tanking commenced. Every inmate had to pass through the water, regardless of their health:

The very feverish, nay the dying, are sometimes taken out of their bed and taken to the tank room. The usual average number of inmates may be from sixty to seventy – all must bathe each day in the same water.

As Henrietta discovered, the words 'bathing' and 'tanking' did not mean the same thing. Some of the patients were 'bathed', others were 'tanked':

By bathing is understood the going into the tank or bath, one or more together, and then and there being allowed to wash one's self, or being washed, and even dipped by a nurse or attendant. By 'tanking' a very different thing is meant from bathing. When tanking is practised, it is intended as a punishment, and there is no doubt that it is a very severe and very cruel one – quite calculated to destroy life and, if it fails to do so directly, is sure, with other abuses and cruelties practised, to impair health – to aggravate existing disease of mind or body, or to induce diseases endemic to the place, and which sap the strength and terminate usually in death.

Many may not have witnessed it themselves but few, if any, can say they have not heard of it, or that they have not seen the male and female labourers or assistants with their clothes wet, and who have not graphically described the part they acted. That when a person (a female) is to be tanked, a cry is raised 'Tank her! Tank her!' She is forthwith seized by nurses, labourers and fellow lunatics… She is then dragged or pulled along to the tank; she is stripped or not, as the case may be. This process of stripping is often effected in the open yard in the view of all. The cry of 'Tank! Tank!' strikes terror into the hearts of the Lunatics… in dragging the person over the brick yard, their persons are frequently shamefully exposed to the view of male labourers and others, and their bodies are often lacerated and contused.

To exacerbate the fear and apprehension in the minds of the inmates, the threat of tanking is often made the day before: 'You shall be well tanked tomorrow… I will see it done!'

When brought to the tank the person is seized, the hands and legs separated and extended, the head is taken hold of by one person, who, if there is any hair upon it, twists it round her hand. The person is then plunged under the water and kept submerged – two or three attendants having tucked up their clothes and got into the water, one sits or kneels upon the chest or back, another seizes the throat and grasps it, in order to make the sufferer swallow the water. This process is continued alternately, sinking and swaying the body up and down the bath, in doing so the person in charge of the head often strikes it against the sides of the bath till blood flows.

Thus the unfortunate is kept under till all resistance ceases, or till in some cases convulsions have occurred, or life itself has gone, according to the caprices of the matron, or sometimes of her assistants… I have repeatedly seen the matron, Mrs Ryan, standing by, crying out with apparent delight, 'Give it her well!' The punishment over, the poor creature is taken out, exhausted and barely sensible, and is thrown down on the bricks, her clothes forced upon her, and she is then carried and laid upon a bench where often she retches, and strains, until the nauseous draught of filthy water is ejected from her stomach.

Sunday was the great tanking day with Mrs Ryan, as on that day the water is most offensive from the use of soap… and usually presents a most horrible appearance – stinking, dirty, worked up into a many-coloured foam of soap suds and filth, feculent matter, urine, vomit, blood, menstrual fluid, and the secretions of sores and ulcers. That when the person is thought to be insensible, or is apparently dead, or convulsed, she is taken out, hauled over the rough edge of the tank and thrown down on the stone pavement: her clothes, if off, are then forced on her – if not, wet and dripping she is taken out, or if able to stand is pushed out to the bench or on the brick pavement of the piazza in the sun. That generally persons so tanked are made very sick and vomit. They often get bowel complaints after it. That in pulling females to the tank, nurses or attendants have been seen to grasp them by the hair of the head, as also of the genitals and thus drag them along. That from the horror the people have of the tank, they often fight as for their lives, great violence is used on both sides, kicks, blows, bites are given. That women tanked while 'unwell' have had their health seriously deranged and injured for months afterwards. That male labourers are at times called upon to carry naked females to the tank, and even to tank them. That on such occasions gross indecencies have been practised, and male labourers have made use of 'slang' to describe the accursed abuse, such as 'Bushy Park', a term well known to some, at least, of the hospital authorities and having allusion to the exposure of the female organs of generation.

'Every feeling of decency is outraged'

Besides the bathing and tanking, Henrietta Dawson continues:

The outrageous, or rather those who from any cause have provoked the anger of the matron or her assistants, have sometimes pails or tubs of water dashed upon them, their clothes being on or off as may be, or being held backwards with the face fixed upwards, the water is poured upon the face – this being repeated over and over again. When a person has been too weak to be tanked, or there has not been water sufficient for the purpose, or where the person has been very dirty from the effects of bowel complaint, I have frequently seen the attendants, and some of the lunatics, take the broom with which the yard is swept, and rub, and wipe, the bodies of other lunatics and their faces. I saw this done to Elsie James.

The water for drinking purposes is supplied in two pails, which are placed in the yard, with one old tin pan to drink out of, this serves all, sick and well. At night, those in the cells get water from the night nurse, and it is given to them by means of a tin vessel with a long spout, which is thrust through the iron railing of the window… There are no means whatever provided for washing, there is no place to wash one's hand and face, and if water was brought for any such purpose, it was put into one of the tubs used in the cells at night as a receptacle for filth. On asking for a little water to wash with, on being locked up at night, I have heard the request met on more than one occasion by indecent and disgusting remarks. Females at particular periods are not allowed to use the usual means, the consequence is that, besides what I have already mentioned as occurring in the cells, every feeling of decency is outraged during the day, the clothes of the unfortunate people being dirtied, and the very benches in the yard stained and bedaubed… If, on any occasion, the usual guard was used, and it was discovered, it was immediately taken away.

Becoming a witness

'I saw and heard much,' Henrietta says of her first stay in the asylum, 'but, in the state I was, I paid but little attention to it, I was wrapt up in myself, my own feelings engaged my attention.' For the whole time that she was there she refused her food, 'eating nothing but a little bread and water and that but seldom', and as consequence she became 'very weak and low'. Learning of her condition, Mrs Grant took her back home, but here, 'instead of improving, I felt I was getting worse. I felt more unhappy and more sad, I was quite sensible of doing out of the way things. I would destroy my clothes and try to escape from the house'. During these weeks also, she lost the power of speaking. On 2nd August, the physician came to see her, and after tearing her clothes in front of him, she heard him tell Mrs Grant that she should be removed again to the asylum.

Reaching the asylum the following day:

as we went in we met Mrs Ryan on the step – she laughed and said, 'Ah! You are come in again! Nice lady, you are dressed to come to a madhouse as if you were going to a ballroom!', on which she struck me with her umbrella. On her doing so, unable to express my feelings in words, I took up my dress and tore it before her… From this day, my persecutions began at the hands of Mrs Ryan.

When Henrietta refused to eat her food at dinner time the following week, Mrs Ryan came up and kicked her. 'I turned round, and looked at her disdainfully (I could not speak), she exclaimed that I was insolent and called Alex [a male labourer] to bring a pail full of water.' Henrietta was then held down on the piazza while Mrs Ryan poured the water over her, and ordered her to go and take her dinner. This she did, only to throw it away. As her clothes were wet through, she took them off and sat down naked on the bench. Mrs Ryan ordered her to put them back on:

I would not, and she then said, 'In the morning you shall be well tanked for your insolence!' After some time, she gave me dry clothes which I put on. From this time, I felt my feelings wounded, and I watched Mrs Ryan and her proceedings, I took an interest in doing so.

This moment marked a definite change in Henrietta. From being wrapped up in her own feelings, not paying much attention to what was going on around her, she now became a determined observer and witness to the goings-on at the asylum. In November she recovered her speech:

I did this suddenly, when being greatly abused by Mrs Ryan, and, in a fit of passion and anger… I spoke out. Mrs Ryan said, 'Oh you have found your tongue today, eh! I will give it you well today for your rudeness!' She then took me to the tank. My clothes were taken off, and I was ordered to get into the water. I would not, and turning round to Mrs Ryan I said, 'Mrs Ryan let me ask you one question.' She said, 'What is that?' I said, 'Suppose anything hurt your feelings, Mrs Ryan, are you not at liberty to speak, to relieve your mind? If God almighty gives you power to speak, must you not speak?' She said 'Yes,' and then told me to put on my clothes, but that the next time I did anything saucy, she would give it to me well.

Dr Scott's visits

Dr Scott usually paid a visit each morning.

When the doctor was expected things were always put to rights. An injured or dirty person would be shut up , in a cell or the privy. As soon as the doctor entered, Mrs Ryan or a nurse would always be near him to prevent any person from speaking to him. If any one went to speak to the doctor, he often appeared to avoid conversing with them; he evidently did not like complaints. On any one complaining to him, he would immediately call out, 'Where was Mrs Ryan?' Generally, however, Mrs Ryan or a nurse would be always near him to prevent any person from speaking to him. She would be sure to interfere, and tell him the poor thing has her madness strong upon her, that she won't bathe herself. If the person has any marks of violence about her, this is always satisfactorily accounted for: she did it herself or struck herself accidentally as she resisted the nurse, or that another lunatic had done it. These statements are all backed by the other nurses and even some of the patients are put up to it – the whole thing is arranged beforehand. On Dr Scott, or any official, asking Mrs Ryan the cause of so and so being bruised or wounded, she will, in the most open and candid manner, call up Frances Bogle, or any other nurse, who will in an off-hand way tell the story of how it happened and all about it. Should the patient insist upon being heard, Mrs Ryan persuades the doctor that she is mad, and takes him away to another part of the yard and changes the subject of conversation. The doctor is not difficult to be convinced.

Those who died

At an earlier point, Henrietta mentions that her attention was particularly drawn to the circumstances of a woman of the name of Elizabeth Green:

a stout black woman from Manchester, in central Jamaica, who was constantly kept locked up in a cell on the female side during the day, and at night was removed to the male side of the asylum, and was daily brought out of her cell to the tank by Alexander Fleming and male labourer John Hall, assisted by nurse Mary Jones. She was mostly naked, sometimes in carrying her they would throw a cloth over her, the same persons would tank her and hold her under the water.

She described how she heard Elizabeth Green tell Dr Scott that she had a 'pickney' (a child, in West Indian English) in her belly, and that Omnibus (Fleming's nickname) was the father. She used to ask for pieces of cloth, and would take anything she could get, to make into baby clothes and bibs. Dr Scott used to laugh and say she was dropsical.

On the 26 November, while in the privy, she was confined of a girl child on the floor. After her confinement, she was taken and put into one of the cells, but the child died about four days after. The next day, she was taken to the sick room where she died, I think, on the 13th December, being thirteen days after her confinement.

This was not the only death witnessed by Henrietta:

From 5th August 1859 to the day of my quitting the asylum in June 1860 I reckon that nineteen women died there and that two others were taken out in a dying state, and I declare that almost the whole of these cases were neglected at their commencement, and that the death of most of them was hastened, if not caused, by the treatment they received.

Henrietta then listed those she recollected to have died – 'I may in some cases be wrong as to the dates, or I may have omitted one or two cases, but I speak from memory' – among them Matilda Carey and Harriett Jarratt.

Matilda Carey, a black woman from Saint Thomas in the Vale, who was apparently in good health when she was brought in, was tanked one day by Frances Bogle, Antoinette Parola and Nancy Lloyd:

They dragged her to the tank, they pulled and pushed her to the tank. I stood near and I heard a struggling in the water; and I heard Parola say, 'Lord! Lord! Lord! Let her blow!' Bogle said, 'Give the woman water!' I said out loud, intending it to be heard inside, 'The woman was sent here to be cured and not to be killed!' Antoinette Parola said a second time, 'Lord, let the woman blow, she will die!' A short time after, Parola came out; she saw me standing by, and I said to her: 'I hear all about it!' She said, 'Ah my child, I was frightened until I pissed myself!' When Mrs Carey came out, she was low and weak. Over and over again, I have said to Antoinette Parola that Mrs Carey would never go home after this last tanking.

Harriett Jarratt (sometimes called Gordon, more commonly Port Royal, or the Port Royal woman) came into the asylum as a patient in about March or April of 1860:

She was a native of Sierra Leone – at least so I understand. When she came in, she appeared in good health. She was a black woman , but of a yellow complexion. She was good looking and clean skinned. She was troublesome, and she would not sit down on the bench, but would keep jumping up and about, saying she would go to Port Royal, and she was abusive to the nurses, or anyone who interfered with her… When she resisted they would beat her with broom sticks. I have seen them tank her till she was half dead… I have seen Mrs Ryan beat her with her fist, her umbrella, and a stave. I have seen her do so frequently, because she would not sit quiet and Harriett said: 'You beat me as if you were beating your old n****r!' This was about two or three weeks before her death.

Another day:

when Jarratt was in the tank, I heard the splashing of the water and I heard Frances Bogle say, 'The old devil has fits'. As soon as the nurses came out, I went in and saw Harriett, who was then undressed, lying against the side of the tank; she seemed quite exhausted.

Harriett was ill; she had bowel complaint and was very offensive; she remained in her cell up to a week before she died, when she was taken to the sick room. The cell she was in at night had some ten or twelve persons in it. Two days before she was taken out of the cell, a rug and pillow were allowed her; before this, she was generally laid on the stone pavement or flags.

'That we may ascertain the real state of the lunatic'

Many persons were 'very cruelly treated both by Mrs Ryan and the nurses,' Henrietta reported, among them Ann Pratt, a woman from Lucea, who came in on 14 January 1860:

Though there was nothing remarkable about her when she first came in, a few days after she became excited and violent. She cried and said she wanted to go home, that she was not mad. She slept in the same cell as myself and one night she was excited, she got on my bed and pulled my hair; for this she was taken over to the male side of the asylum, she remained there for several nights. On another occasion she was removed to a cell containing some ten or twelve persons, where she was badly treated by Bogle. She used to be tanked and beaten shamefully, and often made complaints to the doctors, and to Mr Hall and Mrs Ryan, but she was not listened to. From the treatment she received, I never thought she would live to get out of it. After she came out, she got a book published called, 'Seven Month in the Kingston Lunatic Asylum and What I saw There'. I have read this book and what Miss Pratt states is correct [Pratt, 1860; Fryar, 2018]. There are a number of others I might mention who were treated more like brutes than human beings but I am afraid of taking up too much time and space.

In November of that year, Henrietta reports: 'I felt a change come over me, I felt myself getting better. In December I told Dr Scott I was better and wished to go home and he said I was quite better and fit to go out.' However, it took several months to secure her discharge:

The Sunday before I came out, Mrs Ryan was annoyed with me in consequence of something. I got very angry and behaved very rudely. She asked me if I was getting mad again. I said, 'yes, as long as I am in the madhouse, I will be a mad woman!' My friend came for me on Wednesday morning 27th June. No doctor examined me at all, as to my state, when I was going out, none saw me. I then thanked God and left the asylum. Such is a short and general statement of what I underwent, and saw others suffer, during my residence in the Lunatic Asylum.

Henrietta's lengthy statement before the inquiry in the Kingston Court House, in what Leonard Smith (2014) has characterised as a pivotal episode in the history of imperial psychiatric provision in the 19th century, must have absorbed the best part of a day. It is an index of her determination to share her experience and to serve as witness, since she feared that otherwise, as she put it, 'the real state of the Lunatic will never be ascertained. The truth of every word of it I am ready to swear to, and am prepared to prove' (Smith, 2014, p.72).