Friday, November 1, 2013

Maniacs Of Victorian Era

Portraits of madness: Some were brilliant. All had a compulsion to kill. Broadmoor's first inmates caught on camera

By Nigel Blundell
They may look like any other old Victorian photographic portraits �" the subjects formal, stiffly posed and somewhat self-conscious.
But, in fact, they are the deranged killers and would-be murderers who were among the first patients at Broadmoor, which opened 150 years ago.
The pictures are the work of Henry Hering, a pioneering photographer, and some were taken at Bethlem (or 'Bedlam' as it was known), the lunatic asylum in South London.

Broadmoor has been home to some of the most dangerous killers or would-be murderers for the past 150 years
Others were shot at Broadmoor after Bethlem patients had been transferred to the newly opened institution in Berkshire.
Until it was built, dealing with violent lunatics was simple. They were either hanged or set free, depending on the mercy of the jury.
But a new breed of compassionate Victorians demanded that criminals should be spared the gallows and locked up in asylums instead.
Historian Mark Stevens, author of a new book on Broadmoor, says: 'It was built not just to house these people but to try to rehabilitate them. And the Victorian doctors were surprisingly compassionate.'
Today, Broadmoor houses many of Britain's most high-profile criminals, such as Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe. The Victorian regime seems somehow gentler by comparison.
Stevens, through his access to archives at the Berkshire Record Office, has researched the fascinating stories of the patients.

The murderous artist

Richard Dadd murdered his father after he became convinced he was the Devil in disguise
Richard Dadd, from Chatham, Kent, was an artist who became noted for his depictions of fairies.
In 1842, while on a painting expedition on the Nile, he underwent a dramatic personality change, becoming violent and believing himself to be under the influence of Egyptian god Osiris.�
On his return home, he became convinced his father was the Devil in disguise, stabbed him to death and fled for France.
En-route, he tried to kill a tourist with a razor but was caught and was committed to Bethlem and then Broadmoor.
He continued to paint until his death from lung disease in 1886. One of his masterpieces ended up in the Tate Gallery. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber owns the painting he is working on here.

The teenage terror

John Payne, 19, was sent to Broadmoor after getting drunk and beating a man to death with a shovel
Nineteen-year-old John Payne was a professional thief who arrived in London from Birmingham in 1857 and soon found himself in the poor house in St Martin's-in-the-Fields.
Because he had manic tendencies, he was strapped down in his bed at night, but he managed to free himself and beat a fellow inmate to death with a shovel.
Payne was discharged from Broadmoor in 1873.

The drink-sodden mum

Mary Meller spent three years in Broadmoor after trying to cut her maid's throat in an alcohol-fuelled rage
One morning in November 1867, Mary Ann Meller hit her housekeeper over the head and tried to cut her throat.
Aged 27, Meller had four children and was expecting another.
Committed to Broadmoor, she gave birth to a boy who went to join his father and siblings in South London.
Mrs Meller's violent rages were the result of heavy drinking. She became sober and within three years, she returned to the family home.

The cutlass-wielding captain

George Johnston killed one of his crew with a bayonet
George Johnston, posing here with his sextant, was captain of the SS Tory, a merchant ship sailing from Hong Kong to Liverpool in 1845.
He killed one of his crew with a bayonet in a drunken rage and tried to excuse his actions by claiming he was quelling a mutiny.
But his crew testified that the 36-year-old 'was in a state of continual excitement from drink' and 'amused himself by ordering men into irons and cutting at them with a sabre'.
He was subsequently found not guilty of murder at the Old Bailey on the grounds of insanity and was sent to Bethlem.
In 1864 he was moved to Broadmoor, where he worked mainly in the kitchen garden, but was said to be forever suffering from delusions of persecution.
His wife continually petitioned the Home Secretary for his discharge, which was finally granted in 1868.

Man who tried to kill the PM

Daniel McNaughton attempted to kill Sir Robert Peel after saying he was persecuted by the Tory party
Glaswegian wood turner Daniel McNaughten believed he was being persecuted by the Tory Party, and in 1843 travelled to London to kill Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel.
McNaughten, 30, staked out Peel's house and took a shot at someone he thought was the PM �" but instead killed his private secretary.
His claim of partial insanity meant he was spared the gallows and spent the rest of his life in Bedlam and Broadmoor.
The case caused a public outcry, with people feeling he was not mad enough to cheat death.
The result was the MacNaughten Rules for judging insanity, hingeing on the accused's ability to reason right from wrong.

The would-be Royal assassin

Edward Oxford could give no explanation for why he fired twice at a pregnant Queen Victoria
Edward Oxford was a London barman who, for no reason he could explain, fired shots at Queen Victoria.
The pregnant monarch was being driven in a carriage outside Buckingham Palace with Prince Albert on June 10, 1840, when Oxford fired two pistols, but no one was hurt.
At his Old Bailey trial for treason, Oxford was found 'not guilty by reason of insanity'.
He was sent to Bethlem where he remained a model patient for 24 years.
This photograph was taken there in 1858. He learned several languages, played the violin and was employed as a painter and decorator.�
He was transferred to Broadmoor in 1864, and three years later was discharged and deported to Australia.
Renaming himself John Freeman, he joined the Melbourne Mutual Improvement Society, married a widow with two children, became a church warden and got a job as a journalist.

The demented cut-throat

William Thomas slit his mother's throat and buried her in the garden
Labourer William Thomas lived in Prenton, Birkenhead, with his widowed mother Elizabeth and his two brothers.
But he suffered from terrible headaches and, as a result, his mother was considering admitting him to an asylum. Her mistake was telling him what she planned to do.
Thomas waited until she was asleep one night and then slit her throat, dragged her body downstairs and buried it in the garden.�
After a spell at Bethlem, he was sent to Broadmoor in 1864 and, while considered to be suffering from early onset dementia, he was deemed well enough to work in the kitchens, helping to prepare meals for the other patients.
Thomas died in Broadmoor in 1908 at the age of 81.

The butcher of children

Martha Bacon was sent to Broadmoor after stabbing her two young children to death
Young housewife Martha Bacon lived in Lambeth and had already spent time in a South London asylum.
On December 29, 1856, she killed her two children �" a two-and-a-half-year-old boy and his 11-month-old sibling �" by cutting their throats with a kitchen knife.
The 26-year-old claimed an intruder had broken into her house and killed her children.
But she stood trial for murder and was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Martha was one of the first patients to arrive in Broadmoor, only three days after it had opened for women in 1863.
She spent much of her time there knitting and doing needlework.
She died of stomach cancer in 1899.

The dictionary compiler

William Chester Minor help compile the Oxford English Dictionary after being admitted to Broadmoor
Wealthy American doctor William Chester Minor had witnessed the slaughter of the Civil War, and sailed for London in 1871.
Despite visiting prostitutes, he became convinced he was being sexually abused as he slept.
One night he chased a phantom 'abuser' into the street and shot a real man instead.�
In Broadmoor, Minor answered a call for volunteers to help compile what became the Oxford English Dictionary and became one of its principal experts on word usage.
Minor's dementia deteriorated, and in 1902 he cut off his own penis. He was allowed to return to the U.S. where he died in 1920.

The deranged son

William Sellers pinned his mother against a range and shovelled hot coals on her before kicking her to death
William Sellers, 46, was shaving himself at the home he shared with his mother in Malton, North Yorkshire, in June 1838 when he flew into a sudden rage after she had angered him by urging him to stop shaving because his hand was not steady.�
He pinned her against their kitchen range and shovelled hot coals upon her before kicking her to death.
Sellers spent over 20 years in Bethlem before being moved to an asylum in Salisbury, Wiltshire, where many aged patients were housed.
He arrived at Broadmoor in 1865 as an old man of about 70, noisy, demented and incoherent. He died there of pleurisy in 1873.


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