“I’ve been jealous some time … and I hope she is dead”

My new article, ‘“I am not very well I feel nearly mad when I think of you”: Male Jealousy, Murder and Broadmoor in Late-Victorian Britain’, compares representations of jealousy in popular culture, medical and legal literature, and in the trials and diagnoses of men who murdered or attempted to murder their wives or sweethearts before being found insane and committed into Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum between 1864 and 1900. I’ve previously published a post on the case of Frederick Marshall who appears in the article, and this can be viewed here. This post focuses on the case of another of the article’s case studies, Anthony Owston, who in 1878 murdered his wife Jane and attempted to murder John Smith, the man he suspected she was having an affair with, before attempting to commit suicide.

Owston. 12 October 1878. BLOG

Illustrated Police News, 12 October 1878, p. 1.

I. Crime 

On the evening of 28 September 1878, Owston was at home in Bradford with his wife, Jane, their children, and Jane’s mother. Jane went upstairs, and a ‘distressed’ Owston turned to his mother-in-law and tearfully declared, ‘I cannot live without Jane. I loved her as a boy and I love her as a man.’ He then stood up, and followed Jane upstairs. A short while later Jane appeared in the kitchen – she was bleeding from the neck, and she collapsed and died. Owston then made his way to John Smith’s shop. Smith, having heard Jane scream, had locked his doors and hid under the counter, but it wasn’t long before Owston ‘bounded through a small window’ into the shop and attacked him. Owston then attempted to commit suicide.

Owston. IPN. October 12. 1878 p1

Illustrated Police News, 12 October 1878, p. 1.

Owston was taken to Bradford Infirmary where his wounds healed but, as reported in the press,

his mental condition became so much worse – he being subject to fits of despondency – that it was deemed prudent in the interests of the other patients in the Infirmary, who were terrified by his strange conduct, to remove him to the lunatic wards at the Bradford Workhouse.

II. Inquest and Trial 

The inquest took place on 18 November 1878. According to the Leeds Mercury, Owston’s mental health hadn’t much improved. He was

very quiet and docile, [and] generally had his face in his hand; but now and then he raised his head and listened calmly to the evidence, betraying no excitement or anything more than a listless interest in what was going on.

This was no more apparent than when Jane’s mother made a ‘scene’ and Owston ‘gave no outward sign of feeling’ much to the relief of those who feared he would be disturbed. Owston’s  lack of emotion, and his ‘listless interest’, were just as indicative of his unsound mind as his previous wildness (his – as one newspaper called it – ‘fit of jealousy’). Owston was also physically weak, and was provided with a chair. It was shown that ‘jealousy and the frequent visits of his wife to Smith’s for beer’ had caused ‘great uneasiness’ in Owston who was convinced that Jane was having an affair (the evening before he committed the crime he had attacked John Smith after discovering him with Jane). Journalists were keen to point out that Jane ‘was given to drink’ – she was a bad wife, and Owston’s concerns/anxieties were portrayed as understandable.

Owston was committed for trial at the Leeds assizes. A picture of ‘misery and distress’ Owston refused to speak at his trial, but he did write on a piece of paper:

I loved her dearly … She said she would leave me … I’ve been jealous some time … I have been certain they intended to run away. I am guilty, and I hope she is dead … She has been determined to leave me. Let me die. I’ve begged of her to live with me, as I could not give her up.

Owston was not found not guilty on grounds of insanity and committed to Broadmoor.

III. Broadmoor 

Owston arrived at Broadmoor on 5 April 1879. His case file suggests that he worked hard in one of the asylum’s workshops, and did so because he wished to provide for his family. He wrote to Superintendent William Orange:

my only desire has been to give satisfaction in my work and also to earn as much money as I possibly could on account of the unfortunate position of my children. I assure you I have denied myself almost of everything in the shape of luxuries or anything else purposely to send all I earned home to enable my sisters to keep the home together, as it appears since my fathers death over two years ago they have had much to do to tide over their difficulties in providing for 4 children … you will see my only object now is to do what I can to assist my family and not consider myself.

In spite of this desire to work hard, Owston’s mental health (‘very low and depressed’) meant that he often found it difficult to do so. His mental health continually concerned the medical officers, and petitions for his release (made by his friends and family) were always denied. Owston was reportedly ‘enfeebled’ ‘depressed’ and melancholic, and whilst ‘he goes on steadily and quietly under the regular routine and supervision of an asylum, his mental condition is such that any strain or anxiety would be liable to cause a relapse into a state of active insanity.’ The potential risk that would accompany his discharge was thus deemed too great. During the 1890s, Owston’s mental health deteriorated: acute mania, melancholia, rambling and incoherence were all reported in his medical notes. During this time, Owston’s family became increasingly concerned about him. One of his sons described the anxiety he was having over his father’s condition to Superintendent David Nicolson, and he told him: ‘I may say that I am writing to my father and trust that the letter may be handed to him as I think that a letter from home may be of great value to him at the present crisis.’ He wrote to Nicolson on a number of occasions regarding his father’s health hoping for good news, but Owston never improved. In the mid 1890s he

was found in [day]room on window ledge trying to break the window. He had evedently [sic] fallen off as he has several bruises on his back, he had also scratched his throat, either with his nails or also a tin button. His scrotum was also bleeding and was scratched, he said God almighty had told him to destroy himself. At 1.15 he became very maniacal forced himself into the gallery and threw himself against the opposite window slightly cutting corner under left eye.

Owston slipped into a coma and it was feared he wouldn’t recover. His relatives were informed that he was ‘in a precarious condition and exhausted’ and were advised to visit him ‘without delay’. Against the odds, Owston improved. His case file indicates that he was visited by at least one of his sons, who later wrote to Nicolson thanking him for allowing him to visit, and who expressed relief that he had visited because he believed it would do Owston some good. He told Nicolson that he was ‘pleased to find he [Owston] is so well attended to and cared for and I trust he will now make satisfactory progress’. Owston’s physical health improved, but his mental health continued to deteriorate:

A. Owston troubled with religious mania. Says he asked God on chapel yesterday morning if he should sing, says after he could scarcely open his mouth, so that he could not sing. Says he had vision from God in the night that Mr Gladstone and 10 others were killed in a railway accident, says whatever God tells him to do he shall do. Says if God was to tell [him] to cut his throat he must do it, says he hopes he will not tell him to do that for he wishes to live, as he is a changed man and feels younger and stronger than ever he did.

Despite Owston’ worsening condition his son believed (based on Owston’s letters to him) that he was improving, and that the ‘cheering letter[s]’ he was writing to his father were in part responsible for this improvement. Over the late 1890s and early 1900s he asked for updates on his father’s condition (always followed by his own assessment that his father seemed much better). The reports that followed were never promising, however. Even when Owston was considered ‘fairly tranquil in mind’ the Superintendent was sure that his condition was ‘temporary … not indicating any permanent improvement.’ As the years passed, Owston’s mental health went from bad to worse. At the end of 1904 he was reportedly suffering ‘chronic delusional insanity’, and towards the end of 1905 the asylum authorities informed his family that he was seriously ill. In response, his son – seemingly one never to give up hope – responded: ‘we sincerely trust he will yet take a turn for the better. It is unfortunate his … trouble has reappeared but we feel content to know that my father is in good hands and your good self and staff will do your best for him’. And a few weeks later, upon news of a further relapse, he responded: ‘I trust his present state is only of temporary character’. Unfortunately this was not the case, and Owston died days later. The cause of his death: ‘exhaustion following mania’. For many years following Owston’s death, his children sent a wreath to Broadmoor (at Christmas, Easter, and on the anniversary of his death) to be placed upon his grave.

“I gave Mary a bit of cake, and then I killed her, wretch that I am”

I. Crime and Trial

On the morning of April 21 1864, M. D. saw her husband to the front door as he left for work, as she did every morning. After he had gone, she returned to the kitchen and murdered her two young children. Following the crime, she walked across the street to her neighbour’s house – a policeman – and reported the act: ‘I’ve killed my poor children, take me and lock me up, I’ve not hurt them; I love them; they’re in heaven.’ M.D. was arrested, and an inquest into the murders followed. As usually happened in child-murder cases, the press reported heavily on this ‘horrible’/‘shocking’/‘terrible’ crime committed by a previously loving and attentive mother who was ‘passionately fond’ of her children and whose character was, up until the crime, exemplary. It is from these press reports (example below) that we can gauge some sense of what happened at the inquest and the trial.

Untitled 2.png

Penny Illustrated Weekly News, April 23 1864

At the inquest, M.D’s husband referred to M.D.’s affection for her children, and stated that she’d demonstrated no signs of insanity or mental anguish. She never drank alcohol, ‘having signed the teetotal pledge when eight years of age’ – an important fact because the consumption of alcohol and insanity were very closely tied in the nineteenth century. He did, though, remember that on the morning of the murders M.D. wasn’t her talkative self as she showed him to the door. He also mentioned that she ‘had said she would like her home better furnished’, but that he was unsure whether this played upon her mind. This lack of furniture was important. The policemen to whom M.D. confessed her crime reported that she had told him, ‘I’ve tried to be like others, and I cannot’. The policemen assumed that she was referring to the condition of her house, which had ‘very little furniture’. This lack of furniture was tied to her husband’s failure to secure steady employment. It was reported in one newspaper that M.D’s husband had been out of work and that ‘this seems to have affected the wife, who … has latterly been somewhat depressed in spirits.’ In addition to the condition of her house, M.D’s husband told the inquest that in the month that preceded the crime she had complained that ‘her head was bad’, and appeared confused and was easily exhausted. He also ‘believed some members of [M.D.’s] family had been affected in their head, but could not say positively.’ Other witnesses reported M.D.’s demeanour following the act. Dr P. reported that M.D. was ‘very dejected, and yet very restless, sighing and wringing her hands’. During the inquest it was reported in the press that M.D. ‘wrung her hands and moaned piteously the whole time.’ The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder and M.D. was committed for trial.

M.D.’s trial took place the following August, and evidence similar to that presented at the inquest was provided: M.D. was anxious about the lack of furniture in her home, and her family was barely surviving. Evidence was given to demonstrate M.D.’s demeanour immediately following the act. A policeman repeated M.D.’s confession: ‘ I gave Mary a bit of cake, and then I killed her, wretch that I am.’ He said that she had expressed regret at taking the two children away from their ‘affectionate father’ – a man whom she described as a ‘good husband’. Other witnesses testified that M.D. wasn’t of sound mind, and that for some months she had frequently imagined that harm would come to her husband and that she and her children would be left destitute and alone. But this wasn’t the explanation M.D. had given to the policeman: ‘the thought suddenly came upon her and she did it.’ The defence called M.D.’s mother and father the stand. They told the courtroom that ‘she was always eccentric in manner, and on one occasion ran away from home without her clothes … Four of her brothers and sisters had died of water on the brain.’ It took the jury twenty minutes to find M.D. not guilty on the ground of insanity. She was transferred from Leeds gaol, where she was held during her trial, to Broadmoor.

II. Broadmoor

Before a patient was transferred to Broadmoor, the Prison Medical Officer (PMO) at the prison where they were held filled out a document called Schedule A – this recorded a patient’s personal information including name, date of birth, bodily health, crime, verdict and cause of insanity. The PMO at Leeds gaol reported that ‘improper nursing during menstruation, and anxiety about her husband’ had caused M.D.’s insanity. The former was not mentioned during the trial. M.D.’s chief delusion was ‘fear for her children’s welfare’. Immediately following her committal to Broadmoor, M. D. was reportedly ‘very quarrelsome’ and ‘not quite sane’. According to the asylum’s medical officers, her husband was to blame for her insanity: ‘she was kept in constant … fear from her husbands intemperance and neglect’, and following the birth of her second child in 1863 ‘was very depressed … [and] left alone very much’ – an analysis of M.D.’s life that contradicts her claim that he was a good and loving husband.

Throughout the mid-to-late 1860s a number of applications were made to the Home Office for M.D.’s discharge, mainly from her father (on behalf of her family), who also wrote many letters to M.D. at Broadmoor within which he told her how much he wished she could be liberated. M.D. heard nothing from her husband until 1871, when he wrote to her at Broadmoor to inform her that he was going be in London and would like to travel to Broadmoor (in Berkshire) to visit her: ‘but I suppose you will not like a visit from me.’ M.D. replied, informing her husband that would like to see him. He responded by telling her that he was pleased she had written, and that he’d be in touch when he knew more about his travel plans. She never heard from him again. Whilst M.D.’s relationship with her husband appeared to deteriorate, the relationship she maintained with her parents was a strong and honest one. In 1872, her father wrote to her informing her of her husband’s whereabouts:

My Dear Child,

In reply to your letter of the 10th just, we are all happy to hear that you are in good health in both body and mind. In answer to your questions concerning your husband, I will tell you all the information I can … your husband has left Halifax and I do not know where he has gone to he has got a chid by this other person between five and six years old. I cannot say whether he has gone away. He was at my house a month hence and he said that if you got your liberty he would … leave the country that is all the information I can give about your husband and if you get your liberty myself and your brother has a home and a good one for you as long as we live [sic]

M.D. soon received another letter from her father informing her that her husband had left the country. Perhaps in an effort to assure her she wasn’t alone, he told her: ‘You have a good mother and a good father … and you have four brothers and two sisters’. Ten months later M.D.’s father wrote to Superintendent William Orange asking for his help in securing his daughter’s discharge: ‘Her mother and brothers and sisters and myself promise that she shall be taken care of in future if you will comply with my request. I shall never cease to be thankful to you’. M.D.’s discharge was certainly looking more likely. The medical officers had reported an improvement in her health and character: she ‘is industrious, abstentious and generous. She remembers dates and facts’. Orange certainly had her discharge in mind – he began to make enquiries into who might care for her if the Home Office approved her release. Two months later, Orange received the following letter from an unknown correspondent who had looked into the whereabouts and character of M.D.’s husband:

I find he is living with another woman, and he himself states that he is married, but whether this is true I cannot tell … One thing is certain, that [her husband] is a thorough scoundrel, and I have little doubt that it was owing to his wicked conduct that his unfortunate wife was driven to desperation, as even during the trial, while the poor woman’s life was pending, he was seen in the company of prostitutes, by many people in this township.

M.D. was discharged from Broadmoor in the spring of 1872. The records don’t indicate where she was sent, but it seems very unlikely that her husband would have been entrusted with her care: he apparently didn’t possess the good moral character expected of guardians.


‘the man whom she killed … was a “regular old rogue”’

In 1870, forty-five year old Charlotte Barton murdered Thomas Pagdin, the man she had lived with for twelve years, by hitting him on the head with a hammer. The Illustrated Police News described both Barton and Pagdin:

The deceased was nearly bald, and appeared to have been tolerably robust. He was rather tall, and had been a strongly-built man … The murderess … is a person of medium height, slightly built, and with narrow, dark, lowering features. Her eyes are deeply sunk into her head, and the corners of her mouth are held tightly drawn up, probably caused by intense excitement.

It was reported in the press, and later at Broadmoor, that Pagdin had mistreated Barton and that this was the motive for the murder: Barton told her brother, ‘He had wanted me to go with other men’.

Charlotte Barton Case. IPN. Dec 10 1870

Illustrated Police News, 10 December 1870, p. 1.

At her trial, Barton was reportedly dressed ‘in rusty black’, and ‘a shade of melancholy pervaded her countenance’. Her demeanour was ‘quiet and subdued’. In answer to the question ‘Are you guilty or not guilty?’, Barton whispered ‘yes, sir’ so quietly the clerk didn’t hear her: he took it to be ‘not guilty’. It appeared from the evidence given that on the morning following the murder, Barton appeared ‘in a very excited state at her daughter’s house. She said she had hit Pagdin with a hammer, and he was dead. [Barton’s daughter] fainted and her children cried, and the husband was aroused from bed. To him all that the prisoner could say was, “it was an awful sight”’. Barton told her son-in-law that Pagdin wanted to ‘turn her out onto the streets’ to make up for their falling income (he had lost his job). It was suggested at the trial that Barton had been of an unsound mind for some time: ‘she had a bewildered appearance, and acted in curious ways.’ The defence called upon Barton’s neighbours to show there had been a demonstrable decline in her mental health. One witness stated that ‘one morning in spring she had seen the prisoner sitting under a pear tree, in a garden some distance from her house, and on asking her why she was there, she said, “I’m watching the onions grow, and the little sparrows build their nests”’. In addition, it was argued that Barton didn’t know the difference between right and wrong (making her legally insane), and the jury found her not guilty on the ground of insanity. She was transferred to Broadmoor in January 1871.

A couple of years after Barton’s admission, a solicitor wrote to Superintendent William Orange  to ask for his advice. Friends of Barton’s had been in touch with him regarding the case, and he wanted Orange’s opinion on Barton’s mental state before he agreed to help them petition the Home Office for her release. Orange cautioned against a petition, stating that it was ‘too early’ for the question of discharge to be raised. In 1875, Barton told her sister that she wished to leave Broadmoor. In a letter received by Orange, an acquaintance of Barton and her sister told him:

[Barton] has communicated to her sister here her desire to leave the asylum believing her mental faculties so far improved that she would be competent to take care of herself with the assistance of her sister in whose house she would reside. I may say her sister is a highly respectable woman … Before applying to the Home Office I thought it advisable to apply to you for your opinion as to the patients state of mind and also as to the advisability of applying to the Home Office for her.

In March 1876, Barton’s sister, Sarah, wrote to Orange:

Dear Sir, my sister … is confined in your asylum and is very anxious to be restored to her friends as we should be very happy to receive her, from the tenor of her letters to me I have every reason so far as I can judge to believe that my sister has not only lucid moments but is in such a state of mind and so far recovered her faculty of sense that I think she might with safety to her friends and herself be restored to us. I promise to provide her with a good and comfortable home which I am glad to say I am enabled to do for her comfort. I trust this matter will have your best consideration and see fit to recommend my sister to Her Majesty clemency of a free pardon, by an application from me supported by yourself to the Home Office. Your kind affection to my solicitor will greatly oblige.

Orange told Sarah to write to the Secretary of State, and made no mention of Barton’s mental state. Sarah’s efforts to have Barton discharged were in vain. The following year she wrote to Orange again, and to the Home Office. The Home Office wrote to Orange in 1877, informing him that the Secretary of State had considered the petition for Barton’s discharge and ‘sees no ground to justify in recommending release.’ Four-years later, the Secretary of State asked for a report into Barton’s mental and bodily condition. This was the response:

For some time after her admission her mind was much unstable, and although lately there has been an improvement in this regard we do not think that she could with safety by permitted to go at large, although according to her statement she has a sister who is willing to provide for her in the event of her discharge.

She was married but had left her husband to go and live with the man whom she murdered.

The following was crossed out:

but for some years she has remained free from acute attacks of insanity. Her behaviour and conversation is often strange and irrational and her disposition is reserved … Although she makes herself useful in the laundry and although on ordinary subjects her conversation is rational, we have never been able to regard her as being of sound mind.

In 1883, Orange advised an acquaintance of Barton’s that, ‘application should not be made for her release’. The following year, Barton’s brother ‘prays for the release’ of his sister, but Orange informed him she was unfit to leave Broadmoor. In 1885, the medical officers again refused to sanction Barton’s discharge on the grounds that it would be unsafe to release her. That spring, an M.P. wrote to the Home Office asking ‘for most favourable consideration’ of Barton’s case, but he was refused. It certainly appears that Barton’s behaviour was cause for concern and frustrating. Orange put a stop to an interview he was having with Barton because she ‘replies to one question by asking another’ and was ‘disposed to lose [her] temper’.

In the autumn of 1885, Barton’s brother visited her at Broadmoor. Following his visit he wrote to the Superintendent:

I take the liberty in writing to you respecting my sister Charlotte Barton who has been in your asylum about fifteen years. We visited her …  and she appeared quite restored to her usual health also the letters we receive from her are perfectly sensible and we think she must feel it very hard to see others who have only been in there a short time coming out … We feel very anxious to have her amongst us again if you will allow her to come and let us see how she will be. We shall do all in our power for her and try to keep her in good health and follow any advice you will be kind to give us respecting her. We shall feel greatly obliged if you will assist us (as far as it lays in your power) towards getting her release. We enquired for the doctor when we visited her but understood that you were gone out. Trusting you will kindly send a reply to this as soon as convenient.

Unfortunately for her family, however, Barton hadn’t yet recovered. In March 1886 she was considered ‘moody and reserved’, and unfit for release.

The following month, a discussion between Barton and a medical officer was recorded, and it provides insight into Barton’s motive:

[She] says the man whom she killed…was a “regular old rogue” that he took four pounds which she had laid by, and that she accused him of taking the money and … he struck her, and then she struck him in return with a hammer and knocked him down the … steps. She says that she had lived with him 13 years – that she first went to do his washing and then he asked her to get married to him and keep his house. It is stated also that he wished her to lead an immoral life. She says she had been so low spirited for a long time that she did not know what to do.

The medical officer who wrote this note recorded: ‘She has no apparent delusions’.

Two months after this meeting took place, and after many years of petitioning the Home Office, Barton was released into the care of her daughter and son-in-law after Orange came to the following conclusion:

It is impossible to say that her discharge would be entirely unattended with risk. But she is now 62 years of age and she has been in confinement more than 15 years, and it is not that her mental condition will be improved by longer detention.

She has no delusions or other active indications of insanity at present.

Two weeks after Barton’s release, her son-in-law wrote to David Nicolson, who was now Superintendent: ‘I am glad to be able to say that Mrs Barton is conducting herself in a proper manner, she has not been very well in health owing to her having caught a cold. She has now gone to spend a few days with her brother who resides … [in] a little country place about 3 miles from Sheffield – and the change of air is doing her much good.’ Quite unusually, and to the surprise and concern of the officials, Barton didn’t stay at her daughter’s house very long, and in the autumn of 1886 moved into her own home. Questions were raised, but Barton’s daughter was quick to inform the authorities:

although she is not residing with us, in the strict sense of the term, still she is under our close supervision. [Her house] … is very near to out home and my mother is more often here than anywhere else. Myself with the help of other relations have furnished her a nice little home at her own choice … she is enjoying good health, and so far as we know, is happy and comfortable. We hope you will have no objection to these arrangements as it is more convenient for us all and we assure you that she is under supervision.

These circumstances were seemingly fine and over the next few years (well into the 1890s) Barton’s relatives reported back to Broadmoor regarding her mental and physical wellbeing. According to these reports, Barton preferred ‘cocoa or coffee’ to alcohol (although she sometimes had the odd glass of beer with meals or when with friends), and was mentally stable. She exhibited no behaviour to cause alarm. Barton never saw Broadmoor again.



‘Female Criminal Lunatics: A Sketch’

Many of my previous posts have concentrated on Broadmoor’s men, primarily because they were the focus of my PhD research. Here, I’m going to focus on Broadmoor’s female patients. I’ve been sitting on female case files, as well as publications written by Broadmoor’s staff about these patients for years, and this will be the first of many posts dedicated to the asylum’s female population. Of course, owing to years of research I do have loads more posts lined up on Broadmoor’s male patients too. Following my hiatus from blogging, my plan is that this post will be the first of many over the coming months.

In 1902 Broadmoor’s Deputy Superintendent, John Baker, presented a fascinating paper to other medical men on the asylum’s female criminal lunatics.[i] Here, I’m going to sum up some of his key findings.

There were two types of patient at Victorian Broadmoor: Queen’s pleasure patients (individuals found insane when tried) and insane convicts (those convicted of a crime and transferred to Broadmoor from prison after allegedly developing insanity whilst incarcerated). By the turn of the twentieth century, most of Broadmoor’s female patients were insane convicts who had been convicted of crimes including larceny, arson, robbery and housebreaking. 55% were under 30 years of age, 45% were middle-aged and 5% were old women. The most common type of insanity Baker observed amongst these women was delusional mania. As a result of this, they were violent, used obscene language, degraded in their behavior and noisy. Their delusions were of suspicion and persecution, and many demonstrated aural and visual hallucinations. Baker noted:

Very frequently these insane manifestations have a sexual bearing, and it is noteworthy that the ranks of this class of lunatic are mainly recruited from women of loose character and irregular life.

In a previous post I noted the friendships that formed between the asylum’s female patients, but Baker observed something different:

In their quieter moments they seek one another and herd together like epileptics; but jealousy soon springs up, they denounce one another, conspire against the other, friendship is hardly born before it dies, and is transformed into enmity.

Baker observed that most female convicts were lazy, and usually unwilling to work.

In addition to these insane convicts there were Queen’s pleasure patients, most of whom had committed infanticide. Baker noted that the huge number of mothers who had killed their children present in the asylum was down to one fact: ‘the lawyers are more ready to accept a plea of insanity, pity inspires both judge and jury, and the opinion of the expert is not often required in evidence’. The insanity Baker attributed to these women tended to correspond with their maternal function: insanity of pregnancy, puerperal insanity, and the insanity of lactation. Based on the Broadmoor cases, he found that infanticides occurred in the following: In the insanity of pregnancy: 5%; in puerperal insanity: 35%; in the insanity of lactation: 60%. Baker suggested the insanity of lactation was higher than the others because ‘lactation is an exhausting process’ and women ‘frequently’ ‘break down’. In addition, he observed that many poorer women ‘seem to be pregnant or nursing mothers all the time, who toil and moil all their married life’: ‘Is it to be wondered at that many develop melancholia, and frequently become actively suicidal?’ Based on the cases of 115 females considered to be insane due to lactation, Baker found that it was older women who suffered more from this particular type of insanity, and in comparison to younger sufferers they were unlikely to recover. He suggested a number of reasons for this, including:

  1. The age of the patient. As a rule the older the patient on admission the less chance of recovery.

  2. The number of children. Were a woman has been exhausted and debilitated by frequent pregnancies, the prognosis is generally unfavourable.

In the majority of infanticidal cases, the type of insanity was ‘melancholic, – simple, delusional, resistive, or stuporose’.

Whilst Baker derided criminal anthropology, at the end of his paper he referred to, but didn’t elaborate on,

the curious and interesting pathological fact that the brain-weights of homicidal female lunatics were below the normal standard of sane women, and the brain-weights of lunatic criminals – the thieves and the fire-raisers- were still more deficient in this respect

He provided the following table.


Baker. Brain weight.

Future blog posts will elaborate on some of the causes of insanity mentioned here, and the fascinating cases of some individual female patients will be discussed.


[i] John Baker, ‘Female Criminal Lunatics: A Sketch’, Journal of Mental Science, 48, 1902, 13-28

‘It really is astounding the vogue that this puerile nonsense has obtained’: Discussing the Criminal and Criminal Anthropology at Victorian Broadmoor

The publication of Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso’s The Criminal (1876) established criminal anthropology as an independent science. Lombroso believed that there existed a criminal type: a man or a woman with a specific anatomical configuration.[i] Criminal anthropology had a limited following in Britain. In his The Criminal, Henry Havelock Ellis criticised Lombroso for his style, impetuosity, and lack of critical analysis, but believed that it would be ‘idle to attempt to deny [the] importance of a ‘morbid element’ in criminality’.[ii] He wrote of the size and shape of criminals’ heads, of their cranial abnormalities, prominent jaws and cheekbones, of their receding chins, and of their teeth, nose, ears and beards.[iii] Prison chaplain W. D. Morrison asked:

Has the criminal any bodily… characteristics which differentiate him from the ordinary man?… Does he possess a peculiar confirmation of skull and brain? Is he anomalous in face and feature, in intellect, in will, in feeling? Is he, in short, an individual separated from the rest of humanity by any set or combination of qualities which clearly mark him off as an abnormal being?[iv]

To Morrison the answer appears to have been yes: ‘it is highly probable that a distinct criminal type… exists.’[v] Yet despite such observations, by the mid-late 1890s there was a general feeling amongst medical and legal professionals that criminal anthropology was of little relevance. In 1892, John Baker, Prison Medical Officer at Portsmouth (later Deputy Superintendent of Broadmoor), wrote: ‘No safe diagnostic evidence of the criminal nature can be evolved from head measurements, or from the shape of the cranium.’[vi] Four-years later Baker criticised attempts to ‘draw an analogy between the Italian criminal and his English prototype’ and wrote about the ‘extravagant views’ held by criminal anthropologists: ‘Receding foreheads, square chins, large ears, and tattoo marks are but poor data on which to base pathological criminality.’[vii] In 1895 Broadmoor Superintendent David Nicolson delivered his Presidential Address before the Medico-Psychological Association. Based on ‘nearly 30 years’ work in prisons and in Broadmoor he robustly rejected criminal anthropology:

I object to the criminological method because it is not only useless, but misleading… I hope the day will never come when, in our official examination into the mental condition of suspected persons, or persons lying in prison upon a criminal charge, we as medical men will be expected to produce our craniometer for the head measurements, and to place reliance upon statistical information as to the colour, size or shape of any organ. A man is sane or insane, criminal or lunatic, apart from and without regard to such sources of information.[viii]

He believed that the anthropological method was destined to fail because it ‘does not include circumstance and motive in the computation, and… without these no standard of capacity, or of conduct, or of responsibility can be regarded as… possible.’[ix] Generally, Nicolson’s audience agreed with him. Dr Conolly Norman declared:

If a man has not a perfectly chiselled ear or a Grecian nose, if he has learned, when a boy, to tattoo his arm, he is hopeless. Everything that evolution, culture, training and education can do for him is of no avail, for behold his nose is a little crooked and the lobe of his ear is adherent to his cheek! It really is astounding the vogue that this puerile nonsense has obtained.[x]

Of course, not everyone agreed. Psychiatrist Thomas Clouston questioned Nicolson’s position: ‘to say that the mass of criminals in this country are merely criminals by want of opportunity… by want of education, and not by their organization, is absolutely contrary to the results of psychological investigation for the last fifty years.’[xi] The views expressed at this meeting tended to correspond with the general medical consensus in late-nineteenth century Britain that not all criminals were physically marked. Whether criminals were born or made was discussed. In the 1870s, eminent psychiatrist Henry Maudsley viewed the insane as the ‘inevitable spin off in the stern and remorseless process of evolutionary struggle.’ Criminals, on the other hand, were a presumed product of their inheritance.[xii] In 1875, Nicolson (who at this time was a Prison Medial Officer) drew from Maudsley when he advised that ‘the existence of this unavoidable “tyranny of (criminal) organization”’ must be considered.[xiii] By the mid 1890s, Nicolson had concluded that not all criminals were born and spoke of the importance of environmental factors: ‘I believe the lower-class child would be taught to adapt itself to the higher level of its surroundings, just as the better-born child would run the risk of becoming criminal-minded or criminal under the influence and training that attach to its existing conditions of life.’[xiv] Others agreed. (Former) Broadmoor Superintendent William Orange stated:

With regard to the question as to how much crime may be due to training and how much to natural propensity, it seems to me that the principle applied by an old theologian to prayer and works hold good, viz., you ought to pray as if everything depended on prayer, and work as if everything depended on work. So with regard to training, as compared to the germ we all bring into the world with us – both have to be considered and each has its influence.[xv]

[i] Cesare Lombroso, Crime: Its Causes and Remedies, trans. by Henry P. Horton (London: William Heinemann, 1911).

[ii] Henry Havelock Ellis, The Criminal, 2nd edn (London: Walter Scott Ltd., 1895), p. 227.

[iii] Ibid., pp. 49. 52. 63-67. 70. 72-73.

[iv] W. D. Morrison, Crime and its Causes (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1891),p. 187.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] John Baker, ‘Some Points Connected With Criminals’, Journal of Mental Science, 38 (July 1892), 364- 369 (p. 368).

[vii] John Baker, ‘Insanity in English Local Prisons’, Journal of Mental Science, 42 (April 1896), 294-304 (p. 294).

[viii] David Nicolson, ‘Presidential Address Delivered at the Fifty-Fourth Annual Meeting of the Medico- Psychological Association, Held in London, 25th and 26th July, 1895’, Journal of Mental Science, 41 (October 1895), 567-591 (p. 580).

[ix] Ibid., p. 581.

[x] Ibid., p. 590.

[xi] Ibid., p. 589.

[xii] Henry Maudsley, Body and Mind: An Inquiry Into Their Connection and Mutual Influence, Specially in Reference to Mental Disorders being the Gulstonian Lectures for 1870, delivered before the Royal College of Physicians (London: Macmillan, 1870), pp. 52-53.

[xiii] David Nicolson, ‘The Morbid Psychology of Criminals’, Journal of Mental Science, 21 (July 1875), 225-253 (p. 233). In his Body and Mind (1870), Maudsley declared, ‘No one can escape the tyranny of his organization; no one can elude the destiny that is innate in him’, p. 69.

[xiv] Nicolson, ‘Presidential Address’, p. 577.

[xv] Ibid., p. 588.

‘The Woolwich Murder’: A Case of Jealous Insanity

On the evening of 21 December 1884, Frederick Marshall climbed through the bedroom window of Laura Wilson, aged 17, and murdered her.[i]

‘Terrible Murder at Woolwich’, Illustrated Police News, 3 January 1885

‘Terrible Murder at Woolwich’, Illustrated Police News, 3 January 1885

The two were previously betrothed, but it was reported at the inquest that Marshall had become jealous of Laura’s relationship with Charlie M., a family friend, and Laura had called off the engagement.[ii] It was established at the inquest and subsequently reported in the press that Marshall and Laura had a sexual relationship. This intimacy seemingly aggravated Marshall’s feelings of ownership and he wrote Laura the following letter which, Lloyds Weekly Newspaper stated, ‘contained threats of a very serious nature’:

You are a deceitful to [sic] faced young woman. You said in bed you’d be true to me… If you won’t see me on Sunday I will see Charlie and tell him I have been with you and slept with you 4 nights, and your father I will write… and tell him the same… if you mean to not have me tell me and have no one else and if you let me sleep [with you]… one more night I will say nothing to… no one… if I don’t see you or hear from you before Wednesday night I will do as I say. I feel nearly mad to think all our days and hours are spent all for nothing. I made up my mind to have you… you ought to be afraid of dropping dead the oaths you’ve taken always to me… Write soon dear Laura (a number of crosses) From your ever true lover Fred (three crosses)

Marshall also wrote letters to Laura’s father whom, thinking Marshall ‘peculiar’, warned him to stay away from his home. Marshall took little notice, however, and began scaling his garden wall to spy on Laura. Following one such occasion, Marshall  wrote to Laura and described what he had seen:

he [his ‘rival’] went out to get some beer and when he came in you was laughing and talking with him and it’s a wonder I did not do something to him when he went out in the yard. I was over the fence watching you, [if]… I see you in there stopping while his [sic] in there by the Heaven above I’ll swing for you.

At the inquest, Marshall was portrayed as jealous and insane. He had told Laura: ‘I am not very well I feel nearly mad when I think of you.’

'The Woolwich Murder', Illustrated Police News, 19 January 1885

‘The Woolwich Murder’, Illustrated Police News, 19 January 1885

Following the inquest, Marshall was bound for trial at the Old Bailey and transferred to Clerkenwell Gaol. The Prisons Act (1865 and 1877) stipulated that all prisoners in England and Wales had to be regularly subjected to a medical inspection. Clerkenwell’s Prison Medical Officer found that Marshall suffered from ‘constant’ head pain, ‘does not understand the gravity of the crime’, and has ‘no comprehension of moral obligation.’ He forwarded his report to the Home Secretary who ordered two physicians to examine Marshall. They found Marshall to be insane and he was removed from the jurisdiction of the court and committed to Broadmoor. Marshall’s removal to the asylum caused controversy. The case was used to criticise the Criminal Lunatics Act (1884) for giving the Home Secretary too much power. In addition, it was argued that a defendant’s right to a trial was being undermined.[iii] The debate over Marshall’s committal to Broadmoor was part of a wider issue. Roger Chadwick shows that as a result of the Prisons Acts there was ‘an increase in both insanity verdicts and the prior commitment of insane prisoners to Broadmoor’ – the entire judicial system was being undermined.[iv] At Broadmoor, Marshall ‘employs himself usefully in the wards, and in the evening occupies himself with music.’ Deputy Superintendent David Nicolson reported on Marshall’s mental health: ‘when spoken to seriously he seems scarcely to comprehend what is said and shows no indication of emotion and but little responsiveness… If spoken to in a cheerful or jocular way his face readily lightens with a not unpleasant smile.’ He continued:

He suffers from a moral inability and incapacity which, under ordinary circumstances, need not cause him to act of intemperately or insanely; but which, under any feat of strain or excitement and appeared by the severe headache to which is so liable, end in mental confusion which will scarcely fail to reveal itself in active and dangerous insanity and irresponsibility. This being so, and although he cannot be said to suffer from distinct delusions, it is impossible not to regard him as being at the present time of unsound mind and a fit and proper person to be detained in a lunatic asylum.

Despite Marshall’s willingness to get on with ward life, he was a troublesome character. He complained about the quality of the food, refused food, and complained about his treatment. Marshall wrote to his father:

I must inform you I have got a severe sore throat and cold, had no food since Friday breakfast time… I was put to bed in an infirmary and because I wanted to get up and dress to go out to wash the attendant locked the door and I told him I throw him over if he did not open the door so he told the Dr and Principal… 6 of them came and told me to get up and follow them without letting me get dressed and took me out of the warm room down some cold flag stone steps and put me in a cold room bar and bolted up not allowed to have no water in room or anything else and I am parched… I am now treated like a dog father no chair or stool or table to writ[e] on only the wall or floor. I wish you would see into my treatment and write to the proper quarters about it and get it entered in the press

It was the job of the Superintendent to censor patients’ letters. In some cases, letters were never sent because they contained false or damaging information. On this occasion, Superintendent William Orange made the following decision: ‘Of course it may go on, but it had better be copied as [Marshall]… complained of having no safe food.’ It appears that Marshall’s father put his son’s accusations to Orange, who replied:

Marshall has been suffering from his throat for the last few days, and has been out of sorts in other respects. He made use of threatening language to the infirmary attendant and it was necessary to place him in a separate room in order to prevent him carrying out his threats… He is, of course, supplied with everything [including food]… that he requires.

There is evidence to suggest that Marshall, like a number of Broadmoor’s patients, made friends at the asylum. A fellow patient described him to the Superintendent: ‘I have known Mr Marshall for a very long time, and a more open and frank young man is not easily to be found without a particle of vice.’ Broadmoor’s medical men viewed Marshall differently. According to medical reports, Marshall was violent and easily agitated. In 1888, Marshall escaped – the circumstances surrounding his escape are discussed here. Marshall was at large for one day. Following his return to the asylum, Marshall’s behaviour reportedly worsened – he insulted some of the patients, was insubordinate, and was caught in an ‘indecent position’ with another patient. Marshall and the other patient concerned subsequently ‘tried to make others believe that they were not friends’, but they were eventually separated ‘for their [own] good.’ Marshall was moved to the refractory block were he reportedly continued to fight with other patients. Marshall died at Broadmoor in 1896.

[i] For more on Marshall’s case, including references, see Jade Shepherd, ‘Victorian Madmen: Broadmoor, Masculinity and the Experiences of the Criminally Insane, 1863-1900’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, Queen Mary University of London, 2013).

[ii] ‘The Woolwich Murder’, The Standard, 24 December 1884, 3.

[iii] HL Deb 10 March 1885, vol. 295, col 597-604.

[iv] Roger Chadwick, Bureaucratic Mercy, p. 238.

Broadmoor’s Victorian Superintendents

I often mention Broadmoor’s Victorian Superintendents in my posts, and I thought it might be useful to provide some brief biographical information. Broadmoor’s first Superintendent was John Meyer (Superintendent 1863- 1870). Born in 1814 at Norwood, near London, Meyer studied medicine at Heidelberg and graduated in 1836. Soon after, he left England for Australia and in 1844 was appointed Superintendent of the Hospital and Convict Lunatic Asylum at New Norfolk, Tasmania. During the Crimean War, Meyer was placed in charge of the Civil Hospital, Smyrna. In 1858 he was appointed Chief Resident Physician at the Surrey County Asylum. In January 1862, the Council announced to the Home Office that it had unanimously chosen to appoint Meyer Broadmoor’s first Superintendent. Meyer didn’t publish during his time at Broadmoor, thus making it difficult to understand his ethos, but an examination of Home Office records and of Meyer’s Annual Reports indicates that he did not believe an entirely different approach was needed for a criminal asylum and that he viewed Broadmoor, like any other asylum, as a curative institution. Following his appointment, the Council of Supervision (Broadmoor’s governing body) asked Meyer to visit Broadmoor and write a report suggesting any alterations and changes he believed necessary for the completion and working of the asylum. Meyer fulfilled this request, taking ‘as my guide the generally accepted views on the care and treatment of persons of unsound mind.’ Meyer’s successor, William Orange (Superintendent 1870-1886), held a similar view. Orange studied at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, and graduated in 1856. Upon leaving medical school, Orange toured Europe and became fluent in French, German and Italian. He returned to England, undertook some dispensary work, and spent three years as Assistant Medical Officer at Tooting before being appointed Deputy Medical Superintendent of Broadmoor in November 1862. In 1868, Orange took the degree of M.D at Heidelberg and became a member of the Royal College of Physicians of London, of which he was elected Fellow in 1878. Having taken over at Broadmoor in 1870, Orange was instrumental in separating insane convicts and Queen’s pleasure patients.

William Orange, Journal of Mental Science

William Orange, Journal of Mental Science

Orange actively participated in medical debates. In 1877 he gave an Address at the Annual Meeting of the Reading branch of the British Medical Association where he discussed the ‘unsatisfactory nature’ of the law regarding criminal lunatics. Challenging the legal assumption that delusions were always present in cases of true insanity, Orange argued that ‘there are certain forms, or rather stages, of insanity in which there are no delusions.’ He believed that medical witnesses in court must not be tied down ‘by precise legal rules’ and must be allowed ‘to make a critical examination of the individual case, with the view to ascertaining whether […] mental disease does or does not exist.’ In 1883-84 he was President of the Medico-Psychological Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and in his Presidential Address began by criticising the term ‘criminal lunatic’ on the grounds that it was a contradiction: one could not be both guilty of crime and a lunatic since the latter could not, by definition, be held criminally responsible. Many of Orange’s views were shared by his successor, Scotsman David Nicolson. Like a number of nineteenth-century alienists, they both objected to the legal definition of madness, and wanted the law to recognise that insanity could assume many forms. Moreover, and contrary to the McNaughton Rules, they believed that individuals could be both insane and fully aware that the act they were planning to commit was wrong. Such an opinion affected their treatment of patients at Broadmoor. Before he was appointed Deputy Medical Superintendent of Broadmoor in 1876, Nicolson worked as a Medical Officer at Woking, Portland, Millbank and Portsmouth prisons. Nicolson viewed Broadmoor as an exciting opportunity to build upon what he had already discovered about criminals and he was hopeful that studying Broadmoor’s patients would help ‘prevent’ criminal lunacy and thus benefit society. He believed that insanity and the subsequent criminal acts of Queen’s pleasure patients were not their fault; they were criminal because the community had failed them. Orange agreed with this; he believed that crime could be the result of both nature and nurture. Both Orange and Nicolson wanted earlier action to prevent the insane from becoming criminals.

David Nicolson, Journal of Mental Science

David Nicolson, Journal of Mental Science

Whilst at Broadmoor, Nicolson served on several committees including the Home Office Department Committee on Habitual Drunkards and the Irish Government Committee of Inquiry into Dundrum Criminal Lunatic Asylum. In 1895 he was elected President of the Medico-Psychological Association and delivered an address on ‘Crime, Criminals, and Criminal Lunatics’ in which he derided criminal anthropology, something discussed in Chapter Three. Nicolson retired from Broadmoor in 1896 after the Lord Chancellor, Lord Halsbury, appointed him one of his Visitors in Lunacy. In 1913 his Address, ‘Mind and Motive: Some Notes on Criminal Lunacy’ was published in the British Medical Journal. Here, he rejected outright the idea that crime was hereditary, condemning the theory as a ‘dangerous doctrine advanced by those so-called criminologists.’ Nicolson published profusely before, during and after his time at Broadmoor on issues such as crime, criminal insanity and feigned madness. Nicolson was succeeded by Richard Brayn (Superintendent 1896-1910) who had previously been Assistant Surgeon to Portsmouth and Millbank Convict Prisons. In 1882 he was appointed Medical Officer at Woking Prison where he supervised insane convicts, and in 1889 he became Governor and Medical Officer of the female convict prison at Woking. Brayn was the first Superintendent of Broadmoor not to have previously been Deputy Superintendent of the asylum. Little can be learned about his ethos from his published work because, unlike Orange and Nicolson, he was not an extensive contributor to medical journals. However, Brayn began his post as Superintendent at a time when Broadmoor faced severe overcrowding, and this appears to have affected his regime: seclusion and restraint increased dramatically under his charge.

‘…it is strange he was not found insane at the trial’

In 1883 Broadmoor Superintendent William Orange delivered his Presidential Address before the Medico- Psychological Association. Referring to insane convicts he declared, ‘Many of […] [Broadmoor’s] patients were really lunatics at the time of being sentenced.’[i] In 1890 the Home Office commented on the case of attempted murderer O. R. who had been sentenced to twenty years penal servitude. O.R. was ‘Apparently a very dangerous mad man […] He had been previously in an asylum, and it is strange he was not found insane at the trial.’ Such cases were not unusual. The question of why such men were not found insane thus arises.

The decisions to find some defendants sane were sometimes obscure and the reasons not always straightforward. An examination of the evidence highlights a number of reasons why a verdict of insanity was not reached. The reason defendants were not found insane when tried for petty crime was, according to Broadmoor Deputy Superintendent John Baker, straightforward. He attributed the large number of insane male convicts in Broadmoor to failings in the legal process:

there is room for improvement in the legal procedure connected in with the administration of justice in the case of minor offences […] When cases are summarily dealt with, the question of insanity is rarely raised, no interest is felt in the accused, and fines or imprisonment follow as a matter of course [ii]

Explanations why prisoners had not been found insane were sometimes provided. In 1868 T. M. was convicted of arson. At his trial he declared that he was possessed by the devil but was not taken seriously because, as the chaplain of the prison where he had been held reported, ‘as no particular symptoms of insanity had been seen during his imprisonment – these words were treated as an attempt to sham insanity.’ In 1868 W. B. was sentenced to death alongside R. S. for the murder of a man. Following the sentence, W. B. took full responsibility for the murder. R. S. was exonerated and W.B.’s sentence commuted to penal servitude for life. W. B. was incarcerated at Taunton Prison where the Prison Medical Officer quickly questioned his sanity. Consequently, the Chief Constable of Somersetshire was ordered by the Home Office to conduct an inquiry. He reported that W. B. was an illegitimate child and had been insufficiently fed and clothed, and he was also of weak health and intellect. Furthermore, he alleged that W. B. suffered from fits brought on by seeing a man killed by a falling stone in a coal pit. After hearing this evidence, the Home Secretary, Henry Bruce, commuted W. B.’s sentence because he was ‘satisfied that he really was not morally responsible for his actions.’ It was reported in the press:

At the trial [W.B] was defended only by a counsel assigned to him at last minute by the Judge; and nothing was put to evidence but the events on the night on which the murder was committed. But the facts since brought to light tally in a remarkable manner with the absence, noticed at the trial, of any motive in [W.B.] for the commission of the murder, and with its special circumstances, and they are not less consistent with the insanity which is now proved to exist.

It was implied that had the defence not been brought in at the last minute, and had all of the facts been put forward, then W.B. would have been found insane when tried.

In some cases there was clear evidence of premeditation. Prior to the attempted murder of his wife, J.W. had been in prison from where he reportedly wrote to a friend asking him to tell her ‘to prepare to meet her God, as it would be the last chance she would have.’ J.W.’s previous imprisonment may also have worked against him. Indeed, previous convictions seem to have made some judges and juries less likely to consider whether defendants were insane. G. M., for instance, had been sentenced forty-three times for violent assault.

Two final reasons why an insanity verdict was not reached are related to the nature of the crimes committed. Cases of manslaughter or attempted murder were not punishable by death and thus there was no need to save defendants from the gallows.[iii] Finally, attitudes towards the type of crime committed appear to have had some bearing on the verdict. An examination of cases involving the rape of women suggests an uneven application of medical diagnosis in the courtroom. J. S. was convicted of rape. It emerged at his trial that he had previously been imprisoned and whilst serving his sentence was transferred to Bicton Lunatic Asylum. The judge remarked that it was ‘one of the worst cases of the kind that had ever come before his notice in an experience of nearly half a century’ and recalled a time when Smith would have hanged for the crime.[iv] He decided against charging J. S. with the robbery that had occurred alongside the rape because it was ‘perfectly true that at one period of his life the prisoner had been in a lunatic asylum.’ However, ‘Whether, being in gaol at the time, he had shammed madness he did not know […] In any case, it appeared from the statement which had been made to him by the medical men […] that he was discharged perfectly cured and perfectly responsible for his actions.’ In her study of sexual crime in the early-nineteenth century, Anna Clark shows that ‘experts’ (judges and alienists) ‘viewed rape as a moral problem which tainted the victim more than her assailant.’[v] The case of J.S. lends support to historians who have found that as the century progressed, rape was increasingly viewed by judges and juries as a despicable and violent crime.[vi] When passing his sentence the judge told the courtroom: ‘Young women must be protected from outrage by marauders like him, and in the interests of justice, and in order that it might act as a warning to prevent a repetition of so hideous a crime, he sentenced him to be kept in penal servitude for 25 years.’ The heinous nature of Smith’s crime seemingly overrode what in other cases may have been acceptable evidence of a predisposition to madness. Moreover, the case itself is an interesting example of judicial impatience with medical excuses when it came to certain crimes.

[i] William Orange, ‘Presidential Address, delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Medico-Psychological Association, held at the Royal College of Physicians, London, July 27, 1883’, Journal of Mental Science, 29 (October 1883), 329-354.

[ii] John Baker, ‘Epilepsy and Crime’, Journal of Mental Science, 47 (1901), 260-277.

[iii] Following the Criminal Law Consolidation Acts (1861) murder was almost the only capital offence remaining. As the nineteenth century progressed there was growing unease towards capital punishment. V.A.C. Gatrell, The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).

[iv] When rape was a capital offence defendants were unlikely to hang. In her Women’s Silence, Men’s Violence: Sexual Assault in England 1770-1854 (London and New York: Pandora, 1987), Anna Clark shows that ‘The death penalty for rape was thought to prevent juries from reaching guilty verdicts; when it was finally amended to transportation for life in 1841, the conviction rate increased from 10 per cent between 1836 and 1840 to 33 per cent between 1841 and 1845.’

[v] Clark, Women’s Silence, p. 74

[vi] For example, Joanna Bourke, Rape: A History from 1860 to the Present Day (London: Virago, 2007); Martin Wiener, Men of Blood: Violence, Manliness, and Criminal Justice in Victorian England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

‘You need not run: you are done for’: A Case of Attempted Wife Murder and Victorian Broadmoor

In the spring of 1879, A.T, a boilermaker from Hull, was convicted of the attempted murder of his wife, R. According to press reports, R. had lived a ‘miserable’ life since she married her husband the previous year: he ‘ill-used’ her and was intemperate. R. had threatened to leave A.T on a number of occasions, after which he would always promise to reform his ways. Towards the end of 1878 A.T suggested a fresh start – he proposed that he and R. should move to Bolton to be near his relatives. R. agreed, found the money to pay the railway fare, and gave it to her husband to buy the tickets. Instead of buying tickets to Bolton, however, A.T bought tickets to a town near Hull – R. refused to go with him, and so he spent the rest of the money on drink, and over the coming weeks visited a number of towns throughout the North. Whilst travelling, he wrote a number of letters to R. begging her to come and live with him. She refused, and began to work as a general servant. A.T returned to Hull and continued to pester R. On the evening of 1 February, he accompanied her into town to do some shopping. As they walked, A.T begged R. to live with him: she refused to do so until he was sober, and had a home for them to go to. On the walk home, A.T reportedly became increasingly frustrated with R.’s position: ‘he said she should never move from that spot again. He then put his hand to his coat pocket, took out a razor, and deliberately cut her throat from the right ear to the windpipe.’ R. struggled and ‘promised to go home with him if he let her alone’. A. T took no notice and cut the rest of her neck. R. managed to grab the razor blade, threw it to the ground, and ‘with great difficulty’ made it to her master’s house not too far way. As she struggled along the road, A.T called: ‘You need not run: you are done for.’ He followed her to the garden gate, and proceeded to cut his own throat. Both A.T and R. spent two months in the infirmary. A.T was tried at York Castle. The judge declared that ‘it was a most lamentable case, showing, and he hoped would show to many, what fearful consequences resulted from giving way to drink.’ Moreover, he ‘had no doubt that [A.T] had firmly resolved to destroy his wife and himself in a state of despair, misery, and wretchedness brought on wholly by himself.’ A.T was found guilty and sentenced to twenty years penal servitude.

Not long after he entered prison, A.T began displaying symptoms of insanity: he ‘hears his wife outside the door. [And is] Incoherent about going on board his ship.’ He was transferred to Broadmoor. There appears to have been some disagreement as to whether A.T was suffering from ill mental health when he committed the crime (although this wasn’t addressed, as in some other cases). One man wrote:

This is a very bad case. The attempt to murder was deliberate and not due to a sudden burst of passion; and though no doubt the man was under the influence of drink, there is nothing in the evidence to show that he was in any way out of his senses at the time.

On the other hand, Broadmoor’s Superintendent, William Orange, believed: ‘he appears to have been suffering from mental depression for some time before he committed the assault upon his wife and that he had recourse to drinking in order to try to relieve the depression.’ And a close friend of A.T wrote to Orange:

as one of [A.T’s] oldest friends and having seen him and frequently conversed with him up to the very day on which he committed the deed […] I, together with more of his friends feel confident that his mind was certainly unhinged at the time the deed was done and that he was not accountable for his actions. His desperate attempt on his own life goes, I think, very far to prove this.

A.T hated his time at Broadmoor. He wrote to the Home Secretary and begged him ‘to remove me from Broadmoor, back to the prison which I came […] or to any other in the country.’ Like a number of convicts, he complained about the ‘strong prejudice’ he believed existed towards patients of his class.[i] He acknowledged that being in prison wasn’t ‘comfortable’ but believed it was a better option that remaining at Broadmoor where he ‘could not bear my surroundings’: he suffered ‘miserable anxiety’ and complained of ‘the great strain on my nerves’. His experience runs counter to that of others, some of whom viewed prison as mentally and physically trying, and Broadmoor as a place of refuge and recovery. A.T’s hatred towards Broadmoor and its officials can be observed in his ‘Broadmoor Prisoner’s Prayer’ (1884).

Eternal God from heaven send

Thy curses on this place

Stretch forth thine hand omnipotent

This Broadmoor-hell erase

The demon Orange Lord blot out

His minions Lord destroy

Blast with Thy all-devouring breath

These imps of devilry

Confusion bring O heavenly King

Black death and damp despair

Unto their rotten hearts O Lord

Thy Majesty declair [sic]

Let not Great God these men whom Thou

Hast fashioned with Thine hand

Be longer turned to vilest use

Though say misfortunes brand

Tis Thou alone Jehovah who

Canst pardon dark deed done

And not contemptuous creeping curs

With living tortuous tomb

Their swelling hearts with anguish burst

Their wives and children mourn

And bleed with horror at the thought

When reason fled her throne

Rise Lord, in thy almighty power

Against this hellish band

O hear our prayers; declare Thy night;

Vouchsafe Thy saving hand


In addition to his seeming hatred towards Broadmoor and its staff, there was another reason A.T wanted out:

If sir, you will kindly send me back to some prison […] you will not only release me from this unfairness, but also give me an opportunity of showing whether I am insane now, – or shortening my long sentence and so helping me to another opportunity of doing better before I am an old man, and also of sometimes seeing my friends.

One grievance held by some members of Broadmoor’s convict population was that they’d remain incarcerated long after their prison sentence had expired. This could happen if Broadmoor’s medical staff continued to state they were insane.

According to the asylum’s staff, A.T. didn’t make life easy for himself: he was ‘full of shrewdness and cunning’ and ‘impatient of asylum discipline’. On one occasion, he attempted to escape (his plan thwarted when another patient revealed it to the Superintendent). Despite the trouble he caused, there was hope (at least initially) that A.T would recover. This appeared to happen in 1889 when he was conditionally discharged to the care of R., who was reportedly ‘very soliticious for his release and promised to look carefully after him and report periodically as to his condition.’ The reports were initially favourable but in 1892 R. told Superintendent Nicolson that A.T had been ‘drinking intoxicating liquors’ and ‘is very hard to manage’. The Home Office issued a warrant for his arrest and he was readmitted to the asylum. One month following her husband’s readmission, R. wrote to Nicolson:

You will no doubt wonder why I have not written to my husband, but after careful consideration I think it best not to do so as I am not intending to live with him anymore. I will give you a truthful reason why. Some nine months ago I engaged a girl Annie […] as a servant, expecting her to be a respectable girl. I had to discharge her before she had been with me two months on account of the familiarity between she and my husband. I thought this would put an end to it, instead of which, I kept hearing of them being together in different places, I watched for them and caught them together. I should have then left him, but being responsible and having to report him to you, this I could not do if I left the town. Since then matters have got worse, he has never been properly sober, we have been continually quarrelling during this time, he has kept much of his wages, and since the week before Christmas, all of it; he said he should do as he pleased and I should do the same. You will no doubt learn the truth of what I say through his correspondence for it has been the talk of East Hull. Considering what I suffered at his hands, and I worked the whole time he was away, and have done since he came home, so as to make us comfortable when we are old, I feel some of you will feel me justified in my decision.

She asked, ‘any time you feel justified in giving him his liberty […] give me due notice of his release, as I intend to go to America before he returns.’ This does not appear to have happened. After his readmission, A.T was reportedly ‘rational, tranquil and industrious’, and two years later was discharged on the condition that he would not visit his wife. A few months passed before Nicolson received a letter from R.: ‘I write to inform you that my husband has been here armed with a pistol and it was only after a long time it could be taken from him and he be got out of the house.’ The Home Office issued two warrants: a revocation of A.T’s discharge and one for his arrest. He was once again readmitted to Broadmoor.

In April 1899, just before his prison sentence was due to expire, A.T petitioned the Home Office for his discharge. In a letter that accompanied the petition, Superintendent Richard Brayn told the Home Office that A.T had been declared insane with the view to his removal to the Hull Borough Asylum:

He is very plausible and quite capable of concealing his real feelings and opinions, and I have no doubt he will regulate his conduct in the Asylum with the object of obtaining his discharge at an early date: and in view of the possibility of his being successful, I think it might be advisable that the police of Hull should be informed of his transfer, as would be the case were he discharged from Prison to their district.

Brayn was so concerned about A.T’s potential plans if he were ever to be released that he told the Superintendent of Hull asylum that he was being transferred as a pauper lunatic to avoid discharging him. He warned him that A.T

will no doubt try to regulate his conduct and conversation with a view to obtaining discharge from the Asylum. I am of opinion […] that his feelings towards his wife continue to be morbid and vindictive, and I consider that his discharge would be attended with considerable risk […] as his sentence expires at the end of this month, there is no authority for his further detention in a Criminal Asylum, and he is therefore transferred to your Asylum as a pauper lunatic.

A.T was transferred to Hull asylum in April 1899.

[i] There were two classes of patient in the asylum. First, men and women who had been found insane before or during their trials who were known as Queen’s pleasure patients. Second, there were insane convicts; men and women who had become insane whilst undergoing a term of penal servitude and were transferred to Broadmoor from prison until their sentences expired and they were discharged to another asylum or released, or they were declared sane and sent back to prison until their sentences expired.

Christmas at Victorian Broadmoor

Twas the night before Christmas (1869), when patient D. M. decided that not even the prospect of currant cake the following day was enough to keep him at Broadmoor. As much of the asylum slept, he carefully removed the iron bar from his window, placed it onto his bed, and escaped into the dark, cold December night.

Christmas at Broadmoor was, in many ways, no different to any other time at the asylum. In addition to escapes, there were reported instances of violence and abuse towards staff and patients, petitions for discharge were still made, and some patients still complained about their treatment and alleged wrongful confinement. Yet, at the same time, there is evidence that for some, life was, if only for a few days, a little bit better. 

For some patients, December meant more visitors. In early December, the friend of one patient pleaded with the Superintendent to allow him to visit one Sunday before Christmas because he ‘couldn’t see him on a weekday, and cannot give up his Christmas holiday to visit’ (Sunday was the only day visiting was not normally allowed). As Christmas got closer, the Superintendent received letters from patients’ friends and families wishing to visit their loved ones: patient H.D.’s two little girls ‘very much want to see their father at Christmas’ and A.I.’s husband ‘thought of coming over to see my wife about Christmas’. Some families were not content with the prospect of simply visiting their loved ones, and were hopeful that their petition to the Home Office would be be successful so that they could be reunited, at home, in time for a family Christmas. In mid-December 1873, the husband of patient M.D. expressed his family’s disappointment that his wife wouldn’t be released in time to celebrate with them. Christmas was certainly important to some families. Following the death of a relative at Broadmoor, and their subsequent burial at the asylum, many wished to remember their loved ones during the holidays: for many years, around mid-December, the son of patient A.O. sent a wreath to be placed on his grave.

Of course, as at other times of the year, many people found the time and cost of travelling to Broadmoor too great, and others feared acrimonious reunions with their loved ones. This meant that some patients received no visitors. In some cases, patients’ relatives sent Christmas cards and other tokens, including small gifts, in lieu of their presence. Some patients even requested certain presents: patient F.C. asked his mother ‘if a few shilling is ok for a gift’.

The atmosphere at Broadmoor at Christmas time was, according to some reports, quite jovial. Perhaps unsurprisingly, more patients attended religious services on Christmas day than on any other. In his report for 1874, Broadmoor’s chaplain reported that the average number of patients attending service on a Sunday was 92. On other days (services were held every day), it ranged from 22 to 42. On Christmas Day, it was 115. Other patients were reportedly caught up in the festive atmosphere, decorating the wards and wishing their fellow patients and Broadmoor’s staff a Happy Christmas. One reason for increased happiness, perhaps, was that the food was slightly better. This meant that pauper patients, whose diets were normally quite basic, could enjoy cake usually only available to private patients (who paid their own fees and could request any food item they wanted as long as they paid for it).

The Victorian reading public were seemingly just as curious to read about life at Broadmoor during the festive season as they were at other times of the year. ‘Christmas Day at Broadmoor’ was published in Reynolds’ Newspaper in 1896, and whilst highly sensational (and probably mostly embellished), it’s one account of Christmas at the asylum. What’s more, tales of terror, insanity and violence, as well as a furious snow storm, all of which emerge in the piece, sit quite nicely within the Victorian tradition of telling spooky and sensational tales on dark, cold Christmas nights, quite like the one I began with.

Christmas Day at Broadmoor Part 1 Christmas Day at Broadmoor Part 2 Christmas Day at Broadmoor Part 3.1 Christmas Day at Broadmoor Part 3.2 Christmas Day at Broadmoor Part 4