Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Lunacy? The perils of family history and conjecture

Today's post is really about pure conjecture and pondering and I'd be grateful for any observations on my perusing and conclusions.

Yesterday, as a result of meandering about the web and visiting many genea-blogs and genea-videos - in particular What's New at Ancestry on YouTube - I was reminded to search the Card Catalogue under the Search Tab at Ancestry to look at the latest additions to particular areas of research.  

It's not really one of the latest additions to the UK or Hampshire records having been published on Ancestry on 25/11/2014 - UK, Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, 1846-1912 - but it was 4th on the top of the list by date added - and let's face it - the most interesting title.  

And yes, I think I've found my 2nd great-grandfather Edward Connor on the admissions list.  Of course I can't really be sure as there is no identifying information but I think the timing is right.

Some of you may remember that I posted about Edward here.  On 24 April 1897 it was reported in the Portsmouth Evening News that Edward Connor had accidentally shot himself while inspecting a gun at the Kingston Cemetery. Edward was a pensioned fitter from the Portsmouth Dockyard living at 63 Ivy Street Southsea and aged about 70.  

The entry I found in the Lunacy Patients Admission Register (the source to be precise is The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Lunacy Patients Admission Registers; Class: MH 94; Piece: 33) says 

11406 - Connor Edwd (male pauper) admitted 25 May 1897 Portsmo' - recovered 3 May 99.

So really - all I have is the proximity to the date of the accident and the location.  Nothing concrete at all.  Just wishful thinking.  Not that I really wish an asylum on my ancestor at all.  But you know what I mean.

I'll have to dig deeper to get confirmation and I'm not sure that that is entirely possible.  

What asylums were in Portsmouth at the time?  The most likely candidate is the St James Hospital at Milton Portsmouth as pictured above.  I found the photo on a great site called geograph.  Here's another photo from the same site - please note the copyright attributions and conditions of use.

The National Archives Hospital Records Database advised me that the Portsmouth Museums and Records Services office has the administrative records for St James hospital, so I have emailed them to see if there is further clarifying information about the Edward Connor on the register.  I don't hold out much hope but it's worth a shot.

In the meantime I found lots on the internet about life in an asylum at the time, including a PhD called Above all a patient should never be terrified:an examination of mental health care and treatment in Hampshire 1845-1914 by Diane Carpenter which makes for very interesting reading.  Here's a slideshow if you want an abbreviated version.

If my ancestor was housed at St James at the time, these are some of the things that I found that were of interest:

St James had a:

 "dairy, laundry, brewery, shoe makers and tailors, as well as farm, farm buildings and church." (welcometoportsmouth.co.uk).  

It opened in 1879 and was first called The Portsmouth Lunatic Asylum, then the Borough of Portsmouth Mental Hospital and now St James Hospital.  

Peter Higginbotham's article on parish workhouses makes for very interesting reading and gives a great context.  Edward may very well have been housed in one of the lunatic wards at what came to be known as St Mary's Hospital but was the original Portsea Island Union Workhouse.

The website - Thinking Ahead - gave a great overview of the history of mental health services in Portsmouth, including the acts of parliament that governed vagrancy and caring for the mentally ill.  It noted that in 1896 electricity was installed at St James's hospital amongst other things.

There's lots to absorb and think about here but I will just finish off with an extract from p 184 of Diane's thesis which talks about the regime followed at the BPLA in 1879:

Hours to be Observed During Weekdays

6.00a.m. First bell rings. All Attendants and Servants to get up - Patients to rise, wash, dress, and prepare for breakfast.
7.30 a.m. Bell – Attendants‟ breakfast.
8.00 a.m. Bell – Patients‟ breakfast.
9.00 a.m. Patients all go to their work.
10.00 a.m. Bell - Working men's ale.
12.15 p.m. Bell - Preparation for dinner.
12.25 p.m. Bell - Patients' dinner.
1.00 p.m. Bell - Servants' first dinner.
1.30 p.m. Bell - Servants' second dinner.
2.00 p.m. Patients return to their work.
6.00 p.m. Bell - Patients return from their work
- Supper.
7.00 p.m. Bell - In Winter } Patients
7.30 p.m. Bell - In Summer } go to bed
9.00 p.m. Servants' Supper.

10.00 p.m. Servants go to bed.

Source: P.C.R.O., PR/H8/1/8/1, BPLA, Rules, 1879, p. 28.

What's your regime for family history?  Does it include ale? Servants? Bells?

A great big thank you to all those websites, articles, PhDs, transcribers and their creators who gave me so much to ponder yesterday on the Queen's Birthday Holiday.




Shauna Hicks said...

As you know Alex several of my family were in asylums for various reasons - if it is him and you can find additional information then your family history will be ever so much more interesting. Boring people don't leave records. Good luck.

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

Unlike Shauna I have lots of boring people, but I do hope you can establish if this is your man. You've already found out lots of great info and sources.

Alex Daw said...

Dear Shauna - I do hope I can find more confirming information. It does seem to fit with the bits and pieces I've collated so far. What I need to do is find some descendants of the eldest brother who stayed behind.

Alex Daw said...

Dear Pauleen - I don't believe that for a second. No-one related to you could be boring. Yes I've got my fingers crossed.

Alex Daw said...
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Hilary Gadsby said...

Alex there was another psychiatric hospital nearby at the village of Knowle. I worked there for a short while before it closed. Wikipedia has a page and some links which may help.

Alex Daw said...

Thanks Hilary. Yes Knowle Hospital I think was built before St James so I have got that on my list of things to investigate. I've got to investigate St James a bit more too because that sounded as though it might be under threat from development.

Judy Lofthouse said...

Alex, I have done a post on my relative William Camper Laws who was in Fareham Lunatic Asylum in Knowle. Susan Margaret Burt has a thesis on it and the address is in my blog http://familytreeblossoms.blogspot.com.au/2015/06/william-camper-laws-1859-1911.html

Rebel Hand said...

I hope you find him, Alex! I know what Shauna means about interesting people and records. Sadly, some of my interesting ones managed to get up to all sort of things and still I haven't tracked them down. But wouldn't genealogy be dull if we had everything handed to us on a plate?