In the second part of our ‘Criminals in the asylum’ feature, we look at three more offenders who found themselves serving time in the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum.
The asylum, which was built on open land to the north-east of Wakefield and later known as Stanley Royd hospital, was opened in 1818 and would eventually provide accommodation for up to 2,000 patients deemed to be mentally ill.
During the 19th century, some of the patients that had been admitted to the asylum had come via the criminal justice system.
Thirty-six-year-old labourer Solomon Tankard arrived at Wakefield in 1868 after a brief spell at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. The warrant that precipitated his move was the result of a conviction for stealing £7 from co-lodger, Mrs Nancy Murgatroyd. Solomon was sentenced to six years’ penal servitude.
He had been sent to Dartmoor Prison to serve out his sentence, but part way through his time there he started to display paroxysm of melancholia and was eventually declared insane. He was transferred to Fisherton House Asylum in Salisbury on 21 September 1863.
So by the time he arrived at Wakefield, Solomon had been insane for many years. In fact, it was later discovered that he had spent time in Wakefield on a previous occasion. Solomon had been admitted there on 2 November 1857 at the age of 22, suffering from mania, which manifested in extreme bouts of violence and periods of obstinate silence.
He had originally been sentenced to spend time in Dartmoor after Solomon and his brother Richard had been convicted of being accessories to the rape and robbery of a 15-year-old girl in Oakenshaw, near Wakefield.
Newspaper reports at the time described how the brothers had looked on while a companion of theirs, an Isaac Marsden, had thrown the girl into a ditch and ‘succeeded in violating her person’ before robbing her and fleeing the scene.
The brothers were each sentenced to 12 years’ transportation for their part in the attack, while Marsden received 20 years. Solomon later spent time in the Wakefield House of Correction and aboard the prison hulk, HMS Stirling Castle, in Portsmouth, before being transferred to Dartmoor.
So how was it that Solomon Tankard was still in the country in 1857 to be eventually admitted to the Wakefield asylum? Well, he had actually been released on licence from Dartmoor and had returned home to East Brierley near Bradford. But within a month of release, he had been admitted to the asylum.
Tankard made several attempts to escape during his second spell at Wakefield and had become increasingly violent. However, a period of employment on the asylum farm had changed his mental condition for the better. So much so that he was added to the ‘Convalescent List’, which was for patients that were considered to be likely candidates for release in the near future.
Solomon Tankard was released on 15 November 1877, just a few months after being added to the list. He was still only 42 years old when he was discharged but had already spent half his life locked up in prisons and asylums.
A 23-year-old weaver from Dewsbury Moor, Joseph Street, was removed to the Wakefield asylum in 1856. Joseph had been convicted of larceny at the quarter sessions in Bradford a year earlier after stealing a hen from a Mr Henry Wharton in Birstal.
It appears that Joseph had become maniacal while serving the 12-month sentence he had been given for the offence.
During the first few years at Wakefield he worked in various outdoor jobs without success, but had finally found an occupation, patch-work, in which he seemed to take some interest.
Although he appeared physically fit, he would often feign illness to avoid work and would not associate with other patients. In fact, he was described as ‘very odd’ and ‘eccentric’ with an irritable temper. There had been little change in his mental condition since his arrival.
His behaviour continued to cause concern. In November 1867, Joseph disappeared during a drama performance in the dining hall only to be discovered drunk in the store room. A year later he escaped from his bedroom by picking the lock and made his way into the main building of the asylum. The following morning, it was discovered that a jacket and hat belonging to a workman had been stolen from the joiner’s shop.
A couple of nights later, Joseph broke into the boiler house and devoured bread and cheese and drank some ale. He was discovered hiding in the hen coop in the poultry yard.
The next few years saw little change in Joseph’s condition. But by 1874 his case notes claim that there was now nothing wrong with him mentally, even though he was employing his time catching moles and rats on the estate. But this behaviour was now just seen to be part of his natural eccentricity.
So Joseph was finally discharged on 5 May 1874. He had received a 12-month sentence for his original offence but ended up spending 19 years in the lunatic asylum.
John Walker arrived at West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum on 14 April 1851. By the time he was admitted he had already previously suffered several attacks of insanity and had spent time in Bethlem and Woolwich asylums.
John was a shoemaker by trade and had joined the army, only to be dismissed on account of his insanity in 1849. A year later, he appeared at the Sheffield Intermediate Sessions and was convicted of stealing a pair of boots. He was sentenced to ten years’ transportation.
After sentencing, he was held in York Castle and it was during this time that he was once again deemed to have become insane and sent to the Wakefield asylum.
Soon after John had arrived at the asylum he found himself in trouble, fighting with a man called Schofield. This kind of behaviour was often dealt with in the same manner as for a naughty child. He was ‘put to bed’ and asked to promise that he would conduct himself in a more satisfactory manner in the future.
It appears that John did just that, as the next few months were pretty uneventful for him. Instead of causing trouble, he had actually been employed as an assistant to the ward attendant. So by February 1852 he was considered to be ready to leave the institution. He was discharged on 23 March 1852.
Unfortunately for John Walker, he was returned to prison so that his original sentence could be carried out. However, it would be five years before he was transported to Western Australia aboard the Clara, in the company of 261 other felons.
Taken from Proper People: Early Asylum Life in the Words of Those Who Were There by David Scrimgeour. (Reproduced by kind permission of the author).
Case notes of Solomon Tankard (C85/3/6//115. M21.439), Joseph Street (C85/3/6/107. M13.407), and John Walker (C85/3/6/105. M11.78), West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield Office.
The newspapers consulted for the research – Leeds Intelligencer, Leeds Times, York Herald – are available online at the British Library Newspaper Archive.