In early 1985, in the course of conversation, Hugh Freeman (then Editor of the British Journal of Psychiatry) casually threw out the suggestion that I might write a column for the journal similar to one entitled ‘One Hundred Years Ago’, occasionally published in the BMJ. I was immediately intrigued and, despite a degree of apprehension, agreed on the spot. Once I began, the element of apprehension evaporated: a job that I feared I might have found a crashing bore became a labour of love. Suitable items, I discovered, were there in plenty so that the problem soon became one of exclusion rather than inclusion. The journals systematically trawled, dating from 1885 onwards, were the BMJ, the Lancet, the Journal of Mental Science (the forerunner of the British Journal of Psychiatry), the American Journal of Psychiatry and occasionally the daily press. The first selected item was published in April 1985, and with one exception an item has appeared in every subsequent issue, now more than 250 in total. What I have attempted to do in this article is to collate a selected number of these items and to categorise them so that they present a composite of snapshots of the passing scene as it impinged on aspects of psychiatry and psychiatrists (alienists) at the turn of the previous century.