Friday, 30 October 2009

Lunatic in the Family - Death of a Daughter

Rocks at St Combs
Photo by w11buch via flickr

I had a bit of a hunch and it seems I was correct.

As Jane seemed to be the one looking after Agnes, I wondered if she was the daughter Agnes thought people believed she had killed. I searched the death records and found she died in 1886. 2 years before Agnes was admitted to the asylum.

Her brother John informed the death as well as petitioned for her admittance. I presume Agnes stayed with him until it got too much for him and his family. Her address prior to admittance was 12 Charleston (a nearby village). If I can find evidence of John living at this address, it seems to be the most likely scenario.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Lunatic in the Family - Case Notes

I received my case notes from the archives yesterday which made for very interesting reading:

This is a case of senile insanity and patient is stated to have been more or less doted for twelve years. Her brother however is insane.
Medical certificates testify that for some time she has been very excitable, that she uses foul and obscene language and that she sometimes exposes her person. Further that she is sleepless, refuses food, and that she fancies people are going to kill her.

Not just any people though. One of the medical certificates state that she "suspects her friends and relatives are going to kill her. Fancies that they blame her for killing [her] daughter". (I would like to find out which, if any, of her daughters died before her but I'm also aware that the daughter's death could also have been imagined).
On her return to the asylum (after 6 months in the poorhouse wards), another doctor states that Agnes "Talks in an excited manner. Her memory is deficient. She fancies the other patients in the ward eat coals. She has delusions about her husband and family".
Although poor Agnes' case is quite tragic, I think its important to have sense of humour about these things and I find it amusing that she felt her fellow inmates ate coal, of all things. It seems I will never know exactly what her delusions were about her then deceased husband but these notes have given me a pretty good indication of her state of mind.

The case notes also give me a vague description of Agnes. She has a pale complexion, her hair is grey (not surprising for an 81 year old), and her figure is 'stooping from age'.
Did she look like the fisherwoman in the photo on the left?

Among other information that I had already gleaned from other records, the sheriff petitions have given me 2 former addresses, the occupation of her son John, and the name of a brother who had also been declared insane.

Fortunately they give the name of this brother, Wilson BUCHAN who I was able to find christening, marriage and death records for. The death record mentions nothing of his insanity and as his wife is still alive, I assume he was being cared for at home. I have emailed the archivist to ask if she can offer any help finding out more.
One of my next steps in the previous post was to find out if any other family members lived at home in the 1881 census to care for Agnes. It looks as if that responsibility fell on her 48 year old daughter Jean (or Jane). I can only imagine that an already tough life as a Victorian fisherwoman was made tougher when she needed to care for her mentally ill mother.

Agnes, Arthur and Jane BUCHAN on the 1881 census.
Click to see larger image.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Lunatic in the Family Update

I received a quick and detailed email back from the archivist at the Grampian Archives, who searched the Asylum (& Poorhouse) records for me. The information she has given me from the admission registers, has enabled me to put some more pieces of Agnes' life together.

Agnes was admitted into the Aberdeen Lunatic Asylum on Christmas Day (!) 1888. She was 81 and a recently widowed pauper. Her husband, Arthur had died in August earlier that year. According to the records, Agnes had suffered from her dementia for 12 years, having her first 'attack' when she was 69.

It seems as though the family were unable to care for Agnes after Arthur's death and admitted her into the asylum.

Six months later, Agnes' condition had not improved and she was transferred to the Lunatic wards of the Buchan Poorhouse. Her physical condition was described as 'very weak' and she was suffering from heart disease and bronchitis along with her 'mental decay'. She was 'sent back' to the Lunatic Asylum another six months later as her condition had not improved. Her disorder was now recorded as "mania, senile" caused by age and heredity. She lived in the asylum for about 3 and a half years before dying in early May 1893. A post mortem examination was carried out and the cause of death recorded as senile decay. She was 85 years old.


opened January 1869
source: workhouses.org.uk

The archivist has very helpfully offered to send me copies of the petitions to the Sheriff for Mrs Buchan’s admission to the asylum. I am told these include statements by two doctors giving reasons for committing the patient to hospital and can sometimes also contain additional information about the patient’s background. She has also offered to send me the case notes.

I also want to thank 'The Professional Descendant' who gave very helpful advice on this issue in the comments section of the last post. If you are after more information on this, make sure you read her comments here.

Next steps:
* Check 1881 census for family members living there at the time, possibly caring for Agnes
* Obtain more information from the petitions and case notes

Sunday, 18 October 2009

A Lunatic in the Family


A lot of us joke about having families full of them but occasionally you come across things that remind you how serious it can be.

For a while now I've known about my lunatic ancestor (one of them!) but today I've actually decided to try to find out more.

Agnes BUCHAN was born in Aberdeenshire in 1807. Agnes married Arthur BUCHAN (there were a LOT of Buchans in the area), a fisherman, about 1830 and lived in the small fishing community of Lonmay with her family until Arthur died in 1888. It was sometime after this that Agnes was admitted into the Royal Lunatic Asylum in Aberdeen. She appears there in the 1891 census living at Elmhill house (part of the asylum/hospital).


The new Elmhill House featured in The Illustrated London News in 1863

source: UrbexForums


In 1893, Agnes died at the asylum of senile decay. This seems like quite a broad term and would like to know the extent of her 'lunacy' and what the conditions may have been like for her. I searched SCAN (Scottish Archive Network) to find what kind of hospital records might be available and have sent an email to the archivist. Hopefully, I'll be able to learn more about my troubled ancestor.