Posts Tagged 'family history'

The Shrinking Middle Ground

Genealogical enquiries continue to pour – well, trickle – into the Archives & Museum from all over the world. Not many of those who discover in the course of family history research that a distant ancestor of theirs was a patient at Bethlem Hospital are likely to be in a position to publish their findings, but one of our enquirers has done just that. Jan Worthington’s Inky Fingers: the Biography of Elijah Tucker is now available for purchase using a copy of the form below. As it happens, the Bethlem patient in the family was not Elijah but his relative Martha Caigou, admitted at the age of 24 in 1846.

This was a time of transition for Bethlem towards the non-restraint and moral management of its patients – a movement born at the York Retreat in the late eighteenth century and championed by John Conolly of Hanwell Asylum in the 1840s. Alexander Morison, who shared the post of Bethlem Physician with E.T. Monro from 1835 to 1853, tried to occupy the shrinking middle ground between the old regime of treatment and the new, writing in the Hospital’s annual report for 1849 that “to suppose that restraint in never necessary is overstraining the bounds of common sense; to reduce it to its lowest limit compatible with safety is an obvious duty”. This mediating position became untenable at Bethlem during the 1850s, and a replacement was found for Morison who was prepared to entirely forswear the use of the “revolting instruments of mechanical coercion”. Perhaps a hint of the coming revolution is contained in the report of Martha Caigou’s progress: “Her hospital notes say she was very excited and noisy until she was released from restraint and turned loose in the gallery and then she was quiet.”1

A parallel case, that of Martha Clary, was recorded in the Hospital’s annual report for 1853 by Morison’s successor. Clary was “brought into the care of the Hospital threatening violence and wearing a straitjacket. She had been freed from her restraint, given a warm bath and two grains of acetate of morphia, and isolated in a padded room overnight. Two days later, when she was calmer, a drop of croton oil was administered as a laxative, and the next day henbane was given to combat feverishness. After six weeks Clary was discharged recovered.”2

Sadly, these two cases were not alike in every respect, as Martha Caigou died in Bethlem Hospital of ‘inflammation of the brain’ in 1847, eight months after her admission.

1 Jan Worthington, Inky Fingers: the Biography of Elijah Tucker (Worthington Clark: Sydney, 2011), page 159.

2 Colin Gale and Robert Howard, Presumed Curable (Wrightson: Petersfield, 2003), pages 9-10.

Inky Fingers flyer


Exercising the Brain

One of our volunteers has written the following reflection on her experience so far of working at the Archives & Museum:

“I am now into my sixth month as a volunteer archive assistant at Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives & Museum, and the assignment I am currently working on is an in-progress family history project entitled ‘Out of your Census’. The purpose of the project is to ascertain the identities of the patients at Bethlem Royal Hospital when the census returns of 1891, 1901 and 1911 were made. When these records were produced, the patients who inhabited Bethlem during these periods were identified by their initials only. Now that the returns are in the public domain and available online, they are an invaluable resource for family historians – but not in respect of patients of hospitals such as Bethlem. The project utilises historic archival data indices to identify the Bethlem patients whose initials appear in these census returns, with the aim of putting this data online in a searchable form.

“My time at Bethlem Archives & Museum has been rewarding on both a personal and an academic level. My MA was in Art History and I chose to concentrate part of my studies on art and mental health, so the work of Bethlem Museum is of particular interest to me. The research also allows me to utilise my academic knowledge and exercise my brain!  Due to the current economic climate, finding work in this field has been extremely difficult, so volunteering at the museum is a break from the monotony of working in a shop. However, juggling a job in customer service and volunteering is sometimes difficult, as I have to keep to full-time hours in my paid employment, yet my interest and passion lies in my voluntary work!

“I have found reading nineteenth-century handwriting challenging. Moreover, due to the content of the records it has been hard to read the words before me without sentiment due to their content. Though 120 years have passed since the making of the 1891 census, the memories of many of the individuals whose lives are documented in the leather bound records of this era will remain with me; they are an indelible part of Bethlem’s history. When finished, ‘Out of your Census’ will provide a unique means of bringing these ‘invisible’ individuals out of the shadows of history, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to it.”

Conservation in the Limelight

In an archive comprising half a millennia’s worth of paper records, the work of a conservator is never done. It is a slow and steady labour, demanding patience and delivering long-lasting results. Who benefits? Anyone with a memory of the past or a stake in the future; the communities of today and many tomorrows.

Most of the Archives & Museum’s conservation work is carried on in-house, unacclaimed and shielded from public view. However, our conservator is featured in the current issue of Practical Family History magazine (on sale until 27 May), advising on how to care for a cache of house history papers recently discovered in an attic spring-clean.

A clip from the magazine has been included below courtesy of Practical Family History and the author of the article, Sue Elliott. For details of the May 2010 issue, go to