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Our Ancestors and Depression

Discussion in 'Workhouses and the Poor Laws' started by GrahamC, Sep 3, 2014.

  1. GrahamC

    GrahamC LostCousins Member

    Depression was not recognised as an illness until the 20th century. Before then sufferers would probably die in a Lunatic Asylum or Workhouse if they didn't take their own life first. My 3 x great uncle Richard Worsley was probably one of the lucky ones.

    Chelmsford Chronicle Friday 27 October 1871.
    A SPECIMEN FROM PAUPERDOM.- Richard Worsley, who appeared in the garb of a workhouse inmate, was charged with wilfully neglecting his children and allowing them to be chargable to the Chelmsford union. - Mr. Duffield, who appeared to prosecute, said the prisoner was a blacksmith. He had been living on the ratepayers of this union for a considerable time, and not only he but a number of his children with him. [A laugh.] He could have had a permanent situation over and over again, but he was absolutely too lazy to work. - Mr. Mason, workhouse master, and Mr. Cole, relieving-officer, were called in support. It was proved among other things, that he could have had work at from 18s. to 20s. per week. - A medical certificate was produced showing that the prisoner was able to labour. - Prisoner : I know my own feelings as well as the doctor. [A laugh.] - Mr. Duffield : Yes we know your feelings; you prefer to live on the ratepayers rather than do any work. [Laughter]. - The Chairman said the bench had made up their minds to see whether the accused really could work by sending him for a month on the tread wheel [A laugh.]

    Richard had recently lost his wife and at least one child. His two teenage sons had left home and he had two young kids to look after. No wonder he was depressed.

    By the 1881 census Richard appears to have fought off the "Black Dog". He had left the Workhouse and was working at his trade.
  2. FamilyHistoryGal

    FamilyHistoryGal LostCousins Member

    Very interesting. Your post was reminiscent of what happened to my great grandather. Although at least he was lucky enough not to suffer a bereavement. Any of my relatives who turn up in lunatic asylums, I always make a point of obataining their records. They can make for depressing reading but they do allow you to see how those with mental health issues were treated. My paternal great grandfather had two spells in the Norfolk Lunatic Asylum and yet he shows up on every census.

    First stay: Admitted 28 September 1883


    He has done no work since last March, but no mental symptoms showed themselves until a month ago when he became unsettled and talked at random, especially on religious subjects. His manner is completely changed and he frequently uses profane language. He is excited occasionally. He suspects without reason that various people do him harm. He does not sleep, is restless at night and inclined to wander about.


    Is able to answer correctly. Depressed and very fretful

    He was dishcharged on 30 December 1884 much improved but was re-admitted 18 February 1885

    Duration: 6 weeks

    He was discharged from this asylum in December last as ‘recovered’. For about a month after this he was feeling well. Up to this time he could not find any work. He was allowed a small sum by the parish. He was then told that this allowance would be taken away from him and it appeared to prey upon his mind so that he became depressed and moody, asked people to kill him and said that he had committed some awful crime against the Lord. Since that time, he has gradually got worse, more depressed, restless at night and disinclined to take food. On one occasion he fell down and pretended that he could not walk.

    On Admission:

    Converses freely, but is very depressed. Body is well nourished and the thoracic abdominal viscera generally free from disease.

    In 1891 he was discharged as recovered and never went back to the asylum again. He was on the 1891 census. If I hadn't discovered his two spells in the asylum I would never have known about this chapter in his life because, as I said, although in the asylum for long periods, he is on every census - amazing!
  3. Heather

    Heather LostCousins Member

    Interesting reading FHG. How did you discover that your great grandfather had been in the lunatic asylum and where did you get his record from, was it available on the internet or did you have to visit the asylum records office yourself?
  4. FamilyHistoryGal

    FamilyHistoryGal LostCousins Member

    Hi Heather,

    I discovered my great grandfather's (whose name was Joseph Kemp) spell of incarceration in a mental institution when I received a death certificate on one of his relatives (Charles Kemp). Charles had actually died in the same asylum after being there for just a few days. I sent for Charles records, and in these records, there is usually a question which asks about "insanity" in other family members. In those records it mentions my great grandfather having mental issues. I was then at a family history fair and a lady there had a CD listing the names of some of the men and women who'd been in the Norfolk Asylum. I then saw my great grandfather had been in there twice and went to the Norfolk Record Office to view his records. I was allowed to photograph the records. They also contained photos of my great grandfather which was amazing. I wouldn't have a clue how he looked otherwise. Things are much easier now. Ancestry has a similar limited database of people admitted to asylums.
  5. Heather

    Heather LostCousins Member

    Thanks FHG, that is really interesting. to get a photograph of your great grandfather as well, what a bonus. I have a few ancestors who ended up in either workhouses or asylums in the UK, hopefully one day these records will be available online.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  6. FamilyHistoryGal

    FamilyHistoryGal LostCousins Member

    I doubt they will ever put them online Heather (too personal perhaps) but there is nothing to stop you writing to the appropriate record office and asking for copies of the records. There will be a charge of course.
    • Thanks! Thanks! x 1
  7. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    There are some 19th century workhouse and asylum records online already at Ancestry and Findmypast.
    • Thanks! Thanks! x 1
  8. FamilyHistoryGal

    FamilyHistoryGal LostCousins Member

    Yes, I've seen the registers to say who was in which asylum, their names, when admitted and discharged or whether they died in the asylum; but as far as I'm aware no personal medical files describing their illness on a week by week basis are online or case file photos where you can search for your relatives.
    • Thanks! Thanks! x 1

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