“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.

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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.



‘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.

‘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.

Wrongful Confinement at Broadmoor, Part 1

The question of wrongful confinement was debated in the press and sensationalised by novelists. In the mid-eighteenth century Daniel Defoe condemned the confinement of women as a ‘vile practice now so much in vogue among the better sort’ and in 1830 Hanwell asylum’s John Conolly expressed similar concern.[i] Later in the nineteenth century, sensation novelists Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade published The Woman in White (1860) and Hard Cash (1863) respectively and had a significant role in raising public awareness of the need for lunacy reform. In 1858-59 and 1876-77 there were panics regarding wrongful confinement which led to the appointment of Select Committees of the House of Commons but these only exacerbated public fears. In addition there were a number of well-publicised accounts of real-life cases of alleged wrongful confinement. John Perceval believed he was wrongly detained in an asylum for two years after he had been declared sane. He published A Narrative of The Treatment Experienced by a Gentleman, During a State of Mental Derangement; Designed to Explain the Causes and the Nature of Insanity, and to Expose the Injudicious Conduct Pursued Towards Many Sufferers Under That Calamity (1838) and formed the Alleged Lunatics Friend Society (ALFS) in 1845.[ii] Louisa Lowe was allegedly illegally incarcerated in an asylum between October 1870 and December 1871.[iii] Following her discharge, Lowe attempted to prosecute the Lunacy Commissioners for allowing her to remain incarcerated even though she was sane; she lost the case but drew public attention to wrongful confinement. In 1873 Lowe formed the Lunacy Law Reform Association, which succeeded ALFS, and spoke at public meetings and gave lectures. In 1877 the Government appointed a Select Committee to investigate the lunacy laws and Lowe gave evidence regarding her own incarceration and drew attention to a number of other cases of alleged wrongful confinement. In 1883 she published The Bastilles of England in which she interrogated the workings of the English Lunacy Laws and described cases in which there were questionable grounds for incarceration.[iv] In 1879, Herman Charles Merivale anonymously published his own story of being twice wrongfully confined.[v]

The question of wrongful confinement was also raised at Broadmoor where some patients pleaded sanity and in their letters home or to the Superintendent expressed disdain at their continued confinement. Even if patients were considered sane and had demonstrated industriousness and self-control, their discharge could still be refused. This frustrated some patients, one of whom wrote to Superintendent William Orange, ‘during all these years I have not had the slightest symptom which preceded my illness previous to being sent here. I think that is the best and safest test [of sanity].’ The records also indicate that some patients’ families were also frustrated when their relatives were refused discharge after many years of being considered sane. Such cases led the editors of Lloyds Weekly Newspaper to express their concern that some of Broadmoor’s patients were detained without reason. It was the case of H.D, however, that created the most contention.

In February 1878, H.D., a fifty-two year old clergyman, fired a pistol at Sir George Jessel, Master of the Rolls, as he arrived at the Rolls Court on Chancery Lane. The court-keeper and usher called for the police and a constable arrived. H. D. reportedly told him ‘I have done it […] I have shot the Master of the Rolls, which is what I wanted to do.’ Whiting found on H. D.’s person a letter addressed to Mr Taylor, a tobacconist, which read:

I beg leave to ask you the very great favour of going over to see my wife […] and break to her the fact that I am in custody for assaulting one of Her Majesty’s Judges. After five and a third years of incessant struggling I have come to the most unwelcome conclusion that I can gain a hearing, not a grand thing for any man in any country, only by breaking the law.

H.D. was charged with feloniously firing a pistol with intent to do murder or grievous bodily harm before Mr Flowers at the Bow Street Police Court, where his ‘incessant’ struggle became clear. It emerged that Jessel had previously presided over two suits brought forth by H. D. In 1877, in the second of these meetings, it emerged that nine years earlier H. D. had been appointed chaplain to an Industrial School in Brighton but was dismissed from his duties. He presented a Petition of Right to the Queen to reinstate him which was heard before Vice-Chancellor Malins who rejected the petition. Jessel was the presiding judge the day H. D. appealed against Malins’s decision and he upheld the judgement. Two weeks later H. D. went before the Court of Appeal where he told Jessel that he wished to negate the judgement of Malins on the ground that he was a corrupt judge. Jessel threatened to have H. D. removed from court and H. D. left. The next time they met was on the morning H. D. fired the shot.

The frustration H. D. felt after years spent trying to be reinstated at the Industrial School became clear during his questioning at Bow Street. H. D. represented himself and requested to question Jessel in front of witnesses but he was refused. He then asked permission to read from his notebook but was again refused permission. The Times reported that H. D. was ‘very moved and in sobbing tones, said “Oh! pray hear me at last. This is a free country and you are obliged to hear me now I am in a dock.”’ Flowers appeared unsympathetic and told H. D. that he would have to wait until the following day to make his case. The next day H. D. directed the attention of the court to a statement made by Jessel who, following the shooting, reportedly returned to his duty as judge, apologised to his peers for his lateness and declared, ‘I am glad to tell you that I have no doubt whatsoever that the person who fired the pistol at me is insane.’ One newspaper responded to Jessel’s remark: ‘Surely for a man of Sir George’s experience it was a most improper thing to prejudice a prisoner in that way.’ Flowers appeared to view the remark more positively and considered it ‘a merciful view of [H. D.’s] conduct and probably the only ground upon which he could hope to escape punishment.’ Assault was a very serious crime in Victorian Britain and was severely punished. But as historians have shown, insanity was one way to justify and explain violent behaviour that contravened the purported manly ideal. Jessel’s proclamation of insanity thus provided the defence H. D. needed. An examination of press reports suggests that Flowers was convinced H. D. was insane. When H. D. began to read to the court letters he had previously written to Jessel, Flowers informed him that his case must go to trial, but H. D. continued:

Prisoner: I will read these letters. (The prisoner read a letter written in very strong language referring to the conduct of the judge before whence his case had come.)

Mr Flowers: Did you expect him to take notice of such a letter as that? I won’t hear any more of that sort of stuff. It is perfectly useless. It might perhaps be useful to you in some sense, to show that you were –

Prisoner: Do you, not, sir, remember the definition of madness?

H. D. began to quote an article from the Lancet in which madness was defined as ‘tearless’ when Flowers stopped him on the grounds that he could not allow H. D. to speak upon such a matter. One can presume that H. D. was referring to his emotional display the previous day in order to call into question Jessel’s opinion that he was insane. H. D. continued to discuss the events that led to his dismissal from the Industrial School and began to read some letters he had sent to the Guardians of the Poor at Brighton. Flowers refused to be drawn into the matter and bound all witnesses to give evidence at a trial.

This initial investigation attracted much press attention. During questioning it emerged that H. D. had not loaded the pistol with a bullet but with a wad of paper and thus the crime was not an attempted murder. The press still sensationalised the act, however. One newspaper reported that the ‘would-be murderer’ was a ‘person of excited appearance’ who ‘rushed forward and discharged a pistol’ at Jessel’s head, thus depicting H. D. as an irrational and dangerous lunatic. This depiction was juxtaposed with one of Jessel who following the incident ‘displayed the utmost calmness’; and thus, the utmost manliness. The scene described by the press differed from the evidence given during the trial. At the Old Bailey, Hayes told the courtroom that H. D. walked calmly over to Jessel after firing the pistol and introduced himself. Jessel said he witnessed H. D. ‘take his right hand from under the left side of his coat’ before he ‘presented a pistol’ at him; both men thus portraying H. D. as calm, collected and stationary when committing the crime.

H. D. defended himself during the trial where much of what had transpired at Bow Street was reiterated: that his motive for the assault was to be tried and so raise public awareness of his unjust dismissal, and that there was no murderous intent. No medical evidence was requested during the trial but H. D.’s mental condition was scrutinised more here than it had been previously. Sydney Roberts Smith, Governor of Newgate, told the court that he had seen H. D. write many letters, some in Latin, since he was admitted. One of the letters was translated and read to the court to prove that H. D. was intellectually sound. Despite Smith’s evidence the question of H. D.’s sanity was directed to laymen. Jessel recalled his previous meetings with H. D. and remembered his behaviour as:

decidedly irrational—his address was incoherent and irrelevant and seemed to me to show distinct signs of delusion—he seemed to think that everybody was […] in a conspiracy against him, and those who have experience in those matters know that is a very common sign of the mind giving way.

The trial transcript and press reports suggest that the general feeling in the courtroom was that H. D. was insane, but two witnesses did attest to his sanity. Mr Taylor, the tobacconist to whom H. D. had written said, ‘I was surprised to hear that he was called insane – I have never seen any insanity in his case, certainly sometimes excited about his case that he had in the Courts, but not insanity.’ Taylor was cross-examined by the Solicitor-General who asked him to share his opinion on H. D.’s mental state, he replied: ‘I can’t say that I investigated any of the cases he said he had been wronged in […] my judgement about his sanity or insanity would in some way depend on whether he related facts or whether they were delusions.’ Indeed, as well as being the legal test for madness, delusions were a good public indicator of the disease. Taylor also told the court that H. D.’s efforts to regain employment had driven H. D. and his family out of their home and forced them to sell their possessions. Another witness, Mr Horton, reiterated this:

I walked up the Strand with him on the Wednesday before the unfortunate circumstance came about […] he told me that he must do something desperate, for he would be heard – I heard of his arrest on the Friday he told me that he was a ruined man, that he could get no employment whatever.

H. D.’s motive for the crime thus stemmed from his failure to secure employment and provide for his family.

Despite Flowers’ assertion at Bow Street that H. D. would get the opportunity to air his grievances at his trial, the judge, Baron Huddleston, stopped H. D. from asking the former matron of the Industrial School questions relating to the conduct of the Guardians which had ultimately led to his dismissal. Huddleston stopped the trial at this point and asked the jury to consider the verdict. After half an hour they declared, ‘we find that the prisoner fired the pistol, but that it was not charged with anything calculated to kill or do grievous bodily harm; and that he fired the pistol whilst labouring under a delusion as to his supposed wrong.’ Huddleston then told them that they must ‘acquit him altogether, if you don’t find the pistol was loaded as to kill […] or do any grievous bodily harm.’ The jury conferred again and returned a verdict of not guilty. H. D. was then charged with common assault and Huddleston instructed the jury to decide whether H. D. had fired the pistol. If he had, he said, there is no doubt that H. D. is guilty, and warned the jury that they could not find him insane after the verdict was announced. Huddleston said that ‘the defence of insanity was not one to be lightly entertained’ and that ‘It was difficult to fix a rule with regard to insanity, but in the case of [Daniel] McNaughton the matter was fully discussed and the judge laid it down that the person doing the act knew at the time he was doing a wrong act.’ He continued:

No one could doubt that [H. D.] was suffering under a strange delusion – labouring under the notion that he had been the victim of injustice. The failure of the actions he had taken seemed to weigh upon his mind, and in respect to that no one would doubt that he was labouring under a considerable delusion, as was shown by the evidence of the Master of the Rolls.

Huddleston then misdirected the jury to find H. D. insane. He told them that it was their prerogative to decide whether they considered H. D. to be responsible for his act ‘at a time when he was manifestly labouring under a delusion.’ As the jury turned away to discuss the verdict H. D. interrupted, ‘You must have medical testimony, I humbly submit, to decide that.’ H. D. then asked Huddleston if he could change his plea to guilty, but was refused. After five minutes the jury returned with a verdict of ‘not guilty on the ground of insanity’ and H. D. was ordered to be detained during Her Majesty’s pleasure.

The verdict is an interesting one. Throughout the trial many witnesses referred to H. D.’s delusions. Yet, H. D. made it clear that he had planned to shoot at Jessel and disclosed his motive. In the eyes of the legal profession a motive implied guilt. Moreover, the McNaughton Rules stated that

If a person commits a criminal act under the influence of an insane delusion, with a view to redressing or revenging some supposed grievance or injury […] he is nevertheless punishable if he knew at the time that he was acting contrary to the law.

As his letter to Taylor demonstrates, H. D. knew that his act was illegal and thus he should have been punished. The question of why H. D. was found insane arises. As happened in some criminal cases, the jury appear to have been guided by the judge and convinced by Jessel’s testimony. Indeed, the verdict indicates that the question of a defendant’s insanity was sometimes directed towards a diverse and sometimes contradictory group of witnesses; neighbours, friends, relatives, alienists and, in this instance, an ‘esteemed’ judge. This trial suggests the power judges and juries still had over determining the existence of insanity in criminal cases.

After H. D. was questioned at Bow Street it was reported in the press, ‘In one important matter I think the public must be pretty generally agreed, and that is, that […] [H. D.] is not in his right mind, but we may expect conflicting evidence on this.’ Another newspaper declared, H.D. ‘seems to have been one of those troublesome persons of whom it is difficult to know at any time whether they are sane or insane.’ The decision to find insanity in some cases was controversial and H. D.’s committal to Broadmoor was no exception.

To be continued…

[i] Valerie Pedlar, The Most Dreadful Visitation: Male Madness in Victorian Fiction (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2006), p. 80; Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980 (New York: Virago Press, 1987), p. 103.

[ii] John Perceval, A Narrative of the Treatment Experienced by a Gentleman, During a State of Mental Derangement; Designed to Explain the Causes and the Nature of Insanity, and to Expose the Injudicious Conduct Pursued Towards Many Sufferers Under That Calamity (London: Effingham Wilson, 1838).

[iii] For Lowe, Helen Nicolson, ‘Introduction’, in Women, Madness and Spiritualism, ed. by Roy Porter, Helen Nicolson, and Bridget Bennett, 2 vols (London and New York: Routledge, 2003), VI, pp. 139-156.

[iv] Louisa Lowe, The Bastilles of England; or, The Lunacy Laws at Work (London: Crookenden and Co., 1883).

[v] Herman Merivale, My Experiences in a Lunatic Asylum by a Sane Patient (London: Chatto and Windus, 1879).

Broadmoor’s Men: Part One

Throughout the nineteenth century, the public school, universities, armed services, colonial administration, settlement houses and the Anglican celibate orders were all homo-social environments.[i] So too was the male division at Broadmoor, a space within which men in very different roles interacted with one another. This is the first of three blog posts introducing life in Victorian Broadmoor. It provides an overview of the men at the asylum, its staff and its patients, and briefly considers public perceptions of the type of man confined inside its walls.

a) Staff

Broadmoor had four Superintendents between 1863 and 1900: John Meyer (1863-1870), William Orange (1870-1886), David Nicolson (1886-1896) and Richard Brayn (1896-1910). It was the Superintendent’s job to classify the patients and examine them on arrival, and to make daily visits to all parts of the asylum as well as random night visits. He was required to keep records on all patients and their condition, and inspect patients’ incoming and outgoing letters.[ii] The Superintendent was assisted by a Deputy Medical Superintendent and an Assistant Medical Officer, and he worked closely with the chaplain, schoolmaster, servants and attendants.

Attendants were responsible for patients’ safety and had to report all ‘accidents, bruises, or scratches, however trivial […] to the medical officer on duty.’ They washed and clothed patients who were incapable of doing so themselves, shaved the male patients three times a week, and circulated newspapers, periodicals and books to patients. They also introduced draughts, chess and cards in the evenings.[iii] Broadmoor’s medical officers treated attendants’ families living on the estate, and if further medical assistance was required, financial assistance was available via an offertory fund.[iv] Attendants received one-day leave every ten days. Owing to the special need of Broadmoor’s patients, there were five patients to one attendant.

b) Patients

Studies of nineteenth-century county asylums have convincingly questioned the assumption that women outnumbered men in asylums.[v] It’s now generally understood that madness and femaleness were not correlated to the degree previously suggested. Given that criminal activity is overwhelmingly male, it is unsurprising that criminal lunacy was statistically male. A close examination of the admission registers reveals the extent to which men outnumbered women in Broadmoor. Other than in 1863 when only females were admitted and a slight dip in admissions in 1872, males always made up around 80% of the annual asylum admissions.

Press reports represented criminal lunatics as male. An examination of press reports from the 1860s and 1870s indicates that ideas of degeneration, which had entered British discussions on insanity and crime in the 1850s, informed some journalistic representations of Broadmoor.[vi] In 1865 ‘The Terrors of Broadmoor’ was published in the Penny Illustrated Paper. This was a report on the Strong Block (Block 1) where the most ‘fearful collection of patients’ resided. This included ‘G’, a man ‘not so much mad as irrevocably bad – a kind of modern Frankenstein, born apparently without a moral nature […] He alone possesses powers of combination and can gain over his dangerous associates to do his will’.[vii] The same year, The Times described Broadmoor’s patients using language similar to that employed by some British criminologists and European criminal anthropologists to differentiate the criminal from other men:

In the sitting-room, which is nearly always full, the first thing that strikes [you] on entrance is […] the criminal type of all the faces […] The low mental organisation which one always finds associated with crime in the common run of criminals, the small head, narrow and receding forehead, and restless furtive eyes are at Broadmoor intensified, and in most cases accompanied with a weakly, undersized physical development. Small ill-formed heads, narrow, stooping shoulders, weak limbs, and the shuffling hesitating gait, are the rule among them.[viii]

Representations of Broadmoor’s patients were not all negative. In 1867, the Illustrated London News published a complimentary report on the asylum’s regime, alongside which were images of an orderly female dormitory, a male patient playing the violin in his clean, single room, and male patients sitting in a day room enjoying a variety of activities and amusements surrounded by artwork.[ix] Such reports distinguished life in Broadmoor from the zoo-like depictions of Bethlem made by the press ten years previously, and countered reports which appeared in the Penny Illustrated and The Times.

An examination of letters found in patient case files suggests that the fearful image presented in press reports entered the minds of some laymen,[x] thus lending support to the argument put forth by some historians that ‘There is ample evidence from Victorian letters, diaries and autobiographies that upper and middle class families feared asylums […] and had low expectations of the kind of care their relatives might receive.’[xi] At Broadmoor, the fears of the middle class appear in part to have been borne out of class prejudice and the desire of the better-off to differentiate themselves from the working classes.[xii] In 1879, the friend of one patient’s wife expressed her concern to Orange that the woman wanted to visit her husband at the insistence of her ‘pig-headed old mother-in-law’ who had arranged a trip to Broadmoor ‘as a sort of holiday jaunt.’ She could only imagine one reason why she wanted to visit the asylum: ‘I believe the lower classes as a rule like a feast of horrors.’[xiii] Such opinions might suggest, as Bethlem’s Superintendent W. D. Hood feared would happen, that Broadmoor came to be viewed ‘in the light of a Bastille […] desecrated by […] popular odium.’[xiv] Negative perceptions of Broadmoor were not shared by all. The correspondence of poor families with the Superintendent suggests that not all members of the public feared the asylum, at least after they had come into contact with it. The vast number of letters inquiring into the mental and physical health of incarcerated relatives suggests that family members viewed Broadmoor as a place of recovery. It was a place where their son, husband or father would recover his senses thus leading to his discharge enabling him to resume his role as breadwinner, carer or confidant. The parent of one patient, for example, told David Nicolson: ‘I am his father and am getting old and if I could only obtain his liberty he would be of great assistance to me’.

An examination of the social class of Broadmoor’s patients and of the crimes committed suggests a different picture to that presented in newspapers such as The Times and the ideas some members of the public appear to have entertained about the asylum’s patients. In 1882, The Departmental Commission on Criminal Lunacy for England and Wales reported little difference between pauper and criminal lunatics:

pauper lunatics are largely drawn from the lowest and worst classes of the community, that is from the same classes which yield largely the inmates of prisons, thieves, prostitutes, drunkards, the idle and dissipated, persons leading turbulent lives and given to violence, persons unrestrained either by intelligence or morality.[xv]

The research I undertook for my PhD thesis suggests that the majority of Broadmoor’s patients were not drawn from the worst classes. In his ‘Responsibility in Criminal Cases’ (1878) David Nicolson described Queen’s pleasure patients:

They do not belong to the higher or middle classes of the community; nor (before their offence) do they belong to the pauper class. Remembering that insanity spares neither the rich nor the poor, is it not strange that one of the most unpleasant phases of it should limit itself, for the most part, to one (what may be called the “poorer”) social region, and avoid the two extremes?[xvi]

The explanation he suggested was that unlike wealthy men who could pay for their care or had friends to care for them when insane, or insane paupers who were committed to an asylum, ‘The bread-winning father of a family cannot afford to give up work and lie by or a seek a change in time, he struggles on for the sake of the “little ones;” or in other cases, the relations do not take heed in time.’[xvii] The struggling individual eventually commits a criminal act thus indicating the dangerous nature of their insanity and qualifying them as a criminal lunatic.

The term ‘criminal lunatic’ conjures a picture of a dangerous person who is out of control but when Broadmoor patients’ crimes and motivations are examined this image becomes slightly blurred. In 1905 psychiatrist Charles Mercier wrote:

The homicidal act of an insane person is usually an isolated act, done in a mood of intense exasperation, and not likely to be repeated. Were it otherwise, it is obvious that Broadmoor, in which so many lunatics who have perpetrated homicide find a permanent home, would be a pandemonium of perpetual uproar. It is nothing of the kind. There we see scores of murderers, peacefully and tranquilly pursuing industrial avocations, and giving their custodians no apprehension of renewal of assault.[xviii]

Mercier’s description of peaceful industry inside Broadmoor can be juxtaposed with the failure to cope with the demand for masculine industrious productivity in the outside world which brought some men, by their own and medical accounts, to the asylum. It might even be that the ideology of work subscribed to by the middle classes, which was promoted in working-class newspapers and by trade unions, played a role in the creation of criminal lunatics through the formation of an ideal of economic productivity that was impossible for some men to meet. Once within Broadmoor, these men had the opportunity to live out a fantasy version of productive labour, cushioned from the fears and hardships of, and the competition for, work.

[i] John Tosh, Manliness and Masculinities in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2006), p. 114.[ii] Rules for the Guidance of the Officers of Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum (London: George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1863), p. 3.
[iii] Rules for the Guidance of Officers, Attendants, and Servants of Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum (London: Ford and Tilt, 1869), pp. 3-5.
[iv] Ibid., pp. 7-8.
[v] Joan Busfield, ‘The Female Malady?: Men, Women, and Madness in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, Sociology, 28 (1994), 259-77; Andrew Scull, Social Order/Mental Disorder: Anglo-American Psychiatry in Historical Perspective (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 267-79; Pamela Michael, ‘Class, Gender and Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Ireland’, in Sex and Seclusion, Class and Custody: Perspectives on Gender and Class in the History of British and Irish Psychiatry, ed. by Jonathan Andrews and Anne Digby (New York: Rodopi, 2004), pp. 95-122; Joseph Melling, ‘Sex and Sensibility in Cultural History: The English Governess and the Lunatic Asylum, 1845-1914’, in Sex and Seclusion, ed. by Andrews and Digby, pp. 177-222; Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980 (New York: Virago Press, 1987), p. 17.
[vi] Daniel Pick, Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, 1848-1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 178.[vii] ‘Criminal Lunatics at Broadmoor’, Penny Illustrated Paper, 21 January 1865, p. 3.
[viii] ‘A Visit to the Criminal Lunatic Asylum’, The Times, 13 January 1865, p. 10.
[ix] ‘The Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum’, Illustrated London News, 24 August 1867, p. 208.
[x] Deborah Weiner, ‘“This Coy and Secluded Dwelling”: Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane’, in Madness, Architecture and the Built Environment, ed. by Leslie Topp, James E. Moran and Jonathan Andrews (New York and London: Routledge, 2007), pp. 131-148.
[xi] Charlotte Mackenzie, ‘A Family Asylum: A History of the Private Asylum at Ticehurst in Sussex, 1792-1917’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of London, 1986), p. 278. Also, Andrew Scull, The Insanity of Place, The Place of Insanity: Essays on the History of Psychiatry (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 23.
[xii] Dan Bivona and Roger B. Henkle, The Imagination of Class: Masculinity and the Victorian Urban Poor (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2006), p. 6.
[xiii] D/H14/D2/2/1/918/17, letter to Orange.
[xiv] Hood quoted in David Nicolson, ‘A Chapter in the History of Criminal Lunacy in England’, Journal of Mental Science, 23 (July 1877), 165-185 (p. 176).
[xv] Quoted in Ibid.
[xvi] David Nicolson, ‘The Measure of Individual and Social Responsibility in Criminal Cases’, Journal of Mental Science, 24 (July 1878), 249-273 (p. 272).
[xvii] Ibid.
[xviii] Charles Mercier, Criminal Responsibility (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), pp. 123-124.