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We Are Not Amused IX

In the latest in his series of posts on Queen Victoria’s would-be assailants, Dr Nick Hervey discusses what became of some of them once they had been apprehended.

A number of those picked up by the police had been in asylums or workhouses before. Sarah Newell, for example was well known, having written a pamphlet in 1842 entitled A Warning Voice from the People to the Queen. She had sent letters to the Queen saying there would be a revolution if social reforms weren’t enacted, and was suggesting that Victoria would forfeit her right to the throne if she didn’t institute changes. She also wanted to protest her previous treatment in asylums, and had written to the Home Secretary and Baron Alderson on these subjects. Newell, who made her living as a portrait painter, had also published tracts on the Corn Laws. She had been in St Luke’s Hospital on three previous occasions and in St Martin’s Workhouse, but in 1843 was placed in Hanwell Asylum after spending 19 days at St Pancras Workhouse.1 The authoress Caroline Charlotte Vesey Wetherall who was apprehended in 1846 after being found lying on the steps of Buckingham Palace. She had already been in St Martin’s Workhouse in 1830, and on this occasion was sent on to Camberwell House, where she was kept for ten weeks before discharge. Wetherall suffered from acute manic episodes, and was again admitted to St Martin’s Workhouse in 1849, from which she was sent to Miles’ Lunatic Asylum in Hoxton. Once again, though, she was rapidly discharged, possibly in deference to her station in life.2

For those whose delusions involved the Queen, the likely outcome of their apprehension was a lifetime's incarceration. Of this group, nine were admitted to Bethlem. Thomas Quested, Edward Hayward and Charles Mann spent 43, 50 and 51 years respectively in the asylum, all dying there in their old age. The long confinements of Quested and Mann are readily understandable. The former continued to abuse the Queen throughout his residence at Bethlem, and the latter had a bad drink habit which he continued to indulge when out on leave, making him a potential liability. Hayward, though, was reported well as early as 1840, a year after his admission. Thereafter this engineer had to wait until 1859 until he was granted parole. By that time he seems to have been so institutionalised that after a brief, and somewhat unsuccessful, return to the community, he decided to remain in hospital voluntarily. He was given a pass key and is described by the Medical Officer as ‘like an officer of the establishment’. All three of these men were allowed out to public Exhibitions in the 1880s. Amelia Resterlitz and Thomas Ainger both died after 13 and 18 years in Bethlem respectively, whilst two others found themselves moved on to other establishments.3

Edward  Oxford

The most famous of this Bethlem group was Edward Oxford. Oxford became a model patient in Bethlem, and was introduced to famous visitors such as the King of Saxony.4 After the arrival of a new doctor, and more particularly a new steward, G H Haydon, in 1853, Oxford began to develop a whole new range of talents. Before this time, as with most other patients there had been no real record kept of his progress in the medical casenotes. Bethlem was now to provide his further education. He devoted all his spare time to reading and study, learning to speak French, German, Italian and picking up some knowledge of Spanish, Latin and Greek. He became a champion chess and fives player amongst the patients, and took up the violin. The superintendent noted that he excelled amongst his fellow patients in all he did and that he had become a proficient house painter. In 1864 Oxford was moved to Broadmoor, and three years later was quietly released on the understanding that he left Britain forever. Subsequently he settled in Australia where he became well known under the nom de plume, John Freeman, as a writer of low life novels about Melbourne.5