Shellshock in the College collections

Major Arthur Hurst
Medical diseases of war
1940, 2nd ed.

Soon after the beginning of WWI, military doctors noticed that soldiers started to show neurological symptoms like dizziness, tremor, tinnitus, amnesia, weakness and headache. In most of these cases, there was no obvious physical injury. This condition became known as ‘shellshock’ or ‘war neurosis’. Some doctors believed it was caused by hidden brain injuries or carbon monoxide poisoning, while others accused the affected soldiers of malingering.

What is melancholy?

The word melancholy literally means an excess of choler, or black bile.

The Humours

Its origins lie within the humoural system, which dates back to at least the time of Ancient Greece and remained a significant influence on medical practice until the 1800s.

The humoural system is quite complex, as the diagram below demonstrates. Although the principles were changed and adapted over time, essentially, according to this idea, there were four humours in the body: yellow bile, black bile (also known as choler), phlegm and blood.

False imprisonment in the asylum

Fear of false imprisonment was a growing concern in eighteenth century Britain.  Private madhouses, where the inmates were paying customers, were particularly susceptible because there was little oversight of their practices. Although legislation to regulate asylums was introduced in 1774 its powers were limited and flagrant abuses of the system continued.