Insanity, identity and empire

Immigrants and institutional confinement in Australia and New Zealand, 1873-1910

By Catharine Coleborne

Insanity, identity and empire


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Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-8724-0
  • Pages: 240
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £25.00
  • Published Date: October 2015
  • BIC Category: United Kingdom, Great Britain, History of medicine, European history, Colonialism & imperialism, Modern History, History of Medicine, History, HISTORY / Australia & New Zealand, MEDICAL / History, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain, Australasia, Medicine / History of medicine, Humanities / Colonialism & imperialism
  • Series: Studies in Imperialism


This book examines the formation of colonial social identities inside the institutions for the insane in Australia and New Zealand. Taking a large sample of patient records, it pays particular attention to gender, ethnicity and class as categories of analysis, reminding us of the varied journeys of immigrants to the colonies and of how and where they stopped, for different reasons, inside the social institutions of the period. It is about their stories of mobility, how these were told and produced inside institutions for the insane, and how, in the telling, colonial identities were asserted and formed. Having engaged with the structural imperatives of empire and with the varied imperial meanings of gender, sexuality and medicine, historians have considered the movements of travellers, migrants, military bodies and medical personnel, and 'transnational lives'. This book examines an empire-wide discourse of 'madness' as part of this inquiry.


'Cathy Coleborne has written a splendid book, one that is especially welcome for its comparative focus, and for its efforts to give us a sense of mental patients' lives in two colonial societies. This is a meticulously researched monograph that is crisply written and full of wonderful details, the whole forming a splendid addition to the burgeoning literature on the history of colonial psychiatry.'
Andrew Scull, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Science Studies, University of California, San Diego

'Coleborne [has] added important dimensions to the history of insanity in Australia and New Zealand, but even more significant is the depth of insight these works offer historians of immigration. They deserve a wide readership.'
Stephen Garton, University of Sydney, Australian Historical Studies47, no. 2

'Historians are yet to explore the discursive stretch of madness throughout the British Empire, writes Coleborne. This expansive monograph, bringing together scholarly fields to examine madness thematically at two settler sites of empire, is an important step towards this.'
James Dunk, University of Sydney

'Insanity, Identity and Empire draws on and extends Coleborne's previously published works about institutional confinement.'
Ann Westmore, University of Melbourne , Health and History 18/2

'The book adds to a growing body of historical literature on disability and madness and, in particular, research on migration, disability, and madness.'
Natalie Spagnuolo, York University, Toronto, H-Disability (January 2018)


Introduction: Insanity, identity and empire
1. Insanity in the 'age of mobility': Melbourne and Auckland, 1850s-80s
2. Immigrants, mental health and social institutions: Melbourne and Auckland, 1850s-90s
3. Passing through: narrating patient identities in the colonial hospitals for the insane, 1873-1910
4. White men and weak masculinity: men in the public asylums, 1860s-1900s
5. Insanity and white femininity: women in the public asylums, 1860s-1900s
6. The 'Others': inscribing difference in colonial institutional settings


Catharine Coleborne is Professor of History in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Waikato, New Zealand

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