Change Minds Online: Leonora Cane / Mottram by Nicki James
“Occupation: Housewife. Formerly governess … Well Educated”– Bethlem Patient Casebook Records 1887
“Rubbing herself with coffee instead of drinking it”– 2nd Medical Certificate 1887, Mrs Ernest Spence, Surety and informant
“At times she takes up the blankets and pretends to be nursing her baby which she says is in the folds”– Patient Casebook Records 1889
Leonora’s Early Life
Leonora Cane was born in 1856 in Haverstock Hill/Hampstead, then part of Middlesex. She was the sixth born child in a Victorian middle class protestant family, raised in the Kensington/Fulham area until she left her home to take up a position as a governess in Somerset. She married Charles Henry Mottram on 8th Oct 1885.
Her father, James Charles Cane, was born in 1817 in Marylebone and was an Independent Congregationalist Minister. Her mother Fanny Cane (maiden name Buckell) was born in Chichester in 1823, where she and James married in 1844.
Census entries between 1851 to 1881 show us that Leonora had nine siblings. Three older sisters; Fanny Anne, Jessie and another, Alice who seems to have died as an infant. She also had two older brothers: Leonard and Howard/Herbert. Then, she had two younger sisters, Amy Louise and Annabel Beatrice, and later a younger brother, Edgar (who was the youngest child of the family).
All the surviving Cane children were educated, which would have been especially privileged for girls at that time. From this, we can assume Leonora’s early years were financially stable and secure and that she would have been expected to fulfil the role and aspirations ascribed to white middle class women in the Victorian era – those associated with marrying, becoming a housewife and a mother, particularly as she was raised within a religious family.
By the 1881 Census, we know that Leonora was boarding at lodgings and held a position as Nursery Governess at Winsham Vicarage, Somerset. A governess was one of the few roles that a middle class white woman could appropriately take outside the home before marriage in the Victorian period. This may have been a happy time in her life - a period when she was afforded some (albeit limited) degree of independence and identity. Shortly after, in 1885, she returned to Middlesex to marry her husband, Charles Henry and became Leonora Mottram at St Peters in Fulham.
I was unable to find out much about Charles Mottram, or if he had any siblings - only that he was born in June 1847 to Charles Henry (senior) and Sarah Mottram. He was baptised at the Old Church, St Pancras, Middlesex in November 1849 and in various records he is described as an Artist - a term that was used to refer to many skilled manual professions - as was his father Charles Henry, who is also listed as an Artist or Engraver.
Reading the Registers of Patients and the Patient Casebooks Records at Bethlem
The Casebook Records show that Leonora Mottram was admitted to the Bethlem Royal Hospital on two separate occasions. Initially, on 12th November 1887, when she was 31 years of age. She stayed until 30th May 1888.
She was first admitted one month after the birth of her first child - Frances Leonora Hyde Mottram - and was transferred from the Northumberland House Asylum in Finsbury Park after her first recorded attack occurred. The details in her casebook suggest she was in an acutely distressed condition.
The Medical Certificates and Notes describe a range of observations. She was: ‘in weak general health, thin, incoherent, rambling, violent (yet not considered dangerous to herself or others), had full breasts with dilated veins (engorgement), lacked concentration and refused food’. She also displayed behaviours that included ‘trying to climb out of the window, tearing her clothes, placing her hands over her face when questioned, was continually shouting out, sleepless, crying and hallucinating’.
A day after her first admission she was reportedly ‘placed in a padded room as she gets out of bed’ and at some point later was moved to a ward. She was also ordered to have ‘continuous bathing’ and it seems that she first saw her her baby as late as March 1888. She was said to have been ‘pleased’ , but a fortnight later appeared ‘unable to remember’. As she was refusing food it is also possible that underwent some forced-feeding at B.R.H. - which was more often prescribed at that time - especially as she was ‘losing flesh’.
Leonora’s re-admission to Bethlem took place on 29th October 1889, when she was 33 and in keeping with her initial admission, occurred around one month following the birth of her second child, Charles Edgar Hyde. Many of the same symptoms re-presented, although these were not felt to be as acute on the second occasion. It also appears from her notes that she had suffered with a ‘gastric ulcer and was seriously ill’ at some point too. She stayed at B.R.H. until February 1890.
There are not many notes about what Leonora herself had to say about her experiences. However, during her second time at Bethlem she was said to be reciting Exaltations – in particular, a biblical reference to ‘the Tree of Life’. This could have many meanings but is often associated with knowing right from wrong, the potential for healing or prayers for forgiveness. Following her examination, it was documented that ‘her breasts held very little milk’ although once again they were engorged and the hospital applied plaster as a treatment. We also find her expressing grief at being separated from her baby – she is said to have gathered up a blanket in her arms ‘as if there was a baby in the folds’ of the fabric.
The causes given for Leonora’s insanity in the records were: “Childbirth’’ and “Confinement”, a term used in the Victorian era to describe enforced bed-rest during pregnancy, childbirth and for up to several months after birth, particularly during breast feeding. This practice had become institutionalised in the establishment of “Lying-in and Confinement” Hospitals (or private nursing arrangements) for middle and upper class ladies.
Ultimately, Leonora was diagnosed as suffering with ‘Acute Puerperal Mania’ (now known as postnatal Puerperal Psychosis) on both occasions. This serious condition is often accompanied by a high fever and a post partum infection. Left untreated it can cause chronic psychosis. We now also know that the likelihood of symptoms recurring increases with each successive pregnancy. See the exhibition Blog for more information and useful links about the condition, then and now.
The 1887 Bethlem Casebook record also holds some interesting comments that reveal her family’s opinion about her perhaps over-enthusiastic conduct as a governess, and her decision to marry Charles. These comments reflect many conventional attitudes towards white Victorian women, and suggest some of the pressures she may have been experiencing. Firstly, there is a note of concern recorded about the causes of her “Neuroses”. Reportedly, “She was always excitable - Worked ‘very hard’ when studying for a governess. Neuralgic”.
Further on in the same notes we can also gain some insight into opinions about her marriage to Charles Mottram. Noted under “Injury or Shock” we also find the following comment: “Married without her parent’s consent two years ago. Husband in poor circumstances”. Aside from the harm this was deemed to cause, it would have been a significant decision for Leonora and Charles to take in the strictly ordered Victorian era - where transgressions exposed women, and their families, to harsh scrutiny and the risk of being ostracised or enduring accusations of low moral standards. Despite this disapproval, the couple continued to live at Leonora’s family home in Perham Road, West Kensington following the marriage.
In 1891, the Census reveals that Leonora, Charles and their two young children - Frances and Charles Edgar – were still living in Leonora’s family home. Charles Henry was listed as a step-son to the Canes, but was simultaneously recorded as ‘living on his own means’, suggesting that although they were accommodated by the Cane family he was expected to support Leonora and his children independently.
I was unable to find Death Index entries. However, from other evidence it seems likely that Charles Henry died sometime before 1908. For instance, the National School Admissions Registers and Log Books show that in 1908, when Frances was 21, she was admitted as a Senior Pupil Teacher-in-training at the Guildford County School for Girls. In this Log her father is recorded as deceased, and her Guardian is a Mrs. Spence. It is probable that this is the same Mrs Ernest Spence who twice appeared as a Surety when Leonora was admitted to the Bethlem. Then, the 1911 Census tells us that Leonora was living in Catford, was still listed as married but was also listed as Head of the Household with a boarder.
This strongly suggests she was a widow by that time.
Despite the B.R.H. Discharge notes regarding Leonora as “Recovered” on both occasions, she seems to have spent much of her life in Hospital and Workhouse Asylums following her time at Bethlem. By searching the UK Lunacy Patients’ Admission Registers and the London Workhouse Admissions and Discharge Logs, I found a number of entries spanning 1905 through to the 1920s. These included admissions to Chartham Asylum, Kent;
the Union Workhouse Asylum and Infirmary, Greenwich; and, the Bexley Psychiatric Hospital. Some admissions were by order of court due to acute episodes and there were also transfers between Asylums.
However, in December 1914, Leonora was able to attend - and is listed as a witness - at the marriage of her son, Charles, who was a Civil Service Clerk, to Clementine Clara Emons in Mortlake, Surrey.
Sadly, in October 1918, at only 29, her daughter Frances died and was buried at Grayswood All Saints Cemetery, Surrey on 15th of that month. It is possible that she had been working as an Elementary School Teacher nearby and may have become a victim of the devastating 1918-1919 Flu epidemic, although I have been unable to confirm this.
Surrey Towns were among some of the earliest parts of England to experience outbreaks and quarantines from what became known as the post-war Spanish Flu pandemic. Articles in local papers describing the history of ‘Surrey and the Great War’, include items about the hasty closure of infant and elementary schools due to infection spreading rapidly. Outbreaks seem to have been associated with local military camps and hospitals, where many soldiers were sent to stay, unaware of their infection, towards the end of and following WWI.
Only a few years later, on 28th September 1923, Leonara died in Claybury Mental Hospital, Essex at the age of 67. Although her death was registered in Romford, the Will and Probate Index show she had been living in Beckenham, Kent - possibly in a home for widows requiring care when she was hospitalised.
It feels especially significant that both the Surrey History Centre and Grayswood Parish Records confirm that she was buried at Grayswood All Saints in October 1923, the same cemetery as her daughter. This was probably arranged by Charles Edgar, who became administrator for her effects, and who then lived on in Devon until 1963, succeeded by his wife Clementine.
Sources and Information
Bethlem Patient Admission and Discharge Registers and Patient Casebook Records
Ancestry and FindMyPast Archives
Stephanie Bennett Fraser Lewisham Mind Wellbeing Manager
Grayswood AllSaints Parish records, Surrey
General searches of newspaper and historical articles
I have been interested in the impact that class and gender constructions have on women's mental health for some time, including treatments and services available to us.
Victorians popularly viewed the role of motherhood as a pure and perfect role for white middle and upper class women, including expecting ladies to be confined to bed-rest in hospitals or bed chambers during pregnancy, labour and the months following birth while breast-feeding. They were also preoccupied with cleanliness, body sculpting and refinement and I was struck by the contradiction between these expectations and Leonora’s own experience of illness, which must have made it particularly frightening and humiliating for her. Such pressures will undoubtedly have made post-natal depression and the trauma of separation from her children even more severe, and exacerbated any feelings of isolation, shame and lack of control. It seemed to me that while she was deeply distressed, she was also struggling to resist the total loss of any control over her life.
I wanted to try to illustrate this battle in my creative work. Reflecting an incident in her case notes describing how Leonora had rubbed coffee on her body, I chose coffee-ink/or sepia to mark moments when she might have felt most conflicted. By including images of pinched-in bodices, decorative birdcages and pinned butterflies I wanted to illustrate how trapped she probably felt by the narrow confinements of femininity; her lack of an independent voice - even when she tried to speak out; the limitations imposed on her choices; and, how she might have felt about expectations and constraints during her pregnancy, illness and attempts to recover.
My art work pieces include:
· A decoupage baby box smothered with Victorian ideal images of femininity and motherhood that seemed at odds with Leonora’s inner world;
· A plastered bust in a decorative birdcage, illustrating the plastering of her breasts to dry up the lactation when she was admitted to Bethlem;
· A oil-pastel painting of her Tree of Life;
· A Theatre Booklet for her 'Tale of Confinement', shaped as a butterfly that becomes more trapped and fixed as the pages unfold.
Thanks especially to Eurydice Caldwell from Gener8te who collaborated with me on the photography and panel storyboard, and who generously shared her expertise and support.
A video that shows a slideshow view of Nicki's work