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John Conolly

Born  1794
Died  1866

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English physician, born May 27, 1794, Market Rasen, Lincolnshire; died March 5, 1866, Hanwell.

Biography of John Conolly

John Conolly was physician in Hanwell near London, with more than 1.000 inmates one of the greatest lunatic asylums in England at the time. His scientific importance is less than obvious, although he wrote a lot. In practice, however, Conolly is all the more important as the real creator of the no-restraint system. Gardiner Hill, supported by Charles Worth in Lincoln had made some attempts at this before him, but John Conolly is credited having introduced the system into practice. After more than twenty years at Hanwell he in 1856 reported that in 24 English mental institutions, with a total of more than 24.000 patients, mechanical restraints had been almost completely abandoned.

John Conolly became a soldier at the age of 18, married at 22 and subsequently spent some time in Tours in France with his brother Dr. William Conolly who practiced there. It was not until in 1817 that he commenced his medical studies in Edinburgh, receiving his doctorate in that town in 1821. He subsequently practiced successively in Lewes, Chichester, and Stratford-on-Avon where he, with his friend John Darwall (1796-1833) assisted Dr. James Copland (1791-1870) in the publication of The London Medic. Repository by reviews of foreign books.

He went to London in 1827 and in 1828 became professor of practical medicine at the University College, and concerned himself with the introduction of the teaching of clinical psychiatry at the University of London. However, neither as professor nor as a physician did he meet with much success, and thus, in 1830, left London for Warwick, where he supported his friend Sir John Forbes (1788-1839) in the publication of the British and Foreign Medical Review, and the Cyclopaedia of Practical Medicine, and with Forbes and Sir Charles Hastings (1794-1866) laid the ground for a medical society that was later to become the British Medical Association. In 1838 he went to Birmingham and in 1839 received the post as Resident Physic to the Middlesex Lunatic Asylum in Hanwell, in the Parish of Norwood, now St. Bernard’s Hospital, the largest institution of its kind in England. In 1843 the average number of patients at Hanwell was 970. It now holds more than 2.500 inmates.

In Hanwell he immediately began practicing the doctrines of Philippe Pinel (1745-1826) and William Tuke (1732-1822), abolishing the use of all kinds of force. In 1844 he moved from his quarters in the Hanwell Institution and from 1852 was visiting physician, later just consulting physician, to this institution, devoting himself to a busy practice in his private institution in the village of Hanwell.

Conolly was one of the editors of the Cyclopaedia of practical Medicine.

    «Restraint and neglect are synonymous. They are a substitute for the thousand attentions needed by a disturbed patient.»
    The Treatment of the Insane Without Mechanical Restraints

    "Wildness and irregularities of patients entering the asylum often rapidly subside, and their habits conform to the general order and decorous routine so remarkable in majority of the inmates. Continued operation of a tranquillizing system has produced effects even on the character and manners ; and, as it would seem, on the disposition of not a few of the old and incurable patients ; several of whom, formerly accustomed to meet the officers with endless complaints, seem now to have lost their fretfulness, and to be satisfied and content. Accidents, anxieties, and agitations must always be incidental to any house in which all forms and varieties of mental disturbance and disease are accumulated ; but the resident physician believes that all the officers of asylums who are experienced in both methods of treatment, have found, or will find, that the liberation of their patients from restraints has lessened the frequency- of accidents, and diminished the agitations and anxieties of those having charge of them ; so that even the various contrivances at first required for the prevention of evils and inconveniences formerly opposed by restraints, as strong dresses, seclusions, and window guards, become less required."
    Conolly's report for 1842


  • De statu mentis in insania et melancholia.
    Doctoral thesis, Edinburgh, 1821.
  • An inquiry concerning the indications of insanity, with suggestions for the better protection and care of the insane.
    London, J. Taylor, 1830.
    In the present work, one of his most important, he discusses the condition of British asylums, insanity and its causes, and ways to improve the care of the insane.
  • On the construction and government of lunatic asylums. 1847.
  • A study of Hamlet. 1863. London, E. Moxon, 1863.
    The first psychiatric study of Hamlet.

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