Disciplined subjects and social performance: Entertainments at the Fremantle 'Lunatic' Asylum, 1873-1906

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Australasian Drama Studies


Australasian Association for theatrem Drama and Performance Studies


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)




Marshall, J. W. (2020). Disciplined subjects and social performance: Entertainments at the Fremantle 'lunatic' asylum, 1873-1906. Australasian Drama Studies, (76), 123-157. https://www.adsa.edu.au/dbpage.php?view=cGc9dmlldyZpZD00NDkyMyZkYmFzZT11cGxvYWRzJmJ5cGFzc19fbG9naW5zPWRvaXQ%3D


In 1893, a correspondent named only as 'Censor' was published in the Western Australian 'Inquirer and Commercial News', bewailing the lack of civil decorum exhibited by the audience to a charitable performance at the Sailors' Rest in Fremantle. Although such performances were 'well attended' and 'appreciated' by both the impoverished sailors and local worthies present, the author singled out a 'disturbing', 'larrikin element', drawn not from the sailors but from the 'church choir' and others who considered themselves members of a 'stratum of society a little above that of the majority'. These alleged 'scions of respectability', including the 'son of a member of Parliament, from whom better things might have been expected', ventured 'vulgar criticisms and unseemly interjections', implying that they could 'hear better music and singing in ... their own homes'. Censor noted that if this continued, few 'performers or listeners' from outside of the sailing community itself 'will subject themselves' to such 'rowdyism' anymore. In an aptly moralising tone, the author quoted Robert Burns' admonition, 'Oh, would some Power give us the gift/ To see ourselves as others see us!', reminding readers that class and social acceptance should, but in practice did not always, accord with exemplary moral self-restraint.

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