Garlands 1906

Garlands 1906

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Voices of Madness Conference 2016: ‘The Pauper Experience of Insanity, 1862-1902’

Last week, I gave a twenty minute presentation at the ‘Voices of Madness’ conference at the University of Huddersfield for fellow academics, based on my PhD research over the last few years on the Garlands Lunatic Asylum Carlisle.


In the talk, I explained the key focus of my research so far; the fact that mentally unwell paupers in the latter half of the nineteenth century were continually shifted around the different institutions of care. Through using examples from the Garlands patient records, I gave four stories of individuals who were transferred numerous times in and out of the asylum from either the workhouse or the family home. Through this blog post I want to share these stories with you.

The first two examples I recounted were those transferred several times from the family home to the asylum and back again. To begin with I told the story of Jacob C, whom I have mentioned in my previous blog post, therefore I will not repeat his story this time. Next, was Thomas S, who was admitted to Garlands by his family when his condition became erratic and unmanageable; and was admitted on seven separate occasions between 1878 and 1905.



His intermittent bouts of insanity were caused by religious mania and the fact that he was always deemed to be ‘weak-minded’.  His mother Ann was his main carer, as his father had died shortly after Thomas was born in 1861. His siblings do not seemed to have been involved either, as when Ann died in 1903 Thomas ended up in the workhouse shortly before his final admission to Garlands. On his first admission on 8 June 1878, Thomas was aged just 17, described as an errand boy who was smart and active from Penrith. The trigger for his admission was his noisy and out-of-character behaviour. He suddenly became very religious, and refused to sleep or eat. He also began having fleeting delusions of a religious nature. It was these delusions which were a common factor of his bouts of insanity on each occasion he was admitted to the asylum. For instance, on his second visit in August 1889 he was described as thinking he was Christ; he had began preaching to the neighbours; and he thought he was the saviour and was going to pull down the walls. This behaviour clearly upset his mother enough to seek the assistance of the asylum doctors, and on his third admission in 1895 she was noted as stating that he was unmanageable and that she will not stay in the house alone with him. On each of the seven occasions Thomas came to the Garlands Asylum, he was discharged recovered back to the home he shared with his mother after three to four months. His final admission however, in September 1905, lasted until his death in the asylum on 28 November 1928.

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As well as the asylum, the workhouse remained an important receptacle for the care of the mentally unsound, and provided those without any family support of their own with a place of care. Similar to when in the family home, the trigger for a patient’s removal to the asylum was the display of particularly unruly and unmanageable behaviour in the wards of the workhouse. This transfer of care was present in the next two examples. The first, Sarah M, was admitted to Garlands in May 1890, aged 26, and was transferred directly from the workhouse at Brampton.




She was suffering from mania, and was becoming unmanageable due to her constant delusions that her food had been poisoned. Sarah had been in the workhouse since the death of her mother in 1884, who she had lived with and had been her sole carer. Her father was described as having ‘a violent temper’ in her case notes, and this seems to explain why in the 1871 and 1881 census’ her father Patrick was not living with her and her mother Mary in the family home. Sarah had two brothers and one sister living at the time of her first admission to the Garlands, but they seemed to have distanced themselves from her and her unruly behaviour, as the stigma of an insane relative was a great source of shame.[1] Sarah remained in the Garlands for five years, during which time she showed no signs of recovery. On 5 July 1895 she was deemed harmless enough to be transferred back to Brampton workhouse to receive care in its infirmary. This often happened when the asylum experienced periods of overcrowding, and to relieve pressure those deemed ‘harmless’ to themselves and others were transferred to workhouses to carry on their treatment. The effect of this shift may have freed up spare beds in the asylum wards in the short-term, but in the long-term it had a detrimental effect on the health of the transferred patients. Sarah was returned back to Garlands in July 1897 for her obscene behaviour, running about the wards with her ‘clothes tied up to her waist’.[2] What is interesting to note in her case record from 1897, is that she is stated to have no known relatives, whereas on her first admission in 1890 it mentioned both her mother and her father. This suggests that her family further alienated Sarah from their lives as the poor law authorities were not aware of her living siblings; and we can firmly assume that they were not in contact with each other through letters or visits. Her second stay in the Garlands did not last as long as her first, as she was again discharged back to the care of Brampton Workhouse on 25 Aug 1898. This time Sarah remained in the workhouse for a substantially longer period, but still suffering from the mania she was first troubled with in 1889. On 27 January 1913 Sarah was admitted to Garlands for the final time, once again being transferred from Brampton workhouse, aged 50. She was to remain in the asylum until her death in 1930. Sarah’s case is not unique, it is one of many I have come across which portray the transitory nature of asylum provision in the latter half of the nineteenth century. We can never know for sure if Sarah’s condition was curable had she remained in the care of the asylum for a longer, sustained period, rather than being continually transferred to and from the workhouse. Sarah even came to prefer the asylum to her life on the outside, as stated in her case notes in October 1891; ‘[she] has no interest in her former life, [and is] contented and happy to remain here’.[3] Thus, the asylum provided a familial context to those who otherwise lacked this supportive framework.

The final example is Matthew G, admitted to Garlands for the first time on 20 September 1901, aged 66.



He was transferred from Fusehill workhouse in Carlisle to the asylum, where he had been suffering with mania for six weeks. Like Sarah, Matthew was listed as having no known relatives, and he was noted as being single. However, Matthew offers us a somewhat different set of circumstances, as he migrated to Carlisle from Ireland where he was born. Irish migrants posed a problem for poor law authorities in this period. Migrants who had settled in a county were not liable to be paid for by the authorities of the poor law unions in which they now resided. The cost of maintenance of a pauper in either the workhouse or the asylum whilst receiving treatment for their mental affliction was paid for by the poor law union from which they were born. In the case of a patient who was born in Ireland, such as Matthew, the costs for their care and maintenance could not be recovered from their home country, as they had a different system of relief. ‘Alien patients’, as such cases came to be known as, were viewed with contempt as they became a burden on the poor law rates. The close proximity of the Garlands Asylum to Ireland, and the attraction of casual labourers to the coastal towns of Cumberland, meant that the ‘problem’ of alien patients was a persistent one during this period. A high number had migrated to England to escape the famine of the late 1840s and since then had been employed in seasonal, low-skilled jobs, finding it hard to support themselves and their families. In the 1889 Garlands annual report Dr Campbell, the medical superintendent, explained the problem of alien patients in monetary terms:

…up to the end of 1889…£15,761 has been expended here on Irish and Scotch patients who had no settlement in England…the Irish lunatic is more noisy, dirty, troublesome, and quarrelsome than the English or Scotch, he is more treacherous, and owing to this, more dangerous, and the more miserable his previous outside surroundings were the more critical and complaining is he about the food, clothing and bedding in the asylum…[4]

Matthew was viewed as a typical ‘alien’ patient and it is clear that with no family of his own he came to rely on the workhouse and the asylum when his health began to deteriorate towards the end of his life. Matthew was in the Garlands on two separate occasions, being discharged unrecovered back to Fusehill workhouse in the interim. On his second admission in October 1902 it was stated that in addition to his failing memory, he had become violent, had struck other inmates, and began experiencing delusions that there was a conspiracy against him. He continued his abusive behaviour in Garlands, and seemed to live up to the perceived reputation of the typical Irish lunatic. In his case notes throughout his second bout of treatment he was repeatedly described as ‘quarrelsome’, and received several bruises through fighting with other inmates. Matthew died in Garlands in November 1904, aged 69, of tuberculosis with no listed next of kin. From the cases of Sarah and Matthew, it is evident that those who lacked a family support came to rely on the poor law authorities for help, and remained life-long receivers of its provision, albeit in a number of different institutions, and for a number of different reasons.

These are just a small number of cases which I have come across in my PhD research into the Garlands Lunatic Asylum, Carlisle, which portray the transitory nature of mental health care in the latter half of the nineteenth century. 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 (caradobbing@gmail.com) if you require assistance in finding your ancestors who were in the Garlands during this period, or if you have any interesting family tales.



[1] Suzuki, Madness at Home, p. 121.
[2] CACC, Reception Orders 1897, THOS 8/4/1/39.
[3] CACC, Female Casebook 1888-1892, THOS 8/4/40/2, admission no. 3359.
[4] CACC, Annual Report 1889, THOS 8/1/3/27, p. 17.