Saturday, 21 March 2015

Find My Past and Bethlem Museum of the Mind records online

I was pleased to hear that the Bethlem record series went online on Thursday 19 March 2015 as this nationally important archive of the oldest psychiatric hospital in the world contained people from many locations in the country.
I first used the Find My Past search engine to explore local parishes in Kent and each time on a residence search drew a blank. However using Beckenham,Kent I located a number of entries relating to residents in the Bromley District. Examining the digitised image of one admission and discharge entry I found that the transcriber had rendered an address in Bickley as Buckley and duly entered corrections of the errors. I realised that the search engine was not searching residence of the admitted patient but was yielding results for the addresses of their surety or relatives and could not see a way in which the search could be amended to narrow results.
On Friday I transcribed a funeral account which recorded an 1875 collection of a body from Bethlehem Hospital in London for burial at Bromley. The funeral account refers to Harriet Matilda Batten wife of a coachman to Mister Alston of Fairfield Bickley being buried at Holy Trinity Bromley Common and my transcript of the Holy Trinity burial register Kent Online Parish Clerks Bromley Holy Trinity Burials gives Page Heath as the family residence.
I happened to know that Harriet Matilda Batten was a mother of eight children by this time (at the age of 34) as I had dealt with a request for information about her from a descendant. The admission to Bethlem was therefore of interest as I have long tried to establish whether people in Bromley were sent to Barming in case of mental health problems requiring detention or whether they may have been transferred to Bethlem in London.
Mrs Batten appears to be exceptional in transferring to Bethlem as inmates of the Bromley Poor Law Union seem generally to be taken to Barming as the County Asylum and one might expect that relatives and local medical practioners to take that route. Also by this date medical Practitioners in the town were able to admit women with difficult problems during or after childbirth to Bromley Cottage Hospital. From the account later found at Bethlem it appears that the journey to Barming was too arduous and the Cottage Hospital could not manage her behaviour and the shorter journey to London and Bethlem was chosen. Mrs Batten proved to have a different and sad end and the case notes are useful in recording her illness and death.
I went to Find My Past and entered Bromley,Kent and Bickley,Kent as search terms with the surname only since a married woman with two given names may have been recorded in a number of ways. My search failed until I removed a residence field from the search and used the year of death year of birth fields. I then located the hospital admission and discharge entry for Matilda Batten and also located her case notes.
Following the birth of her eighth child her health had declined and she entered Bethlem in November 1875 in a very weak state. She had "been confined with childbirth on 9-10 November 1875 and there had been difficulty with after birth with considerable bleeding". At the same time her manner and mood had altered and her case notes record her refusing food and "saying and shouting for hours together" that she had seen Jesus and he was going to work a great miracle. She had never asked to see her new born child. With little food or sleep over 3 or 4 days a fever and deluded a decision was taken to take her to Bethlem in London. On 1 December she was taken to bed at Bethlem and took a liquid diet. The case notes on 2 December express the view that she would not recover. She died at 8-45 pm on 10 December 1875 and the death notice in the case notes includes that she was continually visited by friends. The notice records how weak she was on admission and unable to get out of bed and that death was of natural causes. She had been constantly attended at Bethlem and two Attendants were present when she died.Her hospital number was 5776 and the causes of death were congestion of the lungs and exhaustion after acute mania.
Joseph Dunn in his funeral account refers to the removal of a child burial to permit her stout elm coffin to be interred and her infant child re-interred above her as was commonplace at the time.
Whilst I appreciate the online availability of the Bethlem records it does feel that the Find My Past search engine and indeed the transcription quality leave a little to be desired. I am quite concerned that the data fields for a person's residence cannot reflect local places in the largest geographical London Borough and hope that further work can be undertaken to improve searches in this collection.