Thumbnail Image

National Fitness or Failure? Heredity, Vice and Racial Decline in New Zealand Psychiatry: A Case Study of the Auckland Mental Hospital, 1868-99

This thesis examines anxieties about national fitness and efficiency in nineteenth-century New Zealand through a detailed study of medical and popular ideas about the causes of mental illness. In particular, it foregrounds the perceived roles played by heredity and vice in medical diagnoses both inside institutions and in wider discussions about mental illness. The thesis draws upon medical journals, popular newspaper articles, government reports and debates, and patient case notes from the Auckland Mental Hospital between 1868 and 1899 to investigate discourses about the mentally ill, and to highlight the relationships between anxieties about this ‘problem’ section of the population and contemporary social concerns. This methodology demonstrates how a range of texts helped to produce a discursive association between heredity and vice, mental illness, and a feared decline in the ‘fitness’ of the ‘British’ race in New Zealand and in the wider British World, and also that the mentally ill in nineteenth-century New Zealand were often depicted as living consequences of a family history of indulgence in various forms of vice, or of the procreation of the mentally unfit. Medical and popular ideas about general paralysis and puerperal insanity, in particular, were strongly related to gender and class norms, and throughout this thesis, ideals of class and gender are explored as shaping influences on medical and popular theories about the aetiology of mental illness in general. By drawing on medical discourses from Britain and New Zealand, this thesis also demonstrates the transnational nature of psychiatric medical theories deployed in Britain and New Zealand. This transnational transmission of ideas occurred through the migration of British born and educated psychiatrists to New Zealand, the context of British medical journals (such as the British Medical Journal and the Journal of Mental Science) which circulated in New Zealand, and attendance at Intercolonial Medical Congresses, shared between New Zealand and the Australian colonies from 1892. Transactions from these congresses, along with medical journal articles and popular sources, reveal that the period from 1868 until the end of the nineteenth century was an intellectual environment ripe for the emergence of concerns about racial decline, a trend highlighted by the presence of the mentally ill, in a ‘new’ society.
Type of thesis
Dawson, M. E. (2013). National Fitness or Failure? Heredity, Vice and Racial Decline in New Zealand Psychiatry: A Case Study of the Auckland Mental Hospital, 1868-99 (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/7521
University of Waikato
All items in Research Commons are provided for private study and research purposes and are protected by copyright with all rights reserved unless otherwise indicated.