The early days (1841–1865)

The history of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

Dr Samuel HitchThe expansion of the asylum system following the County Asylums Acts of 1808 and 1828 and the Lunatics Act 1845 was associated with the emergence of medical doctors showing interest in the diagnostic, clinical, and legal aspects of the care of the insane. As medical knowledge about insanity expanded and medico-legal involvement in court cases increased, doctors working in this area began to demonstrate their expertise in the management and treatment of mentally ill people. 

Against this background, Dr Samuel Hitch, resident superintendent of the Gloucestershire General Lunatic Asylum organised a meeting that led to the foundation of the Association of Medical Officers of Asylums and Hospitals for the Insane in 1841. It was the first predecessor body of the College, and the first national psychiatric body in the world. This Association represented the professional interests of its doctors, as well as aiming to improve the plight of mentally ill people.

At this first meeting members passed fifteen resolutions. One was that the terms ‘lunatic’ and ‘lunatic asylum’ be abandoned except for legal purposes and that the terms ‘insane person’ and ‘hospital for the insane’ be substituted, the first step towards ‘parity of esteem’ for mental and physical disorders. These fifteen resolutions provided the objectives and aspirations of the Association. They also became the fundamental principles upon which the successor bodies were established.

  • 1841, July 27 – The first meeting of the Association of Medical Officers of Asylums and Hospitals for the Insane is held Gloucestershire General Lunatic Asylum.
  • 1841, November 4 – First Annual Meeting is held at Nottingham Asylum.
  • 1848 – The Journal of Psychological Medicine and Menta Pathology, the first journal in Britain to be wholly devoted to mental illness is founded by Dr Forbes Benignus Winslow.
  • 1853 – The Asylum Journal is established, and Dr John Charles Bucknill becomes the first editor.
  • 1857 – Dr Forbes Benignus Winslow becomes president of the Association.
  • 1859 – The Journal of Mental Science is established.
  • 1865 – The Association changes its name to the Medico-Psychological Association at the 1864 Annual Meeting.
Get in contact to receive further information regarding a career in psychiatry