Mental Health Care in Modern England: The Norfolk Lunatic Asylum/St. Andrew's Hospital C. 1810-1998

By Steven Cherry | Go to book overview

3

A superintendent and `work therapy', 1843—61

Thomas Caryl had begun his twenty-ninth year as master at Norfolk Lunatic Asylum when the justices advertised for a new appointment in February 1843. Their decision, prompted by Caryl's ill-health and advancing years, also reflected plans to extend the asylum and an inspection by the Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy. They sought an unmarried man, aged under 45 years, 'able to read and write and do accounts'. 1 Ebenezer Owen, former master of Malmsbury Union workhouse and one time attendant at the Hanwell Asylum, was selected from twelve applicants in rather unusual circumstances. 2 He was offered the post from 24 April 1843 at a provisional salary of £100 with board and lodging, raised to £150 in August 1844 when Caryl died and thereby ceased to draw his annuity. Owen and matron Houghton evidently made a practical couple; they married and were granted leave of absence at the end of August, while his brother Hugh temporarily became acting superintendent. 3

Ebenezer Owen's tenure as master and then superintendent at the NLA coincided with greater national emphasis upon the asylum as the appropriate place for madness. By 1859 there were 17,608 patients in county asylums nationally, more than five times the 1843 figure and twice the number of lunatics then in workhouses. 4 His period of office began and ended with expansionary phases in NLA buildings and facilities and during it patient numbers more than doubled. Although Owen had no medical qualifications, these were also years of growing medical influence and external regulation. Each suggested minimum safeguards for asylum patients, although the impact of medicine can be overstated and legalistic concern often focused upon the rights of richer patients who might be confined in asylums. 5 'In compliance with the statute 8 & 9 Vict. c.126', the 1845 Lunatics Act, the first resident

____________________
1
Committee of Visiting Justices (CVIS) Minutes, SAH 6, Jan. 1840—Dec. 1848, 6 Feb. 1843.
2
Owen was selected from twelve applicants. After his brother Hugh (later chief clerk of the Poor Law Commission 1853—72) arrived with a sickness certificate for Ebenezer, the Committee waited seven weeks to confirm the appointment.
3
In July 1845 Mrs Owen's new baby was minded by her sister (possibly Louisa Houghton, head female attendant in 1854). During Ebenezer's illness in January and February 1847 Hugh returned to keep the books.
4
Viz. county asylum patients 3,274 in 1843 and 17,608 in 1859 and, in workhouses, 3,829 to 7,963. Poor Law Commission, Official Circulars, 23, 13 Feb. 1843 and 68th Report of the Commissioners in Lunacy, 1914, Part Two, Appendix A, Table 1.
5
K. Jones, Asylums and After, Athlone, London, 1993, pp. 75, 90. From 1842 Poor Law

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