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200 Years Ago Today 1

Richard Stavely was questioned by the Committee on Madhouses about the care received by his relative, the late James Tilly Matthews. He said that the hospital would not explain why they wished to keep Mr Matthews confined, and claimed that the Bethlem apothecary, Mr Haslam, appeared to have a “violent animosity” towards him.

"My knowledge of him has been principally in the last eight years", Mr Stavely said, "when, in consequence of his declining state of health, and the sufferings he was labouring under from the manner in which he was confined, I made application, with another relative, who is since dead, Mr Dunbar, to the committee several times, that he might be removed from the Hospital to be in the care of his friends."

He continued:

“I grounded the application on the information and evidence of two physicians of the highest respectability, Dr Birkbeck and Dr Clutterbuck, who authorised me to state to the committee, that he was not by any means in that insane state of mind to render confinement necessary to him....that he was by no means considered a dangerous Lunatic, for from the evidence of their own officers who attended (the different keepers) that for the whole time of his being there, the man, so far from interrupting the peace of the house or creating disturbance, was the man to whom all parties, whether patients or servants of the house, if there were any grievances, made their reference for redress; but there appeared on the part of Mr Haslam, which I have told him himself, and which I told to Dr Monro, a violent animosity against this man.”

Mr Stavely said that, although he had not seen it himself, Mr Matthews had told him that he had been chained when he disputed the reasons for him being there and Mr Haslam’s authority to treat him in the way he did.

He added: “Mr Matthews said to me, that Mr Haslam said in reply, “you dispute our authority”, (with an oath) “Sir, we will soon let you know what our authority is;” and the next day he was leg-locked.”

Mr Matthews’s treatment had been paid for by the parish of Camberwell but when his supporters said that they were willing to look after him, the parish took the view that they could no longer use parish funds to support him in Bethlem. Nevertheless the hospital still refused to release him.
Mr Stavely said: “We then put the thing into the regular channels by the affidavits of the physicians, and we went into the Court of King’s Bench, and moved for a writ of Habeas Corpus to have him removed.”

Mr Stavely reported that at court they had been asked why they were so anxious to have Mr Matthews released and he responded: “I said, we are dissatisfied with his treatment generally, but with his medical treatment particularly, so much so, that we wish, as you refuse to let him out, to have an opportunity of medical men seeing him. We asked "Have you any objection to our bringing in other medical men to see him?" Dr Monro said, Certainly not, provided they are men of regular character in their profession, not empirics.”

After Drs Birkbeck and Clutterbuck had begun to visit Mr Matthews, Mr Haslam accused Mr Stavely of surreptitiously bringing medical men in without the authority of the hospital.

Meanwhile, Mr Matthews' health had deteriorated and his friends became even more anxious about him.

Mr Stavely said: “He had very bad abscesses in his back, all of which he attributed to the cell that he had originally been placed in, and damp of the house, which he said, affected most of the patients in the same way, beginning with a numbness about the thighs, and the lower part of the back, and frequently terminating in death. The Hospital, finding the situation that Mr Matthews’s health was in, I believe were a little alarmed, and he then became a patient of the surgeon, Mr Crowther; who stated to the committee, that he considered Mr Matthews’ state of health to be such, that if he was not allowed to have change of air, or a different scene and treatment, he would not answer for his living over the winter.”

“In consequence of that, on an application, Mr Crowther came to me, and stated, “If you will go to the committee, and state, that, as a relation of Mr Matthews, you are very desirous of giving him a change, I have a place near Town where he can go, if you propose to pay one half; let them bear the other; there is a certain allowance made by Government for him, and there will be but little more expense occurred.”

As a result of this, the Hospital granted the application, and James Tilly Matthews was finally moved to a private house in Hackney. William Lawrence, Assistant Surgeon to Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital, later told the Committee on Madhouses that he had treated Mr Matthews in Bethlem and later in Hackney for an abscess on his loins and a tumour on his back.