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Frederic Norton Manning (1839–1903)

by D. I. McDonald

This article was published:

Frederic Norton Manning (1839-1903), medical practitioner, was born on 25 February 1839 at Rothersthorpe, Northamptonshire, England, son of John Manning, farmer, and his wife Eliza, née Norton. He studied at St George's Hospital, London (M.R.C.S., L.S.A., 1860) and the University of St Andrews (M.D., 1862). Joining the navy as a surgeon he saw active service in New Zealand.

On a visit to Sydney in June 1867 Manning was invited by Henry Parkes to become medical superintendent of the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum. Before accepting, Manning went overseas and studied methods of patient care and administration of asylums; on his return to Sydney he submitted a notable report. He was appointed to Tarban Creek on 15 October 1868 and immediately reported on the isolation of patients from their relations in accommodation best described as 'prison-like and gloomy', the inadequate facilities for their gainful employment and recreation and the monotonous diets deficient in both quantity and quality. In January 1869 the asylum's name was changed to the Hospital for the Insane, Gladesville, wherein patients were to receive treatment rather than be confined in a 'cemetery for diseased intellects'. By 1879 radical changes in patient care and accommodation had been made. Gladesville was extended and modernized and an asylum for imbeciles set up in Newcastle and a temporary asylum at Cooma. Manning minimized the use of restraint and provided for patient activities.

On 1 July 1876 Manning was appointed inspector of the insane with responsibility for all mental institutions except the Parramatta asylum for criminals. At the colonial secretary's request he reported on the accommodation at Parramatta condemning it as 'a prison and a bad prison into the bargain'. One of his first tasks after appointment as inspector-general of the insane in 1879 was to introduce a series of reforms to correct the cumulative evils at Parramatta. The 1878 Lunacy Act gave legislative backing to what he had long sought: procedures for admission and discharge, the responsibilities of medical practitioners defined and control of all institutions placed under a centralized administration. To break down indifference and deep-rooted prejudices he encouraged visitors to the asylums and organized public discussions on the causes and treatment of insanity. The problem of overcrowding was beyond his control while governments refused to plan for the future. After much agitation by Manning new hospitals were opened at Callan Park and Goulburn and additions made to the Darlinghurst reception house. Manning believed that staff should be competent and encouraged in-service training for nurses and attendants. He often criticized the accommodation and low wages. He supported the creation of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association and in 1899-1902 was its first president.

Manning had become a trustee of Prince Alfred Hospital in 1873 and was a member of the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association. In 1876 he was elected to the Royal Society of New South Wales and in 1883-84 was chairman of its medical section. In 1883-96 he was an examiner and in 1886-88 the first lecturer in psychological medicine at the University of Sydney. In 1882 he had been appointed to the Board of Health and in 1889-92 was medical advisor to the government, president of the Board of Health and health and emigration officer for Port Jackson. He was prominent in the proceedings of the second (1889) and third (1892) sessions of the Intercolonial Medical Congress of Australasia.

Manning had served on an inquiry into the Hospital for the Insane at New Norfolk, Tasmania, in 1884 and on another at the Bay View Lunatic Asylum in 1894. In 1895 he served on the royal commission on the notorious poisoner, George Dean. He agreed with Dr P. S. Jones that the evidence was compatible with attempted suicide and secured Dean's release. On 12 February 1898 ill health forced Manning to retire. A tribute to his administration was that the hospitals for the insane had not attracted unfavourable publicity during his thirty years. He set up as a consultant in mental health. In February 1899 he was appointed to the royal commission on public charities. In 1901 he became a trustee of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales. Unmarried he died from a stomach ulcer on 18 June 1903 at his rooms in Phillip Street and at his wish was buried in the cemetery at Gladesville Hospital. Some of his papers are in the National Library of Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • D. I. McDonald, ‘Frederic Norton Manning (1839-1903)’, JRAHS, 58 (1972), and for bibliography.

Citation details

D. I. McDonald, 'Manning, Frederic Norton (1839–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


25 February, 1839
Rothersthorpe, Northamptonshire, England


18 June, 1903 (aged 64)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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