Garlands 1906

Garlands 1906

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Murder at Longtown Workhouse

Throughout my PhD research of the Garlands Lunatic Asylum, Carlisle, I have come across many extraordinary stories of the patients that came through its doors from its inception in 1862, until the end of the nineteenth century. The story I am going to recount through this post is one of a patient that committed a most brutal and terrible crime ten years after his release from the asylum. This calls into question the ability of the authorities of the time to judge a patient fit for release, and whether discharged patients were properly monitored in the years after their confinement in an institution.
            This blog post centres on Michael Edward Carr, who was a patient of the Garlands Asylum on five separate occasions between 1870 and 1888. His visits to the asylum for treatment varied in length; the first being one year two months; the second three months; the third was six months; the fourth was for five months, and his final stay lasted only four months, with his final date of discharge on 12 July 1888 – almost ten years before the dreadful event briefly outlined in the West Cumberland Pacquet[1] below.

On the evening of 31 May 1898, in the hospital ward of Hallburn workhouse in Longtown, Carr and six other inmates were asleep, and had been since 8 o’clock, when he suddenly became somewhat excited and accusatory of James Nichol, at around midnight. Carr was adamant that Nichol was in his bed, when in fact it was the correct bed and Carr’s laid empty next to him, therefore he was in a delusional and confused state. Nichol was aged 79, had completely lost the use of his legs, and was partially blind. Carr himself had deformity of both his legs, and had to walk with the aid of two walking sticks. Inmates of the hospital ward who witnessed the incident said that Carr set about Nichol with both his walking sticks and beat him to death, all because he believed he was in his bed. One of the witnesses, a fellow inmate, recalled how: ‘blood spattered on to me, I was terrified that he would strike another old man’. This same witness stated that for two days prior to the incident Carr had been somewhat depressed and refused to speak to anyone. However, the master of the workhouse stated that they did not have any inclination as to Carr’s mental state, and the incident came completely out of the blue. Carr had only been an inmate of Hallburn workhouse for seven days, thus possibly not enough time for the master to fully assess his condition. Carr had instantly killed Nichol with the first blow to the head with his stick, but had kept on beating him. The result, as reported by the Doctor who arrived about an hour after the incident, was that ‘his face was a mass of pulp, his right arm was broken and there were bruises on his body…his head was practically beaten in’. He also stated that he had treated Carr a couple of days previous for bronchitis, and that he noticed nothing wrong with him mentally.
            It seems strange that in light of this brutal murder the people that had come into contact with Carr had not noticed any strangeness in his character or suspected anything wrong with his mental state. It also seems strange that none of the people interviewed in Carr’s trial new of his history in the Garlands Asylum. Each time he had been admitted to the asylum he was chargeable to Longtown Union, thus they paid for his maintenance. Also, being incarcerated in a county lunatic asylum at this time carried with it a great stigma, therefore I find it hard to believe no one in this area knew of his previous treatment for mental illness. In suspecting that he was insane at the time of the murder, due to his strange belief that Nichol was in his bed, Dr Campbell, medical superintendent of Garlands was called to examine the prisoner at Carlisle Gaol. On 24 June, Campbell remarked of his examination of Carr:
‘He complained to me that he had been assaulted and nearly murdered by 8 men in the Longtown workhouse. He denied that he had ever killed a man or even attacked anyone…I found his memory as to long past occurances excellent, but as to matters which took place within the last month his memory was very defective, almost a blank…I do not believe the man to be feigning insanity. In my opinion the man is insane, holds and expresses delusions of persecution and is not in the full possession of his senses so as to be pleading to the indictment’.
Michael Carr was charged with, ‘having on the 31st day of May last at the parish of Arthuret in the said County feloniously and of his malice aforethought killed and murdered one James Nichol’. After being examined by Dr Campbell Carr was found guilty but insane at the time of the murder, and was sent to be detained in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, where he remained until his death in 1924.
What is apparent from the murder committed by Michael C, is that the monitoring of discharged asylum patients was none existent. The fact that Michael had been in Garlands several times should have resulted in him remaining longer in Garlands each successive time he was admitted, however the inverse occurred. Of particular concern was the fact that Michael was continually referred to as dangerous and violent in his case notes, which seem to have also been failed to have taken in account.
Thank you for taking the time to read this somewhat brutal story from my research conducted on the Garlands Lunatic Asylum, which forms the basis of my PhD thesis I am currently writing. I am working towards writing the history of such a fascinating institution through the experience of its pauper patients. If you have any stories relating to the asylum, or would like help in tracing your ancestors that were in this particular institution, please don’t hesitate to contact me at
All material for this blog post relating to the trial of Michael Edward Carr comes from the national archives, ASSI 52/38.

[1] Dated 8 July 1898.