Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies

Article: Wallis

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Alexandra Wallis

The University of Notre Dame Australia

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Driven to Insanity: Marital Cruelty and the Female Patients at the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum, 1858-1908


In nineteenth-century Fremantle, marital cruelty (domestic violence) could lead to a woman’s assessment of ‘insanity’ and result in incarceration in the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum. Combined with issues such as alcohol or puerperal mania (post-natal depression), the cruelty of their husbands was often the cause of illness and incarceration. The power that husbands maintained in marriage allowed them to admit and request the release of their wives even when the staff were aware of the violence at home. The patient records and case books from the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum reveal the extent to which some female patients were impacted by violent husbands, the ways in which male control in nineteenth-century marriage allowed for control of their wives’ admissions and discharges, and broader nineteenth-century colonial attitudes to domestic violence in West Australia.

Keywords: domestic violence; marital cruelty; colonial Australia; mental illness; trauma; insanity; Fremantle Lunatic Asylum

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Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies

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