Madness Monday: notes from an asylum case book

27 Apr

It wasn’t easy transcribing the notes for George Thomas GASSON (my 2x great grandfather) from the case book for the Sussex County Asylum (ESRO HC33/1). As one would expect the notes were all hand written, but in a variety of different hands, just when I had got used to one style of handwriting it changed to another.

Each entry carried on from the next, with hardly a pause for punctuation and a set of initials for the person responsible for the entry (most of those initials we unreadable). Initially the notes or observations were made daily, but the interval between them widened as the months and years passed.

The notes are generally quite vague and I was disappointed to find that there was no mention of any form of treatment or whether he ever received any visitors. Of course the absence of these doesn’t prove that either of them didn’t happen, but it would have been nice to know if any of his family had been to see him or whether he was forgotten.

It is not going to be possible to include all of the notes here, there are too many and most of them are not particularly interesting (if anyone wants to see them all then please get in touch). So here is a sample of some of the notes, I have taken some liberties with the punctuation and date formatting just to make them more readable.

25 Jan 1898 : Has been quiet since admission, had a good night and has taken his food. Bowels not acting …. Passed urine yesterday afternoon but not since until after breakfast this morning.

27 Jan 1898 : Going on very quietly and is rather depressed. Still fancies that people followed him about before he came here.

08 Mar 1898 : Remains in a quiet and suspicious state. Employs himself.

20 May 1898 : Is more unsettled and excited. Uses bad language.

04 Nov 1898 : Is in much the same deluded state and frequently tries to escape.

13 Mar 1899 : Remains in a deluded and restless state. Employs himself.

11 Dec 1899 : Remains in a deluded state and hears and answers invisibles.

12 Jun 1900 : Remains in a deluded state. Hears voices threatening him.

23 Aug 1901 : In a very lost and incoherent state. Chatters to invisibles.

04 Mar 1902 : Morose and depressed. Abusive at times.

08 Dec 1902 : Uses bad language and has fits of temper.

06 Mar 1903 : Is abusive. Has a delusion about a man in the woods. Delicate.

28 Jul 1903 : Cut below left eye from J. Lusted.

29 Oct 1903 : Spiteful and deluded …. Transfered today to Hellingly.

After copying out a page of tightly packed handwriting I had to take a break and went outside into the fresh air to clear my head and consider what I had just transcribed. There were very few hard facts, but at least I knew when he had been transferred to the asylum at Hellingly, that would allow me to continue my research to the next stage.

The impression I got from reading these notes was of a very confused and deluded man, not particularly dangerous it seemed, probably more to be pitied than feared. Just another sad case with little hope of anything other than spending the rest of his life in an asylum.

[to be continued]

4 Responses to “Madness Monday: notes from an asylum case book”

  1. Alex April 28, 2009 at 7:13 am #

    So sad……particularly imagining a whole asylum full of people that likely weren’t able to be helped.

  2. Amethyst May 1, 2009 at 1:14 pm #

    it almost sounds like paranoid schizophrenia.

  3. Jenna Rose January 28, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

    as a paranoid schizophrenic, i can completely understand those notes that were made. this illness seems to only grow worse without treatment, and you can almost see the progression from quite to spiteful each entry.

    very very good work, this is so cool!!

  4. Marjorie Eyre October 9, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    How were you able to obtain access to records? I tried to obtain records and was told they were in an attic and when I had someone willing to access them they wouldn’t let them. How do you get around issue of resources and access?

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