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.

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