Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The Mystery of a Guernsey Lady

My initial examination for transcription of the Bromley Union Workhouse Lunatics register for the year 1914 provides an intriguing mystery. Glued to the page of a November 1914 admission on Police Order for one overnight stay before transfer to The Kent County Asylum at Barming Heath under a different name is an unidenified newspaper clipping with "Woman's Lost Memory" and the headline of this blog.
I was able to trace the Metropolitan Police appeal to March 1915 when it appeared in the Sunday Mirror and Liverpool Echo amongst others through the syndication process of that time.
"The police are anxious to establish the identity and to discover the relatives of a well dressed young married lady who arrived in London from Lancress Guernsey about six weeks ago and who was discovered at Lewisham suffering from loss of memory. Despite exhaustive enquiries her indentity up to present remains a mystery."
The police description describes " about 32 a rather stout build five feet four inches fresh complexion light brown hair blue eyes wears powerful eyeglasses third finger of left hand missing". When found she was well dressed in a brown velvet costume and hat a new blouse and a light fawn coloured rainproof coat." She also carried a dress basket on which was a railway label "Passenger from Lancress to Paddington".
When found by Police from Lee police Station she gave the name of Dorothy Beshar and said that on reaching Paddington that day she had given all her money she had to Belgian Refugees. In 1914 Paddington Station had a large collection point for refugee donations and it is therefore possible that this was true.
She was wearing a wedding ring and police formed the impression from statements she made that her husband and brother recently left Guernsey to travel to France. The Lee Police took her to Lewisham Infirmary; the newspaper clipping then mentions transfer to another Institution.
L'Ancresse is within the parish of Vale Guernsey and it is intriguing to find travel from this parish to Paddington was possible in 1914.Given that the Metropolitan Police enquiries could not identify a well dressed young woman with a missing finger on her left hand and loss of memory was attributed to her destitute state in Lewisham it appears that the Metropolitan police then took her from Lewisham Infirmary to Bromley Union Workhouse.
"Loss of memory case" is often entered in the four Lunatic Registers I have transcribed in the preceding decade from 1914; all alledged Lunatics in this category are transferred to Kent County Asylum at Barming Heath. The Workhouse master Mister T Healey was sufficiently intrigued to discover the newspaper clipping that he comments in red ink that the Police Order on admission clearly gave the name as Rose Ogbourne.
On 26 November 1914 Metropolitan Police Sergeant A Kemp brings Rose Ogbourne to Bromley Union Workhouse under a police Order which authorises detention for up to 3 days until 29 November 1914. As part of the reception procedure for detention on the female Lunatic Ward of the Workhouse Rose alias Dorothy is examined by Doctor Price the deputy Workhouse Medical Officer. He records an amputation of the third finger of the left hand and as is usual in "loss of memory cases" which are relatively common in this Workhouse he arranges transfer to the Kent County Asylum. On the 27 November 1914 The Workhouse horse drawn Ambulance purchased some years earlier by the Board of Guardians from the London Asylums Board for such transfers is available for Mister Walter Banner Bromley Relieving Officer and Miss Cox Female lunatic Attendant to convey Rose on transfer to Barming Heath.
It appears that despite the best efforts of the Metropolitan Police to identify in Guernsey the identity of the young woman with an amputated finger and needing powerful lenses in her spectacles  the inhabitants of the small area of Guernsey were unable to identify her. Neither of the surnames offered appear to be present on Guernsey which would tend to have distinctly French origins. At that time islanders would probably have been bilingual;parish registers were maintained in French until 1939.
So the mystery appears to have partially resolved as Dorothy Beshar became Rose Ogbourne between November 1914 and the appeal to the public in March 1915.
The Mystery of a Guernsey Lady remains 100 years later.....