Tag Archives: lunatic

Madness Monday: George Thomas GASSON, at last some answers

20 Apr

Following on from my previous visit to the East Sussex Record Office (ESRO), which I described last week, I scheduled another visit to the ESRO to view the next set of documents several weeks later.

Things were moving slowly, one piece of information, in this case the admission number, was unlocking more information, and slowly I was beginning to build up a picture of how my 2x great grandfather had ended up in the Sussex County Asylum at Haywards Heath, Sussex.

The first document I looked at that morning presented a number of challenges, not least it’s size. It was the case book (ESRO HC33/1) for patients admitted between February 1896 and February 1899, and it must have been at least six inches thick, although not particularly tall or wide.

The next challenge was what it actualy contained, a description of George Thomas GASSON’s condition when he was admitted, and the changes in his condition whilst in the asylum. At first much of this information was just a repeat of what I had already seen, his name, age, residence etc. but then I came to the section Facts indicating Insanity related in Medical Certificate.

This was what I really wanted to find out, why did they think he was insane? The moment of truth had arrived for me, as well as for George Thomas. There were two statements:

a) He tells me that he hears voices & at times sees figures who hold conversation with his, also sees different little animals running about is nervous

b) George Gasson of Chaites Grove, Bolney. son. says that he is always swearing at night and suffers from various delusions. all the people in the house are terrified on account of his conduct.

The first part seemed almost comical, hearing voices and seeing things, it sounded more like he had a drink problem than a mental illness, but then second part really knocked me back. When I thought of his family in the house and what they must have gone through. I could only imagine how frightening it must have been for them.

When I thought back to the 1901 census return where George Thomas had been absent (and three years after he had been admitted), it struck me that it would have been a house full of children. In 1901 the eldest was 17 years old, and in total there were seven children, right down to the youngest son Harold, who was only three. No wonder they were frightened, it didn’t bear thinking about.

So, not only was there a house full of children when George Thomas was admitted to the asylum on the 24th January 1898, but George Thomas’ wife Mary Ann was pregnant with their son Harold (he was born 23 days later).

My own mind was in turmoil, although there was no mention that he had been violent or aggressive, there must have been such relief among the family when George Thomas was admitted to the asylum. I had gone from feeling sorry for poor old George Thomas and what he was suffering and how his family must have missed him, to feeling a sense of relief for them, that he could do them no harm and they could live a normal life, albeit a without a father at home.

[to be continued]

Madness Monday: My first steps in researching George Thomas GASSON and the Sussex County Asylum

13 Apr

Having discovered that my 2x great grandfather George Thomas GASSON was a lunatic my first step was to prove that he was in the asylum at Haywards Heath in the 1901 census and try to find out how long he had been there and why he was there.

A surprisingly large number of records from both Haywards Heath and Hellingly Asylums had been preserved, and were deposited at the East Sussex Record Office (ESRO). Searching on Access to Archives I was able to identify the admission registers and their indexes I needed to order (those for Haywards Heath, then known as the Sussex County Asylum) and booked a seat at the ESRO.

One of the biggest challenges when starting out was understanding the admission procedures, and to some extent I am still looking for some clear guidance on all the different stages of the process.

The first record I checked at the ESRO was the index to admission papers (ESRO HC32/21) covering January 1890 to December 1898. Being an index it was very easy to find the entry I was looking for:

Name. Gasson George T.
No. in Register. 8167
Date of Admission. Jan 24 1898
Date of Discharge.
Union to which Chargeable. Cuckfield
Division of the County.

So there it was, without a shadow of a doubt that was my 2x great grandfather, it simply had to be him, the fact that it was Cuckfield Union that had to pay for him pretty much confirmed it. It also confirmed that he was admitted as a pauper rather than a private patient. Most importantly I had the all important admission number, which would hopefully allow me to find more detail.

With the admission number I was able to narrow down which admission register I needed, from the several I had requested, it was ESRO HC32/8 the Register of admission of paupers, numbers: 7,244-8,267. This was arranged in numerical order, so very easy to find the page I was looking for.

The page contained more detailed information about George Thomas GASSON’s admission, whilst it didn’t contain much (if any) genealogical information that I didn’t already know, it did confirm once again that I was looking at the right man.

I won’t give all the details here, and much of it was blank, but it gave his personal details as George Thomas Gasson, male, aged 44, married and his occupation was a general labourer. His previous place of abode was Chaite’s Grove, Bolney, which is where the family were living in the 1891 census.

Details about his medical state were somewhat vague. His bodily condition was described as delicate and the form of mental disorder was described as mania (later research would give more details). It gave his age on the first attack of the illness as 41 (which I am getting frighteningly near), and that the present attack had lasted about four weeks.

Then there were the dates of reception orders and/or continuation orders  and his medical certificate was signed by R. Fitzmaurice, and he was sent to the asylum by the authority of J.K. Esdaile. It was all getting too confusing, what had happened? Who were these people, I had to know more, but there didn’t appear to be anywhere to find out what all this meant?

I left the ESRO that day with more questions than answers, what was the nature of his illness? Could it be genetic? Why did he end up in the asylum? Had he done something bad to get locked away? Who were the people that had been responsible for getting him into the asylum?

At least I knew it was the right man and that I had enough information to be able to order the next set of documents, his reception documents and the case book which should tell me more about his illness…

[to be continued]

What the 1901 census taught me about mental illness

7 Apr

Yesterday I posted about the discovery of my 2x great grandfather George Thomas GASSON at the East Sussex County Asylum in the 1901 census. The 1901 census was really my first insight into mental illness and asylums, and several things struck me as I looked at the census page.

There wasn’t a lot of information about each individual, only their initials, marital status, age, sex, occupation and condition. From these few facts it was clear to see that mental illness didn’t discriminate.

There was a mix of ages, ranging from a girl aged seven, up to a 60 year old woman, the majority however were in their forties. You have to wonder what became of that seven year old girl, was she cured? Did she spend her entire life in an asylum?

Many of the individuals on the page were married, so my thoughts turned to the family left behind, would they struggle without a mother or father, wife or husband? Were they safer without them? Did they miss them? Did they visit them in the asylum?

Then there were the occupations: a sailor, two clerks, a grocer’s assistant, and several labourers and domestic servants. Clearly some of these individuals had been well enough to hold down jobs before, and most probably were doing some sort of work in the asylum now.

What really struck me was that each of those sets of initials represented not only an individual, but almost certainly a family suffering in one way or another, a family like my own ancestors, whose life had to carry on without a loved one, for better or worse.

Madness Monday: How I discovered my ancestor was a lunatic

6 Apr

My 2x great grandfather George Thomas GASSON seemed to have disappeared from the 1901 census, I could find his wife and most of his children living in Cuckfield, Sussex, but he wasn’t there.

His wife was not listed as a widow, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t. I searched the GRO indexes for a death entry, and the only real match for George Thomas GASSON was in the Hailsham Registration District in 1922. Some distance from Cuckfield parish and Cuckfield Registration District where I would have expected to find him. I assumed that when he died he was probably living with a son or daughter who had married and moved away, and eventually I would get around to finding out where and with whom it was.

I didn’t give the fact he was missing from the 1901 census much consideration, I guessed he was probably working away from home (he was a general labourer) or even that he was serving in the army overseas, but that seemed unlikely. I tried a few different name spellings, switching first and middle names, and all the usual tricks we use to try and find who we are looking for in the census. I still couldn’t find him, but I let it go, I felt he would turn up eventually, it wasn’t necessarily a problem or obstacle to my research.

Several years passed and I was working on my TROWER line, and searching the WW1 Pension and Service Records on Ancestry.co.uk, I seem to remember I didn’t have much luck with the TROWERs so I switched to the GASSONs. Here I found the records for one of George Thomas’ sons William James GASSON, who died during the First World War (but that’s another story, one which I will eventually write up).

Amongst William James’ records was a form entitled “MILITARY HISTORY SHEET” which included details of his next of kin, I am not sure of the date of this army form (or it’s correct title), but it was after his death in October 1915. Listed under the next of kin was his father, mother and brothers, I was surprised to find that the addresses for his mother and father were different. When I looked closely his father’s address was given as Hellingly Asylum.

Hellingly, Sussex was (and I think still is) in Hailsham Registration District, suddenly the death entry for George Thomas made sense, he must have died whilst at the asylum. It briefly crossed my mind that he might have been a member of staff working there, but I thought that unlikely.

I remembered that I couldn’t find him in the 1901 census, and checked Hellingly for an asylum, but it wasn’t there. I soon found out that it wasn’t opened until 1903, and before then the East Sussex County Asylum was at Haywards Heath, Sussex. Actually it turned out to be part of Wivelsfield parish, and it soon became obvious why I couldn’t find George Thomas in the 1901 census. All the patients had been recorded by their initials only!

I went through the pages of the census searching for a GTG or GG, but couldn’t find him. Eventually I found a TGG, of the right age, marital status and occupation, no place of birth was given for any of the patients so I couldn’t be sure it was my great great grandfather, but something inside me told me it was him (further research has proved that he was there at the time of the census).

Then I stopped and considered what I had found, my ancestor was a lunatic, it said so in the final column of the census page as clear as day, he was a lunatic. I suppose it was a mixture of excitement and sadness that hit me, something really interesting to get my teeth into, but such sadness at what may have happened to him, he was only 46 years old in 1901 and twenty or so years later it appeared he was still in an asylum and died there.

Why had I never heard about this? Why had no-one ever told me about him? Had he been kept a secret? I still don’t know to what extent his condition was known, did all his children know? Or his grandchildren? Did they visit him?

I knew then that I needed to find out more about his condition and let his story be told. I knew it wouldn’t necessarily be easy to do in terms of getting access to his records if they still existed or in terms of what I might find out, but I felt I still had to do it, if I didn’t then no-one else would and his story would be forgotten again.

[to be continued]

I have much more to write on the subject of George Thomas GASSON, one day I will get around to telling the whole story, with illustrations and proper source citations, but until such time I will continue to share extracts of my research and his life on this blog. If you want to know more at any time then send me an email.


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