HC Deb 30 June 1823 vol 9 cc1332-4
Mr. Hume

presented a petition from Mr. John Mitford, praying for an inquiry into the state of Private Mad-houses. The petitioner stated, that he had himself been confined in one of these institutions, and that he had lately published a book describing the abuses which existed in them. To obtain materials for this book he had visited a variety of private lunatic asylums: but at those of Mr. Warburton, he had been refused the means of information which he wanted.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, he had himself communicated with one or two persons, who had been confined in private mad-houses; and, from all he had heard, he thought the subject worthy the attention of parliament. The system of private madhouses was peculiarly calculated to open the door to most iniquitous offences, and unfortunately, the most difficult of proof. In his opinion the true course would be to put them down altogether; or to increase the public establishments at least to such a degree as should tend to diminish their number. The trade was a highly lucrative one. Individuals kept, in many cases, several establishments. Mr. Warburton was the proprietor of two or three different houses.

Mr. Brougham

said, that private madhouses were establishments almost necessarily open to abuse; and where abuses did exist, it was most important that they be hunted to detection. At the same time justice was due to a number of highly respectable medical men, who were proprietors of houses of this description, and among others, to Mr. Warburton, with whom he was professionally acquainted. In the course of his legal practice, he had frequently seen Mr. Warburton examined in courts of justice; and his character stood equally high, both for medical skill and for humanity. Now it appeared that Mr. Mitford had himself been confined in a mad-house as a patient; and it should be recollected that a man might sufficiently recover from an attack of insanity to he discharged from confinement and yet not be in a state to appreciate, dispassionately, the very treatment which perhaps had been conducive to his cure. It frequently happened, that actions were brought against the keepers of lunatic asylums by people who had recovered under their care. One word as to Mr. Mitford. He had spoken of himself as the author of a book on the subject of mad-houses; and certainly he was the author of as scandalous a publication as ever bad issued from the press. The work in question was filled with the most slanderous anecdotes, and with details too disgusting to be repeated; and the names of persons of high respectability, and even of young ladies of rank, who had been visited with that dreadful malady, the privation of reason, were treated in a manner deserving the severest reprehension.

Mr. Peel

saw no ground in the present case for establishing an inquiry. To suppress private mad-houses, would be to create an evil greater than any which such a course could remove. Confinement in a public institution, under any circumstances, would always appear to many a very severe infliction; and the attempt to abolish private mad-houses would inevitably lead to the confinement of lunatics in private houses—an arrangement under which every facility to abuse would 'be increased. Upon the petition before the House, he would Only say thus much—that a variety of statements had been presented to him, in his time, by persons, sane to all appearance, complaining of abuses practised in mad-houses; he had examined into these statements over and over again, and he had, in almost all cases, discovered that they were without a shadow of foundations.

Mr. Bennet

confirmed the statement of the right hon. gentleman opposite, as to the very slight degree of reliance due to the accounts of persons who had been insane; but he thought, notwithstanding, that further regulations in private, madhouses were necessary. Upon the point however, altogether, he confessed he entertained little hope; for, so long as certain persons in another place systematically opposed every, thing tending to a reform in the law, there could he little expectation of any advantageous change, until Providence should: be pleased to remove them from their situations. With respect to the petition, he had seen Mr. Mitford, and thought that he certainly appeared in his senses at present; he made some assertions which he (Mr. B.) knew to be untrue. He trusted that Mr. Warburton would prosecute the publisher of Mr. Mitford's book.

Mr. Wynn

observed, that this subject was well worthy the attention of parliament. It had formerly been much considered; and three bills had, at different periods, been sent up from that House to the Lords, relative to the inspection of houses of this description, which, he regretted to say, had not been passed. He should be extremely sorry if any proposition were brought forward, similar to that spoken of by the hon. member for Westminster; because he believed that, though abuses might exist in some of these establishments, they were, on the whole, well conducted. There was little chance of patients being restored to their senses unless a certain course of treatment were adopted; and with that view, it was better that they should be taken care of in houses exclusively appropriated to the reception of persons labouring under this malady, than that they should be placed in private lodgings, and intrusted to the keeping of individuals who were not con versant with the disease. Persons ignorant of the treatment which should be extended to insane patients, frequently gave them medicines and bled them, for the mere purpose of reducing their strength.

Ordered to lie on the table.