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Victorian Psychiatrists: Theophilus Bulkeley Hyslop (1863-1933)

Theo Hyslop, or “T.B.” as he was familiarly known, was Assistant Medical Officer at Bethlem from 1888 - 1898, when he was promoted to Resident Physician and Medical Superintendent. He remained at Bethlem until 1911.

The young Theo was literally brought up to “lunacy,” as asylum work was often known at the time. When he was two years old, his father William purchased Stretton House asylum, a private asylum for male patients in Church Stretton, Shropshire, where the family also lived. In 1869, the asylum held 40 patients and, like nineteenth century Bethlem, many could enjoy cricket, gardening, billiards, and music, while the richer patients could ride or take 'carriage exercise'. The grounds were spacious, and the asylum was supplied from its garden and model farm.

Following his early medical training, Hyslop first came to Bethlem at the age of 23, as a clinical assistant. These posts (the name of which changed frequently over the years, in an effort to attract more applicants) were unpaid, resident positions, designed to give qualified medical men first-hand experience in “psychological medicine.” Many of Bethlem’s clinical assistants later became prominent in the field: another such in the late nineteenth century was psychologist and anthropologist W.H.R. Rivers, well known for his treatment of Siegfried Sassoon during the First World War, who will be the subject of a future post.

Hyslop is a particularly interesting character, both from his long involvement with Bethlem, and his widespread interests in art, music, literature and sport, as well as medicine. His publications were extremely varied: he was interested in physiology, philosophy, religion, the common fin-de-siècle fear of “degeneration” and the possible connections between genius, art, creativity and insanity (The Great Abnormals, for example, aimed to show that “the wildest imaginings” were not incompatible with “the highest attainments in the realms of thought and conduct”). Although the variety of Hyslop’s pursuits makes for a fascinating retrospective, it may also indicate one reason as to why he has received little attention in later years: one obituary suggested that if he “had directed all his energies into a single channel, there is little doubt that he would have become a very great man indeed.”

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Hyslop at work at Bethlem