(meaning): to deprive someone the freedom of movement or personal liberty/ to prevent (something or someone) from doing something; keep under control or within limits.

When the words ‘Den of horrors’ is in your midst you may be inclined to jump to the conclusion that it describes a circus sideshow from way back when. In fact, it was used to describe the Yarra Bend Asylum in circa 1860s. There are unimaginable stories that exist due to the documentation of such things by the government at the time.

Accounts of female inmates (as they were labelled) conceiving inside the asylum’s confines and bearing children at Yarra Bend were reported. This seemed an unfathomable circumstance due to the male and female populations of lunatics (as they were labelled then) being kept entirely separate. The blame lay squarely on the male attendants and should the father be unearthed, he would be forced to pay for the care of the child, and in some instances take on the care of his child. The shame of such a thing could only be exacerbated when the wife of the said man would learn this truth.

Another issue that has aroused much debate is the use of restraints. By this time in history, this was frowned upon in most asylums across the world, however, was still very much a tool of control in some institutions.

One such apparatus was described as a thick canvas waterproof sack that would fit over the body leaving only the head exposed. Obviously, there were different types of canvas sack restraints, (sometimes termed as camisoles) some with padlocks securing them closed in differing places. The arms could be held at the sides, across the body or painfully, behind the back. Having the body entirely held within the confines had numerous pitfalls but when reports of vermin biting an inmate’s head and face with their hands unable to fend anything off are documented, it makes even the strongest stomach threaten to turn. Vermin, in these times were described as lice, fleas and bugs.

The mind can only devastatingly conclude that fleas, lice and bugs would be found aplenty in the unfortunate filth of the environment with overcrowding an ongoing issue, but when the mention of maggots surfaced within the report they were identified as being present due to the faecal matter within the cells of the asylum. Cleanliness was a huge issue in Yarra Bend at the time and the problem of, seemed to resurface time and time again over the course of history amid the care of those suffering with mental illness.

While reading the report, ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ flung around the recesses of my mind but I feel the term, ‘our truth is uglier than fiction will ever be’ describes this more fervently.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s