Monday, 25 September 2017
“As Mad as she is Bad”: The Garlands first Criminal Lunatic, 1862
Looking at previous posts, and the title of this current one, it is apparent that the terminology surrounding mental illness, and those that suffered from it, has altered dramatically in the 150 years since Garlands opened. This post shall explore one fascinating case which highlights just how different this was. My current research into the patients of the Garlands lunatic Asylum, Carlisle, part of my wider PhD thesis, has focused on the movement of pauper patients between different institutions in the initial years of its opening. In the Garlands first month of opening (January 1862), 146 patients were transferred directly from nearby asylums and workhouses. The overwhelming majority (121) of these came from Dunston Lodge private asylum near Gateshead, which was the official receptacle for Cumberland and Westmorland’s mentally ill population prior to the opening of their own institution (Garlands in 1862). Whilst studying this transferal of care, I came across the first Criminal lunatic to be admitted to Garlands, and her case notes make for interesting reading.
Elizabeth R was among those first 146 patients admitted in January 1862 to the new Garlands Asylum. She was transferred, along with the majority of the female patients, from Dunston Lodge on 10 January 1862, where she had resided since 14 June 1861. Prior to her committal to Dunston, Elizabeth had been sentenced to three months in Carlisle Gaol for being a ‘disorderly prostitute’, and her occupation was given in her records as prostitute. On admission to Garlands she was aged 27, described as being both suicidal and dangerous, listed as suffering from mania, and was in weak physical health. What is immediately interesting from her admission records is the cause given for her mental illness: ‘remorse of conscience’. The theme of immorality is constant throughout Elizabeth’s case record. On admission she was described as follows: ‘Intelligent face but made impudent by the use of evil deeds’. This is unsurprising given her stated occupation, but I doubt she would have disclosed this as her job, rather, it was imposed on her – further increasing the stigma surrounding her committal – on admission following her arrest. The remorse she was feeling is indicative of the desperation of her situation, as she, more than likely, was forced to resort to prostitution to survive. Further evidence of her depressed mental state is given by the fact that she was suicidal. Prior to being removed from Carlisle gaol to Dunston Lodge, she undertook a period of starvation, and due to her weakened state, her transferal had to be delayed, as the authorities feared that she would not survive the journey.
Once in Garlands, shortly after arriving, the following passage was written in Elizabeth’s case notes, describing her and her behaviour:
‘As bad as she is mad – one of the worst cases we have to deal with in lunatic asylums. For the simplest offence as a sharp word from another patient, delay in granting a request, a slight verbal rebuke for bad conduct, she will go off into the most violent passions imaginable – screaming, fighting, breaking windows, attacks upon attendants and patients abuse in the extreme, most threatening in her language and will sometimes last for 3 or 4 days; when at the climax she refuses food – lashing at attendants faces, tears up her clothing and bedding. Doing all the mischief she can conceive of and frequently will keep nothing on herself…makes constant and determined attempts at self-destruction…the very great forbearance and kindness which have been shown her by all parties – everyone has lost all sympathy for her. She is most decidedly (although insane) to a very great extent responsible for her actions. Her conversation is beastly and as profane as that of the commonest Haymarket prostitute. Has haemorrhoids – acne on face – Brown hair, sleepy eyes and has had 2 or 3 children.’
We gain some understanding of the behaviour described when reading the last sentence of this entry. The fact that Elizabeth had children, which were clearly illegitimate, may go some way to explain her suicidal thoughts and tendencies, and her feelings of remorse. We can assume that she was not in contact with these children at the time of her admission, as the doctors did not know for certain how many she had given birth to. It may also have been likely that her family wouldn’t have been in contact with her, as they would have disclosed further personal information to the asylum doctors.
Throughout her stay, Elizabeth was violent, frequently tore up her clothes and broke items in the wards. On several occasions she was described as feigning illness. For instance, on 24 October 1862, she faked a ‘spasm of the stomach so well that she deceived all the nurses but one who thought she was ill indeed. They were much surprised to see her quickly recover under a shower bath of half a minute’s duration only.’ Also on several occasions she attempted to take her own life. It was noted on 4 November 1862 that she: ‘Has been secluded all yesterday and today owing to her extreme state of maniacal excitement, and intense suicidal propensity – 3 times in my presence attempted to strangle herself – her neck is marked with the ligature.’ In an incident on 25 July 1863, she demonstrated how far she was willing to go to attempt to kill herself. After a particularly violent episode, Elizabeth was removed to a padded room in order to calm her down and prevent injury to herself or others. However, on a previous occasion in the room, she had smuggled a pair of scissors in with her and secreted them in between two of the padded sections of the wall. Luckily, an attendant spotted her recovering them from her hiding place, and could intervene before she was successful.
Elizabeth continued to flit intermittently between behaving well, and behaving in a violent, disruptive, unpleasant manner. During her calmer periods, it was noted that she was able to work well in the asylum laundry, and even assisted with the care of a child who had been a patient in the asylum since 1863, admitted when he was only 4 years old. Having been given this responsible role, it seems that she began to see some purpose in living, as the suicide attempts diminished. However, her illness did still continue, as her violent outbursts were still documented in her notes, but were far fewer than before. Elizabeth remained in Garlands until February 1873, when she was discharged recovered. This would have been relatively rare, as the chance of a patient recovering considerably lowered if they had been resident in an asylum for longer than two years – with the majority of recoveries taking place within one year.
Thank you for taking the time to read this snippet from my research conducted on the Garlands Lunatic Asylum, which forms the basis of the PhD thesis I am currently working on. My aim is to write 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 firstname.lastname@example.org