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]

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