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 ancestry.com. 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you require assistance in finding your ancestors who were in the Garlands during this period, or if you have any interesting family tales.