Tag Archives: george thomas gasson

Madness Monday: George Thomas GASSON wasn’t just a lunatic

8 Jun

So far pretty much all I have written about George Thomas GASSON concerns his time at the asylum and his mental illness. I wouldn’t want you to think that George Thomas GASSON was just a lunatic, he was a normal son, brother, husband and father for a large part of his life. So to put my previous posts in some perspective here is a summary of what I also know about George Thomas.

George Thomas GASSON was born in Slaugham, Sussex on the 13th November 1853 and was baptised in the parish church on the 29th January 1854. His birth was registered under the surname GASTON, on the 25th December 1853 by his grandmother Mary MITCHELL, which presumably accounts for the incorrect spelling of his surname (I say incorrect because this is the only time I have seen him referred to as GASTON not GASSON).

He was the eldest child of Thomas GASSON (1830-1914) and Harriet MITCHELL (c1835-1904) who were married in the parish church at Slaugham, Sussex on the 17th September 1853. They went on to have twelve children in total, eight boys and four girls.

Around 1859-60 Thomas, Harriet and their three children at the time (George Thomas, Margaret and Alfred) moved to Edmonton, Middlesex whilst Thomas was briefly in the Metropolitan Police. The family are there for the 1861 census and had another child there (Edward, registered Q3 1860). Before long the family were back in Sussex (probably Slaugham), as their next child, a daughter named Harriett was registered in Cuckfield District in Q1 1863.

It is not clear when George Thomas left the family home, he was certainly with his parents during the 1871 census, when the family was in Slaugham, and sometime around 1874-75 the family moved to Bolney, Sussex. It was in Bolney that George Thomas married Mary Ann WALDER at the parish church on the 30th December 1876.

George Thomas and Mary Ann’s first child, George, was born in 1877 (baptised on the 29th April 1877) about the same time as George Thomas’ youngest brother Michael. George Thomas and Mary Ann had fourteen children in total, including in 1893 my great grandmother May GASSON. The youngest was Harold, born in 1898. During this time they were living in Bolney, in the 1881 census at Bee Houses and in 1891 at Chatesgrove.

I have been unable to trace any record of George Thomas’ schooling, if there was any. His working life was spent as a labourer, although there is no evidence that shows where and for whom, presumably he was an agricultural labourer working on one of the farms in the parish.

A couple of their children had died before George Thomas was admitted to the asylum, Edward in 1894 (aged 15) and Albert Henry also in 1894 (aged just 3 months). One son was killed during the First World War, William James (in 1915). The youngest Harold served in the navy during the First World War, but I have been unable to discover where and with whom the others served.

After George Thomas was admitted to the asylum the family seems to have drifted eastwards, firstly to Cuckfield (Cuthedges in 1901) and then to Hurstpierpoint (Gorewood Green in 1911). It was in Hurstpierpoint that Mary Ann died in 1935 aged 78, although she was buried back in Bolney churchyard.

As far as I can tell the majority of their children married, with a couple of exceptions (my great grandmother being one of them) and many went on to have large families (at last count I had positively identified 34 grandchildren).

Madness Monday: George Thomas GASSON the end of the trail

1 Jun

Having viewed the case notes for George Thomas GASSON during his time at Hellingly asylum there really was nowhere else to go.

The case notes were much the same as those from Haywards Heath asylum. There were no major incidents, no sudden changes in condition, just a slow and gradual decline.

There may be a few other administrative records which may mention George Thomas, which may be worth checking, such as the records for Cuckfield Union who paid for his care. They are unlikely to add much to the story of George Thomas, but I need to check them just in case.

These records are unlikely to answer the one big question that still remains with me: Who in the family actually knew what happened to George Thomas GASSON?

I am proud to have uncovered his story and one day (sooner rather than later) I will put together the full story in one document and make sure it is never lost (or hidden) again.

[next week: George Thomas GASSON wasn't just a lunatic - some notes on George Thomas before mental illness took hold]

Madness Monday: a little light relief in the asylum records

25 May

I finally got the permission I was after to view the records I was after and proceeded to order them at the East Sussex Record Office. This was the case book which covered George Thomas GASSON’s time at Hellingly asylum, Sussex from the 29th October 1903 to his death on the 9th May 1922.

This case book (ESRO HE 26/2) was in much the same format as the previous one I had viewed, except the pages were much larger in size (about double the size).

The first page contained details of his mental and physical condition as well as his personal details (which were the same as those from Haywards Heath asylum). The next page and the extra page towards the back of the book contained the “progress of case”, basically similar notes as previously recorded at various intervals.

Much of the first page was not filled out, presumably because he was not a new admission, but had been transfered from Haywards Heath. The most interesting part was the mental assessment that was carried out on the 2nd November 1903.

George Thomas was described as:

a dull looking man with a perplexed appearance. gives name & spells surname. age “somewhere over 50″ Has lost day of week & month & year. came here a few days back was at H.H. 8 yrs. Is restless & fidgets as he talks “a woman full up twice in the place since I  left, don’t you know what it means” speaks thinly, rapidly & indistinctly Quiet and unoccupied since admission. (2ry Dtia)

It didn’t help that the like most of the other notes, punctuation and capitalization were largely missing, but it painted another sad picture of confused but probably harmless old man, with secondary dementia.

One phrase in that description made me laugh, I’m not sure if it was out loud but it certainly brought a smile to my face. When I read gives name & spells surname, I felt like I had made a connection with him, I have been doing that all my life!

Here over a hundred years earlier my 2x great grandfather was doing the same thing. Whether he was prompted to spell it, or whether like me he always spelt it out when I gave it to someone I will never know. But for a moment that shared action made me realise that I did share something in common with him. It still makes me chuckle when I think about it now.

[to be continued]

Madness Monday: Using non-asylum sources for asylum research

18 May

Although I was still waiting for permission to view the next set of asylum records for George Thomas GASSON, there were other records I could look at without any restrictions.

Of course the 1911 census wasn’t available then (and I still haven’t looked in there for him yet), but I could still access death and burial records. I suppose one could view his death as a release from the asylum back into civil and ecclesiastical hands.

Firstly there was his death certificate, this confirmed he had died in the asylum on the 9th May 1922 and gave his cause of death as exhaustion of dysentery (10 days) and senile dementia (several years). This was rather confusing, I had found no reference of dementia in his previous notes, is this what he was actually suffering from all along? had this developed over the years? or did they just not know what to call it?

Next came burial records. I guessed that he would have been buried at Hellingly, Sussex because I had not found a burial record back at Bolney or the surrounding parishes. Sure enough when I checked the burial records for Hellingly (at the East Sussex Record Office) there he was, being buried at the burial ground at Hellingly on the 13th May 1922 in grave number 1082B.

The register of graves for the burial ground threw up one confusing issue, it listed another person in that grave as well, she was Ada Elizabeth RICHARDSON who was buried on the 7th May 1964. This confusion was soon cleared up by the present parish clerk, as the grave had not been purchased by the family it would have been re-used at a later date.

This however brought up another issue, the grave hadn’t been purchased, but how many (if any) of the family actually knew he was buried there? did any of them attend the funeral? and who paid the interment fees of 7s 6d?

With the help of a plan of the burial ground at the East Sussex Record Office and Google Maps I have been able to identify the spot where George Thomas is buried with reasonable accuracy. It doesn’t appear to be marked (which was confirmed by the parish clerk) but I shall still go and pay a visit one day soon.

I know that I am probably one of only a handful of his descendants that knows the whereabouts of his last resting place, but what is sadder still is that I might be the only family member past or present that has visited his grave.

[to be continued]

Madness Monday: learning about lunacy whilst waiting to move on

11 May

So far I had uncovered just about everything I could about George Thomas GASSON whilst he was at the Sussex County Asylum, Haywards Heath, Sussex. Now it was time to turn my attention to Hellingly Asylum, where George Thomas had been transferred in October 1903.

I knew this wasn’t going to be straight forward. From my early enquiries at the East Sussex Record Office I knew that I would need to obtain written permission to view these later records as they were still closed. So I prepared a letter and put it in the post.

From that stage forward I tried to forget about, I didn’t think anything would happen quickly and I wondered if it would even find the right person, and even if it did they might not agree to allow me access. I tried not to think about and got on with my research.

I still had plenty to do, notes to write up, other sources to check and also I wanted to find out more background information about both of the asylums and the treatment of mental illness in general at that time.

Fortunately the Internet Archive came to my rescue, with a copy of A Dictionary of Psychological Medicine edited by D. Hack Tuke, M.D., LL.D., published in 1892 in two volumes. In it I was able to find a definition of the term mania, “Insanity characterised in its full development by mental exhaltation and bodily excitement. The term is also sometimes used for acute mania. Popularly it is used for the delusions of the insane.”

It also gave me a introduction into The Lunacy Act, 1890 (under the heading LAW OF LUNACY, 1890 and 1891). This was the legislation under which George Thomas was being treated, with examples of some of the different types forms that were being used at the time, some of which I had already looked at. It went some way to helping me understand what was going on when George Thomas was being admitted to the asylum.

In general however, I have found very little information about asylums and the treatment of mental illness, other than some publications about specific asylums. There is also a real lack of information about researching lunatics for family historians, it has been a real uphill struggle trying to understand what was going on, and where to go next.

Perhaps one day I will put together a guide for family historians based on my own experiences, but until then if you have any questions let me know and I will try and help.

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