Jill Giese. The Maddest Place on Earth (Melbourne, Australia Scholarly Publishing, 2018)

Susan Piddock

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationBook/Film/Article review


This book by Jill Giese, a clinical psychologist with an extensive career in the mental health field, won, in 2018, the Victorian Premier 's History Award. Giese indicates that she seeks to time travel into the past to understand the treatment of the insane in the colony of Victoria from the 1850s to the 1890s. Victoria had the unusual reputation of being the maddest place in the world due to the number of insane needing treatment. The discoveries on the gold fields led to thousands of men coming to try their luck in finding gold. Many did not, and the disappointment, combined with the lack of social and family networks, isolation on the fields, sunstroke, and alcohol led to many falling into insanity. For others sudden wealth, heredity, masturbation, and the excitement of modern life all contributed to the need to provide a place to receive treatment and to remove the insane from the streets. Giese provides an in-depth history of Yarra Bend opened in 1848 and the Kew Asylum opened in 1873, their construction, design, and failures to achieve their roles as curative environments. Kew was meant to replace Yarra Bend (but never did), and was to be the model asylum based on the reformer Dr John Connolly's plans for a curative asylum.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Specialist publicationHealth and History
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • mental health
  • colonial history
  • curative asylums


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