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Isolation Cell - Kew Asylum, Wood, circa 1870 Object Reg. No: SH 850026

Isolation cell (also known as an isolation chamber) circa 1870.
This structure was recovered by Dr Charles Brothers from the Blacksmith's Shop at Kew Asylum, Victoria, Australia. The cell shows evidence of shelves and nails and is believed to have once been used as a storage cupboard within the asylum's Blacksmith's Shop during the 1930's. It was suggested that it had previously been utilised as a solitary shower cabinet for water treatment of asylum patients. However, research undertaken by Museum Victoria conservators revealed that the timber had not been exposed to water. We now believe that at some stage the cabinet was used as an isolation cell. It is only just large enough for one person to stand in.The internal and external walls are heavily scratched.
The cabinet is a tall, round structure of stout, tongue and groove timber, with straight wings each side of front to fit into a corner. It has a curved door with metal handle and heavy, loop-style latch on outside. 2 mortice locks have been removed. Door has small, oval window just below head height. There is another lower, larger, oblong window, beside door on left which is deeply set, at an angle to outside wall. Cabinet has decorative overhanging top around front. Solid outer framework of 4 encircling wooden rings. Painted cream inside. Has small gap between wall & roof. Leather straps nailed each side of door to secure patient in chair. Original floor replaced. Has been used for storage.
Acquisition Information:
Donation from Kew Mental Hospital (Asylum)
Discipline: History
Dimensions: 248.00 cm (Height), 87.00 cm (Width), 87.00 cm (Length)

More information

Tagged with: building security, healthcare medicine, mental health, mental health institutions, psychiatric hospitals, making history - psych services, psychiatric services, psychiatric institutions
Themes this item is part of: What is Normal Behaviour?, How Do We Recognise Mental Illness?, Psychiatric Institutions of the Past, Isolation Chamber, Psychiatric Services Collection, Medicine in Society Collection, Public Life & Institutions Collection, Confinement & seclusion in Victorian Mental Health Institutions
On Display at: Melbourne Museum
Primary Classification: MEDICINE & HEALTH
Secondary Classification: Mental Health - Institutional Life
Tertiary Classification: building fittings
Inscriptions: Carved on ouside wall beside window: M6.
Place & Date Made: Kew Mental Hospital (Asylum), Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, circa 1870
Place & Date Used: Kew Mental Hospital (Asylum), Kew, Victoria, Australia, circa 1910
References: Aust. N.Z. J. Psychiatry (1968) 2:101 Stoller, A & Emmerson, R. Tucker, G.A. Lunacy in many lands. 1887


Bob Meade Posted on 10 Mar 2010 11:45 AM
There is an interestingly captioned photograph in the Victorian Mental Health Photograph Collection.

It is photograph ID No. 08.050

It is captioned as "Wooden restraining coffin".

It would be very interesting to compare that photograph (which is only available for physical inspection and not online) with the isolation cell you have here to see if they are the same.

- It seems to also include item 08.051.

What do you think?

Bob Meade
Discovery Centre Posted on 12 Mar 2010 3:33 PM
Museum Victoria Comment
Hi Bob - Thanks for your comments. The Curator of this object noted that she has seen some of those photos and it is most probably the same object. Some of the Museum's psychiatric services collection objects were originally collected and displayed by Dr Charles Brothers are in that photographic collection.

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