“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.

‘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.

Christmas at Victorian Broadmoor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘A Visit to Broadmoor’: The Victorian Press and the Asylum

The first of a two-part documentary about twenty-first century Broadmoor will be aired on ITV tonight and there has been much press over the past few days about the hospital opening its doors ‘for the first time‘. 2014 certainly marks the first time that TV cameras have been allowed inside Broadmoor, but it won’t be the first time since the institution opened in 1863 that the public will be privy to information regarding life inside the institution. Between 1863 and 1900, the governing body of Victorian Broadmoor (Council of Supervision) and its Superintendents, invited many journalists to visit the asylum and report on asylum life. Some reports were highly sensational and probably terrified readers, and others were sympathetic, presenting a positive view of life in England’s first criminal lunatic asylum (as it was then known). This post provides a glimpse of what some Victorians would have read about Broadmoor.

The final of the first three extracts suggests that ideas of degeneration, which had entered British discussions on insanity and crime in the 1850s, informed some journalistic representations of the asylum.

Extracts from ‘A Visit to the Criminal Lunatic Asylum’ (1865):

1865. 1 1865. 2

1865. 3

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.

ILN 1867

Some journalists created atmospheric accounts of their visit to the asylum.

Extracts from ‘A Visit to Broadmoor: A Day Among Murderers’ (1886):

A Visit to Broadmoor. 1886. A visit to BM 2

Some patients’ letters landed in the hands of journalists, thus offering the public an alternative, and perhaps surprising perspective of life at Broadmoor.

‘Life in a Criminal Lunatic Asylum’ (1898):

A Murderers Life in BM 1898

Some journalists blasted Broadmoor for its lenient treatment of criminals.

‘Startling Scandals at the “Murderer’s Paradise” Broadmoor’ (1898)

Murderers Paradise

The fearful image of Broadmoor and its patients presented in some press reports entered the minds of some laymen. In 1879, a friend of the wife of one patient expressed her concern 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.’  At some county asylums patients undertook regular walks and excursions from the asylum into the local area. At Broadmoor this was not allowed and thus, until the late 1890s when outside entertainers were employed, the asylum lacked links with the local community. This may be why an air of mystery and fear surrounded the type of individual incarcerated in the asylum. It may also explain why Broadmoor’s governing body and Superintendents wished to open the doors of the asylum to journalists – whilst some reports were sensational, most represented  the asylum, its staff, and patients positively, and could only serve to improve the institution’s reputation as a place of care.

Escaping Broadmoor

I’ve previously blogged about patients whose desire to stay in Broadmoor, or gain a transfer to the (comparatively lenient and luxurious) asylum from prison was so strong they feigned insanity. This post briefly outlines the cases of some patients who didn’t want to stay in the asylum and so they planned, sometimes successfully, their escape.


Insane convicts (patients who were transferred to Broadmoor from prison) were reportedly dirty, violent and cunning, with their crafty nature allegedly being the cause of many escapes from the asylum. In 1873, three convicts escaped. One of these men was W.B. who had been permitted to go for a walk in the asylum grounds, chaperoned by an attendant. W.B. encouraged the attendant to examine a rabbit hole and, as he did so, reportedly ‘suddenly struck him on the head with a large stone and after endeavouring to strangle him, left him on the ground nearly insensible.’ The Lunacy Commissioners subsequently condemned the ‘management of want of proper precaution in trusting to the sole care of one attendant such a man as [W.B.] who had committed murder previous to his admission, and had exhibited dangerous tendencies in the asylum.’ An announcement was made to the press and to police stations around England and Wales, and a description of W.B. was circulated: he had black, thick curly hair worn parted down the middle; black whiskers, moustache and beard; dark, blood shot eyes; and a sallow complexion. He was dressed in blue clothing marked Broadmoor. Not long after the escape an announcement, ‘Insane Person Found’, was forwarded to Broadmoor. The name on this announcement was not that of the missing Broadmoor patient – this wouldn’t have been considered unusual since many convicts had aliases. Despite the physical resemblance the person found appears to have had to W.B., however, the two men weren’t one and the same. The records suggest that W. B. was never found.


F.M. escaped in the late 1880s. According to his medical notes this patient was particularly troublesome: he was reportedly violent, easily agitated, and engaged in acts of a sexual nature with his fellow patients. His escape was reported to the Home Office:

[F.M] was employed with a party of inmates and with the care of an attendant at a temporary job of levelling some ground at the back of no 2 Block within the asylum walls. About 2. 30 soon after work was commenced, […] [F.M.] left his work and ran to the scaffolding which had been raised in connection with the new works for joining blocks 1 & 2 (upon which a number of paid labourers were engaged). Mounting the scaffolding he sprang a distance of about 6 feet across and managed to balance himself by clinging with his knees, upon the top of the disconnected end of a high partition wall along which he speedily scrambled to the boundary wall, and then dropping onto the ground, he escaped into the woods which closely adjoin.

F.M.’s escape was short-lived – he was apprehended the same evening about 8 miles from Broadmoor by the asylum’s assistant gatekeeper and a temporary clerk, both of whom were awarded £1. 10. The escape of any patient was an embarrassment and a cause for concern, but Broadmoor’s governing body, the Council of Supervision, and the Superintendent, tried to downplay the incident by insisting that F.M. was only able to escape because he was ‘formerly a sailor’ and an ‘active youth’ (he was 24 years old). The Superintendent reported that F.M.’s escape was ‘effected by means of a dangerous but successful leap made from some scaffolding on to the temporarily broken end of a partition wall’ – a leap most of Broadmoor’s other patients wouldn’t have been able to perform, not least because (according to the Council) they would struggle to climb up the scaffolding and successfully make their way into the woods. On this occasion the attendant was not blamed or accused of neglecting his duties – instead, building work (the presence of scaffolding) and F.M.’s strength and speed were held accountable.


T.G. was reportedly a particularly troublesome patient. Following a visit to Broadmoor one journalist, in a highly exaggerated account of the asylum, wrote ‘The Terrors of Broadmoor’. He declared T.G. to be the most dangerous patient in the asylum – he was ‘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.’ Whilst a sensationalist account of Broadmoor and its patients, records indicate that T.G. had a group of friends at the asylum who were willing to assist him with his schemes. In 1864, T.G. was singled out as the ringleader in a ‘very serious’ attempt to escape with three of his fellow patients. They diverted an attendant by asking him to fetch a piece of pie, before running down the corridor, shutting the doors and putting stones in the keyholes to stop other attendants reaching them. They then tied their handkerchiefs and neckerchiefs together to construct a rope in order to climb out of the window. The plot was foiled at the last minute after the Broadmoor’s chaplain ‘saw the men descending outside one of the windows of the room where he was reading prayers’ and raised the alarm. T.G. and his friends made it to a wall in the airing court of Block 1 before they were apprehended.


A serious incident occurred one evening in September 1864 when G.H. escaped. At the time of his escape G.H. was under the care of Samuel Wills, ‘an experienced officer’ who was subsequently summoned before the Council and reprimanded. What was unusual about this case was that John Sydney Philport, a second-class attendant at Broadmoor, encouraged and assisted G.H.’s escape. Philport had instructed the patient to hide under a bed in one of the dormitories and adjusted a rug so he could conceal him; he then let him out of the building. G. H. made his way to Derbyshire and, as Philport recommended, obtained work in a coal pit. He was recaptured in November when the Chief Constable of Sheffield found him; he received a £5 reward. Philport was committed for trial at Reading assizes and charged with aiding and abetting G.H. in escaping. He was found guilty and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment with hard labour.


Broadmoor’s attendants were instructed to be particularly vigilant and mindful of the whereabouts of patients and their activities. A lapse in judgement occurred one evening in July 1869 when female patient A.K. escaped from airing court No. 2. At the time, there were twenty-five patients under the care of four attendants, and music was playing in airing court No. 1. Accounts of the incident suggest that rather than watching the patients the attendants were dancing with them, and A.K. saw an opportunity to flee. The image below, taken from the Illustrated London News (1867), shows female patients dancing in the airing court.

Patients Dancing

With the assistance of a fellow patient, A.K. had no difficulty reaching the top of the north wall of the asylum and escaping into the countryside. The attendants were ‘reprimanded and cautioned to be more careful in the future.’ A.K. wasn’t found. As a result of this escape, proposals were made to increase the height of Broadmoor’s boundary walls.


The carelessness of attendants – leaving patients unsupervised to fetch pie, dancing with them instead of watching them – was the cause of a number of escapes. M.M. attempted to escape from Broadmoor via the door that connected the dormitory she slept in with the chapel after it was left unlocked by an attendant. M.M. got through the chapel and onto the airing court before she escaped over the boundary wall. She was apprehended the following day and taken back to Broadmoor by a policeman from Reading. The attendants in charge ‘admit their neglect and express deep regret at the occurrence’; they were reprimanded and fined for their discretion, and the policemen was awarded £2 as a reward. As a result of this escape, the Council approved the Superintendent’s suggestion that bars should be placed in the windows of the chapel for extra security.

This is by no means a comprehensive account of all of the escapes that occurred. A number of other patients managed to flee whilst working in the fields or out on walks with attendants, others through the use of fabricated keys or deception. In 1888, Broadmoor’s Superintendent reflected quite positively on the situation:

It is not surprising that the idea of escape is much in the minds of a population situated as the inmates of Broadmoor are. Many of them, although fully convalescent and practically recovered, are yet quite unfit to be released from asylum supervision and permitted to go at large, in consequence of the risk that would be incurred. In order to make the daily life of the inmates as little irksome as possible, it is necessary to extend at least a reasonable amount of privilege and freedom to them within the walls; and it is only in the nature of things that these privileges should from time to time be taken advantage of and abused. Since the opening of the asylum in 1863, embracing a period of over 25 years, only 28 inmates out of an average yearly population of 473, have contrived to make their escape, and of these all have been recaptured with the exception of four. Up to last year no inmate had succeeded in making good his escape and avoiding recapture since 1873. Under all the circumstances, and bearing in mind the fact that no offensive or defensive weapon is permitted to the attendants, this is, for my predecessors in office, a very satisfactory record of immunity from escape, and it has reference not only to the general management and asylum distribution of the inmates, but also to the vigilance and reliability of the staff generally.

In the early 1890s a slightly more pessimistic view was expressed, and very few male inmates were allowed to work outside because it was feared they would try to escape. As a result, a new garden boundary wall (16 feet high) was built so that more patients could be trusted with working on the land.

Many (if not most) of Broadmoor’s patients hoped that they would one day leave the asylum – preferably because they had been (legally) discharged and not because they’d successfully managed to escape and live out the remainder of their days incognito. Whether out of hope or simply because they wished to keep themselves entertained (perhaps both), patients in early-twentieth century Broadmoor adapted H. G. Pellissier’s comedy song ‘Back to the Land’:

There’s a many slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip,

But now and again someone does ‘get the tip’;

To get out of Broadmoor’s a hard thing to do,

But don’t be downhearted – there’s still hope for you

To go back back back to the land;

It may be feet foremost with flowers in your hand;

But, if favoured by fate, you’ll escape “No. VIII’

And get back, back, back to the land.

No VIII was the title bestowed upon the mortuary.

Wrongful Confinement at Broadmoor, Part 2

Before he was sent to Broadmoor, at the request of his family and friends, H. D. was examined by Dr J. M. Winn and Dr L. F. Winslow. Winslow reported to the Home Secretary: ‘I was unable to detect any symptoms indicative of mental disorder.’ Winn agreed. To Winslow and Winn, H. D. exhibited all the signs of a sane man: rationality, coherence, calmness, self-awareness and self-control. He gave a clear indication of his motives which although indicated he was guilty of the crime, indicated sanity. In addition, Dr Gibson, Prison Medical Officer at Newgate Prison, where H.D. was held during his trial, wrote on Schedule A (the medical certificate that accompanied patients to Broadmoor) that ‘no evidence was offered of his insanity.’ H. D. was thus sent to Broadmoor in the eyes of at least three physicians, a sane man.

Two months after H. D. was committed to Broadmoor, the Home Secretary was asked in the House of Commons why he ‘refuses to release a man who has been reported […] on high medical authority as being of perfectly sound mind.’ He responded:

When […] [H. D.] was found to be insane by a verdict of his countrymen, he was sent in the ordinary course to Broadmoor. Some time ago, letters were received at the Home Office from Dr. Wynn [sic] and Dr. Forbes Winslow […] Those letters were sent […] to the authorities of Broadmoor, with an intimation that when they were able to report that it would be consistent with the safety both of the public and of the prisoner himself that he should be either absolutely or conditionally discharged, his case would then be considered by the Secretary of State, and not till then. No Report had yet been received.

No such report was likely to materialise. Superintendent William Orange and Deputy Superintendent David Nicolson examined H. D. and found him insane. They found that H. D.’s father had died aged thirty nine ‘after a life of extremely intemperate habits.’ Alienists (psychiatrists) linked drunkenness to insanity; both exemplified a loss of control and alcohol in the blood stream was also believed to affect the brain, cause insanity and hereditary degeneration. As if to further this familial link they also noted that H. D. had ‘one brother resident in England who appears to have had a very unsteady life.’ The notion of hereditary taint was popular amongst mid to late-nineteenth century alienists such as Henry Maudsley who expressed the opinion that ‘no one can escape the tyranny of his organisation; no one can elude the destiny that is innate in him.’

In addition to H. D.’s alleged congenital defect, Orange and Nicolson reported:

that by allowing his thoughts to dwell continuously upon his supposed wrongs and grievances, to the exclusion of other and more healthy trains of thought, his mind has passed into a morbid condition in which he is unable to realise the real quality of his acts and words.

Thus, H. D.’s prolonged attention upon his grievances had resulted in insanity; he was thus assumed to be suffering from morbid introspection. Alienists described affected individuals as those who had ‘come at last so far as to have lost [their] power of self-control, as to be unable to resist […] temptation to what is known to be wrong.’ Medically this explained H. D.’s crime; an act he committed knowing it was wrong. Orange and Nicolson thus explained H. D.’s condition within existing notions of mental disease but not, it seems, within existing legal definitions of insanity. An examination of Nicolson and Orange’s Addresses and publications indicates that they were both critical of the insanity law, particularly the ‘rigid’ right or wrong question which left out ‘consideration the possible workings of a whole range of diseased mind.’ Both men believed that a person may be mad but still aware that the act they were planning was illegal; something seemingly the case in this instance.

Despite his declaration in Parliament that he would wait until told by the Broadmoor authorities that it was safe to release H. D., the Home Secretary, having previously rejected their reports, requested that Winslow and Winn jointly examine H. D. at Broadmoor. They echoed their previous observations and concluded that H. D. exhibited no symptoms ‘to justify his detention as a criminal lunatic.’ The following month, Winslow and Winn’s initial reports were made public and the editors of the Ecclesiastical Arts Review wrote to Orange, ‘we have every reason to believe that, in consequence of the favourable opinions of Drs Forbes Winslow and Winn, the authorities are taking steps for the speedy liberation of this gentleman.’ But this was not to be.

Four months after H. D.’s committal, and seemingly unhappy with the medical examinations that had already taken place, the Home Secretary instructed the medical inspector of convict prisons, Dr R. M. Gover, and alienist Dr W. Grange, to examine H. D.. They were unimpressed with H. D.’s character and with his ‘marked impatience with all authority’. In short, they found H. D. to be suffering from many delusions and thus insane. Simultaneous to this examination, Cross sent the medical report of Winn and Winslow to Orange and requested him to consider his opinion regarding H. D.’s sanity in relation to it. He informed William Hayter, Chairman of the Council of Supervision (Broadmoor’s governing body), that he would not consider H. D.’s release until told by Orange that it would be safe to do so. Orange considered the report ‘vague and general [in] character’ and told Cross that he found no reason to alter the opinion at which he had previously arrived. ‘This opinion is not of my own alone’ Orange wrote, ‘but it is shared by both the medical officers of the asylum, and it is also the opinion at which Dr Gover arrived, after an examination of the patient, which was made in conformity with instructions conveyed in a letter from the Secretary of State.’ And consequently, as ‘the reasons upon which this opinion is based have been already fully stated […] it appears unnecessary to burden this memorandum with a repetition of the statement of them. An examination of Orange’s letters to the Home Office suggests his increasing frustration at the multiple requests to re-examine H. D. Two months later, the Home Secretary appointed two more alienists to examine H. D: George Fielding Blandford, and Henry Maudsley. The two men were united in their opinion of H. D. whom they found to be ‘labouring under a common form of insanity which is characterised by delusions of persecution and suspicion.’ They concluded that he was ‘a proper person to be detained under care and treatment.’

Broadmoor’s Superintendent was required to send, upon request, a report to the Home Secretary regarding a patient’s mental and physical condition. Orange and Nicolson never reported any improvement in H.D.’s mental health. They believed that if released he ‘would be very likely to commit acts, which, if not always positively dangerous to life, would be of great public inconvenience and subversive to social order.’

Soon after his arrival at Broadmoor, H. D. wrote to Broadmoor’s governing body, the Council of Supervision, in what was the first of hundreds of complaints. He was aggrieved that although Winslow and Winn had considered him sane, Orange and Nicolson ‘would seem to be lending their professional powers and the intellect which God has granted them to the upholding of that which is wrong’, i.e. his incarceration. He told one of Broadmoor’s attendants the verdict of insanity was

against the law of England. For as the surgeon of Newgate who was the only medical man that officially visited me in that gaol expressed his opinion that I was sane and allowed such an opinion to be published by Dr Winslow and Dr Winn he was unable and through notices of honour unwilling to sign the Certificate.

He believed that he had been sent to Broadmoor on either an unsigned or forged certificate (Schedule A). Historians have shown that medical certificates were sometimes filled out improperly or illegally, but this didn’t happen in this case; although Gibson observed no indications of insanity, he did sign the certificate.[i]

H. D. had many supporters, some of whom actively campaigned for his liberation. It’s unknown whether these supporters were aware of debates regarding illegal incarceration but it would be naive to assume they were completely clueless: many of them were literate men who had read about the case in the press – it’s therefore plausible that they would have come across debates on the matter. Moreover, doubt about the asylum system was roused in part because physicians frequently differed in their evaluations of patients’ mental health, and there is no denying that medical contention existed in this case. Yet, even if H. D.’s supporters were unaware of any controversy surrounding some asylum committals, H.D. undoubtedly drew their attention: he appears to have written to everyone he could think of to raise awareness of his alleged illegal incarceration. This led to a rush of letters to Broadmoor and to the Home Office requesting to see the medical certificate.

The Guardians of the Poor of the Parish of St. Mary Abbots, Kensington, who contributed 14 l a week towards the maintenance of H. D., requested to the see the certificate because they did not wish to call upon the ratepayers to pay for his maintenance without being satisfied as to the legality of his committal. In spite of this, Orange and the Council of Supervision refused, arguing that there was no Statute upon which the Guardians could request to see the certificate. The Guardians did not object to this but others who were denied access were not as satisfied, and neither was H. D.. H. D.’s suspicions were fuelled two-years following his committal when four men who had sympathised with his case after reading about it in the press, visited him. They demanded to see the certificate but a medical officer allegedly informed them that it did not exist, and that H. D. was detained solely on the authority of the warrant of the Home Secretary. H. D. used the incident to claim that the Home Secretary had broken the law and to condemn William Orange who, knowing there was no certificate, persisted to mark his out-going letters as ‘coming from an insane man.’ H. D. was also visited by a number of solicitors who requested to see the certificate; they were all refused. In 1895 a friend of H. D.’s demanded from the Council of Supervision information about the case. He argued that

no medical certificates, or copies, have ever been produced […] The contention of Dr. Nicolson that the Secretary of State may dispose with such certificates by his warrant is simple nonsense and amounts to defiance of the statute. It is quite clear that by 23 and 24 vic cap 75 one proper medical certificate should have been received.

The friend received the standard response; that H. D. had been received under the ‘proper warrant’, but he did not take kindly to this: ‘I did not ask about the warrants at all; but I dispute the existence of the proper medical certificates.’

The question of why the authorities did not provide the certificate arises. In response to the request of the Guardians of St. Mary Abbots, the Council gave the following justification to the Home Office for its refusal: First, ‘the Council are not aware of any statute which confers upon Boards of Guardians the right to ask for documents of this description relating to criminal lunatics.’ Second, ‘if this one particular document […] were furnished to the Guardians, the Secretary of State would probably find it difficult to refuse to furnish copies of all other papers relating to [H. D.’s] case’. It may also have been due to what Gibson recorded on the certificate; that ‘no evidence was offered of insanity.’

Lunacy reformer Louisa Lowe commented on the case which she believed illustrated the ‘strong distrust of medical certificates’. She re-printed the medical report of Winslow and Winn and observed that the Home Secretary ‘declined to be guided by it, and […] sent a medical man of his own selection, who gave an opposite opinion, on which [H. D.’s] detention has been prolonged.’ She continued:

Curiously enough, Dr L. S. Forbes Winslow and Dr Winn are the physicians who [are] presently […] employed by Sir Henry de Bathe to certify his neighbour’s wife a lunatic. But for a purely fortuitous circumstance she would have been shut up, probably for the term of her natural life, in some madhouse jail, and the law would have deemed the certificates of Drs. Winslow and Winn that she was of ‘unsound mind’ quite sufficient justification of the deed. Why then does not [the Home Secretary] consider certificates from the same men that […] [H. D] is of sound mind justification for releasing that misguided and unfortunate gentleman?

Lowe believed this was because he ‘knows, and gives practical effect to his knowledge, that medical men see as a rule what they are sent and paid to see.’ She accused him of being guided by his own views and those of the judge H.D.’s trial: ‘Had these been in favour of liberating […] [H. D]’ she wrote, ‘not one, but fifty doctors would have been found to confirm the Home Secretary’s view.’

Convinced that his pleas to the Home Office and to the Broadmoor authorities were being ignored, H. D. sent Latin transcriptions (which he believed would prove his sanity) to newspapers and acquaintances whom he hoped would help him. This led some to question the verdict. In 1883, H. D. received a letter from an acquaintance who wrote, ‘you ought to be headmaster of Eton or some similar school. Gladstone […] and some others […] [believe] that you are mad, nobody who was mad could write such beautiful letters.’ The editors of Lloyds Weekly also supported him. Twenty-years after his committal, H. D. unsuccessfully petitioned the Home Secretary for his discharge and as a result he wrote to the publication, in which it was subsequently reported: ‘we have […] received a letter from the aged prisoner himself expressing his pain and sorrow at his continued incarceration.’ In response, the editors, opined, ‘it is surely not right that a sane and educated man should be forced to herd with murderers.’ But others were not convinced. The Bishop of Chichester told H. D., ‘your letter seems to point at some derangement of your mind.’ As the years passed, H. D. continued in vain to send his Latin transcripts to those he believed could help him. He eventually died in Broadmoor.

Ten years after H. D. died Dr Winslow reflected on the case. He maintained that H. D. had been sent to Broadmoor a sane man but argued that his incarceration had ultimately driven him to insanity; an opinion shared by others. An acquaintance of H.D. commented:

[H.D.] shot at Sir George Jessel with a pistol that had no bullet in it. He was tried as a felon and condemned as a Lunatic. When he gets into the asylum it is found that he is as sane as his keepers. An attempt is made to get him out, but Mr Cross won’t listen to the appeals passionately made to him. [H.D.] committed an offence. He cannot be tried again. He must be punished as he can be punished in no other way, keep him in the asylum. Still the Doctors are crying out to Mr Cross and not without reason. I can conceive no punishment in the world much more terrible than that of being confined in a Lunatic asylum. It is too horrible. It makes one shudder to think of it. The reality would make a very strong man mad. To make a man mad is in my thinking worse than to hang him […] Yet [the Home Secretary] is obdurate – The man must suffer even if to the loss of his reason.

In addition, H. D. wrote numerous letters to people begging for help before he ‘became a real lunatick’ [sic]. The notion that confinement could drive a sane man mad was written about by John Perceval who declared, ‘I found that no patient could escape from his confinement in a truly sound state of mind’, and by Herman Merivale who remembered, ‘For five fearful months I lived at […] the asylum, the whole morale of heart and mind being more played upon and shattered every day.’ Whether H. D. was eventually driven to insanity because of his incarceration or whether he was insane when he committed his crime we’ll never know, but a detailed examination of Home Office records, medical reports, and other documents in his file suggests the possibility that he was driven to insanity after his committal.

An examination of medical reports and political interventions highlights the complex network of power and knowledge that H. D. found himself caught in the middle of. An examination of this and other cases demonstrates just how hard it was for some patients to be liberated once admitted into Broadmoor even when questions about their alleged insanity were raised: as Merivale wrote of the lunacy laws, ‘once in their grasp it is a hard matter to get out.’

[i] For example, Peter McCandless, ‘Liberty and Lunacy: The Victorians and Wrongful Confinement’, Journal of Social History 11:3 (1978), 366-386.