Attending Madness

At Work in the Australian Colonial Asylum


He is what we would call a very good attendant, who would not run away or flinch from any patient, but would try to have his orders carried out if possible. Such was the view of William Coady, attendant to the insane in the British settler colony of Victoria, Australia in the 1870s.
This book is a history of William Coady’s occupation, a history asylum work and workers in nineteenth-century Australia. It considers not only who attendants were and why they worked in the asylum, but also how they and others variously defined the very good attendant.
Colonial asylum advocates imagined the attendant as an archetype, drawing on ideas from Britain about the nature of insanity and its treatment. In exploring the articulation of these ideas in a specific colonial context and their effect on the colonial asylum workplace, Lee-Ann Monk makes an important contribution to the international history of the asylum. She also opens new dimensions in the history of this occupation, on which the fate of patients very much depended, by analysing attendants’ efforts to construct an occupational identity and give meaning to their work, thus providing new insights into their sense of themselves and their occupation.

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Lee-Ann Monk is an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow (Industry) in the History Program, La Trobe University, Australia, where she is writing a history of Kew Cottages, Australia’s first purpose-built institution for people with learning disability, as part of an interdisciplinary research team funded by an ARC-Linkage Grant.
”…a detailed consideration of attendants… Monk provides much useful empirical detail and analytical insight in sketching the history of a little-considered occupational group during a crucial period…”
- in: Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 84, 1 (2010), 137-139

Attending Madness is a very thorough study, and is certainly a useful source of information and it should open up avenues for other examinations of the colonial lunatic asylum attendant, which will give balance and breadth to the field.”
- in: Health and History, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2010), 133-134

“an excellent companion volume for those interested in exploring this topic more deeply.”
- in: Global Comment, April 2011

“Monk sheds fresh light on the social and cultural history of asylum attendants in colonial Australia in the mid-nineteenth century. …[T]his monograph reminds us of a particular moment within Australian psychiatry. It particularly highlights the roles of many forgotten men and women within nineteenth-century asylum history, and overall enriches our knowledge on the history of madness in colonial Australia.”
- in: Social History of Medicine, online June 2009

“Monk takes a unique view of the asylum system in terms of the occupation standards of attendants… fascinating, if sometimes harrowing.” in: SciTech Book News, December 2008

“Lee-Ann Monk’s refreshingly original and illuminating study of the support staff in colonial asylums in Victoria opens up a whole new perspective on colonial madness… Her account is rich in detail but never loses sight of the larger story. She has made an important contribution to both labour history and the history of insanity in Australia.”
in: History Australia, Vol. 6, No. 3 (2009), 85.1-85.2

“This book will stimulate discussion and the possibility of further studies of unusual workplaces and occupations that evolved during the colonial period in Australia. The author is very effective in the use of the extensive sources … The primary sources open up previously unexamined material… I think its greatest contribution is to the specific study of colonial lunatic asylums.”
- in: Labour History, Issue 96, May 2009, 244-245

“Monk is the first to devote a whole book to attendants in Australia; and, indeed, it is hard to think of a comparable monograph written elsewhere… One of Monk’s main aims is to reveal the story of late nineteenth-century asylum attendants ‘as more than the “pre-history” of another occupation’… In terms of this endeavour, the book is a notable success.”
- in: History of Psychiatry, 21: 1 (2010), 96–101

1 ‘An Asylum for the Safe Custody and Proper Treatment of the Insane’
2 ‘A Proper Man to Have Charge of Lunatics’
3 ‘We Have Always Conducted Ourselves Independently’
4 Artisans of Reason
5 Proper Instructions: Excellent Attendants
6 ‘A Different Class of Attendants’
7 ‘You Have to be Firm and Determined with Them’
8 ‘Some of Us are Married Men and Have Families’
9 ‘I Would Not Give an Ounce of Practical Experience for a Pound of Theory’

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