Tuesday 5 July 2016

Searching Online for Early Asylum Ancestors

Ancestry offers an online database “UK, Lunacy Patient’s Admission Registers, 1846 – 1912”, available by subscription, which is based on mandatory returns made by every institution housing lunatics to the Commissioners in Lunacy from 1st January 1846. Throughout the case notes of the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum reference is made to these returns which appear to have been accomplished through the simple expedient of forwarding a handwritten copy of the reception order received by the Asylum. The records are quite simple, providing name, whether a private or pauper patient, gender, date of admission, place of asylum, whether the patient was discharged or died, a date for that event and if died, cause of death if known.

I have assessed Ancestry’s database by the simple method of searching for 40 patients who I know with absolute certainty were admitted to the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum between 1850 and 1859, all of them featuring in my book Proper People. Early Asylum Life in the Words of Those Who Were There. This gave me the advantage of knowing that they should appear in the Ancestry database. Someone doing a general search for an individual might not have that knowledge.

The results reflect my experience of using online sources on Ancestry and the other genealogical websites over many years.

The admissions of 37 of the 40 patients were correctly recorded.  

Probably through a clerical error in 1850, George FLOCKTON had been incorrectly recorded as George FLOCKINGTON and correctly transcribed as such but he took some finding.
William ROBERTS. Courtesy  WYAS. 
William ROBERTS, admitted in 1852, was in the records as Wm ROBERTS so also took a bit of finding. He was removed to the South Yorkshire Asylum in 1872 and that too was correctly recorded.

Charles WILCOX. Courtesy WYAS.

Charles WILCOX was correctly recorded on admission to the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in 1857 but his later removal and admission to the South Yorkshire Asylum in 1890 could not be found.

Thomas FORREST. Courtesy WYAS.

There was no sign at all of Thomas FORREST, admitted in 1857, in the records. If his record is there I could not find it.

Curiously the dates for both Matthew NIXON’s admission, 1858, and death, 1861, had been transcribed as being exactly a year earlier than those shown in the record image.
Extract from UK, Lunacy Patient’s Admission Registers, 1846 – 1912. Courtesy Ancestry

George NORMINGTON admitted in 1859 cannot be found in the records.
While Stephen BENTHAM’s admission to Wakefield in 1859 is correctly recorded, what happened afterwards is not made clear in the record image as there is no mark in any of the discharge categories - recovered, relieved, not improved - or death.

Extract from UK, Lunacy Patient’s Admission Registers, 1846 – 1912. Courtesy Ancestry.

 My research and the following concise extract from his case notes tells us what happened.

Made his escape on the 9th April, 1860 and was not retaken within the time prescribed by law.

So finding a patient with no marks in “discharged” or “died” suggests that they may well have escaped.
The entry for David REYNARD correctly records his admission in February, 1858 but the transcription incorrectly records his death on 17th March that same year. He did not die, but was released as my research tells us that he had been wrongly committed.
Extract from UK, Lunacy Patient’s Admission Registers, 1846 – 1912. Courtesy Ancestry.

The comment shown in the image "removed by order of C L" does not tell the whole story but it is certainly not recording his death.

This brief study reminds us that in any online database there will be contemporary clerical errors, modern transcription errors and flaws in interpretation so always check the image of the original source if available.

If your ancestor is found to have spent time in an asylum I do hope that the asylum records have survived in a local archive for you to review as you should find a wealth of additional information, clues to other family members and perhaps even photographs.
Good luck.





Friday 1 July 2016

Early Asylum Death - Coroner's Warrants

The West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield holds a very interesting book which tells us more about early asylum life, or in this case, death. The Coroner’s Warrant Book (C85/1117) is a small pre-printed book used to record the conclusion reached in a Coroner’s inquest as to the cause of death of Asylum patients and, possibly, Asylum staff. That inquest was held in front of a jury and as today was required in the event of the sudden death of an otherwise apparently healthy individual or where there was any suspicion of foul play. From reading the causes of death, inquests at the Asylum were commonly held for deaths by suicide, epileptic fits, apoplexy, syncope and accident. The entry made in the book also served as the warrant for the release of the body of the deceased for burial. 
The Coroner’s Warrant Book will be of interest to researchers as it can add to our knowledge of the circumstances surrounding a death. For example, the warrant for Christiana HOWSON of Ecclesall Bierlow tells us that her death was “suddenly whilst walking in one of the wards, from a disease of the heart and not from any hurt injury or violence from any person or persons to the knowledge of the said Jurors”. 
Two hundred and forty five entries exist in date sequence between 1834 and 1879.  The first entry is for 76 year old widow Ann BUTLER from Wakefield.  Admitted to the Asylum on 12th August 1834 she had died only a few weeks later on 2nd September 1834. Coroner Thomas Lee recorded:

Whereas I, with my Inquest, have taken a View of the Body of Ann Butler late of the Township of Wakefield now lying dead at the Pauper Lunatic Asylum, in the above Riding, and find that she has come to her death there by the visitation of God.
These are therefore, by virtue of my office, to authorise and empower you to bury the Body of the said Ann Butler.
For which this is your Warrant.

Dated this 3rd day of September 1834

“Death by the visitation of God” is the early phrase used for “natural causes”. Later the records tend to add further detail, as in the case of Sarah HILLAM whose death in 1835 is recorded as “by the visitation of God to wit of consumption”. Sarah provides us with a mystery as she does not appear anywhere else in the patients’ records suggesting that she must either have been admitted with no paperwork or that she was possibly a member of the Asylum staff. The cause of her death, consumption, does not suggest a sudden death, yet an inquest was held. A puzzle to be solved.
The Coroner’s inquest, in taking evidence surrounding the circumstances of a death, also sought to establish if any blame for the death should be attributed to one or more individuals. The inquest into the accidental death of George GILL in 1835 tells us that “he has come to his death there by being accidentally suffocated in the drying house and that no blame attaches to the Keepers or any other persons”. The death of Thomas WILD in 1857 was caused by “being put into hot water by Timothy Waite an Idiot and scalded”. 
Sadly, despite the best efforts of the staff, some inmates were able to take their own lives. The warrant for James KAYE from Quick tells us that he came to his death “by hanging himself”. Human error did however contribute to Matthew BROWN being able to hang himself “with a sinew bandage in the Closet at the end of the Refractory in George Palfreyman’s ward. That the deceased got into the closet by the Keeper inadvertently leaving open the doors in his hurry to attend upon Mr Marshall the Surgeon.”
The suicide of Susy LUMB from Bradford in 1854, by hanging herself on a bar of a window with a neckerchief whilst labouring under melancholia, carries the additional note “The Jury requests that Mary Hebden should be reprimanded for neglecting to obey orders”. Mary Hebden was a nurse who in 1856 would also be mentioned in the case notes of Ellen KENDALL. On that occasion she had not followed the physicians orders regarding the correct positioning of leeches being used to treat Ellen. (See Proper People page 236.)
A tragic accident occurred in 1859 as a group of patients were returning from working in the fields. Two patients, Dominic KAVANAGH from Sheffield and William RAMSBOTTOM of Wakefield died. John D Cleaton, Resident Medical Officer and Director of the Asylum, described the accident in his Annual Report.
Two deaths were unfortunately due to an accident – the falling in of a portion of the tunnel, underneath the women’s wing, and which is used as a thoroughfare communicating between the farm-yard and the land in front of the asylum.
Owing to the excavations for the new domestic offices, one wall of the tunnel was deprived of adequate support, although stoutly propped, and believed by the contractor and clerk of the works to be perfectly secure. A heavy fall of rain during the preceeding night is believed, by disturbing the props, to have caused the accident. A number of patients were wheeling manure through the tunnel at the time, and the two last of the party were buried and instantaneously killed, by the falling through of the arch, and superincumbent earth.
Several of the Visiting Magistrates , who had come to attend a Committee Meeting, were upon the spot within a few minutes of the accident, and assisted in the investigation of all the circumstances, but no culpable neglect could be attributed to those who had the management of the excavations.
The Coroner also held an inquest the same evening when a verdict of “accidental death” was returned.
The Coroner’s inquest was also in a position to bring matters to the attention of the authorities. The death of George PALMER in Mar 1864 “by the visitation of God in a natural way from phthisis, pneumonia and pleurisy” is accompanied by a note stating that “A representation to be made to the Lunacy Commissioners of the defective state of the Law in allowing patients to be removed to an Asylum in an improper state of bodily health”. (See Proper People page 358.)
Coroner's Warrant for George PALMER. Courtesy West Yorkshire Archive Service.
In September 1868, John MITCHELL committed suicide “by cutting his throat with a Butcher’s Knife when labouring under Hypochondriasis” and the following year the suicide of James BREARLEY “by stabbing himself through the heart with a shoemaker’s knife while labouring under Mania” illustrate the dangers inherent in having mentally ill persons working with sharp tools which could so easily become weapons. 
There is a strange sequence of deaths recorded in 1871. In January, Thomas FIRTH of Dewsbury died from “suffocation from having while in an Epileptic Fit got on his face in bed”. The very same circumstances were blamed for the deaths of Horatio Oulton EDWARDS, James Vickers STACEY and John HASTIE later the same year. It is puzzling that no comments are made by the Coroner that the four deaths were caused by the same circumstances and today we would certainly expect to see an enquiry. Further deaths of the same nature were being brought before the Coroner as late as November 1878. Earlier in the century, epileptic patients were strapped to their beds at night to prevent just such danger but that practice was probably discontinued with the trend towards non-restraint.
In the 245 warrants, there is only one where the conclusion reached was that a criminal act had resulted in the death of a patient. The death of William BURRAN of North Bierley in November 1865 was caused by “loss of blood and shock to the system caused by injuries feloniously wilfully and of malice aforethought inflicted by Jonathan Waite”. The killer would spend 39 years in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. (See Proper People page 331 and 374.)

Coroner's warrant for William BURRAN. Courtesy West Yorkshire Archive Service.

I you get the chance to visit WYAS in Wakefield when it reopens its doors later this year, it will only take you an hour to browse through the Coroner's Warrant Book. Enjoy!

The Stethoscope - first recorded use at the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Looking through early Asylum case notes from 1829, my attention was caught by an unusual entry in the notes for George WATSON a 36 year old married butcher from Attercliffe near Sheffield admitted to the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum on 21st October 1829. He had been ill about one month suffering from only his first attack of mania for which no explanation had been put forward.
The entries in his case notes would have been made by either William Ellis, Asylum Superintendent or one of the visiting physicians. Here is what was being said about George.

Bowels regular. Temper extremely irritable and implacable. Habits previous to the attack extremely temperate but since it has been with great difficulty he has been restrained from the immoderate use of ardent spirits. Has shown no tendency to suicide, has been bled with Blisters and Cathartics.
23rd October 1829. Has been very maniacal and has gnawed two of the thick leather straps thro’ which fasten the Sleeves. Head hot bowels costive. Let his head be covered with a wet cloth. Low diet.

25th October 1829. Was freely purged and was greatly better yesterday. He is rather more maniacal this morning. Continue remedy.
26th October 1829. Much quieter.

30th October 1829. Better in every respect.
4th November 1829. Continues to improve but still rambles in his mind.

6th November 1829. Has become very maniacal again. Head hot. Bowels loose. Appl Hirudines No viii Temp. [Apply eight leeches to his temple.] Let his head be covered with a wet cloth again.
7th November 1829. Better. But to have a few more Leeches.

9th November 1829. Is much better again. His head and face which were flushed and very hot are quite settled and cool again. Bowels open.
10th November 1829. Has been on low diet the last few days and he now seems a good deal reduced in strength. His pulse is quick and irritable. Seems quieter.

Let him have some good broth twice or three times a day.

For the next few weeks George was monitored and treated with medicines: magnesium sulphate, hyoscyamine, antimony, camphor. He was to have a cold shower bath every second Monday.

1st December 1829. Pulse very irregular and excessively quick, had no rest last two nights.
Just a few days later appears the entry which had caught my eye.

5th December 1829. The Stethoscope indicates some great and tumultuous action of the Heart, the pulsation of the Corotid is even heard very loudly.
It was the use of “The Stethoscope” which surprised me as today we would probably refer to “a stethoscope” given that one is carried around by most physicians. Is there perhaps some element of surprise and wonder conveyed in “the pulsation of the Corotid is even heard very loudly”?
Some research into the history of the stethoscope was needed so I turned to the web. Wikipedia explains that Rene Laennec at the Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital in Paris had been the first to realise that a hollow tube could be used to listen to heart and lung sounds rather than placing his ear against the patient’s body. By 1819 he had machined a hollow wooden tube with a small hole at one end and a conical hollow at the other. He named this instrument stetho + scope, meaning “chest scope”.
Monaural stethoscope; Laennec type, c 1825. Wellcome Library, London
Ten years later, perhaps William Ellis had only recently obtained one of these new instruments and it was being used on George WATSON for what is certainly the first time recorded in any of the Asylum case books.

Over the next few months George was bled and  steamed with the hot air machine till he got into a perspiration. Opiate pills were tried to help him sleep but to no effect. Tincture of digitalis was prescribed, discontinued in early February.

9th February 1830. Is purged from the Digitalis pulse only 84 and much less full.

The tincture of digitalis was prescribed again in early March. By mid March George had begun to suffer from oedema for which pulverised jalap was prescribed.

19th March 1830. He sat up yesterday upon which the swelling reappeared in lower extremities to considerable extent.

20th March 1830. Swelled legs and face. Countenance sallow. Urine rather less.

The same medicines continued to be prescribed. It is notable that since 6th November the previous year his case notes hold no mention of his mania and the physicians were focussed on treating George's physical symptoms. His spell in the Asylum ended on 8th April 1830 when he was discharged into the care of his family. Nothing further is known about George.