The Metropolitan Commission in Lunacy from 1828
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The Metropolitan Commission in Lunacy from 1828

Describes the London body for regulating private madhouses (licensed houses) under the 1828 Madhouses Act

3.3 The Commission's Composition under the 1828 Madhouse Act
3.3.1 Predominantly honorary or medical?
3.3.2 Magistrates
3.3.3 The Home Secretary's discretion

3.3.4 The actual appointments
Table: The 1828 Metropolitan Commissioners
3.3.5 Middlesex magistrates
3.3.6 Members of Parliament
3.3.7 Physicians

3.4 Honorary and professional roles
3.4.1 Meeting attendance
Table 1: signatures to the report 1829-1844
Table 2: numbers of honorary, medical and legal commissioners 1774-1845

3.4.2 Visiting
Table 1: quarterly distribution of visits
Table 2: metropolitan commissioners' meeting and visits 1829-1831

3.4.4 Special roles: government, home office and chairman
3.4.5 The commission and the House of Commons

3.4.6 Changing commissioners

3.3 The commission's composition under the 1828 Madhouse Act

The 1828 Madhouse Act is the most coherent account we have of what the Metropolitan Commission in Lunacy was intended to be. Reading the sections on the London Commission, however, left me one wondering who the honorary (unpaid) commissioners were and what their role in relation to the professional (medical) commissioners was intended to be.

3.3.1 Predominantly honorary or medical?

The text allows two possible explanations of the kind of commission envisaged:

  1. A professional commission modelled on the Physician Commission with non-medical, honorary commissioners added

  2. A predominantly non-medical, honorary, commission, with a minority of professional medical commissioners whose services could be drawn on when required

In favour of 1) we note

In favour of 2)

The report of the 1827 Select Committee and the practice of the Commission show, however, that a professional medical commission with honorary commissioners participating was intended. There was no intention to supplant medical commissioners by unpaid laymen. The relative numbers of professional and honorary commissioners were in inverse proportion to their importance, for most of the work was done by the professionals. (See 3.4). Parliament, I expect, assumed this and saw no reason to require it except for visits concerning release.

3.3.2 Justices of the Peace (Magistrates)

The Act's format emphasised that the functions of County Quarter Sessions and visitors corresponded with those of the London commission. The unpaid County visitors were magistrates and the 1827 Select Committee recommended, for London, that a "Board of Visitors" should be appointed of not less than five magistrates and five physicians. It should meet four times a year to grant licences with a quorum of five, including two magistrates. Every house it licensed should be visited at least four times a year by three board members, at least on of whom was a magistrate. (1827 SCHC pages 79-80).

If we substitute magistrate for non-physician commissioner in the Act's relevant provisions (See appointment, composition, meetings and visits), they correspond with the recommendations. For some reason, the qualifications of honorary commissioners were left to the Home Secretary.

Gordon said that by his bill to extend the provisions of the 1774 Madhouse Act to pauper lunatics:

"he proposed to give further powers to magistrates, and to subject these asylums more to the superintendence of overseers of the parishes" Hansard 14.6.1827 col 1263

Evidence to the 1827 Select Committee shows that one concept behind the bill was that the magistrates added to the Physician Commission would make it more effective. On June 27th they interviewed Dr Yeates, a junior commissioner in his second year of office. The 1774 Madhouse Act, he told them, did not give them sufficient powers, but they had always held it

"in terrorum over the keepers of the houses, who are ignorant of the extent of the power which the Act gives"

Asked if it would be an improvement to have:

"power of administering an oath, and of examining upon oath ... so as to enable commissioners to obtain immediate and direct information upon the spot with regard to any subject they might judge worthy of inquiry"

he thought it

"would be attended with good"

Question: "If the commissioners were to be accompanied by magistrates, do you think that would be an improvement in their authority, with a view to conducting inquiries?"

Yeates: "Having heard that idea mentioned, it occurs to me that it would be better if the commissioners were empowered to do the same thing themselves without a magistrate, to prevent the necessity of a multiplicity of people going"

Question: "Should you yourself, as a physician, feel any objection to act as a commissioner in a joint commission composed of both physicians and magistrates, instead of a commission composed only of physicians?"

Yeates: "Certainly not; with the explanation that is given, that the magistrate is put in as a person more competent to cross-examine, because he could not be there in a medical capacity". (1827 SCHC pages 236-237).

Gordon presented a copy of the Select Committee Report to the Royal College of Physicians Library. RCP Annals 26.7.1827 p.77). His bill was considered by the Physician Commissioners, although they came to no resolution about it, and it was very widely known amongst Fellows of the College, many of whom expressed strong opinions about it.

The Royal College as a whole decided not to take any stance on the bill. The matter was, however, referred to a committee, which reported that

"the Bill proposed to delegate a magisterial function that it was not desirable for medical men to assume"

3.3.3 The Home Secretary's discretion

Robert Gordon sought leave to bring in the new Madhouse Bill on February 19th 1828. Hansard's summary contained a good deal about the condition of paupers in the White House, a little about the ineffectualness of the 1774 Madhouse Act and the Physician Commission, but virtually nothing about the provisions of the bill.

Robert Peel (Home Secretary January 1828 to November 1830) complimented Gordon on his efforts. He thought

"a more important subject could not have been chosen, though it was not one calculated for display" ... "during the summer he had paid some attention to the report ... made by the committee and though he had not himself taken any part in the present bill"

he had a number of suggestions about the principles on which the commission should be constructed:-

"... there might be a danger in the establishment of a permanent board ... It was human nature, that daily and weekly visits to such scenes should harden men's hearts; and he therefore thought that it would be infinitely better ... that every six months new physicians and new visitors should be appointed."

Gordon said he proposed they should be appointed annually.

"Mr Peel was afraid that the old members would be sure to be re-appointed, unless it was positively enacted that new physicians and visitors should be appointed twice a year"

A Mr Smith spoke to the effect that he hoped hospitals would be included in the operation of the bill, and then:

"Mr R. Gordon said, it was the object of his bill to place the matter entirely under the direction of the Secretary of State for the Home Department" (Hansard 19.2.1828 columns 584-585)

It is not clear if he is replying to Smith, Peel or the debate in general, but his comment was appropriate to the composition of the commission, for this was left almost entirely to the Home Secretary's discretion.

3.3.4 The actual appointments

  • The table shows the 1828 appointments
  • The charts show all the Metropolitan Commissioners from 1828 to 1845
  • The Directory indexes the biographies of the commissioners

Commissioner Baring's biography, based on his own journals, states that Peel asked him to be a commissioner (Northbrook 1905 pages 52-54). Given the small size of the Home Office at this time and Peel's declared interest, I think it safe to treat all the appointments as being made personally by the Home Secretary.

Peel appointed the commissioners in 1828, 1829 and 1830; his Whig successor, Lord Melbourne, in 1831. The only change in 1829 and 1831 was one commissioner not re-appointed in 1831. Four commissioners were replaced by seven in 1830. Peel was, therefore, the Home Secretary who created and structured the commission. The first Whig to reorganise it was Lord Chancellor Brougham in 1832 (See 3.6).

The Madhouse Act became law on 15.7.1828. Notice of the first appointments, dated August 9th, was published in the London Gazette on August 15th.

Twenty one commissioners were appointed (see table, of whom five were prefixed "Dr" in the notice. Three of these were Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians, the other two were Licentiates (Munk).

The salient feature of the list was the number of Members of Parliament on it: thirteen of the sixteen who were not doctors. Of the three others, one was an ex-MP, the other two were not.

In view of the recommendation of the 1827 Select Committee that magistrates be combined with physicians, I tried to find out which of the appointments, if any, were magistrates and, in particular, Middlesex magistrates.

As the table shows, six had taken an oath as Middlesex Justices before August 1828, and these included the three honorary commissioners who were not members of Parliament. Quarter Session minutes showed that all were active: five had been on the Middlesex County Inquiry, and five were on the Hanwell Committee. Four served on both. (Minutes for 18.1.1827 and 15.11.1827)

Of the other ten honorary commissioners, eight were magistrates for other counties in 1836.

To trace the Middlesex magistrates (Justices of the Peace), I made a careful search of the files of Middlesex oaths from 1750 to 1828 (Mx RO/MJP). My list should, therefore, be complete. For other counties, I read through a voluminous 1836 House of Commons return that appears to be the earliest complete list of Justices printed (PP/1836 JPs). I would be surprised if I did not miss the occasional name. The return does not, of course, show who was a JP in 1828, or which were active.

Although I think the presumption must be that the six Middlesex magistrates were appointed commissioners because they were magistrates, I do not think this is so for the eight members of Parliament who were magistrates for other counties. I suspect that most MPs were magistrates somewhere and there are, in any case, other explanations why members of Parliament were appointed. (see below)

Middlesex Magistrates
(in 1828)
also a magistrate
(in 1836) for:
Bouverie MP  
Byng A Middlesex MP Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire
Pallmer A Surrey MP
Clitherow Surrey and Sussex
R. Seymour an ex-MP
Other honorary (all Members of Parliament) a magistrate
(in 1836) for:
Ashley Dorset and Wiltshire
Baring Hampshire
Calthorpe Hampshire and Suffolk
Gordon Dorset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire
Lennard Lennard's father was an Essex magistrate
G.H. Rose Bedfordshire and Lancashire
Ross Hertfordshire
Somerset Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire, Breconshire and Lancashire
Ward A London MP
Wynn Bedfordshire, Lancashire, Shropshire, Caenarvonshire, Denbighshire and Montgomeryshire
Bright Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians
Hume Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians
Southey Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians
Turner Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians
Drever Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians


The charts show the honorary commissioners from 1828 to 1842 in two streams. The first contains Middlesex magistrates (with a blue background) and commissioners who were not members of Parliament when appointed. From this, it can be seen that there was a tendency to appoint another Middlesex magistrate when one left the commission; although the six reduced to four in 1830, three in 1833 and two in 1841. In 1842, the first year of the national inquiry, no Middlesex magistrates were appointed.

3.3.6 Members of Parliament

That thirteen commissioners were members of Parliament does not explain why they were appointed. Nor, in itself, does the fact that all except Ross, Ward and Bouverie had served, with twenty one others, on the 1827 Select Committee on Pauper Lunatics.

I suggest the following reasons

  • Somerset and Ross: appointed as Peel's agents

  • Gordon, Wynn and G.H.Rose for their knowledge of the madhouse legislation

  • Byng, Pallmer and Ward: As MPs for London constituencies and, except for Ward, as Middlesex magistrates. Notice that, in 1816, G. Rose proposed county MPs should share the "privilege" of serving on the commission (3.1.3)

  • Ashley, Baring and (probably) Calthorpe as part of their political education. They were young MPs, just beginning to make their way. Both Baring and Ashley are known to have taken particular interest in the 1827 Select Committee and Gordon's Bills (see biographies of Baring and Ashley). As their biographies show, both considered these activities as part of their political education. And both had been otherwise diffident in the House of Common. It was probably thought that their energies could be usefully channelled into visiting madhouses, and, in fact, Baring and Calthorpe proved two of the most frequent visitors (See table of meetings and visits).

  • Bouverie: As a Middlesex magistrate

  • Lennard: Reason not known: see his biography

3.3.7 Physicians

Peel's prediction (above), that the same commissioners would be regularly reappointed proved true of his own and his successor's appointments (see charts). It was particularly true of the professional offices: the physicians, clerk and, after 1832, legal commissioners.

The salaries involved were not inconsiderable. The 1 a medical or legal commissioner earned in an hour (see law) would have kept a pauper for two weeks or more in licensed house.

£1 pre-decimalisation = 20 shillings. The typical weekly cost to the parish of a pauper lunatic in a licensed house in 1844 was between 7/- and 10/-

In the words of a medical contemporary "that was remarkably good pay" (Wakley, Hansard 29.1.1841 col. 700). In the commission's first nine months, each medical commissioner earned (on average) £230 Account 1829). That is, £6 a week, for six hours work, to supplement his other professional earnings.

The appointment of Bright and Turner, Secretary and Treasurer of the Physician Commission, probably gained the Metropolitan Commission as much of its predecessor's experience as was practically possible.

Apart from this, it is difficult not to conclude that the medical appointments were made from considerations of patronage:

    Southey was a Royal Physician who had already been made a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians at George 4th's "request".

    Hume was physician and intimate friend of the Prime Minster, the Duke of Wellington.

    Bright and Turner were close friends of Halford, the influential President of the Royal College of Physicians.

    Drever's medical reputation seems to have rested on the skill with which he had built up a fashionable cliental.

3.4 Honorary and professional roles

Examination of the Metropolitan Commission's records shows that most of its work was done by professionals. These included the Clerk, whose office and staff are described in 5.3.3.

Here I examine the available meeting and visiting records to determine the division of labour between honorary and professional commissioners.

Until 1832 the law required two honorary commissioners at meetings and one on visits, but from 1832/1833 honorary commissioners were not required. Visiting was the most substantial part of the commissioners' workload. Meetings were a much smaller part. In 1828, it appears, only Quarterly Meetings were envisaged. Although provision was made for others in 1829, there is no reason to believe there were many more than four a year held in the early years.

Late 1830s Reports mention an increase in the number of meetings, particularly ones about release. The start of the national inquiry, in 1842, must have resulted in a substantial increase, but there were still only fifteen meetings in 1842

3.4.1 Meeting attendance

The Metropolitan Commission's meeting minutes have been either lost or destroyed. The earliest minutes of meetings available are those of the Lunacy Commission. However, signatures on published reports can be used as an index of who attended the meeting that "settled" them:

    Table one shows the signatures on the available Metropolitan Commission Reports

    Table two shows the number of honorary medical and legal commissioners year by year.

    In comparing the tables, bear in mind that the number of commissioners at the date of any Report on table one was the number appointed in the preceding year on table two.

When I analysed the Lunacy Commission's minutes, I found that the attendance of honorary commissioners was highest at meetings settling reports: these were special occasions. This seems also to have applied to the 1829 Report, which half the commissioners signed, and certainly to the 1844 Report, when all but two signed.

The 1836 to 1841 Reports, however, were brief routine ones, not originally meant for publication, so the signatures are probably a more accurate reflection of normal meeting attendance.

Annual Reports were required by the 1832 Madhouse Act in June. As there was no June Quarterly Meeting (see law), a special meeting may have been held. I think it more likely that the Reports were settled at the May or July Quarterly Meeting.

If signatures accurately reflect meeting attendance, the 1836 and 1840 meetings were inquorate.

Throughout 1836 to 1841 there were seven professional and ten to twelve honorary commissioners. On all but the 1837 Report, however, the majority of signatures were professional.

On two or three Reports (see query on 1840 Report) the only honorary commissioner signing was Lord Ashley.

Of the sixteen honorary commissioners who served during these six years (see charts), only Ashley, Gordon, Sykes, Halswell, and, possibly, Lord Seymour signed a Report; whereas all eight professional commissioners signed at some time. The legal commissioners both signed three years in succession.

SIGNATURES TO THE REPORT 1829-1844 (3.4.1.TA1)
Honorary Somerset, Rose, Baring, Hampson, Byng, Ross, Ashley, Wynn 8 8
Medical Southey, Bright, Hume, Turner 4 1
Honorary Ashley 1 9
Medical E.J. Seymour, Turner, Hume 3 2
Legal   0 2
Honorary Ashley, Gordon, Sykes 3 8
Medical   0 5
Legal Mylne, Procter 2 0
Honorary Ashley, Halswell 2 9
Medical E.J. Seymour, 1 4
Legal Procter, Mylne 2 0
Honorary Ashley 1 10
Medical Turner, Southey 2 3
Legal Procter, Mylne 2 0
Honorary Ashley 1 11
Medical Turner, E.J. Seymour (*), Bright 3 2
Legal   0 2
(*) According to the printed Report, but E.J. Seymour (M6) was no longer a commissioner. Possibly the actual signature Seymour for Lord E.A. Seymour (H31), an honorary commissioner.
Honorary Ashley, Gordon 2 10
Medical Turner, Southey 2 3
Legal Procter, 1 1
Honorary Ashley, Seymour, Vernon Smith, Gordon, Gowen, Barneby, Sykes 7 2
The two who did not sign were Barlow and J. Milnes Gaskell
Medical Turner, Hawkins, Southey, Waterfield, Prichard, Hume 6 1
The doctor who did not sign was Bright
Legal Hall, Lutwidge, Procter, Mylne 4 0

LEGAL COMMISSIONERS 1774-1845 (3.4.1.TA2)
year honorary professional total
    medical legal  
1774   5   5
1828 16 5   21
1829 16 5   21
1830 19 5   24
1831 18 5   23
1832 12 5 2 19
1833 10 5 2 17
1834 10 5 2 17
1835 10 5 2 17
1836 11 5 2 18
1837 11 5 2 18
1838 11 5 2 18
1839 12 5 2 19
1840 12 5 2 19
1841 12 5 2 19
1842 9 7 4 20
1843 9 7 4 20
1844 9 7 4 20
1845 5 3 3 11

3.4.2 Visiting

The commission's visiting books survive for two years from July 1829 to May 1831 (HO 41/51). From them I abstracted the date of each visit with the house visited and the commissioners who visited. Visits were made quarterly. (The 1829 Account contains the annotation that it includes "only three series of visitation" by the medical commissioners) The distribution (table one) suggests that they were arranged at the Quarterly Meetings.

It would appear that the July quarter's visits all had to be crammed into a month so as to be completed before the re-appointment of the commission in August. Consequently no visits were made in August or September.

Most houses were small enough for several to be visited in a day, whereas a large house might take a whole day. Therefore I analyzed the data in terms of days visiting rather than houses visited, so that when a group of commissioners (Occasionally two groups visited different houses on the same day) visited a number of houses on the same day it counted the same as if they had made just one visit. Altogether there were 116 days/visiting recorded excluding one in April 1829 which was before the period of the other visits in the books. All included two medical and one honorary commissioner (This was not true of every visit to an individual house, but the exceptions were very few and one, at least, was a clerical error as the house was visited and minuted by no commissioner!). In 54 cases this was the actual composition and in 7 others there was an extra medical commissioner. So on just over half the days/visiting only the statutory minimum of one honorary commissioner attended. On 53 others two honorary and 2 medical commissioners attended. The usual composition (107 visits) was, therefore, two medical and one or two honorary commissioners. The remaining two visits were made by three honorary and 2 medical and two honorary and 4 medical commissioners.

Release inquiry visits

Five of the seven visits made with three medical commissioners and the visit made with four doctors were visits where patients were examined with a view to release under section 37 of the 1828 Act. It was clear from the entries that some release inquiry visits were not recorded in these books. I suspect that these were ones made by three medical commissioners on their own specifically for the purpose of section 37 of the 1828 Madhouse Act.

Table two shows which commissioners signed the report on 1.7.1829 and the number of days each commissioner was recorded visiting. On can see immediately why a ratio of 16 honorary to 5 medical commissioners was needed on the commission. Four medical commissioners (Dr Drever being inactive) were the regular professional inspectorate and each took an even share of the work. Even with 16 honorary commissioners, however, it was often difficult to find the one per visit necessary to make a quorum. In the July 1829 quarter three Middlesex JPs and 3 MPs were available; in the October quarter only one JP and 2 MPs. In this quarter quorate visits were only possible because Charles Ross MP spent thirteen days between October 9th and November 2nd visiting.

Ross's visits

On October 9th the houses Ross visited included one (Western House) that the commission had many complaints about. On this occasion, Hampson (a Middlesex JP) also visited. Over the next three days Ross and two medical commissioners visited thirteen small houses. Hampson joined them on October 14th to visit Peckham, a pauper house that the commissioners were also worried about, and on October 15th to visit Holly House, another pauper house. Nearby Whitmore House, whose patients were rich and aristocratic, he left to Ross and the medical commissioners, who found it "in excellent order"

On October 19th, Ward, the City MP, joined them for a visit to Hoxton House, another pauper house. This they generally considered satisfactory.

Two honorary commissioners usually visited the large pauper houses, but on October 26th the Warburton's White House was visited by only Ross and the medical commissioners. However, despite the bad reputation that the White House gained from the 1827 Select Committee on Pauper Lunatics, it was never one of the Metropolitan Commission's problem houses.

Ross and the medical commissioners visited twelve houses in three days at the end of October. Then on November 2nd, Ward joined them again for a visit to Bethnal House Warburton's other pauper house. This they found particularly clean and airy, with new crib rooms, regular religious services and more keepers and nurses.

In the preceding three and a half weeks, Ross had visited every licensed house bar two in London and had seen, and probably helped to count, almost 2,000 patients. The following day he left Ward and the medical commissioners to visit the lats two houses and cont the last ninety patients. He had spent four more days visiting than any of the medical commissioners.

In the spring (January) and early summer (April) quarters the availability of honorary commissioners improved. This was the normal pattern for the commission as the House of Commons rarely met in the autumn, and once it broke up for the summer recess MPs left London for the country or long foreign tours.

Four MPs and two Middlesex magistrates were available for the January 1830 quarter (see blue column), seven MPs and two Middlesex magistrates for the April quarter - but in July 1830 there were only two MPs and three Middlesex magistrates

It is notable how unevenly visiting was spread between honorary commissioners. In the first five quarters shown, 75% of the days visiting were accounted for by only five of the sixteen: Somerset, Calthorpe, Ross, Baring and Hampson. These were all in their thirties, whilst the average age of the others was fifty five. The Middlesex magistrates, in particular, apart from Hampson, were notable for their age or infirmity (see biographies for Bouverie, Byng, Clitherow, Robert Seymour, Hampson and Pallmer)

  Quarterly Meeting
  early January early April early July early October
year Visits
1829     2nd July to 31st July 9th October to 5th November
1830 30th January to 20th March 13th April to 2nd June 10th July to 29th July 7th October to 16th December
1830 8th January to 31st March 8th April to 31st May    

mental health
timeline Citation: see referencing suggestion

Click for:


chancery lunatics

county asylums

licensed houses

Home Secretary


Justice of the Peace (JP)

mad houses



pauper lunatics

Robert Peel

Quarter Sessions

single lunatics


Timeline 1828.

visiting madhouses

workhouse asylums


The left column shows whether the commissioner signed the report. The other columns show the number of days that he spent visiting in each quarter and the average per quarter.
  July 1829 August 1829 to July 1830 From August 1830 Average
Bright yes 5 2 10 8 8 9 7 6 7.875
Hume yes 8 8 10 10 7 5 6 4 7.25
Southey yes 9 9 8 8 3 9 5 6 7.125
Turner yes 4 8 8 10 4 5 7 6 6.5
Drever no 0 0 0 0          
Replacement August 1830: E.J. Seymour 10 6 3 6.3
Total   26 27 36 36 22 38 21 25  
Bouverie no 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.125
Byng yes 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0.25
Pallmer no 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Clitherow no 1 0 2 1 4 0 4 0 1.5
Robert Seymour no 0 0 0 0 0       0
Hampson yes 3 3 7 3 6 3 3 5 4.125
Rev Shepherd             2 2 2 2
Rev Campbell             2 2 0 1.35
Total   5 3 9 4 11 7 12 7  
Ashley yes 5 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0.75
Baring yes 1 0 4 7 0 1 1 0 1.75
Calthorpe no 0 0 6 6 3 4 3 1 3.125
Gordon no 0 0 3 1 0 0 0 1 0.625
Lennard no 0 0 0 0 0       0
Rose yes 0 0 0 1 2 1 2 0 0.75
Ross yes 0 13 0 6 0 0 0 0 2.375
Somerset yes 8 0 7 3 0 2 2 3 3.125
Ward no 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.375
Wynn yes 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Dowdeswell             0 0 0 0
Fremantle             1 0 0 0.3
Perceval             4 3 2 3.0
R.Vernon Smith             1 0 0 0.3
Total   14 16 20 25 5 14 11 9  
Total Honorary   19 19 29 29 16 21 23 16  

3.4.4 Special roles: Government, Home Office and chairman

Some of the MPs seem to have had a special relationship with the (Tory) government and with Home Secretary Robert Peel in particular. Others (3.4.5) performed a specifically House of Commons role.

Home Secretary Peel

Robert Peel (born 1788 died 2.7.1850) was the son of Robert Peel (1750- 1830) who brought in early factory legislation. The Peels were Tory industrialists. Robert Peel junior was an MP from 1809. Under Lord Liverpool, he was Secretary for Ireland 1812-1818 and then Home Secretary from January 1822 to April 1827. One of Peel's particular interests was the policing of London. Halevy says he secured the appointment of the Select Committee on the Police of the Metropolis in 1822, and chaired the Select Committee in 1828 that led to the establishment of the Metropolitan Police (or "Peelers") on 29.9.1829. (Halevy, E. 1949, vol.2, p.287).

The establishment of the Metropolitan Police succeeded the establishment of the Metropolitan Commission for policing madhouses.

Peel and Wellington had refused to serve under Canning and Goderich and so Lansdowne was the Home Secretary when Gordon moved for his Select Committee in 1827. Lyndhurst was Lord Chancellor throughout this period. Peel returned to the Home Office when Wellington became Prime Minister (in the House of Lords) in January 1828. Serving until the fall of the Tories in November 1830.

Peel's interest in and support for Gordon's bills has already been mentioned. (George Dawson, Peel;s Under Secretary at the Home Office had served on the 1827 Select Committee that Gordon chaired, and was to serve on the 1832 Select Committee)

Peel's Tamworthy Manifesto in 1834 is taken as basis of Conservative (rather than Tory) policies. It's argument that Conservatives should adopt reforms where they would improve the health of the country gained him the nickname "Dr Pill". This jingle that Punch published in August 1841 mocks him for his political skill of not prescribing a solution to controversial problems in advance:

I am called Dr Pill, the political quack,
And a quack of considerable standing and note;
I've clapped many a blister on many a back,
And crammed many a bolus down many a throat,
I have always stuck close, like the rest of my tribe,
And physick'd my patient as long as he'd pay;
And I say, when I'm asked to advise or prescribe
"You must wait till I'm called in a regular way"

Peel was Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer from December 1834 to (about 7th) April 1835. He was Prime Minister from September 1841 to July 1846. The reforms of lunacy legislation initiated by Thomas Wakley and carried through by Lord Ashley took place under Peel's administration and with its support.

Peel's ministerial office

For most of the early 19th century the Prime Minister was a Lord and another Minister government leader in the Commons. In the aftermath of the war with France the Commons role was performed by the Foreign Secretary (Castlereagh and then Canning), but in January 1828 Peel combined leadership of the House of Commons with the job of Home Secretary. As Home Secretary he was the Commons leader of the Tory Government. We should not make fine distinctions between his party role and his government roles, it was one man and one role.

Peel's commissioners

Two 1828 commissioners, Somerset and Ross, were Tory party organisers. (So was Freemantle, appointed in 1830) Both were active visitors who at times kept the commission going when others were not available. See, for example, the July and October Quarters in 1829 (table two). This activity did not come from a special interest in lunacy. Somerset had been on the 1827 Select Committee, but this is the only parliamentary record I traced for either on a lunacy issue before 1828.

Somerset first chairman?

The 1828 and 1832 Madhouse Acts made no provision for a regular commission chairman (see law), but Stenton, which is based on Dod's from 1832, records Somerset (who was a commissioner from 1828-1832) as sometime chairman and Jones, K. 1955 pp 171-172 says he was chairman in 1828. His chairmanship seems to be confirmed by the consistency with which his name appears first in all surviving records.

Somerset name always appears first, even in the 1828 appointments list. Which suggests he was appointed to chair the commission by Peel, and not by the commissioners. Appointments lists are always in some status order: MPs at the beginning, Middlesex JPs in the middle and doctors at the end. "Rt Hons" (Privy Councillors and some sons of Peers) precede "Hons" (other sons of Peers), who precede commoners. If aristocratic precedence alone had determined the order of the notices we could infer nothing about the roles on the commission. The 1828 to 1832 Appointments lists, however, are headed by the name of Somerset (the younger son of an Earl), followed by Gordon (a commoner) and then four Right Honourables and two Honourables. I infer that Somerset and Gordon were given a leadership role on the commission.

The signature order on the 1829 Report bears no relation to social rank. The names of Peers' sons, other MPs, JPs and medical commissioners occur at random. There is no discernable order: except that Somerset's name is first. The simplest explanation is that, as Chairman, he signed first and passed it to the others to sign as it reached them.

The other documents available to us are the Visiting records. These are a Clerk's copy, but I will assume that the names under the minutes are in the order that the commissioners signed the Visitors Book. There is a pronounced tendency for honorary commissioners to sign before the medical ones and for MPs to sign first. But there are several exceptions. Somerset visited frequently and, without exception, he was the first to sign. I counted 17 visits to houses (not days visiting) when this meant that he signed in advance of other honorary commissioners, including nine in advance of other MPs.

The only credible explanation of this data that I can think of is that Somerset was appointed to chair the commission in August 1828. I think that Peel appointed him to manage the commission in co-operation with Gordon - Which explains the conjunction of their names at the head of the first appointments list. Gordon, although a personal friend of the Tory Lord Chancellor, was a radical, and about as far in 1828 from the centre of government power as it was possible for an MP to be.

I would also suggest that the large number of visits made by Somerset and Ross were the result of their political responsibilities to Peel, and not to any personal commitment. A conclusion which is consistent with their biographical data (Click on names for biographies).

Gordon chair? - Ashley chair

When the Whigs came to power in November 1830 and Melbourne replaced Peel at the Home Office, it would seem logical for Gordon to replace Somerset as chairman. We can speculate that he was chairman from November 1830 to 1834. Somerset was not re-appointed after the passage of the 1832 Madhouse Act when the responsibility for the commission passed to the Lord Chancellor's Office. His name remains first on the notices up to then however. Afterward Lord Ashley appears first - but the form of the notices has altered with all the "Rt Hons" first, "Hons" next etc. Ashley was a "Rt Hons" whose name began with A. By the 1840s Ashley was unquestionably accepted as chairman and he dated his chairmanship from 1834. (See biography). This corresponds to a period when Gordon was indisposed through illness (See biography) and the phase in Ashley's life when he began to take his duties very seriously. (See biography).

The record of MPs who were active with respect to lunacy legislation in 1829, 1830 and 1832 (see below) fits in with the supposition that Somerset and Gordon exchanged roles in 1830 and that Ashley's acceptance of responsibilities in the commission came later.

3.4.5 The commission and the House of Commons

The commissioners in their 1829 Report called the 1828 Madhouse Act an "experiment" by the legislature. There were few subjects they thought more necessary for legislation and none attended with greater difficulty, as the law had both to ensure patients' comfort and not unnecessarily annoy relatives by useless publicity. They thought the 1828 Act deserved further and serious consideration as to whether it held a just medium between the two.

The troublesome history of previous bills (3.1.3), and problems to come with the 1832 Madhouse Bill (3.5) show how contentious the 1828 Act was. Perhaps we can infer from the commissioners' words that Peel, Somerset and others considered it an experiment from the beginning and that a reason for appointing so many MP commissioners was to observe its operation with a view to future amendment?

Six MP commissioners have records of activity with respect to the 1829 and 1832 amendments. The commission's accounts show £11.2s paid from commission funds for counsel's advice on the 1829 Madhouse Amendment Bill (Account 1829), so I would regard the MPs as acting as commissioners rather than interested individuals.

The six we know were active were Gordon, Somerset, Ross, G.H. Rose, Freemantle and Wynn (See chronological bibliography). The six with no record of legislative activity were Ashley, Baring, Calthorpe, Dowedswell, Perceval and R.V. Smith.

Somerset, Gordon and Ross brought in the 1829 Madhouse Amendment Bill; Gordon a Bill in 1830, and Gordon and Somerset (with others) the 1832 Madhouse Bill.

The unusual procedure of referring the 1832 Bill to a Select Committee (3.5) means we have a list that probably includes every MP who took any substantial interest. The six I have listed as active were on the committee, the six others were not.

I suggest Gordon, Wynn and Rose were appointed commissioners (and served on the 1832 Committee) because of their special knowledge and experience of the legislative problems. Gordon had his immediate 1827-1828 experience; Wynn is the only MP commissioner whose known House of Commons experience of lunacy legislation pre-dates 1827 (see biography), and G.H. Rose (see biography) seems to have inherited the role of his father in this respect as in others.

Somerset, Ross and the younger MPs (*) all have records of active routine visiting (table two), but I do not think that Wynn, Gordon and Rose were appointed as manpower for the regular visits. Wynn made no recorded visits and those of Gordon and Rose were infrequent and appear to have been especially selected. Over half were to large pauper houses, Gordon went on the final visit to the only house that had its licence revoked, and other visits included Release Inquiry Visits (see law), visits to problem houses and a visit to two new houses. Neither made any of the numerous routine visits on which, quarter after quarter, problem free houses were minuted "in excellent condition" (HO 41/51) Presumably they went on the visits they did because of their relevance to the legislative issues.

3.4.6 Changing commissioners

The first re-structuring

On 7.8.1830 Peel replaced two Middlesex JPs Lord Robert Seymour and Pallmer and an MP, Lennard by six new honorary commissioners.

The six were:

two Anglican ministers: Rev Shepherd and Rev Campbell and

four MPs: Dowdeswell, Freemantle and Perceval and Vernon Smith

Dr Drever was replaced by Dr Edward James Seymour

The four not re-appointed were those for whom we have no record of activity in the preceding year (3.4.2.TA2). They were figuratively moribund and may also have been physically so. Pallmer died in 1830, Robert Seymour was bedridden when he sent written evidence to the select committee in 1827. An octogenarian, he died in 1831. Dr Drever may have given up his medical practice in the 1830s.

The new appointments increased the commissioners from twenty-one to twenty- four: the largest number at any time (3.4.1.TA2). In view of the difficulty finding honorary visitors (3.4.2) it was probably hoped to spread the visiting between a larger number of active visitors. Perhaps it was thought clergymen would be available in the summer and autumn when MPs were usually out of town.

(In the preceding year it may even have been difficult to provide enough doctors as only four were active)

A balance:

The reverends Shepherd and Campbell were the fist honorary commissioners who were neither MPs or Middlesex magistrates. As far as I could discover, neither was a JP in any county.

In succeeding years others were appointed from outside the House of Commons and the Middlesex Bench, and in the chart I have placed them with the Middlesex JPs. As can be seen, there appears to have been an attempt to balance parliamentary and non-parliamentary commissioners.

The general principals of change

Reluctant duties and occasional enthusiasm

My impression is that honorary commissioners were not removed unless they were willing to leave, and generally not until they were positively unable or unwilling to remain.

For example, the MPs for London and Middlesex, Ward and Byng, were re-appointed in 1830 even though they seem to have taken no more than an occasional interest. Ward was only removed (1831) when he ceased to be an MP.

I do not think leaving the House of Commons meant an MP needed to leave the Metropolitan Commission. Gordon was the only one who left parliament but remained on the commission (see chart), but the fact that he did so suggests others could have if they had wished.

Vernon Smith described an honorary commissioner's role as "onerous" and thought it would be difficult to find replacements if existing ones were not re-appointed. One of the 1830 appointments, Vernon Smith was kept as a commissioner for thirty years but appears to have taken little active part before 1844 or after 1847.

After a lacklustre start Ashley became the most conscientious of the unpaid commissioners. The change in his application may correspond to the religious renewal he experienced about 1834. His application seems to have been generated from duty more than enthusiasm. In contrast, Robert Gordon appears to have enjoyed his role and there were probably other unpaid commissioners for whom it was not such an onerous task. Sykes, for example, who joined the commission in 1835 to pursue his interest in statistics.

At the other extreme to Gordon and Sykes, Barlow was nominally a commissioner for forty-five years, during which he scarcely ever attended.

Unpaid commissionerships were sought by few. They were an unattractive honour; and I think we can assume that those who did accept would normally be retained as long as they maintained any active involvement, and, sometimes, even if they did not. In general, we can follow Vernon Smith in considering the honorary roles as ones that people were reluctant to take on and in which they were kept as long as they could be.

Professionals also retained

Paid posts, on the other hand, were sought after.

Once appointed, however, the professionals were retained even when age and infirmity considerably incapacitated them (See, in particular, Dr Hume). Here, the principal seems to have been that the commissionership (and its income) was a possession of its holder which he could relinquish voluntarily, but would not be deprived of except under very special circumstances. In some case, it has the appearance of a pension to support worthy causes and this may be one reason why so many contributers to English literature, and their relatives, were employed as commissioners or (in the case of Edward DuBois), as other staff.


© Andrew Roberts 1981-

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