Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Maitland Gaol Strait Jacket

Maitland Mercury, Monday 29 June, 2009

Welcome to the first peek behind the scenes of Maitland Gaol’s collection and new museum. This week we present an item which actually isn’t in our collection but is currently exhibited here and on loan from Old Dubbo Gaol.

The “strait jacket” or “straight waistcoat” pictured, is believed to have been used in Maitland Gaol around the turn of the 20th Century. Gaol records show that the site included padded cells for the containment of inmates considered to be mentally unstable and at risk of self harm. Mental health was largely a mystery at this time, and practitioners often attempted treatments that seem cruel and inhumane today. At the height of its use, the strait jacket was routinely utilised in favour of more traditional restraints, such as ropes and chains, as both a treatment for mental illness and a way to subdue and pacify violent prisoners. We can only imagine the physical and psychological trauma experienced by someone constrained in such a manner.

Although the Maitland Gaol hallmark printed on the front certainly connects this item to the site, research has proven very inconclusive, and a definitive history remains elusive. Was it used here at the turn of the century or was it just made here by the prisoners? Do you have any information which may shine an informed light on the garment’s history? We welcome your input. Contact the Gaol on (02) 4936 6482 or info@maitlandgaol.com.au.

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