Garlands 1906

Garlands 1906

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Victorian Criminal Lunatic: A Shocking Case of Child Neglect

During my recent PhD research into the Victorian lunatic asylum, specifically the Cumbrian institution (Garlands Lunatic Asylum, Carlisle), I have come across several cases which have sparked my interest. One such case is that of Jane Ann Shaw, admitted to Garlands on 11 July 1888. Jane came to the asylum after her arrest - which took place in April 1888 along with her husband Joseph - for wilfully neglecting their two children aged six and four. The article below from the Lancaster Gazette on 21 April 1888 details Jane and Joseph’s arrest in detail:

Whilst detained in Carlisle Gaol, it became evident to the authorities that Jane was not in possession of her normal mental health, as she was having delusions of people on the wall of her cell and she tried to climb after them. On 4 July 1888 Jane was ordered to be sent to the asylum as she was found ‘guilty but insane’. Also, on the same date, after 3 months in prison, her husband was discharged from Carlisle Gaol.
            On admission to the Cumbrian Asylum Jane was classified as suffering from dementia at the age of 34, which in some part was caused by her chronic alcoholism. She was described as being very violent and suffering from hallucinations of hearing and of sight. The asylum suspected that she was in the early stages of general paralysis, which was primarily caused by syphilis. Her conduct during her stay at the asylum was regarded as manageable. On several occasions she was noted as talking and gesticulating to herself, but she was able to undertake regular work in the laundry. Between 1900 and 1904 there is a surviving visitor’s register, in which Jane is visited on several occasions by her niece and her sister, but never by her children or her husband. The last I can ascertain about Jane is that she remained in Garlands at least until 9 March 1918, as this is the last page of her casenotes I can view due to access restrictions in the archive. The closest I can get to understanding the time and place of her death is a search on ancestry which returns a 'Jane A Shaw died March 1919, Cumberland', as an educated guess I assume this is the Jane in question.
            As for the family she left behind, her youngest child Joseph Henry died in 1894 aged 10, but the details of his care in the years whilst Jane was incarcerated seem a mystery and I cannot find any details of him on It seems that whilst Jane was in the asylum, and when Joseph was released from prison, both Ada and Joseph Henry remained in the care of their father. In the 1891 census they are both listed as living with Joseph, a railway engine driver, in Orchard Street, Carlisle. What is interesting from this entry, is that another, elder child is also listed, Jane Ann, aged 11. Jane is not mentioned in the newspaper reports for the child neglect case so we can only assume that she was either old enough to care for herself (aged 8 at the time) or was in the care of relatives. 
            Moving forward a decade, things seem to brighten for Ada, as in the 1901 census she is listed as 'Ada Westward' wife of Fred Westward. They lived in Carlisle, and interestingly her father Joseph, now aged 58, also resided with them. Even more interesting is that on the 1901 census Joseph is listed as 'widowed'. From the Garlands records we know that Jane his wife was still alive until at least 1918. It therefore seems that the stigma of a wife who is incarcerated in a lunatic asylum, formerly a criminal lunatic, was too much to bear, and he began telling people, notably the authorities, that he was a widower. It also seems that Ada, and possibly Jane, went along with this lie too. Jane, the younger, is much more difficult to trace, as I can find no mention of her after the 1891 census.
           Jane Ann Shaw's story is just one among several I have uncovered in my research of the Garlands lunatic asylum, Carlisle. My PhD aims to tell as many stories of the patients who underwent treatment at the Garlands during the latter half of the nineteenth-century. Please feel free to contact me ( if you require assistance in finding your ancestors who were in the Garlands during this period, or if you have any interesting family tales.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Letter Writing in the Asylum, 1897-1900

As a rule, historians of the lunatic asylums of the Victorian era work with sources which were written by the medical men in charge of a mentally ill patient’s care. Comments about the nature and cause of a patient’s insanity was therefore a second-hand account and a real sense of the malady escapes us. However, in my research of the Garlands lunatic asylum, Carlisle, I have come across a number of letters written by the patients themselves. In this blog post I shall give a sample of these letters which give a fascinating insight into their state of mind at the time of writing. These few letters were photographed from the male patient case book for the period April 1897- March 1900. The letters are an extremely piecemeal collection, slotted into the casebook alongside the patient’s details. Often they survive as single documents, and it is unclear why these certain letters were kept as opposed to others which they will have written.

Letters Portraying Patient Delusions
One theory I have is that the letters were kept as indications of their insanity. The delusions experienced by the mentally ill were often portrayed in letters they wrote. For example, one patient admitted in November 1898 was under the delusion that he was a meteorological observer and he wrote frequent reports – in the form of letters – to Queen Victoria. The case notes reflect this as they commented that; ‘he says the Queen has appointed him to take charge of the meteorological stations in this district and that he has to send daily reports to Sir Robert Scott’, and also that he was ‘constantly going to the window to make “observations” as to the state of the weather etc. He sees “lightening” and hears “thunder” nearly every day.’ Along with this letter to Queen Victoria there is also a drawing of plans for a royal Indian palace. The drawing is extremely detailed and includes architectural dimensions with accurate measurements. Thus, as well as portraying his delusions, the letter and accompanying drawing displays his intelligence and that he was able to maintain rational thought whilst labouring under irrational fantasies.
Another patient also displayed his delusions through letter writing as he wrote letters to ‘Sergeant Instructor Prince’ requesting he bring his uniform to the asylum so that they ‘can show the foreign table of nationalities how they can be reformed.’ He signed the letter ‘Private I Wills’, when in fact he was an eighteen year old draper’s apprentice from Wigton. His attack of mania was however only short lived, and after an eight week stay at Garlands he was discharged recovered.

Heartfelt Letters to Loved ones
Some of the letters I have come across in the patient case notes display the patient’s anguish at being confined and being absent from their family and friends. One example is a patient writing to his father: ‘Father of my tenderest care. I write to you...hoping you are surviving.’ The letter is extremely long, includes many long, rambling sentences and is clearly from a person who is missing his usual surroundings accompanied by loved ones. From the tone in which the letter is written, the patient is worried about his father’s health and would like more than anything to see him, but his health is preventing him from doing so:

I ‘acknowledge all the many gifts you gave me and for all your great many kindnesses and kindness you have held the post of your present abode. Steadfast and steady I long you cling with all your might...I conclude by giving you my best favours with every utmost skill, be sure and receive my answer and I believe in you so faithful until death. Reflections sore and sweet.’

Letters of Protest
Part of many patients’ maladies was the failure to understand their mental illness. This resulted in many protests of sanity and outcries against their incarceration. Often these protests were in the form of letters. The first example was of a patient, F. Penrice, suffering from mania, who wrote to the Earl of Carlisle:

‘Having been wrongfully detained here not having any explanation of the meaning of this, I solicit your assistance in this case...C. Wedgwood may have some information. He having decoyed me from the station leading me to expect I was accompanying him to another place altogether. I consider I have been here much too long.’

He was recorded as expressing ‘absurd delusions’, such as that all his insides had been bored out of him several years previously, and that he is the Duke of Cumberland.
The second example is from a patient who continually wrote to the superintendent of the asylum to notify him of the (false) cruel treatment he received from the asylum attendants, calling them ‘liars’ and ‘scoundrels’. He accused the head attendant of failing to report these supposed instances and covering them up. He told superintendent Dr Farquharson; 

‘if I was you I should open my should not take you long to see him in his true light...he is the slimiest sneak that I have had the misfortune to be in company with and have come across.’

These protestations, I believe, are evidence of the patients’ unwillingness, and more likely their inability, to come to understand their removal to the asylum due to their weakened mental states. The unfamiliarity of their surroundings caused them to invent stories of abuse, and to protest against their confinement in order to return to a place they feel comfortable in.  

These letters are a rare glimpse into the mental affliction of pauper patients of the Victorian lunatic asylum. This forms just one part of my ongoing PhD research into the Garlands Asylum, Carlisle. I am fascinated in writing history from below and bring the voices of the asylum back into contemporary consciousness. Any questions, queries, or stories you have of the Garlands I would love to hear them. I also assistant those researching their ancestors in the asylum, if you require my help please do not hesitate to contact me at