Irish Journal of Medical Science

, Volume 176, Issue 3, pp 149–152

Murder, mercury, mental illness: infanticide in nineteenth-century Ireland

Literary and Historical

Abstract

Background

Infanticide has been described in almost every human society.

Aims

To present a case of infanticide from nineteenth-century Ireland and explore related diagnostic, therapeutic and judicial issues.

Methods

This paper uses original archival material from the Central Mental Hospital, Dublin to present a case of infanticide and inform an exploration of related issues.

Results

In 1892, ‘Dora’, a thirty-four year old servant from Dublin, was found guilty of the murder of her eight-month old child and sentenced to indefinite detention at the Central Mental Hospital, Ireland’s only inpatient forensic psychiatry facility. The subsequent experiences of Dora (“a case of melancholia”) illustrate many of the diagnostic, therapeutic and judicial issues surrounding infanticide in nineteenth-century Ireland.

Conclusions

There were strong links between social circumstances and infanticide in nineteenth-century Ireland, compounded by myriad diagnostic and therapeutic challenges associated with forensic psychiatric committal and lengthy detention in poorly-therapeutic facilities .

Keywords

Infanticide Mental disorders Forensic psychiatry History, 19th century Mercury 

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Copyright information

© Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Adult PsychiatryUniversity College Dublin, Mater Misericordiae University HospitalDublin 7Ireland

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