Posts Tagged 'In the Spotlight'

In the Spotlight: Angus Mackay

A couple of months ago guest blogger Aislinn Hunter drew our attention to Robert Cowtan, a nineteenth-century Bethlem patient whose claim of personal acquaintance with Queen Victoria was taken by his doctors to be indicative of a dissociated mental state, but whose professional and social connections lent at least a remote feasibility to the claim. In this, the last of our year-long series of In the Spotlight posts, we highlight a Victorian patient who, along with Cowtan and many others, made a claim to intimate royal acquaintance.

Angus Mackay was admitted to Bethlem twice, first in February 1854 for a stay of eight months, and then in November of the same year, this time for fifteen months. According to the notes of his first admission, he initially occupied himself by writing letters to senior officers of the Royal Household and ‘interfering’ with the affairs of other patients on his ward, but by the summer had recovered sufficiently to be granted leave. According to the notes of his second, he harboured ‘delusions regarding plots to destroy the Queen and Royal Family’, indeed ‘numerous and dangerous delusions respecting the Queen and Prince Albert’. After his second discharge from Bethlem, he was transferred to Crichton Royal Hospital in Dumfries, whose doctors provided further details of the ‘most prominent’ of these delusions, ‘that Her Majesty is his wife and that Prince Albert has defrauded him of his rights’.

So far, so unexceptional, as any student of Bethlem’s nineteenth-century casebooks used to reading accounts of imagined celebrity attachments might say. Yet Mackay’s case was a little different, as from 1843 until the onset of his illness Mackay was in fact Household Piper to the Queen. His 1838 compendium of piping history and tunes, A collection of ancient Piobaireachd or Highland pipe music, was destined to remain a standard work of reference for generations. For as long as Mackay enjoyed royal patronage, it must have seemed that his own life was destined to be as settled as his piping reputation. Yet by the time the Queen published Leaves from the Journal of our Life in the Highlands in 1868, Mackay’s post had been filled by another, Her Majesty shortly observing that he was ‘considered almost the first [piper] in Scotland…he unfortunately went out of his mind in the year 1854’.1

Mackay’s story ends sadly, for in 1859 he escaped from Crichton Royal, but drowned in attempting to cross the river Nith at Glencaple. Victoria heard of his death, though she got its date wrong in her Journal, and may well have recalled him to mind, however fleetingly, when inscribing and sending a copy of it to Bethlem, where it remains in our library to this day.

1 Arthur Helps (ed.), Leaves from the Journal of our Life in the Highlands (London, 1868), p. 132.


In the Spotlight: Wilhelmina Geddes

Last month’s caveat against presuming that the wards of Bethlem and the Maudsley were overloaded with writers and artists notwithstanding, this month’s post is devoted to an Arts and Craft Movement-era designer and stained glass artist of distinction. Irish-born Wilhelmina Geddes (1887-1955) was acclaimed by contemporaries for “producing the finest, the most sincerely, passionately religious stained glass of our time”, and even won grudging admiration from those critics who thought her work “too modern” or “experimental”.1

Most of Geddes’ works in stained glass are (unsurprisingly) to be found in churches – principally in England and Ireland, but there are also windows in each of Wales, Belgium, Canada and New Zealand. Her treatment of her subjects, whether sacred or secular, is rugged, heroic, monumental. Geddes’ move from Ireland to England at the age of thirty-eight could be considered the hinge of her career. She had previously visited London on study trips and commissions, but her relocation there in 1925 was permanent.

The move had been contemplated for some time, but in the event it was brought about by a doctor’s referral to the Maudsley Hospital from Downpatrick Asylum, County Down, to which Geddes had admitted herself out of fears concerning her own mental health. For six months the Maudsley provided her with the medication, psychotherapy, refuge and space for the recovery she sought. Yet Geddes was not idle during this time. Having brought a commission from a Surrey church for a stained glass window with her from Ireland, she began design work while still in hospital. Following her discharge in November 1925, she rented a studio in Fulham which was to become her working base for the remainder of her life.

This post is the penultimate in the In the Spotlight series, which we launched at the start of 2011. As the accompanying picture is of Geddes’ The Angel Appearing to Joseph (now in Ely Cathedral’s Stained Glass Museum), we take the seasonal opportunity to wish the readers of this blog all the best for Christmas and the New Year.

1 Nicola Gordon Bowe, ‘A Window with Punch’, Apollo Magazine (September 2008), pp 74-79. Nicola Bowe’s biography of Geddes is scheduled for publication in 2012 by Four Courts Press in Dublin. We will let our readers know when it is published. Bowe is giving a lecture on Wilhelmina Geddes in Monaco on 26 January 2012; details of how to how to book are online here.

Geddes Dream image (2)

© Stained Glass Museum, Ely. Used with permission.

In the Spotlight: Christopher Long

Reading a series of posts such as these is almost bound to give rise to the false impression that Bethlem and the Maudsley have been solely populated by writers, artists and architects. We anticipated and cautioned against this from the outset. A truly representative notion of the people the hospitals treated could only be gained by trawling through the records of the bank clerks, mechanics, clergymen, farmers, engineers, dress makers, teachers, doctors, governesses, domestic servants, housewives and unemployed people who spent time as patients. For the most part, knowledge of the character and achievements of these and many others remained within the circle of their acquaintance, and did not prove enduring. There must be many stories of extraordinary courage, endeavour, fortitude and weakness, hope and disappointment, virtue and vice contained in the records of these ‘ordinary’ people of the past.

One story of which we recently became aware is that of Christopher Long (1902-1924), whose undergraduate studies at Cambridge University were cut short by psychotic illness and hospitalisation at the Maudsley in 1923. Long had been reading medicine at Cambridge but his real passion was speleology, or caving. In his first year, he spent all his time outside term exploring, extending and surveying Stump Cross Caverns near Pateley Bridge in Yorkshire, and in 1922 founded the University’s first caving club, the Troglodytes, into which he apparently herded all his friends.

Long’s admission to the Maudsley took place on 7 April 1923, a day after a suicide attempt which his friends and doctors put down to overstrain, depression and nervous breakdown. He came to the Maudsley as a voluntary patient but, perhaps not finding his time there therapeutic, discharged himself after three weeks and made for the Mendip and Quantock Hills in Somerset. There Long extended and surveyed Holwell Cave. Maybe work of this sort was more restorative to him than hospital treatment – or maybe his labours were fuelled by manic energy? Certainly by then he was self-medicating on the sedative chloral hydrate to combat his insomnia.

In the summer of 1923, Long returned to Yorkshire, where he was the first to discover White Scar Caves near Chapel-le-Dale. His preparations to open it to tourists were tragically cut short, along with his promising career, by his death at the age of 22 by overdose of chloral hydrate. At the subsequent coroner’s inquest, according to Dr Stephen Craven, “no evidence was presented that Long had intended to kill himself at that time” –the overdose may well have been accidental. In any event, caving had lost someone described by friends and colleagues as “a genuine enthusiast”, a “fine character” and “an indefatigable worker”. 1

1 S.A. Craven, ‘The chronic illness of Christopher Francis Drake Long (1902 – 1924), who extended Stump Cross Caverns and discovered White Scar Caves, in England’, Cave and Karst Science, vol. 37 no. 2 (2010), pp. 59-64.


Christopher Long (centre) and fellow cavers in 1922. Photograph first published in Cave and Karst Science, volume 37, no.2 (© 2010, British Cave Research Association), and reproduced with the permission of the Editors.

In the Spotlight: Edward Oxford

At the outset of this series of posts, we explained that In the Spotlight would feature “people of previous generations who spent time as Bethlem or Maudsley Hospital patients …whose lives became defined … by their achievements rather than by that experience”. In July and August we departed from this principle slightly by introducing patients with noted relatives, and this month we feature someone who was obliged to go to the greatest lengths to distance himself from his time in the Hospital and the circumstances that led to his admission.

On Constitution Hill in 1840, Edward Oxford (1822-1900) laid in wait for Queen Victoria’s carriage to pass, and fired two pistols (whether or not they were loaded was a point of later dispute) in its direction. No-one was hurt, but Oxford was apprehended and put on trial for his attempt on the life of the Sovereign. The jury was presented with copious evidence in support of the defence plea of insanity, and despite the confusing and sometimes contradictory nature of that evidence, returned a verdict of ‘guilty but insane’. Consequently Oxford avoided both prison and the noose, and was instead sent to the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum (which was maintained at Bethlem until the opening of Broadmoor Hospital in 1863-64), where he was detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. From the outset, he showed no sign of mental derangement, and employed his time at Bethlem by learning a succession of trades and foreign languages. Put simply (in the words of the scholar F.B. Smith), “Bedlam was his university”.1

In 1867, after Oxford’s transfer to Broadmoor, Her Majesty made her pleasure known courtesy of the Secretary of State: he was pardoned and released on condition of his permanent emigration from the British Isles. Relocating to colonial Australia, Oxford quite literally made an entirely new name for himself as John Freeman, journalist (we may presume for the Melbourne Age or Argus) and author of Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life (London, 1888).

A short biography of Edward Oxford is available online, courtesy of Berkshire Record Office. The Australian author Jenny Sinclair has a fuller treatment in preparation, and a popular history of all the would-be assassins of Queen Victoria is being written by Paul Murphy, a University of Colorado professor. We’ll make blog announcements when these are published.

1 F.B. Smith, ‘Lights and Shadows in the Life of John Freeman’,Victorian Studies, vol. 30 no. 4 (Summer 1987), p. 468.

Edward Oxford

In the Spotlight: John Robert Cozens and Bernardo Amiconi

This month we feature two artists, only one of whom was ever a Bethlem patient, the other being widely (and mistakenly) reported to have been such. One was a pioneer watercolourist of Georgian England; the other was an Italian artist of the Victorian age whose biography has been forgotten to such an extent that all our efforts at research have so far ended in frustration.

The works of landscape artist John Robert Cozens (1752-1797) exerted a remote but formative influence on English Romantic painters such as J.M.W. Turner and John Constable, and were the subject of a documentary on watercolours recently shown on BBC1. The documentary’s narrator recounted what has come to be the received version of Cozens’ final years:

A doctor diagnosed him as suffering from ‘a decay of the nervous system’. Today, we’d call it a breakdown. At the age of 42, he was committed to the lunatic asylum, Bedlam. There is a final, bittersweet twist to Cozens’ story. The doctor that looked after him in Bedlam happened to be an art collector, and recognising Cozens’ brilliance, he bought up his pictures, and used to hold get-togethers of up-and-coming young artists, and he would sit them down and suggest that they copied Cozens’ work. Thus it was that a future generation of watercolourists were inspired by a man languishing in an asylum.

This is the received version, but it is incorrect in one important particular. John Cozens certainly was a patient of Thomas Monro, Bethlem’s physician from 1787 to 1816, but he was never a patient at Bethlem. Admissions to the eighteenth-century Hospital were not only restricted to those whose prognosis was promising – as previously noted on this blog – they were overwhelmingly constituted of paupers and the ‘middling sort’. Gentlemen suffering ‘a decay of the nervous system’ would consult ‘mad doctors’ such as Thomas Monro in a private capacity, if at all. This seems to have been exactly what happened to John Cozens: in February 1794 he was received into Dr Monro’s private care, and December 1797 he died whilst still in it. 1

By contrast with Cozens, whose life and works have been the subject of much comment and criticism, the London-based Italian artist Bernardo Amiconi seems to have left little biographical trace, at least online. We can say that Amiconi was brought to Bethlem Hospital at the age of 48 in mid 1877, fresh from being apprehended by police in the course of attempting to enter Buckingham Palace. Apparently he had claimed not only an appointment with Her Majesty, but a shared nuptial understanding. Within six months, he had died in the Hospital, the inevitable outcome of so-called ‘general paralysis of the insane’, a terminal neurological condition for which no pathological description, let alone cure, was available in the nineteenth century. Why (in the light of Bethlem’s restrictions on admission) was he allowed into Bethlem in the first place? Those suffering from general paralysis “would not be admitted if the Committee acted strictly within the limits of the regulations”, wrote the Hospital’s Physician Superintendent  in 1883, but “if [GPI] be not studied in a hospital like Bethlem, which is essentially a hospital for cure and alleviation, I do not see much prospect for its future relief”. In short, Bethlem made an exception to its rules of admission for patients suffering from general paralysis (and then only for those whose families were able to pay for their hospital care). A cure for GPI was eventually found, but not at Bethlem and in any case not until the twentieth century, too late for Bernardo Amiconi and many others like him. To our knowledge, the world awaits a connected narrative of Amiconi’s life and works. We would be glad to hear from anyone who can supply reliable sources on the subject.

1 A.P. Oppé, Alexander and John Robert Cozens (London: A&C Black, 1952), pp. 116-119.

In the Spotlight: Relatives 2

Having focussed on relatives of those historically associated with Bethlem or the Maudsley Hospitals in July, this month we turn our attention to three Bethlem patients who were related to people who were otherwise well known in their time, and to a fourth person who, while related to someone famous, was never a Bethlem patient – but is widely believed to have been.

At the start of the nineteenth century, Bethlem Hospital was locked in bitter rivalry with its near neighbour St Luke’s Hospital, whose founding physician William Battie made a point of admitting patients who had been discharged uncured from Bethlem for treatment. (As far as the patients were concerned, it may have been a case of ‘a curse on both your houses’. According to one of their number, popular wisdom about the respective regimes held that ‘St Luke’s is clean with tyranny; Bedlam’s all filth with liberty’.1) Bethlem was not in the habit of returning this favour, but did so for one Mary Turner, who had been admitted aged around sixty to St Luke’s in November 1799 and discharged uncured in December 1800. Mary arrived at Bethlem shortly after Christmas in that year, and stayed until her death in April 1804. Today she is chiefly remembered as the mother of the artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Since medical records were not kept by Bethlem at the time of Mary’s residence, Turner’s biographers have been able to do no more than speculate as to the reasons for her admission to the Hospital, the nature of her progress (in fact decline) there, and any possible effects on her artist son.2

Elizabeth Catlett, a beloved niece of the slave-trader turned evangelical preacher and hymn-writer John Newton, was admitted to Bethlem Hospital on 1 August 1801, spending about a year there before being discharged recovered. At the time of her residence, Newton was elderly, infirm and rather short-sighted, yet, according to his biographer Josiah Bull, ‘it was [his] custom to walk every morning at a certain hour to the hospital [in the company of a friend], and to look up to the window of the poor patient’s ward, and for each party to make an understood sign of recognition … at the turn…Pointing to the window, he would say [to the friend next to him], ‘ Do you see a white handkerchief being waved to and fro ?’ — he could not see himself — and being satisfied the good man returned home.’3

Bethlem Hospital was relocated, reformed and changed beyond recognition in the course of the century that followed the admission of Mary Turner and Elizabeth Catlett. By 1904, the London Argus could opine that its arrangements were ‘not so much those of an asylum or a hospital as of a first-class hotel’.4 Into this institution stepped a patient on transfer from the privately-run Bethnal House in May 1901, one Bertha Lawson, then wife of the Australian poet Henry Lawson. The pair had come to London with their two young children in the hope that they could make their living by Henry’s pen. (Incidentally, it would be unfair to consider Bertha solely under the rubric of her husband’s talent. She was an aspiring author in her own right. In London, however, her responsibilities were limited to childcare.) This hope was to be disappointed. Shortly after their arrival. Bertha’s health broke down – no thanks to her husband, according to his biographers – and she was hospitalised. Within three months of her transfer to Bethlem, she had recovered and left. However, Henry had been unable to establish a writing career in London in the interim, and the family returned to Sydney in 1902. Sadly, their return marked a decline in Henry’s fortunes from which he seems never to have recovered. A suicide attempt on the part of Henry, and an application for marital separation on the part of Bertha, followed in quick succession; and it was Henry, rather than Bertha, whose later years were spent in and out of Australian mental hospitals.5

That Hannah Chaplin (1865-1928), mother of the comic actor and film director Charlie Chaplin, was at one time a Bethlem Hospital patient is an established piece of wiki-orthodoxy, but one without any foundation in fact. Since the Hospital’s admission records, complete and comprehensive for the term of Hannah’s life, are held here at the Archives & Museum, we are in a position to be quite certain about this. In the 1890s, poverty forced Hannah and her sons Sydney and Charlie into temporary periods of residence at Renfrew Road Workhouse in Lambeth, an institution which had nothing to do with Bethlem Hospital other than being within sight of its distinctive dome. She later spent time at Cane Hill Hospital and Peckham House, but she was never admitted to Bethlem. How, then, to account for the persistence of rumours to the contrary? Is there, perhaps, something about the association of acknowledged celebrity with assumed notoriety which defies correction?

1 Mike Jay, The Air Loom Gang (London, 2003), p. 220.

2 Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner’s Women: Family and Friends’, Turner Society News (no. 62, December 1992), pp. 10-12.

3 Jonathan Andrews et al, The History of Bethlem Hospital (London 1997), p. 543.

4 Josiah Bull, But Now I See: The Life of John Newton (Edinburgh 1998).

5 Brian Matthews, ‘Henry Lawson’, Australian Dictionary of National Biography, volume 10 (Melbourne 1986), pp. 18-22; Meg Tasker and Lucy Sussex, ‘That wild run to London’: Henry and Bertha Lawson in England’, Australian Literary Studies (October 2007).

In the Spotlight: Relatives 1

We are about halfway through our 2011 series of blog posts that put former patients of note In the Spotlight. This month and next we are taking a slight detour from the original rationale of the series in order to highlight a number of Bethlem patients who are rather less well known than one or more of their relatives. Their ‘celebrity’, such as it was, was unsought, and theirs was a reflected glory. This month we focus on relatives of four people associated with Bethlem or the Maudsley; next month we turn our attention to relatives of people who were otherwise in the public eye.

George William Dadd was admitted to Bethlem in the same year (1843) as his artist brother Richard, Richard being of course one of Bethlem’s most notable patients, the subject of an ongoing exhibition at Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham and a new book by Nicholas Tromans. Like his brother, George spent the remainder of his life in hospital, dying in 1868; unlike him, he had committed no crime and was not confined in Bethlem’s Criminal Lunatic Department. Security was such in this ward that it is unlikely that the brothers ever met in hospital, despite being under the one roof.

Anna Maria Haydon was admitted as a Hospital patient in 1866 and, like the younger Dadd, stayed there until her death in 1899. She was the sister of George Henry Haydon, long-serving Bethlem Steward, one-time colonial explorer and author of Five Years in Australia Felix (London, 1846). Anna’s thirty-three year stay in an institution that divested itself of most of its uncured patients on after twelve months is probably an index of the esteem in which her brother was held throughout the Hospital. There is more about Haydon (George, that is) in the Australian Dictionary of National Biography.

Frances Ada Hood, daughter-in-law to Dr W. Charles Hood, Bethlem’s reforming Resident Physician of the 1850s, was brought for admission to the Hospital by her husband Basil Hood on 31 December 1887. Like Anna Haydon, she did not recover at Bethlem. Unlike her, however, she did not remain there. Despite representations made by the Lunacy Commissioners for an extension to her stay in consideration of the services her father-in-law had rendered to the Hospital, she was discharged uncured after twelve months, and transferred to Berry Wood Asylum in Northamptonshire, staying there 26 years before a further transfer to Coton Hill Hospital in Stafford.

Mary Mapother was a Bethlem patient for two months at the age of thirty-five in 1908, and for a later three-year period. She also had periods of residence in Burgess Hill Hospital in Sussex and Coton Hill Hospital in Stafford. Her 1908 admission papers were signed by her younger brother Edward, then a medical student at University College Hospital. Later that year, Edward joined the staff of Long Grove Asylum, where he worked until the outbreak of the First World War. After distinguished service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Edward was appointed by the Ministry of Pensions to run the Maudsley Hospital, which had been requisitioned by the military. Then, when the Maudsley was turned over to civilian use in the early 1920s, he was re-appointed by London County Council as the Maudsley’s medical superintendent, a post which he held throughout the remainder of that decade and the entirety of the one that followed. Edward Mapother is generally credited with setting the new hospital on a course which led to an international reputation for excellence in psychiatric research and teaching as well as clinical practice. The fact of his sister Mary’s admission to Bethlem in the closing months of his medical training raises the intriguing possibility that the experience of mental distress within Edward’s own family had some bearing upon the trajectory of his eminent medical career.

Charles Hood

Photograph of Sir William Charles Hood

Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives & Museum