The Foresters Asylum, Bexleyheath, 1890 (Catalogue reference: COPY 1/401)

29 May 2014


The 19th century saw a series of scandals concerning sane individuals being locked away in lunatic asylums, who were the victims of unscrupulous persons who wanted to be rid of a 'difficult' family member, spouse or friend.  But who were the victims of this trade?  How much can you find about contested cases, private asylums and dishonest doctors in the surviving records?  Sarah Wise explains what she learnt during research for her latest book, which made use of The National Archives' holdings as well as a number of other less well known sources of data.

Sarah Wise has a BA in English Literature, and a Masters degree in Victorian Studies from the University of London.  Her debut, The Italian boy: Murder and grave robbery in 1830s London, was shortlisted for the 2005 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction and won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for non-fiction. Her follow-up, The Blackest Streets, was published by Bodley Head in June 2008. Inconvenient people: Lunacy, liberty and the mad doctors (Vintage) has recently been published in paperback.

Further exploration of the subjects of each of her three books can be read at

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