· Findmypast is working with Bethlem Museum of the Mind at Bethlem Royal Hospital, popularly known as Bedlam, to make its extensive patient records from 1683 – 1932 available online for the very first time
· Over 248,000 records, many including photos, reveal the lives and stories of its inmates
· Highlights of the detailed records show why people were committed included stabbing people with cutlery, insatiable appetite for pleasure, condemnation of sinful behaviour from public officials, objecting to a forced marriage, religious fervour, paralysis, women dressing as men and more
London, UK, 19 March 2015 – Leading family history website, Findmypast, today announced an exciting partnership with Bethlem Museum of the Mind to release Bethlem Royal Hospital’s extensive patient records online for the very first time. The records are being released today to mark the official reopening of the museum in Beckenham, with Findmypast making scans of the original patient case notes and staff registers available online for browsing and searching by everyone.
As one of the world’s oldest hospitals for the treatment of mental illness, Bethlem Royal Hospital has a chequered past in how it determined not only who was insane, but also in its treatment of patients. The records released today go into detail about each patient, in many cases documenting their mental state and including photographs of the inmates once photography became available.
The records also detail the reasons why they had been deemed insane, with first-hand accounts of the behaviour of the inmates and their families. Some of the more unusual reasons for incarceration given in the records include:
· Attempted royal assassination with a dessert knife: Margaret Nicolson was sent to Bethlem Royal Hospital in August 1787 for attempting to stab King George III with a pearl-handled dessert knife. Her records from Bethlem Royal Hospital show that she was sent to Bethlem Royal Hospital “by the Order of the Committee” i.e. by parliament vote, as opposed to by an individual or family, and a trial followed in September 1787. Nicholson spent the rest of her life in Bethlem Royal Hospital, dying there in May 1828
· An insatiable appetite for pleasure, including lounging in the fashionable shopping streets of London: Ingrid Schwitzguebel was admitted in July 1909 by her husband. His reasons for committing her was that she was “living almost exclusively for pleasure, in fact her desire for theatres, musicals, lounging in the London fashionable streets, looking at shops etc, is insatiable.” However, other motives may have been at play as the records go on to show that she suspected her husband of an “immoral life of
· Overtaxed brain due to writing a dictionary: At 66 years old, Alexander Tolhausen, was one of the older inmates at Bethlem Royal Hospital when he was committed in July 1886 for an overtaxed brain. Tolhausen’s illness was attributed to working on a technological dictionary in French, English and German with symptoms including “gets up and dresses and undresses himself sometimes six times a day”, “threw his breakfast at his wife” and “that his house was unhealthy”
· Belief in themselves as a persecuted God: Ethel Julia Ouselay Collins was committed for “mixing of her ideas with religious matters,” including believing that she had “not been born yet” and was “a God chained on a pedestal.” It was also documented that she had “delusions of suspicion and persecution.”
“These records provide an extraordinary level of detail about the patients of the Bethlem Royal Hospital as far back as the 17th century,” said Debra Chatfield, family historian at Findmypast. “Containing letters written in their own words and handwriting, photographs at different stages of their illness, and reports on their day to day behaviour by close family members and the medical staff at the hospital, these records provide, for the very first time online, real insight into life in this infamous institution. It’s hard not to empathise with the inmates as you learn about their often harrowing and tragic stories. Publishing these records online allows those stories to be told for the first time to a wider audience, and you might discover that you had an ancestor who was sent to Bedlam.”
To discover more about the inmates at Bethlem Royal Hospital and see the full images and transcripts of the records, please visit http://www.findmypast.co.uk/bethlem
For more information and further case studies and records, please contact the Findmypast team at Hotwire PR on firstname.lastname@example.org and 0207 608 2500.
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