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Catherine Part Two – what the records tell us

I have finally printed the photos I took of the case notes from Derby County Lunatic Asylum Admission Books. Below are the first two entries for Catherine. They make for difficult reading, especially when you read that ‘The present attack has lasted 12 months and been gradual.” And that despite this coming on after suckling her second child for 8 months she falls pregnant again. What help has she had? I would assume very little, her brothers and sisters? or maybe a few home remedies? The Asylum was often seen as the very very last resort when in fact earlier intervention may have been the better course of action. And just maybe she might have ‘recovered’ had she not fallen pregnant while clearly still struggling.

If marked with a * – please see notes at the bottom

Cath M, Nov 1899 Derby County Asylum – Photo courtesy of The Wellcome Collection
  • Derby County Lunatic Asylum Admission Book
  • Name: Catherine Martha
  • Register No: 6563
  • Union: Shardlow
  • Height and Weight: 4.11 3/4 – 6.8 (Metric is 148.2 cms 41.73 kilos)
  • Suicidal: No
  • Violent: No
  • Epileptic: No
  • Age: 27
  • Condition of Marriage: Married
  • Religion: Church of England
  • Habits: Clean
  • Occupation: Wife of Coachman
  • Place of Birth: Ashbourne
  • Amount of Education: Can read & write
  • Form of Insanity: Puerperal Mania*
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Cause 1. Predisposing – left blank
  • Cause 2. Exciting – left blank
  • Cause 3. Not distinguished. Lactation*
  • Family History of Phthisis*, Intemperance*, &c: of intemperance
  • Previous Admissions here: None
  • Previous attacks: None
  • Address of Relatives: Husband – James, Spondon

Medical Certificate: The woman states that she hears voices day and night saying ” I have a lot of lovers” She also states that she does not care for her baby at all.

James Herbert, Groom of Spondon states that his wife took the baby to Spondon Post Office and asked for the baby to be put on the telegraph wires and sent to the Princes of Wales*. Signed J Aspinall Hunt.*

Family history: Parents dead. Mother died “of Drink”. Has 2 brothers and 1 sister. (Catherine’s parents actually had 4 daughters and 3 sons plus a half sibling from their Mothers previous relationship. From my research at the time of Catherine’s admission 1 brother and 2 sisters are alive, so maybe a transcription error.)

Personal: Has been married 7 years and has 3 children of whom the youngest is 2 months old. Health is good. No illness. Comfortable home.

Present Attack: 12 months. Gradual came on during the suckling of her second child after she had suckled it for 8 months. Delusions that people talked about her. Neglected the children. Delusions as to electricity and that all her relations are dead. 2 months ago was confined of the third child. Took dislike to it. Comes from her home. Com: by husband.

The Doctor on admission makes the following observations:

  • A short, delicate looking woman
  • Grey eyes & light brown hair
  • Pupils react to light
  • Knee jerks normal
  • Tongue clean
  • Has bruise on R knee
  • Feet very dirty
  • Patches of tinea versicolour on chest*
  • signed EWG*

The following day, the 23rd November, the remarks below are entered as a Medical Statement.

  • Excitable
  • Talkative
  • Rambling
  • Confused mentally & sometimes gives irrational answers to questions
  • Has a delusion that her husband has mesmerised her lately
  • Has hallucinations of hearing at night
  • Fair health
  • Fair condition
  • On admission slight bruise on R. knee
  • signed R Legge* and E.W.G.


  • Puerperal Mania – In Victorian Britain childbirth could be extremely dangerous. Along with the physical hazards came the mental challenges. Sadly Puerperal Mania often had a terrible effect on the whole family. One of the effects could be dangerous delusions which could bring about harm not only to the person living with the mania but the whole family, especially the newborn. In the notes her husband has mentioned that she tried to harm the baby. This is probably what instigated the admission to the Asylum. The condition is now referred to as Postpartum psychosis and thankfully statistically rarer.
  • Phthisis – pulmonary tuberculosis or a similar progressive wasting disease.
  • Intemperance – lack of moderation or restraint – usually associated with alcohol
  • Lactation – breast feeding
  • Prince of Wales – in 1899 the Prince of Wales was the son of Queen Victoria, Albert Edward, later to become Edward VII (1901). Although he appeared to be a hit with the public, his Mother disapproved of his ‘playboy’ reputation. Maybe this is why Catherine chose to ask them to send the baby to him. He is mentioned in another of the cases I am reading, more about that in another post.
  • J Aspinall Hunt is a Doctor living in Ockbrook, Derbyshire. John Aspinall Hunt was born in 1849. He is described on the census returns as the following:- 1871 a dispenser at the General Infirmary, 1881 a General Practitioner MRCS, 1891 Registered General Practitioner, 1901 Physician and Surgeon, 1911 Medical Practitioner.
  • Tinea versicolor, now referred to as Pityriasis versicolor, is a common fungal infection causing patches that may be lighter or darker than the persons normal skin colour. It is not related to poor hygiene.
  • E.W.G. Medical Officer at the Asylum. Edmund William Gregor, born 21 September 1868 at Retford, Nottinghamshire. On census returns as follows: 1891 living with his parents (Father a Wesleyan Minister) in Hornsey, Middlesex, described as a Medical Student. 1901 aged 32, Medical Officer at Peckham Lunatic Asylum. 1911 now living in Melbourn, Hertfordshire and is now running a GP Practice.
  • R. Legge, Richard John Legge born c. 1854 in Ireland. In 1881 he is a House surgeon at Wyehouse Private Asylum, Buxton. On the following census returns in is at Derby County Lunatic Asylum, Mickleover. 1891 Assistant Medical Officer, 1901 and 1911 Medical Superintendent. Author of the following: Musical Faculty in Insanity, 1894 and Thirty-nine cases of Insanity treated with Thyroid Extract, 1897

I have removed all reference to her family’s surname.


Thanks to

Derbyshire County Records Office – Case Notes

The Wellcome Collection, Euston Road, London – Photo Album – Census returns. 1939 Register

Google search

Categories: Derby County Asylum Derbyshire families family history mental health

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