HC Deb 06 October 1841 vol 59 cc1137-42
Mr. Wakley

said, he did not rise for the purpose of submitting any motion to the House; but if he was out of order in addressing it, without making a motion, he would do so. The question connected with the custody of insane persons, was one of great importance, and the general impression respecting the law on the subject was, that it required improvement, not only with regard to the manner of sending persons to the asylum, but also with regard to the manner in which they were treated when there. The first law on this subject relating to Scotland was passed in the year 1815, and he believed that it was designed in a beneficent spirit. However, cases had occurred, which proved that it was ineffectual in securing the object for which it was passed. It appeared that by that statute, the custody of insane persons was intrusted to the sheriffs, who had the power, not only to 6end persons to a lunatic asylum, but to issue orders for their proper care after they were sent to those establishments. He would not detain the House many minutes in stating a case, which, he could assure them, was well worthy of their attention. In April, 1840, a gentleman seated in his breakfast-room was visited by the keeper of an asylum near Glasgow, who entered his apartment with a warrant from the sheriff, for the purpose of taking him to his asylum. The gentleman asked at whose instance the warrant had been issued, but he received no reply. He then asked the name of the medical gentleman who had testified to his insanity. But he received no reply, and it appeared that the sheriff, without seeing the party, had issued a warrant for sending him to the lunatic asylum. The keeper of the asylum accompanied the patient. Within one week after he had been in the asylum, he addressed the sheriff on the subject, entreating him to state at whose instance he was confined, and beseeching him to pay him a visit. To that letter, which was transmitted on the 1st of May, 1840, he received no answer. On the 27th of June, one of the visiting physicians who attended the asylum admitted, in the presence of the governor, that he saw no symptom of insanity in the mind of the patient. On the 4th, and on the 21st of July, the same physician made a similar admission, but said he thought the patient should undergo a longer probation. On the 30th of September, one of the sheriff's substitutes, and two additional physicians attended the asylum, and the patient, in their presence, entreated that his case might be examined, declaring that he was ready to submit to any test, and that he believed that he was confined in consequence of some misunderstanding with his family. All these entreaties were made without avail. On the 8th of October, the brother of the patient attended. The patient asked him why he was confined? and the reply of his brother was, that he believed it was owing to the interference of a parcel of doctors. On the 16th of October, the patient again requested that there might be an investigation of his case, and the application was again refused. On the 4th of September he intreated the governor of the institution to place him in a private room, and thus to remove him from constant intercourse with the insane people, stating that it was his sincere belief, that an attempt was being made to drive him mad. This application was also refused, although the patient declared that he was prepared to pay all the expenses, In this case he purposely abstained from mentioning names, because it was too late in the Session for the parties to answer the statement, but there were some names which he would mention. On the 26th of September, the visiting physician again attended, and, in the presence of a keeper, John Walker, he declared that he believed that the gentleman of whose case he was speaking was perfectly sane. The testimonial of John Walker was as follows:— a- June 24,1841.— I certify that I have seen Mr. William — daily for more than ten months, during which time he has always been of sound mind, and very quiet. I also heard Dr.— declare, that he was quite well on the 26th of December last, and I told that to Dr.— JOHN WALKER, Keeper. On the 2nd of January, the keeper of the asylum admitted to the patient, that he believed he had been placed in confinement in consequence of some quarrels with his family. He requested the keeper of the asylum to interfere with his relatives, and to permit him to be admitted to a public examination; but all his applications were unavailing. On the 13th of February, the visiting physician again admitted that he was well. On the 4th of June it appeared that Mr. Douglas, a surgeon, was called in, and he gave the following certificate, that the gentleman was not insane:— —House, June 21, 1841. I have this day visited Mr. William—, and see nothing insane about him at present. JAMES DOUGLAS, Surgeon. On the 21st of June, the same surgeon again attended, but the doctor, in whose custody he was lodged, refused to receive the certificate of the surgeon, and said he would receive no testimonial or certificate, except from the sheriff, or the physician of the institution. On the 29th of June, after he had been in prison fourteen months, the sheriff visited the asylum, when he examined the case, and the gentleman believed he had given the sheriff every satisfaction. He entreated him to grant a public investigation of the case, and he referred him to the affidavits of John Walker, and of the visiting physician. The sheriff said that he would take the case into his consideration, but a week having elapsed, during which he had heard nothing from the sheriff on the subject, he, being in the garden, forced back the lock of the door, and made his escape, after having been in confinement for fourteen months. He did not consider himself safe in Scotland; he therefore at once fled across the border, and reached Carlisle. He had been only a few days in that city, when the keeper of the asylum, accompanied by a person of gigantic strength, entered the apartment he occupied in the hotel, and attempted to seize him as a madman, and carry him back to Scotland. He escaped from the room, and meeting the chambermaid on the stairs, desired her to go and fetch a sharp attorney for him. No application was made to any legal adviser, but he told the people of the hotel his case, and entreated them to rescue him. They did interfere, and he was taken before the Mayor of Carlisle; and after an examination in open court, before the mayor and two magistrates, he was by them released from the custody of the keeper. Indeed, it did not appear upon what authority the keeper had arrested him in Carlisle. The magistrates gave him a certificate, stating that they had examined him, and that he had shown no symptoms of insanity, and therefore they had released him from the custody of the keeper. That certificate was as follows:- On Wednesday, the 21st day of July, 1841, Mr. William —was brought before us, having been pursued from Scotland by Dr.—, from a private asylum near Glasgow, who wished us to detain him, he having escaped from that asylum; but on examining the said William—, he showed no symptoms of insanity, and consequently we refused to interfere.(Signed) JOHN DIXON, Mayor of Carlisle. JOHN FAWCETT, J. P. GEORGE FLINT, J. P. The Gentleman who had suffered in this way was at present in London, and had been introduced to him by a Member of that House. He did not dare to return to Scotland, lest he should be again seize and sent to the asylum. He wished to ask the Lord-advocate if he could hold out any hope, that, if that gentleman should return to his family and his property, he would not be again subjected to the treatment which he had already suffered. He knew that by law the sheriff had ample power; but whether it was that he had not time to attend to his duties, or for some other reason this gentleman did not dare to return to his native Country, for fear of being again subjected to similar persecutions. The very character of the House was concerned in the matter. The sheriff, according to the 55th of George the 3rd, was bound to liberate the party if improperly confined. Until the party in the present instance was confined eleven months it did not appear that the sheriff paid him a visit. The person in this case did not know the name of the individual at whose instance, nor of the medical gentleman on whose certificate, he was confined. The hon. Member concluded by moving for a return of the persons confined in the lunatic asylums in Scotland in the years 1840 and 1841.

Sir W. Rae

said, that nothing could be more distressing- than that a person of sound mind should be imprisoned in a lunatic asylum. He gave the hon. Gentleman due credit for the caution he had observed in not mentioning the names of the individuals. He would have wished that he had observed the same caution with respect to the place from which the complaint came, for he had mentioned that the individual was confined in a private asylum near Glasgow. He thought the wiser course would have been for the hon. Member to have mentioned the case to him some days before, and he would have inquired into the matter, and be enabled to afford some explanation, but until the hon. Member rose to state the case, he knew nothing of it whatever. All he could promise the hon. Member was, that he would make the most minute and anxious inquiry into the facts of the case. The subject was one to which he had paid much attention, and in which he felt the deepest possible interest. Under the present state of the law, if any person received into a lunatic asylum an individual without a warrant from the sheriff of the county, he was liable to a pecuniary penalty. The course of proceeding in such cases was to make an application to the sheriff to lodge the party in the asylum. The sheriff could only grant the requisite authority on a medical certificate of a particular description. The members of the University of Edinburgh, and of the faculty of Glasgow, had four members of their number appointed inspectors of madhouses in Scotland, and the medical certificate should be written by one of those inspectors, and by one of them alone. From his own experience as frequent official visitor to lunatic asylums, he knew that many persons who were insane would maintain that they were in their perfect senses, and their insanity only displayed itself when they were addressed on some particular point. He knew that there was a description of insane persons who obstinately protested their sanity, and who generally succeeded in proving it until touched upon the particular cause of mania, when their disordered state of mind soon became apparent. He feared that the case which had been brought under the notice of the House by the hon. Member for Finsbury, was one of that description. However, every pains should be taken to ascertain the truth.

Mr. Wakley

trusted the unfortunate gentleman, whose case he had laid before the house would obtain the protection he solicited, and he hoped the whole subject of the treatment of the insane would undergo investigation next Session, as the state of many private madhouses in this country was a disgrace to the age. He would suggest, that before a party could be confined in any madhouse, whether public or private, he should betaken before a public tribunal and examined.

Motion withdrawn.