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Soap - Carbolic, Kew Mental Hospital, circa 1880 Object Reg. No: SH 850027

Bars of carbolic soap made and used by patients at Kew Asylum, a mental health hospital in Victoria, Australia, circa 1880. Four patients at Kew were employed to make 84,600 3lb bars of soap per year.

Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century patients in Victorian mental institutions were encouraged to engage in work or occupational therapy as part of a broader approach to the treatment of mental illness known as "moral therapy". Hailing ultimately from the humanist attitudes characteristic of new eighteenth century European philosophies that were emerging alongside such other significant social events as the Revolution in France and the industrialization of British manufacturing, moral therapy was grounded in values of self-improvement and social progress, ideals that were amplified by the abundance of opportunity on offer in colonial gold-rush Victoria. A patient's contribution to the asylum community through their work was regarded as morally fortifying, if not curative, and also had the added advantage of improving the self-sustainability of the institution. Some of the tasks that were regarded as suitable for the patients to undertake included gardening, farming, laundry, embroidery, kitchen work and basic manufacturing.
3 bars and 12 broken pieces of greyish yellow handmade soap. The whole bars are 27 x 4 x 4cm but pieces range down to 3cm in length. Note 87.12 - totally disintegrated.
Statement Of Significance:
This soap is an example of occupational activities undertaken by patients at mental health hospitals in Victoria, Australia, in the late 1800s. It also illustrates the hygiene products used at mental health hospitals in Victoria, Australia.
Acquisition Information:
Donation from Kew Mental Hospital (Asylum)
Discipline: History
Dimensions: 4.30 cm (Height), 2.80 cm (Width), 4.30 cm (Length)

More information

Tagged with: hospitals, mental health, mental health institutions, psychiatric services, making history - psych services, occupational therapy, psychiatric hospitals, psychiatric institutions, cleaning products, soap
Themes this item is part of: Psychiatric Institutions of the Past, Psychiatric Services Collection, Medicine in Society Collection, Public Life & Institutions Collection, Bathing & hygiene within Victorian Mental Health Institutions
Primary Classification: MEDICINE & HEALTH
Secondary Classification: Mental Health - Institutional Life
Tertiary Classification: cleaning
Place & Date Made: Kew Mental Hospital (Asylum), Kew, Victoria, Australia, Circa 1880
Place & Date Used: Kew Mental Hospital (Asylum), Kew, Victoria, Australia, Circa 1880
References: Information included in display


Margaret O'Leary Posted on 14 Nov 2012 8:40 PM
I worked at the hospital in the 1960s and they were still making the soap then. Or rather, one client continued to make it - the bars were about 2 feet long and dark brown. They were using certain waste products at the hospital, from the kitchen etc to make it.

I discovered it one day when a doctr came to my dept to look for a particualr patient and we had never heard of him.

One of the patients said he was the soap maker and took us to a place where we found the patient and the mountains of soap (they hadn't used it for years) -


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