Angel-guarded liar in a pleasant, quiet room: the experiences of writer Robin Hyde in the New Zealand mental health system of the 1930s
Paper presented at Health and History: International Perspectives, the 9 th Biennial Conference of the Australian Society of History of Medicine, Auckland, New Zealand, 16-19 February 2005
A slight, one-page archival file with a letter attached, recently uncovered during a routine search for historical, contextual material for an English doctorate on the New Zealand author Robin Hyde (Iris Guiver Wilkinson, 1906-39), has made a significant contribution to literary Hyde studies. The file exists in the Auckland Mental Hospital Psychiatric Clinic records for 1933 and contains the notes made by hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Henry Meredith Buchanan (1887-1974) at his first and subsequent five encounters with Hyde, after she had attempted suicide on 2 June 1933.1 The attached letter was written from Hyde to Buchanan on 14 June 1933.
The record has significance for Hyde scholars, because it reveals the sequence of events during the two-week period between Hyde’s suicide attempt and her voluntary admission to Auckland Mental Hospital on 20 June 1933. Knowledge of the interim has previously depended predominantly on Hyde’s recall in her unpublished autobiography of 1934.
The more subtle importance of the file lies in its revelation of the nature of that initial interaction between Buchanan and Hyde, as exposed by the juxtaposition of Buchanan’s notes, Hyde’s letter and Hyde’s 1934 autobiography. Buchanan’s handwritten notes record his positive first impressions of Hyde, impressions that I believe were a determining factor in the nature of the mental health treatment afforded to Hyde from 1933 to 1937. That treatment had a profound influence on Hyde’s development as a writer. Further, the notes, letter and autobiography together disclose Hyde’s strategy in negotiating Buchanan’s repeated requests for her to enter Auckland Mental Hospital as a voluntary boarder, revealing a more ordinary transaction than the 1934 autobiography suggests. This archival uncovering illustrates the value of interdisciplinary research, adding to the extensive contribution already made by mental health archival material to Hyde’s biography, in the form of Hyde’s hospital records quoted in The Book of Iris: A Life of Robin Hyde (2002).
The file also has a wider historical impact. Social historian Roy Porter has claimed that, though the “history of psychiatric ideas and practices has conventionally been written as a saga of good versus bad psychiatry”, in actuality “the real protagonists are the doctors and patients, and the real subject the complex range of their encounters” (Porter 231). The particular interaction between Hyde and Buchanan affords a basis upon which a more general supposition can be made about the modus operandi of the Medical Superintendent.
Robin Hyde was rescued from Auckland harbour on Friday 2 June 1933, arrested on a charge of attempted suicide and held in Auckland General Hospital over the weekend. On Monday 5 June she appeared before the Magistrate and her case was adjourned until 4 December (Challis and Rawlinson 215). Hyde’s first meeting with Dr Buchanan took place on Tuesday 6 June 1933, which was his regular weekly day to treat out-patients at the Psychiatric Clinic attached to the General Hospital. 2 Buchanan’s first entry [image 1] in Hyde’s clinic file reads:
An intelligent attractive looking woman of 27. lame in R leg. seen in cell of ward 2. She has been charged in the Magistrates court with attempted suicide by drowning. A journalist on the Observer. She has had a difficult time economically, had a love affair wh resulted in a child now 3 years old, whom she has to keep & latterly she had a row with the Observer’s editor – the culmination of nerves & ’flu. After the row, whilst walking down Queen Street, she says a dark cloud came over her & the next thing she remembers is being hauled into a boat. She talks freely about herself & wd like to think that her attempted suicide was not a fact. No delusions or hallucinations Recommend her being kept in the Hospital for another week. (Buchanan, Case notes)
Buchanan’s second examination took place six days later on Monday 12 June, when Hyde had made a volte-face:
Seen again. Emotionally unstable & insists that suicide is her only way out of her present condition. Suggest VB to her.
Suicide threatened again. Buchanan now thought that Hyde would profit by entering the mental hospital as a voluntary boarder (‘VB’). Under the Mental Health Act (1911), Hyde would be required to sign a form requesting treatment and agreeing not to leave without giving notice, after which she could legally be detained for no more than seven days. Monday was not Buchanan’s clinic day and his next visit was also irregular, two days later on Wednesday 14 June, when he made two entries in his case notes:
See Mr M cLean editor of Observer. States that for a long time she has become impossible becs of her tantrums and instability. Paper cannot consider re-engaging her.
Again broach VBship to patient. She is not certifiable.
On that same day, Hyde wrote Buchanan a letter [image2 and 3], neatly inscribed in blue ink on wide-ruled letter-pad paper:
June 14 th, 1933.
Dear Dr. Buchanan,
I am so sorry that I missed seeing you this afternoon – I didn’t realise that it was you at the door until you had departed, and though I sent a nurse after you post-haste she couldn’t find you.
If you are in town again, and haven’t too many visits on the roll-call, I hope that you will be able to spare me a minute. I am still – very unnecessarily, perhaps – worried about the future. The office preserves its tomb-like silence, and any day I may be whisked off to the Convalescent Home.
So, with the usual selfishness of the patient who hasn’t much wrong with her, I combine thanks for your kindness with the
assurance that it makes a great deal of difference to have somebody attempt to straighten my very disorderly affairs.
Iris G. Wilkinson. (Hyde, Letter)
It is impossible to tell when Buchanan received Hyde’s letter. Did the letter prompt him to meet with McLean? What influence did McLean’s opinion have on Buchanan? Did Buchanan use McLean’s antipathy towards re-employing Hyde to pressure her into reconsidering voluntary boarding? It seems unlikely that Buchanan would withhold the information, but the manner of his recommendation cannot be supposed. Did Buchanan tell Hyde that she was “not certifiable”? That he had considered certification at all underscores his certainty that hospital treatment was necessary.
In total, Buchanan recommended voluntary boarding five times, the last two on Friday 16 June and Monday 19 June, when Hyde finally agreed. She was admitted on 20 June to the Lodge, a ward of Auckland Mental Hospital. In her 1934 autobiography, Hyde described her stasis in Auckland General as a hypnosis by a “particularly evil-smelling cell with a barred window, in which I really needn’t have spent five weeks, but for being afraid to move at all” (Chap. 14). Hyde’s chronology is incorrect: she spent 18 days in the hospital cell, not 35.
“a smiling re-assured, angel-guarded liar”
Buchanan’s clinic notes imply that Hyde was frank with him, talking “freely about herself”. Yet at that first meeting Hyde appears to have omitted to mention her sacking from the Observer by Gordon McLean on 1 June (Challis and Rawlinson 213). Nor did she reveal then that her three-year-old child, Derek, was her second baby and that the first, Christopher Robin Hyde, had died at birth in 1926. Although Buchanan observes Hyde’s lameness, he does not record her chronic knee-pain and insomnia, and her connected history of drug-taking. This despite Hyde being visited in the cell by the chemist, who had previously supplied her with drugs (1934 Autobiography, Chap. 23). She named this same chemist as her next of kin, when she was admitted to Auckland Mental Hospital (Challis and Rawlinson 218).3
Hyde’s 1934 autobiography was written at the Lodge at the instigation of her primary doctor, Gilbert Tothill, whom Hyde told: “I pretend and pretend, to everyone but you” (Chap. 22). In this ‘truthful’ document, which addresses Tothill as “you” throughout, Hyde claims deliberate deceit of Buchanan, her “angel”:
Drowning men aren’t half so unjust to straws as are drowning women! Just because I felt safe, suddenly, because of a cheery laugh and a few words as cheery, I created in nobody’s image an angel of light and beauty: and there it stood in my cell, and invited me to [the Lodge] […].
I didn’t play fair from the start. I didn’t tell about those trampled clinging fingers, nor about the scraps of verse, far more morbid than any I’ve shown you, that I’d already begun to write and to hide. Nor how one night, when the lights fused and left me in my locked, barred cell, I had clung half-fainting, crying to the doorslit, and with steady voice and steady hand, one of those convicted men outside had tried to soothe me. (An hour or more, before the lights went on again: it’s a small annexe to a big ward, and the nurse never came during that time.) Most vital of all, I never told about my secret child. About [Derek], yes, as very occasionally, in bravado or when in a corner, I had told some other, but not about Robin. In fact, I told nothing and came here to a pleasant, quiet room, a smiling re-assured, angel-guarded liar. (Chap. 23)
The powerlessness Hyde described here is offset by her telling Buchanan in the letter of 14 June of sending a nurse after him “post-haste”. The “trampled clinging fingers” relate to an earlier passage in the same chapter , in which Hyde wrote of her state in the cell:
“You’re looking at things from a most superficial viewpoint,” I argued, in long, long imaginary conversations which never happened.
And I saw those desperate hands clinging, many of them . . . and slowly trampled, one by one. (Chap. 23)
It is beyond the scope of this author’s expertise to judge whether Buchanan might have reconsidered his diagnosis, had he known of such imaginary experiences. Hyde wrote her vision into a draft stanza of “Three Poems”, which she inserted into the autobiography beneath the account quoted above:
The irises stand tall and blue and golden
Like the great banners borne by warrior kings;
But I am bowed like a reed, whose sheaf is holden
Deep beneath the waters of troublous things . . . . .
Hands that meet in the darkness. The desperate clasping of fingers.
“Hold but an instant, Beloved, the light is won.”
But she who had sung like a child in the dappled Thessalian meadows
Answers no word. And the limp hands loosen, are gone.4
Addressing Tothill in the 1934 autobiography, Hyde described the concealment of her first pregnancy from Buchanan as “Most vital of all” (Chap. 23), but her obfuscation of the detail concerning her suicide attempt was more pertinent to both her legal situation and her potential hospitalisation. Once the December court case was over, she claimed the suicide attempt was deliberate:
Having had to wait until two boys had left the wharf, I spent quite five cold struggling minutes wishing them back. Then I had a little more courage, went deeply down once and again, and breathed in water as if it were life, not death - It really wasn’t so hard. (1934 Autobiography, Chap. 23)
“Dear Dr. Buchanan”
Hyde’s management of her situation is not only reflected in her selective disclosure, but also in the letter she wrote to Buchanan on 14 June. Caution must be exercised in making a contemporary interpretation of a formal letter written over 70 years ago, yet it is fair to say that Hyde’s neat handwriting and contained language suggest an emotional control that might not have been expected. The letter demonstrates Hyde’s ability to turn a polite, conventional, business-like phrase, even under stress. After a later collapse Hyde experienced in the Lodge, she described Buchanan’s astonishment and his comparison with her relatively better state in Ward 2: “‘I can’t understand you! In hospital, you were sitting up and laughing!’” (1934 Autobiography, Chap. 15). But Hyde claimed that she experienced equal distress on each occasion and her propensity to sometimes mask emotion is also evident in her letter of 14 June.
In the letter, Hyde aligned herself with Buchanan by assuming mutual understanding and by treating him deferentially, but as a social equal. She minimised her illness by describing it as common hyponchondria: “the usual selfishness of the patient who hasn’t much wrong with her”. This self-deprecation uncomfortably echoes the criticism inherent in McLean’s complaint to Buchanan that Hyde was “impossible [because] of her tantrums and instability”. The word “tantrums”, be it McLean’s own or Buchanan’s interpretation, infantilises Hyde and implies a childish lack of self-control.
Hyde’s letter also deflects attention from her collapse to her financial and employment difficulties. The irony of the suicidal Hyde describing her office’s “tomb-like silence” is undercut by her own questioning of the validity of her worries, which acts to simultaneously emphasise and question her fears. Her relief at Buchanan attempting “to straighten [her] very disorderly affairs” flatters him and stresses her own mismanagement. Hyde offered herself in her text as someone who needed and wanted, like her affairs, to be straightened. The subtext is Hyde’s awareness of her deviance from social norms, implied in the concealment of her history. The conclusion to be drawn is that Hyde surrendered her physical but not her mental autonomy to Buchanan.
“afraid to move at all”
In her unpublished 1935 journal, Hyde recalled with flippancy her “silly desire to pose as a perfectly nice young woman before a cheery Scot”, Buchanan,
who fished me out of that hideous cell, and laughed, and lent me old French books, and broke all rules and regulations by coming to see me here [in the Lodge] everyday – Only the unexpected thing was that, sick and three-quarters mad as I was, I couldn’t bear him to learn the truth about me. I wanted his regard as I didn’t then want food or drink – (22 March)5
Hyde’s “silly desire” to impress Buchanan related to her recognition of his power over her future: “Now for the first time I felt a little less than desperate, when [Buchanan] came. Being told his name, “Ah, you’re the man I have to be careful with, aren’t you?” asked I. And he laughed, taken aback” (1934 Autobiography, Chap. 23). Hyde would have known that Buchanan could influence the outcome of her court case. Worse, he could arrange for her committal to the mental hospital and of that she was very afraid.
After the death of her first baby in 1926, Hyde suffered a breakdown and narrowly avoided committal to Porirua Mental Hospital. She recounted how a doctor in Palmerston North
sent me away - to that place of darkness […] I screamed all the way, in the car - and remember it - Next the thin face of Wellington’s admitted specialist - I didn’t know he was that, only that I hated him and was deadly afraid of him, and that my words wouldn’t make sense. “The woman in black” [Hyde’s mother] was no help. And they had the papers ready.
I’d never have come out of there. […] I know, with absolute certainty, that if its shadow ever touches me, I shall be done - […] But I mustn’t write about it, or this will become a mere babble of fear […]. (1934 Autobiography, Chap. 16) 6
In June 1933, Hyde’s options were unenviable. She was afraid of mental hospitals, but to refuse voluntary admission was to risk committal or destitution. Her family home had failed to provide the environment for a successful recovery after her previous breakdown (1934 Autobiography, Chap. 16). She might not have secured work as a journalist after her dismissal and unemployed women were ineligible for Government support, an injustice that Hyde herself deplored in her article “Odd Woman Out”, published in the left-wing magazine Working Woman in 1936. But it was Buchanan’s primary purpose at the Psychiatric Clinic to attempt to pre-empt committal by early treatment and, if admission was necessary, to calm his patient’s fears:
All doctors at the clinics will undoubtedly appreciate […] the fact of being able to assure incipient or border-line patients with perfect confidence that they need have no anxiety as to the possibility of being confronted with any painful or humiliating sights on their way to the institution; that they will find the approaches and surroundings attractive; that on arrival they will receive immediate professional care and attention at a private-entry cottage; that they will certainly be well lodged, well looked after, and treated with every care and consideration according to their requirements – e.g. rest in bed, or such occupation, recreation, associations, and treatment as may be deemed most conducive to their comfort and recovery. (MHDR 1925: 3-4).7
Buchanan offered Hyde voluntary admission to the recently established, low-security Lodge [image 4], situated some 800 metres from the main Auckland Mental Hospital building. It was an “attractively yet economically furnished villa” for “twenty-four patients of either the advanced convalescent type, or for the admission of early border-line cases” (MHDR 1931: 5). The Lodge had been Buchanan’s house, but with 15 rooms was considered too large for him (MHDR 1928: 2). It was converted and the first patients were admitted between 28 August and 31 December 1931 (Buchanan “Letter to District Engineer”; MHDR 1931: 5). Hyde referred to it as “the Grey Lodge”, both in her unpublished autobiographical writing and in the address on her letters written during the period, an early example of which is her letter of 19 July 1933 to John Schroder (Docherty 159). However, she did not originate the nickname, which appears in a letter from the District Engineer to Buchanan dated 27 March 1933. Eighteen months after her admission, Hyde still wondered about “the exact degree of insanity attaching to this Lodge” (1935 Journal, 20 Feb.), but in the 1934 Autobiography she recalled Buchanan’s sympathetic promise: "‘I understand ‑ but it's right up on the hill, away from the other place [the main building] –’ And the laugh that had reassured me so completely. ‘ I won't put you down among a lot of loonies’" (Chap. 20).8
At the Lodge, Hyde was accommodated alone in the only double room, [image 5 and 6] thus securing the best accommodation in the newest ward in the hospital. Her room was better furnished than any of the wards or the three single rooms allocated to nurses (“Requisition list” ). Hyde herself described the nurses’ rooms as cubbyholes (1935 Journal, undated first entry). She retained sole use of her room, when she was at the hospital, until her discharge on 8 March 1937, despite the fact that mental hospitals in the late 1930s were continually overcrowded, prompting requests from the Director-General for voluntary boarders to be released as early as possible. 9 , 10 Mental hospital treatment was not free, but it is unlikely that Hyde’s initial treatment was determined by any maintenance contribution, since she was unemployed and her family was unaware of her admission (Challis and Rawlinson 218). The official line was that treatment was independent of a patient’s ability to pay (NZPD 239: 536) . It seems likely that the immediate positive impression Hyde made on Buchanan, her articulacy, self-presentation and willingness to take his advice earned her his regard. Buchanan’s diagnostic techniques included examination of a patient’s face for regularity of appearance and schizoid characteristics, and he would have been looking for signs of mental defectiveness, but at first sight he judged Hyde to be “an intelligent attractive looking woman”. The implication is that Buchanan saw a value to be gained by Hyde’s rehabilitation.
That early promise may have been tarnished only a week after Hyde’s admission, when Dr Tothill reported that she was unsettled and uncooperative, despite being given the “private room at the Lodge and […] every consideration” (Challis and Rawlinson 219). Nevertheless, Hyde found tremendous respite in her surrender to the bed-rest regime of the early days in her private room. She wrote that “it was so very pleasant to lie here […] The room grew dark and strange, but it was still pleasant - yes! I was quite safe, without reasoning why” (1934 Autobiography, Chap. 23). By late 1933, her rapport with Gilbert Tothill was established and she came to regard herself as “a fool who chooses to live and work here” (1935 Journal, 22 Mar.). That work included drafts of Hyde’s classic novel The Godwits Fly (1938), five further books and two collections of poetry.
Whilst the interaction between Hyde and Buchanan cannot be extrapolated to generate conclusions about the general patient experience in the New Zealand mental health system of the 1930s, it does show that Buchanan responded to the particular and that Hyde had agency, albeit limited. The end result of their encounter was the facilitation of several major works of New Zealand literature. The early effect was Hyde’s sense of tired relief, told in the final stanza of the typescript version of “Three Poems”. This last stanza breaks with the dichotomy between proud irises and the broken speaker patterned in the first stanza, with its regular rhyme and sure beat, and the continuation into the irregular desperation of the second stanza. It finishes “Three Poems” with a calm statement of final resolution, expressed in blank verse and a rhythm approaching natural speech:
I should like to die in this room –
It looks towards the West.
Outside, the great bronze sickle of the dusk
Mows the red poppies of the sunset clouds. (Hyde Young Knowledge 144)
31 January 2005
This research is supported by a Bright Futures Top Achiever Doctoral Scholarship awarded by the Foundation for Science and Research Technology. I am indebted to Derek Challis for his kind permission to use Iris Wilkinson’s out-patient file from the Auckland Mental Hospital Psychiatric Clinic records for 1933. My gratitude is also due to my supervisor Michele Leggott for her advice on inclusions to this paper.
AJHR Appendix to the Journal of the House of Representatives
MHDR Mental Hospitals of the Dominion (Report on) for. Each year’s Annual Report is published in section H-7 of the following year’s AJHR , i.e. the MHDR to 31 Dec. 1933 is published in H-7 of the 1934 AJHR. In order to help the reader’s understanding of the historical moment of each report, the references in the text are to the year on which the report is being made; thus (MHDR 1932: 6) refers to the Report on Mental Hospitals of the Dominion for the year to 31 Dec. 1932, which is published on page 6 of section H-7 in the AJHR for 1933. This text refers to: MHDR 1925 (published in AJHR 1926); MHDR 1926 (AJHR 1927); MHDR 1931 (AJHR 1932); MHDR 1932 (AJHR 1933); MHDR 1933 (AJHR 1934); and MHDR 1934 (AJHR 1935).
NZPD New Zealand Parliamentary Debates
Buchanan, H. M. Case notes for “Iris Wilkinson”. Medical Superintendent’s psychiatric clinic notebook 1933. YCAA 1090/7. Archives New Zealand, Auckland.
Buchanan, H. M. Letter to the Auckland District Engineer. 28 Aug. 1931. YCAA 1079/ 2p. Archives New Zealand, Auckland.
Challis, Derek and Gloria Rawlinson. The Book of Iris: A Life of Robin Hyde. Auckland: Auckland UP, 2002.
District Engineer. Letter to Auckland Mental Hospital Medical Superintendent H. M. Buchanan. 27 Mar. 1933. YCAA 1079/ 3h. Archives New Zealand, Auckland.
Docherty, Lisa. “‘Do I Speak Well?’ A Selection of Letters by Robin Hyde 1927-1939.” PhD thesis. University of Auckland, 2000.
Gray, Theodore G. Circular memorandum to all medical superintendents of New Zealand mental hospitals. 19 Aug. 1933. YCAA 1079/ 5h. Archives New Zealand, Auckland.
Hyde, Robin (Iris Wilkinson). 1934 Autobiography. Special Collections NZ MS 412A. Auckland Central City Library.
-----. A Home in this World. Intro. Derek Challis. Auckland: Longman Paul, 1984.
-----. Journal 1935: an autobiographical work. Special Collections NZ MS 0837. Auckland Central City Library.
-----. Letter to Dr H. M. Buchanan. 14 June 1933. Medical Superintendent’s psychiatric clinic notebook 1933. YCAA 1090/7. Archives New Zealand, Auckland.
----- . "Odd Woman Out." Working Woman Nov. 1936: 6-7.
----- . Young Knowledge : The Poems of Robin Hyde . Ed Michele Leggott. Auckland: Auckland UP, 2003. Notes on-line at <http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.ns/authors/hyde>.
MHDR . AJHR. H-7. Wellington, N.Z.: Government Printer, 1926. (See Abbreviations above.)
NZPD . Wellington, N.Z.: Government Printer.
Porter, Roy. A Social History of Madness: The World Through the Eyes of the Insane. New York: Wiedenfeld and Nicolson, 1987.
Requisition list for Lodge furniture. YCAA 1079/ 2p . Archives New Zealand, Auckland.
Skilton, Hazel Rene Stacy. Work For Your Life: The Story of the Beginning and Early Years of Occupational Therapy in New Zealand . Auckland: Skilton, 1981.
Wright-St Clair, R. E. Medical Practitioners in New Zealand, 1840 to 1930 . Hamilton, N.Z.: R.E. Wright-St Clair, 2003.
1. Henry Meredith Buchanan, MB ChB Edin (1911), OBE (1919), was born in Edinburgh on 6 March 1887 and died in Auckland on 15 July 1974 (Wright-St Clair 70). Buchanan was Auckland Mental Hospital Medical Superintendent from 1929 until his retirement in 1952 (Wright-St Clair 70; Skilton 6 ).
2. The clinic treated out-patients at the General Hospital on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with a private doctor, T. Gordon Short, conducting the Thursday session (MHDR 1932: 6). Hyde was one of 342 new cases seen in 1933, 147 of whom entered the Auckland Mental Hospital as committed or voluntary patients; 170 pensioners formed the majority of out-patients seen, which included ex-service patients and would predominantly have been men; no General Hospital patients are recorded, which implies that Hyde was included in the 17 patients referred by prisons (MHDR 1933: 2).
3. See also 1934 Autobiography Chapter 22 for an account of the chemist, Joe, supplying Hyde with drugs.
4. See (Hyde Young Knowledge 144) for a typescript version of “Three Poems”. For an explication see notes to Young Knowledge at <http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/authors/hyde/>.
5. Hyde’s portrait of Buchanan agrees with the observations of Hazel Skilton. The latter worked with Buchanan in the 1940s and wrote that he was “bluff and friendly “(6); he joked that he only emigrated in 1913 because the New Zealand Government paid his fare (10). Buchanan was practical and forward thinking. He supported occupational therapy in New Zealand mental hospitals against the many who expressed scepticism. At the time, little else was available in the way of treatment and those who were physically or mentally unable to join hospital work gangs spent their days in idleness. Buchanan’s enthusiasm led to the particular success of occupational therapy at Auckland Mental Hospital (Skilton 3). The first training school for occupational therapists in New Zealand was established at Auckland Mental Hospital in 1940 (Skilton 4)
6. Hyde attributed her “rescue” from committal to a locum doctor, whom she remembered and for whom she “demanded” (1934 Autobiography, Chap. 16); Hyde’s sister recalled her father tearing up the committal papers ( Challis and Rawlinson 83).
Porirua became associated with death after Hyde’s hospitalisation with her stiff knee in 1924:
A woman who had lived near us during the war, and who had been in an upstairs medical ward, jumped from the window, and was brought in with a broken leg, screaming mad. True, they moved her to a private room, but oh, how her screams tore the place. “The devils” were after her. They took her to Porirua, and she died (1934 Autobiography, Chap. 9).
7. The Mental Hospitals Department in the 1920s and 1930s made efforts to combat stigma through public education, policy and careful choice of language. Psychiatric Clinics were first called “Clinic[s] for nervous affections” in order to avoid “any implication of insanity, mental breakdown, or so-called ‘border-line’ trouble” (MHDR 1925: 1). But the decision to pander to public fears by “shielding the recent and presumably recoverable patients from contact with those of a more chronic and sometimes degraded type” (MHDR 1934: 1) can only have served to reinforce the very stigma the authorities sought to eradicate. Director-General Gray promoted the physical distancing of convalescent and admissions wards from the main mental hospital buildings as a means of protecting sensitive patients, despite his recognition that specially named Psychopathic Hospitals created overseas as physically distinct institutions for recent and recoverable cases suffered from the same stigma as ordinary mental hospitals (MHDR 1926: 3).
8. Since Buchanan had a sensitivity about the language applied to mental hospitals (Hyde A Home in This World 14), he might not have been expected to use the term “loonies”. It is impossible to say whether or not Hyde quoted him correctly, whether he was mimicking someone else’s use of the word or whether he felt “loonies” was appropriate in this instance.
9. Buchanan complained about overcrowding at Auckland Mental Hospital in his annual reports for 1929-31 and 1935-37. The matter was raised in parliament seven times between 1932 and 1937 (NZPD 233 (1932): 30-36; 234 (1932): 295-96, 524; 239 (1933): 534-40; 239 (1934): 634-35; 243 (1935): 274-487; 249 (1937): 388-95). Mental hospitals were burdened with elderly patients for whom rest homes were planned, but had not eventuated, and overcrowding was worse in the men’s wards than it was in the women’s.
10. For an example of Director-General Gray’s demands that voluntary boarders be released early, see his circular memorandum of 19 August 1933.