Working in the asylum: attendants to the insane. Academic Article uri icon


  • Contemporary representations of nineteenth-century attendants were often negative, finding fault with both their character and conduct. Historians were inclined initially to agree, concluding that attendants were 'recruited from the dregs of society' and that asylum work was 'an occupation of last resort.' Other scholars argue that such conclusions rely too much on contemporary depictions. Taking Victoria as a case study, this article explores who attendants were and why they chose to do asylum work. Many of the attendants employed in Victoria's asylums were ordinary working people, recruited for their skills and experience, and for whom attending held considerable attractions. For some, indeed, attending became their life's work and an occupation whose reputation they felt was worth defending.

publication date

  • January 1, 2009