From the middle of the nineteenth century the pauper lunatic asylum became the chief setting for the treatment of mental illness, part of a wider trend towards the adoption of institution-based responses to social deviancy and dependency, ranging from the penitentiary prison, workhouse, and juvenile reformatory to compulsory schooling. 1 Historians seeking to explain these changes have for almost two decades fallen into two camps: those espousing a broadly ‘Whiggish’ explanation in terms of progress and reform, and those offering various ‘revisionist’ interpretations emphasizing the functional role of the total institution to help maintain control in a society characterized by class conflict and the needs of the capitalist market economy. 2 Although the early excesses of this dialogue have now subsided in favour of less polemic approaches, the revisionist portrayal of the incarcerative asylum remains a powerful image. 3 The late nineteenth century has been tagged as the ‘age of incarceration’, in which the lunatic asylums, the ‘museums of madness’, had an important role to play. In the large public asylums built after mid-century the repression and custodial control inherent in the reformers’ theory of ‘moral treatment’ soon gained dominance over therapeutic aims. Rehabilitation of deviants and treatment of the insane were superseded by a policy of ‘quarantine’, in which isolating problem people from society became a key role of the institution. Andrew Scull has suggested that the boundaries of insanity were stretched to encompass ‘all manner of decrepit, socially inept and incompetent, and superfluous people’, so that people living on the margins of acceptability became liable to incarceration in an asylum. Similarly, in penal policy, Michael Ignatieff points to changes from the 186os, in which the prison came to be used not for reformation but for the penal ‘quarantine’ of an identifiable subpopulation of offenders. 4