‘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

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‘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

Amen

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.

Treating ‘Insane Convicts’

It’s recently been announced that the government is going to consider plans to build specialist units inside prisons to treat prisoners with mental health problems. Currently, the most dangerous offenders are sent to Ashworth, Broadmoor or Rampton for treatment, but some receive little or no help. The question of how to treat mentally ill offenders pre-dates the construction of Broadmoor (1863), Britain’s first hospital for mentally ill criminals, and has always been highly contentious. This posts outlines the contention that existed at Victorian Broadmoor regarding the committal of insane convicts into the asylum. 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).

There had long been discussions in Parliament and between Lunacy Commissioners and Broadmoor’s Superintendents about whether convicts should be incarcerated at Broadmoor and the extent to which they should be allowed to associate with Queen’s pleasure patients. In May 1860, three years before Broadmoor opened, the Lunacy Commissioners reported the result of their examination of the draft Criminal Lunatics Act to the Home Secretary. Perhaps basing their conclusions on the reservations of MPs, journalists, asylum Superintendents and prison governors, all of whom objected to the association of criminals and the insane, they stated that the reception of convicts into Broadmoor ‘would be most objectionable, and […] the proper place for the[m] […] would be an institution […] in connection with convict prisons.’ Yet, not long after Broadmoor opened, the Lunacy Commissioners declared, ‘it is the matter of the gravest doubt whether insane persons of the criminal class […] should be treated differently from other patients.’ But the behaviour and presumed natural propensities of convicts (that they were inherently lazy and bad) meant they were considered radically different to Queen’s pleasure patients, and when William Orange became Medical Superintendent in 1870 he initiated great change: he separated Queen’s pleasure patients and insane convicts because he believed that ‘unrestricted association leads to the […] further deterioration, morally, of the patients.’ After years of observing the violent and abusive nature of insane convicts in Broadmoor and hearing damning testimonies from the Superintendents and Queen’s pleasure patients regarding their behaviour, the Lunacy Commissioners agreed.

Although he viewed criminals and the insane in a similar light, Italian criminologist, Cesare Lombroso, admired Orange’s efforts to separate the classes. He reported that there had been a reduced number of attacks made against attendants and that the conditions at Broadmoor had ‘greatly improved’ since the disassociation of the two classes. This observation was partly true but evidence suggests that the separation of classes was insufficient and Broadmoor’s resources were, as Orange reflected, ‘strained beyond the limits of prudence’ in the attempt to treat both classes of patient and change was needed. The Lunacy Commissioners were in agreement:

The forced association of honest and well-conducted persons who, solely owing to mental disease have broken the law, with convicts whose criminal acts have probably been the cause of their mental disorder is evidently unjust, and there is every reason to believe that the successful management and treatment of both classes should be more safely and efficiently conducted in separate institutions, with different rules and modes of treatment, and wherein the structural arrangements can be specially adapted to the varying requirement of each.

In 1874 it was decided that insane convicts should be incarcerated at Woking Prison instead of Broadmoor. This meant that through death, transfer or discharge, the numbers of convicts in the asylum gradually declined.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that Broadmoor’s stance towards convicts appears to have been changing at the same time damning images of the criminal were emerging in scientific and legal discourse. An examination of the Addresses, publications and Annual Reports of Broadmoor’s Superintendents – William Orange and David Nicolson (Superintendent 1886-1896) suggests that they shared many of the same views as men such as Edmund Du Cane (chairman of the prison commission) and psychiatrist Henry Maudsley who tended to represent (habitual) criminals (as most of Broadmoor’s convict population were presumed to be) as amoral, uncivilized and untreatable: they were not industrious, they failed to control their passions and they were physically weak and deformed.

The positive effects on asylum life as a result of the prohibition of convicts were soon realised – there was ‘less bad language […] [and] fewer attacks by patients on each other take place, as shown by the comparative absence of bruises, and in all respects [patients] have become more manageable.’ It was not to last, however. Home Office records indicate that contention existed regarding the committal of insane convicts at Woking. Some, including the Lunacy Commissioners, questioned the legality of housing insane convicts in a prison rather than a legally recognised criminal lunatic asylum. Others believed Woking was unsuitable to house insane convicts and one contemporary reported to the Home Office: ‘no alterations can make Woking prison as good or convenient place for the treatment and detention of the insane as Broadmoor.’ In 1886 it was decided to discontinue the occupation of Woking by insane convicts and the following year work began at Broadmoor to construct a Block specifically for convicts in preparation for their re-admission into the asylum. In October 1888 the transfer of convicts back to Broadmoor began. The asylum reportedly soon witnessed an increase in the ‘proportion of restless, turbulent, and viciously disposed inmates.’

Where (and even if) mentally ill offenders should be treated in the nineteenth century was certainly the cause of much debate – it was proposed in the British Medical Journal that insane convicts should be kept in a separate institution where they could receive specialised treatment, and the Pall Mall Gazette refused to the pity the repeat offender (the ‘hardened criminal’) who became insane, advising that it was probably better to hang than treat them. Recent press coverage regarding debates over the provision of books for prisoners (‘Books […] [are] a way of nourishing the mind’)[i], and discussions of how and where mentally ill prisoners should be treated, indicate that the question of how best to treat them remains to this day – albeit, thankfully, in more sympathetic terms.

[i] Victorian psychiatrists expressed similar beliefs. Broadmoor’s Superintendents and Chaplain wrote about the positive effect reading had on patients’ minds. Broadmoor’s Council of Supervision (its governing body) purchased books for the patients which Reverend Burt described as being ‘of great moral value; they afford mental occupation to a considerable number of all classes of patients, and both amuse and instruct them during many hours which, without this humane provision, would be spent in weariness, in bitter reflection, or in angry discontent.’