Change Minds Online 2023; Henry Peardon by Finn Part 2
I feel the energy of these paintings deeply within Henry’s story. The sibling relationships of the Peardon family form the emotional core of this story; uncovering their intertwined fates was heartbreaking.
His older brother, Thomas, was admitted to Northumberland House in Hackney on the 9th of August 1884. We know nothing of his time there as the hospital records have not survived. On the 25th of November of the same year, Thomas passed away while in the asylum. His cause of death is unknown. However, the Commissioners of Lunacy report 1885 which would have covered the period of Thomas’s admission to Northumberland states ‘We are glad to report there have been no homicides, suicides or fatal casualty in a Metropolitan licensed house’, implying that he did not pass through suicide. Henry and Thomas had been living together in 1881 and the two brothers shared the occupation of hosier.
On the 13th of July 1887, their sister Ann was admitted as a patient to Bethlem. Her occupation at time of admittance was ‘housekeeper to her brother’. We are not told which brother this is. However, it is Henry who had brought her to doctors in Dalston for certification, and the notes say that he ‘had noticed her manner peculiar for two to three months’. Ann’s supposed cause of insanity is listed in the Bethlem casebooks as, ‘anxiety over brother’s illness’. We can speculate that this brother was John Peardon, who suffered from attacks of paralysis.Two months after Ann’s admission, John died through suicide.
Ann would have an unusually long stay in Bethlem, being ‘discharged relieved’ on the 11th of November, 1891. During this time, on July 26th, 1890, Henry himself was admitted to Bethlem.The Bethlem casebooks reveal that ‘he thinks he has caused the death of his brothers’. Both Henry and Ann experienced depressive delusions in which they felt themselves to contain a deep darkness. In what must have been agonizing terror, Henry believed himself to be the devil and was attempting to escape hell.
While Henry was ‘discharged well’ on the 30th of August, 1892 and seemingly never readmitted to an asylum, Ann would be admitted to Bethlem again on the 27th of February, 1900. Once again, she was discharged ‘relieved’, not cured on the 13th of August, 1902 - another uncommonly long stay. On the 14th of May, 1902, whilst Ann was still in hospital, Henry passed away.
My impression is that the Peardon siblings cared deeply for one another - that through the stresses and tragedies of life, this love and its responsibility came to carry deep undertows of guilt and anxiety - to the ultimate point which is the breaking of the mind. What we do to one another! Love, fear and each other.
To think of living inside the painful truth of such lives. To imagine looking around oneself and this all being the case. The pain of their story is the vast and immeasurable kind. Madness knows this kind of pain. It is a place where pain can no longer run in bordered channels, but is ocean.
In relation to these paintings, I think too of a scene from ‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’, a biopic of the artist who was a patient at Bethlem. He is sitting on the beach with his sister, who is also descending into insanity.
‘I am scared, Louis.’
‘Me too’, he replies.
I think of the Peardon siblings, and how these words - this fragility and their intimate knowledge of it - might have echoed in their experience.
My own absolute fear, both during and after my episode, although it had transfixed my very being alive, was something that I couldn’t admit. It was too dangerous. I didn’t have the space or time (by which I mean a gentle space and a time outside of survival) to make such a confession.
So while this scene isn’t a moment of comforting resolution, its truth is very meaningful to me. Sitting together in that fear - in our profound vulnerability as humans - maybe this is what we have to offer each other, across time.
Indeed, the time I spent with Henry through his portraits was one of gentle friendship. I walked into Change Minds with a sort of mute horror around touching Madness again. It had only been months since I had ended up in Bethlem and a lot of me was frozen. When I first saw the hospital records available for the project the room teemed with alarm and danger; my mind went blank and wide.
Sitting down with Henry’s photograph in the spirit of portraiture, changed this. Henry was patient, giving, tender; he was there. I became focused and careful.Understanding ran in little currents between us in these moments of quiet and easy going communion. The understanding of this place we had both been. A place that subsequently left me feeling so alone and frightened, as it no doubt had to him.
And some of our insanity’s monumental horror and loneliness was undone.
This last portrait I drew from memory.
Finally, I wrote a little poem. It speaks to me of love that endures and grows, beyond and through all kinds of separation. It makes me think of my father, whose passing precipitated my own episode of madness and stay in Bethlem. Now it makes me think of Henry too, in the gentlest way. And of the possibilities of life that this project has given to both of us.
I am quiet at last
And you are here too
In the back of my mind
In the flowers in front of me
And in this quiet
We bloom and bloom
Click here to read Finn's artistic response to Henry's life.