|General Register, Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital, 1876|
I have worked to piece together information from these records to relate the story of this ancestor. In addition, I recently read Annie’s Ghost by Steve Luxenberg which also helped me understand how persons with mental illness were treated in the past.
At age 39, Eliud Smith, a married farmer of Thorold, Ontario, Canada was charged with being insane and a warrant was ordered to commit him from the Gaol of the County of Welland to the Hamilton Asylum for the Insane, some 33 miles away. The certificate was signed on 16 April 1879.
Upon admission, information was elicited and recorded as to this person charged with being insane (Schedule No. 2):
Names in full and age of prisoner: Eliud Smith, 39 years old
Occupation, Religion, and Country: Farmer C. Methodist Canada
Whether married or single: Married
How many children, if any: 4 Children
Address to Parents or nearest
Relative, how connected: Thorold P.O. Wellington Smith
How long Prisoner has been
Insane: for years at times
Duration of present attack
And whether first: Some three weeks – 3rd attack
How the insanity first
Showed itself and the supposed
Cause: Religious excitement
Whether any delusions and if so
What are they: Has a Great Work to do
Whether the Prisoner is
Suicidal or dangerous to others: Recently Dangerous
Whether any offense has ever
Been committed: None excepting an assault committed last attack
Whether Prisoner is subject to
Epilepsy or paralysis: Neither
Whether any of the other members
Of the Prisoner’s family suffered in
A similar way or been committed: No
What have been the habits of the
Prisoner as to temperance, industry,
& general conduct & in what
Manner have they changed: has drank at times, hard worker and conduct good.
Change taken place in past year.
Whether Prisoner has been subject
To any bodily ailments & nature: None (has passed a large quantity of tape worm)
Degree of education: Moderate English education
Whether Prisoner is idiotic,
Imbecile or incurable: --------- [line through space for answer]
Listed as #287 on the General Register of the Asylum, Eliud spent 29 years, 6 months and 16 days there. The register included information taken from Schedule No. 2. Under apparent or alleged cause, there is a comment under “other” rather than “hereditary” but the comment is illegible. “Religion” was listed as the “exciting” factor and the form of mental disorder was listed as “Mania.”
His wife, Wilhelmina, was pregnant with their fifth child. She gave birth to a son, George Arthur, three months later on 21 July 1879. His four siblings included Eliud Wellington age 10, Mary age 9, Ella Louise 6 & Wilhelmina age 2.
Wilhelmina lived with her elderly parents and brother, Robert Lepper, who were farmers in the town of Thorold, Welland County, Ontario, Canada. She and the children were recorded there during the 1881 Canadian Census.
After her parents’ death, she continued to live with her brother Robert as the children married and left home. In the 1901 Canadian Census, just she and George were listed with Robert. Her daughter Wilhelmina married Egerton W. Detlor in March of that year. By 1904, they had the elder Wilhelmina living with them in Niagara Falls South. George married in October of 1903.
In those years, the family wrote letters to inquire as to Eliud’s status. Excerpts of those letters follow.
One letter dated March 29, 18—[photocopy cut off on edge so the year does not show] reads as follows:
Dear Sir –
I am anxious to hear about my husband Eluid Smith. We got word that he was better and was fit to come home and knowing it to be my duty I now write to you. Please write and let me know how he is and if what I heard is so or not as I am very anxious to hear from him. I remain yours truly. Mrs. Eluid Smith, Thorold, Ontario.
Another letter written to Dr. Wallace on July 17, 1883 reads:
Please let me know how my brother Eluid Smith is, mentally and physically. Since my last correspondence with you my dear Father has departed this life after suffering intensely for over a year with a cancer. I don’t think it would be wisdom to tell Eluid of his death, for he always had hopes that Father would remove him from the asylum. Yours, Samuel Smith.
A reply was sent back from Stephen Lett, M.D., the acting medical supt the same day, stating:
I beg leave to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 17th inst. Referring to Eliud Smith and in reply would merely state I regret to say there is no change in the mental condition of this patient, he is in fair bodily health at the present time. I will not communicate the sad news to him reported in your last letter. Yours very respectfully.
On November 18, 1885, Eliud’s wife wrote:
Dear Sir. I was up to Hamilton to see my husband the time of the fair and he was glad to see me. I thought he seemed some better. I inquired if he received his clothes that his mother sent him last fall. They said the clothes that was sent to him were old and all patched up. They were all new clothes bought right out of the store. We have sent him two or three suits of clothes that he has never got. It is of no use for us to send him any more clothes when he don’t get wearing them. I wish you would see that he is comfortable this winter. Please write soon and let me know how he is.
She received a reply on November 20th from J.M. Wallace, the Medical Supt:
Dear Madam: I beg leave to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 18th inst. And in reply would state, There is no notable change in your husband’s condition. You state that you sent him two or three suits of clothes that he has never got. It is a very singular thing that you did not try to find out what became of them. If you sent them by express you would receive a receipt each time, and by means of the receipts you could have traced the goods. If you send me the receipts I will try to get some information, but it is remarkable that you have not done so yourself at the proper time. Yours very respectfully, J.M. Wallace.
From the Proceedings and Transactions from the Royal Society of Canada, 1898, digitized from the University of California 17 Nov 2009, page 42:
“On the retirement of Dr. Wallace, owing to ill health, in 1887, Dr. James Russell, the present superintendent, was appointed to the position thus made vacant, and assumed duty August 1st of that year.”
In the files from the archives, a note written by J. Russell states the following:
That he is in good bodily health in regard to his mental condition I may say that he is very quiet, works well, but talks very little, sometimes will not speak at all – [illegible] just[?] he is rather stupid[?] and ---- [illegible] I cannot say that he is quite fit to go home. Yours very truly, J. Russell, Med. Supt.
On July 1st, 1895, Eliud’s mother sent a letter to the superintendent of the asylum for the insane:
Dear Sir: Will you kindly inform me as to my son Eliud Smith. How is he physically? Is there any improvement mentally? Is he contented? Does he take any part in the work that is done on the grounds belonging to the institution? I would like to see him but my health will not permit my doing so. His friends would be pleased to realize the hope that he would be himself once more and be restored to his family. Yours. Mrs. Mary M. Smith, Box 103, Thorold, Ont.
The reply letter was typed and dated July 8th:
Dear Madam, In reply to your communication of the 1st inst. Referring to your son. I beg to state that he is in good physical health, but unimproved mentally. He works on the grounds and is very quiet and well behaved. He talks very little and is apparently contented. It is doubtful if he will ever by any better. Yours truly, Med. Supt.
From Niagara Falls South on March 1st, 1904, Mrs. Eliud Smith wrote again to J. Russell Esq.
Write these few lines hoping they will find Mr. E. Smith (my husband) well. I was pleased to see him looking so well when I was up last fall. Please let him know I have written to you about him hoping he is well and that if nothing preventing I will be up to see him again this fall if not before. Trusting to hear from you soon. Remain Yours. Mrs. Eliud Smith.
A reply was typed March 2, 1904: Re E. Smith. Dear Madam, Your husband is enjoying his usual good health, and I am sure he will be glad to have a visit from you as soon as it is convenient. I shall let him know that I have heard from you and will also ask him if he would like to hear from you directly. Yours truly, Med. Supt.
Another letter inquiring to Eliud’s health was written by his wife in March of 1907 with an address of Niagara Falls South, c/o Mr. Egerton Detlor. A reply was typed March 16, 1907 to say that “he is enjoying good health and otherwise unchanged.” Again a typed reply was sent in reply to her inquiry on Jan. 24, 1908 stating that her husband “is very well physically but quite unchanged mentally. “
Some months later, a short note was written on the back of a visitors order sheet:
Mrs. Eliud Smith, Niagara Falls South, c/o E.W. Detlor
Your husband is dead. Please arrange for burial.
W. M. English
Eliud’s wife once again wrote a letter:
December 8, 1908
Just a few lines in regard to my Husband Mr. Eluid Smith. Being his death was so sudden I write as I would like to know as to whether he came to his right reason or mind and if he spoke of me or any of the children. I understand congestion of the liver was cause of death. Is that right? We all sincerely thank you for all kindness towards him. Remain Yours Truly, Mrs. Eluid Smith, Niagara Falls South, Ont. c/o. Mr. E.W. Detlor
Please write soon. P.S. Enclosed find a stamp for answer to letter.
The typed reply was dated Dec. 10th, 1908:
re Elind Smith, deceased.
Regarding your husband’s death – there was no mental change preceding it. He did not speak at all and had scarcely uttered a word for years. Death came very suddenly and was due to acute inflammation of the bladder. Yours truly. Med. Supt.
|Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital 1890s facade|