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Hospital Snapshots 3

Jpsitting

The previous two posts in this series have looked at the idea of physiognomy and the use doctors made of images for diagnostic purposes but to the lay viewer they can provide a fascinating insight into another world, and the life of an individual.

This month we return to the case of John Payne, whose photograph featured in the September 2012 instalment of In the Frame. The sitter is identified only by the initials JP and the words 'ruffianism' and 'homicide', indicating that he was a patient in the criminal wing of Bethlem, maintained by the Home Office until Broadmoor opened in the early 1860s. By reference to the Bethlem archives he can be identified as John Payne, admitted to Bethlem in September 1857, following his trial for murder.

It would appear that within the hospital John Payne attracted as much attention as in his portrait he seems to be inviting. Charles Hood, Bethlem’s Superintendent Physician, mentions him specifically in his published letter to the Lunacy Commissioners in 1860, commenting, ‘His vicious tendencies are unimpressible by either advice or kindness.’1

Payne is described as an expert and habitual thief, part of a gang operating in London in the summer of 1857. After being confined to the Westminster Workhouse following a bout of delirium tremens, he was accused of the murder of a fellow inmate.2 The original trial records make mention of some general symptoms of madness and Payne was acquitted by reason of insanity and sent to Bethlem but it is Hood’s opinion that he was sane at the time of his admission and remained perfectly so. He does not feel that Bethlem is an appropriate place for him and that ‘he produces constant anxiety to those who have the charge of him’. Indeed, he made four attempts at escape from Bethlem before being transferred to Broadmoor in July 1864.

Although John Payne appeared troubled, moody and withdrawn on his arrival, the Broadmoor records suggest a more positive outcome. By the end of the 1860s he was working in the carpenter’s and shoemaker's shops in Broadmoor and gave up alcohol (patients drank weak beer) in 1871. He and his sister regularly petitioned the Home Office for his release and he was discharged conditionally into her care on 19 April 1873.