Throughout the documents I have researched for this website, the patient’s family features prominently – not only in the admission and discharge procedures, but particularly while patients were hospitalised. Families wanted to be actively involved in a patient’s treatment rather than passively watching from the outside. While psychiatry nowadays recognises the role of the family in mental illness, such ‘interference’ was not always welcome by the Medical Superintendent in earlier decades. If your family member was mentally ill, would you want to be involved in their treatment? To what degree?
A few days ago I discovered that my grandfather’s uncle, Samuel Arthur Vanstone (b. 1861) eventually ended up in Blackdaon Asylum described as “lunatic for 45 years”. When I was doing more research today trying to find out where one of my grandfather’s sisters was in 1891, I discovered that SHE was an asylum nurse at the Devon Lunatic Asylum. More research has uncovered that yet another relative was a mental nurse probationer in 1901. So in my family at least, it would seem that the mental health issues of their uncle, Samuel Arthur, actually spurred his nieces to pursue a career in being an asylum nurse.
As well, I had always wondered why Samuel Arthur was at home with his parents from the 1861 through 1901 census. I had assumed it was because HE was taking care of his parents as his siblings married and moved away or died. His profession was listed as “tailor” so again I had assumed he just remained single to take care of his parents.
It was from the 1911 census that I realized that the OPPOSITE must be true, that my great-great grandparents spent their entire lives caring for Samuel. His mother died in 1903 (at 74) and his father in 1905 (at 89) and then he suddenly appears in an asylum in 1911. Unfortunately records for Blackadon are sparse and I can’t find out when he was admitted and by whom. His death was registered in TOTNES (same area as Blackadon) so I’m assuming that he was institutionalized for the rest of his life. Since I’ll have to wait until the 1940 census is released, and since I’ll have to live to be at least 90 (unlikely!) I’ll never know how he spent his last years.
In summary, it would appear that my ancestors had a slightly different view of mental health issues considering that they devoted their lives to caring for Samuel rather than putting him in an institution. And as I said, it would appear that at least two female ancestors also had a more enlightened view of mental health issues since they worked at various asylums.
Ooops… my grandfather’s sister was an asylum nurse in the 1911 census.
to this day my brother and I don’t know the exact reason our uncle was put in Exevale hospital-the story was he did something ‘innapropriate’ and rather than the police dealing with it he was put in there. Now, as he came from a small village was it so that his parents could keep respectability by sending him away or was he mentally ill?