THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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15 November 2018

From Switzerland to Hackney via India - a patient at Pembroke House Asylum

I recently came across the 1851 census return for Pembroke House Asylum in Hackney.  This was a private mental health asylum in Mare Street where the East India Company placed patients from amongst its servants and their families.

HackneyHackney in 1840 from G W Thornbury, Old & New London vol 3 (London, 1897)

On 31 March 1851 there were 109 patients under the care of Dr Walter Davis Williams, his mother Martha, six male ‘keepers’, two nurses, and  a team of  sixteen domestic staff.   98 men and 5 women were described as East India Company invalids, pensioners, or servants.  Their places of birth have an interesting distribution:

• Ireland 65
• Scotland 16
• England 14
• Wales 2
• India 2
• Channel Islands 1
• America 1
• Switzerland 1
• Unknown 1

The presence of 65 Irish men would appear to be a reflection of the Company’s policy of recruiting large numbers of private soldiers in Ireland.

My eye fell upon the patient born in Switzerland – a widow aged 33 with the initials ‘M.A.M.’.   I was able to identify her as Maria Augustina Martin in the Pembroke House case book preserved in the India Office Records.

MulhouseMulhouse in Alsace from Charles A Grad, L'Alsace; le pays et ses habitants (Paris, 1889)


Maria Augustina Martin was born in Mulhouse in the Alsace region and worked there as a dressmaker.  She married and had a baby.  After both her husband and child died, she worked as a servant in Berne.  She then became nurse to the daughters of Madras Army officer Clements Edward Money Walker and his wife Eliza Anne: Julia Rosa born in India in 1845 and Eliza Anne born in Switzerland in 1847.

Maria travelled to Madras with the Walker family.  In December 1849 she was admitted to the General Hospital behaving in a very excited and incoherent manner.   In January 1850 she was transferred to the Madras asylum.

MadrasX108(49) Madras from William Simpson's India: Ancient and Modern (1867)

The East India Company believed that patients with mental health problems should be removed as soon as possible from the heat of India to give them the best chance of recovery. So Maria was sent to England and admitted to Pembroke House on 22 September 1850.  She was described as being ‘of somewhat spare habit and phlegmatic appearance’.  The supposed cause of her mania was the Indian climate. The East India Company paid for her treatment - she told Dr Williams that she had no friends in Switzerland who might help her.

The case notes for Maria show that she continued to have attacks of agitation, and that the staff found it difficult to understand what she was saying when she was upset because of her accent. She used to walk up and down the garden shouting.

In July 1855, Maria began to suffer from bowel problems. There are very detailed notes of the treatments administered to her by Dr Williams.  Sadly nothing helped and by 23 July it became obvious that she was dying. Williams ‘ordered a little brandy but she only took one spoonful when she sank back & died very calmly’.  A post mortem examination was carried out six hours later.  Dr Williams recorded the cause of death as chronic mania for seven years and obstruction of the bowels for five days. He gave her age as 34. On 25 July Maria was buried at the church of St John of Jerusalem in South Hackney.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/K/2/31 Pembroke House admission register 1845-1861
IOR/K/2/36 Pembroke House case book 1849-1867

 

13 November 2018

The fate of two forgers

On Sunday 6 February 1785 a mass hanging took place at Newgate Prison of individuals who had been found guilty of various crimes and sentenced to death.  The hangings were intentionally held publicly at the debtors' gate of the prison to serve as a warning to society that such crimes would not be tolerated.

  NewgateNewgate from G W Thornbury, Old and New London (London, 1887)

Two of the individuals hanged that day were James Dunn and William Abbott, two unrelated individuals and cases, who were both convicted of forgery and who had both attempted to defraud individuals connected to the East India Company.

James Dunn was found guilty and sentenced to death on 8 December 1784 for having forged the last will and testament of one James Potter, a seaman aboard the East India Company ship Rodney, who had died at St Helena on 14 March 1784.  Dunn had attempted to defraud not only James Potter’s widow Jenny but also the East India Company, several ship’s captains and other seamen.  The case was drawn out over several months as Dunn had successfully proved the forged will at the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury and it therefore had to be declared null and void by them before he could be tried and convicted of his crime.

William Abbott was also found guilty and sentenced to death on 8 December 1784 for having forged a bill of sale owed by Daniel Mcarthy to John How, a seaman aboard the East India Company ship Warren Hastings.  John How had died on board ship on 28 April 1783.  It was believed that Abbott had learned of this and of the money owed to How in July 1783 when the Warren Hastings was at Bombay alongside the Talbot, in which Abbot was a passenger.  On Abbot’s return to England in October 1784 he had forged the bill of sale to the value of £23 14s 10d and had posed as John How to claim the money from Mcarthy.

On finding William Abbott guilty, the jury had given the verdict ‘Guilty with recommendation'.  Although guilty, they believed he deserved some clemency.  The judge however appears to have disagreed and sentenced him to death.

Karen Stapley,
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive - Derby Mercury, 9 Dec 1784, reported on the conviction of William Abbott for forgery.
Reading Mercury, Monday 7 February 1785, reported on the hangings at Newgate Prison and gave details of the individuals and their crimes.

 

11 November 2018

From library to battlefield – Rifleman Frederick Boxall

At the staff entrance of the British Library in London, there is a memorial plaque with 142 names. This is the roll of honour for the British librarians who lost their lives while serving in the First World War.

BLMemorial
In 2014, Untold Lives told the story of the first of the librarians named on the memorial to die:  Quartermaster Sergeant Herbert Gladstone Booth.  The last man on the memorial to die prior to the Armistice of 11 November 1918 was Frederick James Boxall, formerly an assistant at Sion College Library in London.  305423 Rifleman Frederick James Boxall of the 1/5th (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment, the 1st Battalion, London Rifle Brigade, died of wounds in France on 7 November 1918, aged nineteen.

Frederick James Boxall was born at Battersea on 25 February 1899, the son of James Boxall and Edith Kate Boxall (née Bishop).  At the time of the 1901 Census, the family was living at 13 Brassey Square, Battersea and James was working as a carpenter.  Frederick’s  younger brother Herbert was born on 21 July 1901.  The family moved to Croydon.  School records show that Frederick studied from 1904 at Ecclesbourne Road Infants School, transferring to Winterbourne Boys School in 1906.  Frederick Boxall left school in December 1913 to become a junior assistant at Croydon Library. Two years later, he was appointed assistant at Sion College Library.

Frederick Boxall was called up in 1916.  He attested at Croydon on 9 December 1916, when he was seventeen years old.  He served with the 1st Battalion, London Rifle Brigade, a Territorial Force unit that was in late 1918 part of 169th Infantry Brigade in the 56th (1/1st London) Division. On 5 November 1918, the 56th Division was advancing towards the Honnelle River, close to the Franco-Belgian border between Valenciennes and Mons.  At 5.30 am, the 169th Brigade attacked and captured the village of Angreau.  Attempts to advance any further were prevented by heavy machine-gun fire.  The 169th and 168th Brigades attempted to continue the advance the following morning.  The 1st London Rifle Brigade were successful in capturing their first objective, but strong German counter attacks eventually pushed them back to their original lines. The battalion war diary (TNA: WO 95/2962/6) noted that the weather conditions were not good: ‘rain fell all day and the River Honnelle had to be waded across’.  The operation failed because the village of Angre was still held by the Germans, and units on the battalion’s right had also failed to make progress. 

A notice of Rifleman Boxall’s death was published in Library World, December 1918:
'We regret to announce the death of FREDERICK JAMES BOXALL, assistant in Sion College Library, who was mortally wounded while succouring a wounded comrade on 6th November, and died next day.  Boxall, who was nineteen years old, served as a junior in the Croydon Libraries from December, 1913, to December, 1915, when he was appointed at Sion College. A gentle-mannered, earnest and promising young man, his early but heroic death is much deplored'.

  Canadian casualty clearing station 1918Ward scene of a Canadian Casualty Clearing Station in Valenciennes. November 1918 Canadian Official World War 1 Photographs 1920 l.r.233.b.57.v4

Rifleman Boxall is buried in Cambrai East Military Cemetery in France. His name appears on the West Croydon Congregational Church war memorial, now in East Croydon United Reformed Church.

Michael Day
Digital Preservation Manager