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200 Years Ago Today 13

James Simmonds, Bethlem's head keeper, was questioned by the Committee on Madhouses about the care received by James Tilly Matthews. He told them: “I cannot think Mr. Matthews was treated properly; he was a gentleman; he had had a genteel education, and I did not think he ought to have had the treatment he had, for he never would offend any body that did not offend him.” He said Mr Matthews had lain handcuffed and leg-locked for two or three years.

Mr Simmonds added: “He never went near a bit of fire. I used to go up and undo his handcuffs when the keeper was out, to put him on a clean shirt; his friends used to wash his things at Camberwell; his wife and sister used to bring his clean linen, and when the clean linen came on the Monday, the visiting day, I used to go up and undo his handcuffs, and help him to put on a clean shirt, and then he used to have his blanket gown put on; he used to request somebody to mend his pens; he had two pints for a compass, and some pens and ink, and used to write a great deal.”

Mr Simmonds blamed the harsh treatment on the fact that Mr Matthews disagreed with the hospital apothecary, John Haslam. He said that the handcuffs were put on as a punishment, adding: “He used to talk a good deal against the apothecary, but never before any one offended him.”

Mr Simmonds said Mr Matthews was a quiet and gentle man who was never violent and visitors to the hospital were taken to see him and his writings. His relatives fought a long legal battle to get him released from Bethlem as his health was failing and he was suffering with abscesses. He was eventually allowed to move to a private house in Hackney, where he died in 1815.