The Lunacy Commission
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This (concluding) chapter of my thesis is not only concerned with the Lunacy Commission, but with the Lunacy Commission in relation to the Commissions that preceded it and to other government departments.

As with previous commissions, the first part of the chapter is mainly an analysis of the relevant legislation. Before this, I relate this legislation to previous and succeeding legislation and provide a summary of the principle functions, showing how they relate to the legislation.

It then (5.2) considers the Lunacy Commission as a government department, its powers, and its relationship to other departments.

5.3 considers the growth and change in the Physician, Metropolitan and Lunacy Commission over the whole period from 1774 to 1849.

5.4 explains the inter-related department of "Chancery Visitors".


The Lunacy Commission was established by the 1845 Lunacy Act. The correct title was "The Commissioners in Lunacy" (1845 Lunacy Act section 3).

The 1845 Lunacy and County Asylums Act Acts proceeded through the Houses of Parliament together. They were inter-dependent in their purpose and they are inter-dependent textually.

The County Asylum Act required provision of public asylums for all pauper lunatics by local authorities. The Home Secretary was to oversee this and the Lunacy Commission was, among other things, to inspect and evaluate the plans for asylums on his behalf.

Just under one in ten of the margin notes to the County Asylums Act refer to the Commissioners established under the Lunacy Act. In other areas, notably with respect to admission procedures, inter-reference was avoided by making (almost) the same provisions in both Acts. The reason that these provisions are only almost identical is that a number of relatively minor amendments made to one bill were not made to the other - with consequences that were confusing rather than debilitating.

These two Acts consolidated English Lunacy Law. They did not incorporate all Lunacy Legislation, no Act ever has. The main areas omitted were Criminal and Chancery Lunacy Law. Both are highly specialised areas of law affecting only a small proportion of Lunatics.

The 1845 County Asylums Act was amended in 1846 and 1847 and repealed by the 1853 County Asylums Act, which was mainly a consolidating Act. The 1853 County Asylums Act and the 1845 Lunacy Act continued in force (several times amended) as separate measures until both were repealed and replaced by the 1890 Lunacy Act.

The 1845 Lunacy Act with the 1845 or 1853 County Asylums Act was the basis of lunacy law in England and Wales from 1845 to 1890.


The principle functions of the Lunacy Commission when it was established may be classified as follows.

Where functions are indicated by examination of the 1845 Acts I give a reference to the appropriate part of the legal summary.


The charts show the Inquiry Commissioners, how long they had served as commissioners, and which became Lunacy Commissioners. The second part of the charts shows all the Lunacy Commissioners to 1912.

The first Lunacy Commissioners and their Secretary were actually named in both the original 1845 Lunacy Bill and the Act (section 3). This, and the salaries that were also stated, was the first focus of opposition to the Bill (4.##).

There were eleven commissioners named, 5 honorary, 3 medical and 3 legal. They were all from the Metropolitan Commission. The Secretary (Robert Wilfred Skeffington Lutwidge) had also been a Metropolitan Commissioner.

The honorary commissioners

The honorary commissioners named were: Lord Ashley, Lord Seymour, Robert Vernon Smith, Robert Gordon and Francis Barlow.

The honorary commissioners were mainly appointed as board members. It can be seen from the charts that whilst professionals were always maintained at six, the honorary commissioners varied from two to five at different times.

In 1845 three of honorary commissioners (Ashley, Smith and Seymour) were MPs. They were the three MPs from the Metropolitan Commission who had served the longest. Ashley was Conservative and the other two Liberals.

Gordon, the sponsor of the 1828 Acts, was an active commissioner at least until 1859. On Gordon's motion, Ashley was elected Chairman of the Commission at its first meeting (MH 50, 14.8.1845). As he had ben acting as Metropolitan Commission chair for many years (3.4.4 and 6BIOH3) the statutory role formalized his position.

Barlow was a Master in Lunacy, appointed as a link between the Commission and the Lord Chancellor. He rarely attended excepted when asked to advise on Chancery cases.

Private Committee

Three commissioners, Ashley, Dr Turner and Mylne, comprised a Private committee dealing with single lunatics. Lutwidge was the secretary to this Private Committee. (See Single Lunatics and the Private Committee)


The doctors named were: Thomas Turner, Henry Herbert Southey and John Robert Hume. All had been appointed in 1828. A clause prohibiting the professional commissioners from holding other paid offices was introduced during the course of the Bill through Parliament (Hansard ##/##/1845 col.##). Southey was a Chancery Visitor, and so had to choose between the two roles. He resigned for the Commission (..1845) and Dr James Cowles Prichard , an Inquiry commissioner and England's leading psychiatrist, was appointed in his place.

The legal commissioners named were Bryan Waller Procter and James William Mylne (the original barrister commissioners of 1832) and John Hancock Hall. Hall died in October 1845 and William George Campbell was appointed in his place.

The Lunacy Commissioners, therefore, were long established Metropolitan commissioners, supplemented where necessary (Hancock Hall) by a commissioner who had been appointed for the Inquiry.

From the charts it can be seen that four medical commissioners (Bright, Hume, Southey and Turner) and two legal commissioners (Mylne and Procter) had served continuously on the Metropolitan Commission since 1832. The proportions were related to the requirement for two medical and one legal commissioner per visit (3.4.3) Under the 1845 Lunacy Act the quorum for all visits was one of each (see below), so medical and legal commissioners were required on the Lunacy Commission in equal proportions.


"County Asylum" throughout this summary includes Borough asylums, whether stated or not.

I have used "guardians" for the local poor law authority, and it should taken as including the parish authorities in areas where unions of parishes under the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act had not been formed.


THE COMMISSION (For details see Lunacy Commission Organisation)

The 1845 Lunacy Act appointed eleven "Commissioners in Lunacy" (named in section 3) and a Secretary to the Commission (named in section 9). The appointments have already been listed and discussed in 5.1.3,

Six commissioners, and the Secretary, were to be full time salaried officers. The professional commissioners were to be paid £1,500 a year (section 3), the Secretary was to be paid £800 a year (section 9).

The Lunacy Commission was to inherit the offices, papers, effects etc of the Metropolitan Commission (1845 Lunacy Act sections 8 + 13) and was to have power to appoint up to four clerks (1845 Lunacy Act section 11).

Commissioners were to be replaced, when necessary, by the Lord Chancellor (1845 Lunacy Act section 4), and the Secretary by the Commissioners, with the Lord Chancellor's approval (1845 Lunacy Act section 9).

The secretary was to be "in the performance of all his duties and in all respects.. subject to the inspection, direction,and control" of the Commissioners; and could be removed from office by the lord chancellor on application of the Commissioners (1845 Lunacy Act section 9).

CHAIR. One of the honorary commissioners was to be elected Chairman (1845 Lunacy Act section 8).


LORD CHANCELLOR COULD REVOKE COUNTY LICENCES. The Lord Chancellor could, on the commission's recommendation, revoke or prohibit the renewal of a licence granted by a county or borough (1845 Lunacy Act section 42).


All hospitals receiving lunatics (except Bethlem) were required to be registered with the Lunacy Commission, have printed regulations (copies of which were to be sent to the commission) and a resident medical attendant (1845 Lunacy Act section 42)


There were detailed instructions about what the Commission and County Visitors were to inspect. These instructions were, by and large, an amalgamation of those in the 1832 Madhouse and the 1842 Inquiry Act.

On visits to all licensed houses the results were to be minuted in the Visitors' Book, and the proprietor or resident superintendent was required to send a true copy (of Commission and County minutes) to the Commission and the County within three days. 1845 Lunacy Act section 67)

After each visit to a County house or a registered hospital, visiting commissioners were to send a general report, with an note of any special circumstances, to the Commission. (1845 Lunacy Act section 69)

All Commission visits to licensed houses, registered hospitals, county asylums, gaols and workhouses (a, b + c below) were to be by (at least) a medical and a legal commissioner. (1845 Lunacy Act sections 61, 110, 111)

Commissioners were to visit:

  • Licensed houses and registered hospitals.

    Commissioners visited London licensed houses at least four times, county houses at least 2 times and registered hospitals at least once in every year (1845 Lunacy Act section 61)

  • County asylums and borough asylums and gaols.

    Commissioners visited county and borough asylums and any gaol in which there was or was alleged to be a lunatic, at least once a year (1845 Lunacy Act section 110)

  • Workhouses Commissioners visited any workhouse in which there was or was alleged to be a lunatic, at least once a year (1845 Lunacy Act section 111).

      Report to Poor Law Commission. The visiting commissioners were to report to the Poor Law Commission whether the provisions of the law, respecting lunatics, had been carried out as to the arrangements, visitation and management of workhouses, and the diet, accommodation and treatment of lunatics in them. (1845 Lunacy Act section 111)

  • Single Houses could be visited by a member of the Private Committee

  • Chancery lunatics

    The Lord Chancellor could require the Commission, or any commissioner or commissioners, or any other person, to visit and report on any Chancery lunatic. (1845 Lunacy Act section 112)

  • Other lunatics

    The Lord Chancellor or Home Secretary could employ any commissioner or other person to visit and report on any other lunatic, alleged lunatic, or person under restraint as a lunatic (1845 Lunacy Act section 112).

  • Other institutions. The Lord Chancellor or Home Secretary could employ any commissioner or other person to inspect or inquire into the state of any asylum, hospital, gaol, house or place in which any lunatic or person represented to be a lunatic, was confined or alleged to be confined; and report to him. Costs were to be charged to the Home Office. (1845 Lunacy Act section 113).

  • Bethlem Nothing in the Act was to extend to Bethlem except that the Lord Chancellor or Home Secretary could direct any commissioner or other person to visit and examine the hospital and its patients (1845 Lunacy Act section 116).


    a) All pauper lunatics not in an asylums were to be sent to the County Asylums or, if there was none or it was full, to a licensed house or Registered Hospital (1845 County Asylums Act section 48). [But other sections implied that some pauper lunatics would not be sent to asylums. See below]

    b) Every pauper lunatic was to be taken first to the principal County Asylum of the county or borough unless: there was none or there was not enough room in it or there were special circumstances. No pauper lunatic was to be sent to a Registered Hospital or licensed house unless there was no County Asylum or there was not enough room in it or there were special circumstances. If it was because there was not enough room in the County Asylum or because of special circumstances, the facts were to be stated on the certificate before a pauper lunatic could be lawfully received into a Registered Hospital or Licensed House. (1845 County Asylums Act section 54).

    c) Every pauper lunatic not in a County asylum, Hospital or licensed house was to be visited quarterly by the Poor Law medical officer, who was to make a list showing which he considered "fit to be at large" and "properly taken care of" and which not. After a County Asylum had been provided under the 1845 County Asylums Act no pauper lately become lunatic (whether or not previously confined in an asylum) was to be kept outside a County asylum, hospital or licensed house longer than was necessary to obtain an order for confinement. Poor law medical officers entering recent cases as fit to be at large, or knowingly signing a list untruly setting forth the particulars required, were liable to a fine of £10 to £50 for every such offence. (1845 County Asylums Act section 55).



    Every county and borough in England and Wales without a County Asylum for its pauper lunatics was required (via an asylum committee, to erect or provide one either on its own or with others (1845 County Asylums Act section 2). (Details in 5S.4)

    Government loans

    Boroughs and counties could apply to the Commissioners of the Consolidated Fund for Public Works for an advance of any sum required for the execution of the County Asylum Act (1845 County Asylums Act section 35) to be repaid within thirty years (1845 County Asylums Act section 37)


    Any county or borough that had not commenced to erect or provide by August 1848 (three years after the passing of the Act) could be required by the Home Secretary to erect, provide or unite to erect or provide, as he "shall think fit" (1845 County Asylums Act section 2). Enforcement, according to Lumley's commentary, would be by writ of mandamus (a writ to compel the performance of a duty. At that time issued by King's Bench)

    Contract houses

    Asylum committees could contract with the proprietors of licensed houses, for a term of no longer than five years, for the care and maintenance of the whole or part of the pauper lunatics in their area. A contract house (my term) was subject to the same inspection as a County Asylum and to rules and regulations made by the asylum committee as well as to the visits and regulations required for licensed houses. Contract houses were only an interim measure and did not exempt counties or boroughs from the obligation to provide their own asylum accommodation. (1845 County Asylums Act section 29).

    County asylum accommodation to be adequate

    Any county or borough whose County asylum a) would not properly accommodate all the pauper lunatics of the county or borough or b) was declared by the Home Secretary to be inadequate or unfit for their proper accommodation, was to erect or provide an additional asylum or buildings "as the said Secretary of State shall direct" (1845 County Asylums Act section 8)

    Principal and chronic asylums

    To prevent exclusion of lunatics "deemed curable or dangerous", some separate or additional building was to be provided for "chronic or incurable" lunatics whenever the accommodation of patients in a County Asylum was preventing admissions. When necessary, sufficient chronic lunatics were to be transferred principle (term used 1845 County Asylums Act section 54) to the chronic asylum "in order to secure" immediate admission into the principle asylum of curable and dangerous lunatics (1845 County Asylums Act section 27)

    Workhouse asylums

    If an asylum declared inadequate by the Home Secretary was a workhouse (belonging to the Guardians, not the JPs) he could, on application of the Guardians, direct additional buildings or an asylum to be provided by the Guardians out of the Poor Law funds. Such an asylum was then deemed an asylum for the county or borough and subject to the provisions of the 1845 County Asylums Act. (1845 County Asylums Act section 8).

    Boroughs and counties could, with the consent of the Poor Law Commission, and the Guardians who owned the workhouse, take over a workhouse for the reception of "all or any" of its chronic lunatics. It then ceased to be a workhouse for other purposes and became an asylum for the county or borough "to be included in the provisions of the Act" (1845 County Asylums Act section 8).

    Commission's power to order transfers

    Any two Lunacy Commissioners could order an asylum committee to transfer any lunatic from the principal to a chronic county asylum or vice-versa (1845 County Asylums Act section 56)


    In practice all proposals, agreements, contracts, estimates and general rules mentioned below were considered by the Lunacy Commission, who made a report to the Home Secretary (See Scope and authority of Lunacy Commission greater than described)

    a) COUNTY ASYLUM ACCOMMODATION PROPOSALS. Asylum committees were to submit all proposals for providing asylum accommodation (*) to the Commissioners who were to make:

    "such inquiries in reference thereto, and to the lunatics to be provided for, as they shall deem proper,"

    and report in writing to the Home Secretary. Estimates of costs were to be submitted to the Home Secretary. No proposals, agreements, contracts, estimates or plans were to be accepted, executed, or carried into effect until approved by the Home Secretary.

    (*) That is:

      (a) All proposals and agreements for unions of counties and boroughs for the purposes of the Act (5S.4);

      (b) All proposals for building or providing County asylums, or the buildings, yards, outlets, or appurtances thereto, or additional accommodation for pauper lunatics,

      c) All contracts and plans which may be intended to be adopted for such county asylums, accommodation and premises. (1845 County Asylums Act section 29).

    b) CONTRACT HOUSE PROPOSALS were also to be submitted to the commission and subject to the approval of the Home Secretary. (1845 County Asylums Act section 29).

    c) GENERAL RULES. All County Asylums were to submit existing or proposed General Rules for the government of the asylum to the Home Secretary for his approval, which was also required for alterations. Regulations and orders made were to be consistent with the General Rules. (1845 County Asylums Act section 40).

    d) ASYLUM ACCOUNTS. Annual accounts for County Asylums were to be sent to the Home Secretary and to the Commission. An abstract of these Accounts was to be made out by the Commission and laid before both Houses of Parliament (1845 County Asylums Act section 40).


    The Commission had power to:

    Release Patients

    By the 1845 Lunacy Act, patients confined in accordance with its provisions lost the right of access to the courts to challenge their confinement. The commissioners or county visitors became the sole arbiters of whether a patient was properly confined. The Access to the Courts clause of the 1774 Madhouses Act, repeated in the 1828/1832 Madhouses Acts was reworded to say:

    That anyone authorised (by this or an Act repealed herein) to receive or take charge of a lunatic upon an order with the required medical certificates, and his servants and assistants, had power and authority to take charge of, and receive and detain the patient until he died, or was removed or discharged by due authority, and in case of escape to retake him at any time within fourteen days

    "and in every writ, indictment, information, action, and other proceeding which shall be preferred or brought against any such proprietor, superintendent or other person... or any assistant or servant... for taking, confining, detaining or retaking any person as a lunatic, the party complained of may plead such order and certificates or certificate in defence... and such order and certificates or certificate shall... be a justification for taking, confining, detaining, or retaking such lunatic or alleged lunatic."

    This loss meant that the allegation of insanity could not be challenged in the courts - only the correctness of the procedures. The issue became "had the person confining the patient the required order and certificates?" After a series of test cases exploring the full significance of the law, and even a novel about it, Louisa Lowe brought the issue to the House of Lords in 1887. The subsequent legislation provided automatic access to the courts before confinement.

    Regulate the discharge of possibly dangerous patients:

    1845 Lunacy Act section 75
    No patient was to be discharged from a licensed house or hospital (except by Commissioners or County Visitors) if the medical superintendent or attendant objected on the grounds that the patient was dangerous or unfit to be at large, unless the Commission over-ruled his objections.

    Sanction the admission of relatives and friends:

    1845 Lunacy Act section 85
    Any commissioner (or Visitor with respect to county houses) could make a written order for the admission of a relative or friend of a patient (or a doctor or other person the relative or friend chose) to any asylum or place (except a gaol) that the commission visited, to see the patient under whatever circumstances the commissioner (or county visitor) should determine.

    Regulate paupers' diet in licensed houses and in hospitals

    1845 Lunacy Act section 82:
    The commission could make an order regulating the diet provided for pauper lunatics in any house or hospital. County visitors could only make such an order in the houses they visited. If two orders differed, the commission's was to be followed.

    Sanction holidays for patients

    1845 Lunacy Act section 86
    Licensed houses and registered hospitals could send patients, under proper control, for limited periods, to any place, for the benefit of their health, with the written consent of two commissioners (or two county visitors with respect to county houses) and the person on whose order the lunatic was detained or who was paying for his detention



    1845 Lunacy Act:
    Commissioners held their office during good behaviour (section 3). In the event of the death, dismissal or resignation of any commissioner, a successor was to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor. The successor of a physician was to be a physician or surgeon (no more closely defined). The successor of a barrister was to be a practising barrister or Sergeant at Law called to the bar at least 5 years before. The successor of one of the other commissioners was to be someone not a physician, surgeon or practising barrister (section 4).

    1853 Lunacy Amendment Act section 39 "the present or any future Secretary to the Commissioners, if at the time of his appointment to be such Secretary he was or shall have been a practising barrister of not less than five years standing at the bar, shall be eligible to be appointed a commissioner..." See Lutwidge replacing Mylne and Forster replacing Procter

    Prohibition of interest

    1845 Lunacy Act section 23 No one was to be a Commissioner, Secretary or Clerk who was, or had been, for one year (instead of 2 before) previous, directly or indirectly interested in any licensed house. or the profits of the reception of lunatics into licensed houses. A misdemeanour

    Other paid office

    1845 Lunacy Act section 3 The professional commissioners were prohibited from accepting, holding or carrying on any other office or situation, or any profession or employment, from which any gain or profit shall be derived, whilst they were paid commissioners.


    1845 Lunacy Act section 23
    No medical commissioner (or county medical visitor) was to professionally attend a patient in a licensed house (as before) or hospital, unless directed to visit by the person who sent the patient, committee of a Chancery Lunatic (as before), the Lord Chancellor or Home Secretary. No medical commissioner (or county visitor) was to sign a certificate for a patient's admission into a licensed house or hospital. Penalty £10 for each offence.


    1845 Lunacy Act section 3:
    The commissioners and secretary's salaries were to be paid in quarterly instalments. The commissioners' salaries were "over and above their respective travelling and other expenses whilst employed in visiting... in pursuance of the Act"
    1845 Lunacy Act section 33:
    Search fees (previously retained by the London clerk) were to be applied by the secretary in payment of commission expenses.


    1845 Lunacy Act sections 5 + 10
    Any pension granted to a Commissioner or Secretary was only to be "in respect of services under the Act" [i.e. the period of service on which it was calculated was not to include service as a Metropolitan Commissioner] and to be subject to the Civil Service Pensions Act 1834 [see Turner's pension]

    Commission chairman

    1845 Lunacy Act: "As soon as may be after the passing of this Act" the commissioners (or any five of them) were to meet in the offices "now occupied by the Metropolitan Commissioners" (or such other place the Lord Chancellor directed) and elect an honorary commissioner to be Permanent Chairman of the Commission (section 8). If he was absent from the meeting, the commissioners present would elect a chairman for that meeting. Every question at meetings was decided was decided by a majority of voters (the chairman, permanent or temporary, having a vote) and if a vote was equal the chairman at the time had a casting vote. (section 8). When the chairman died, resigned, was incapable of acting as chairman, or ceased to be a commissioner; a special meeting was to be summoned at which the commissioners (or any five of them) were to elect "another person" chairman (section 8)


    The crown's law officers considered that the 1845 County Asylums Act section 48 allowed JPs no discretion about sending a pauper lunatic to an asylum (MH-----). The section was amended to allow discretion by the 1846 County Asylums Amendment Act, which received the Royal Assent on 26.8.1846

    By the 1845 County Asylums Act section 48:

    • the poor law medical officers were, within three days of obtaining knowledge that a pauper was deemed lunatic, to give notice of the pauper deemed lunatic to the parish officers; who were:

    • within three days of obtaining knowledge, to have every pauper deemed lunatic that they knew of (by notice of the medical officer or otherwise) notified to a JP who was

    • to issue an order for the pauper's examination by a JP with a doctor's assistance (not the medical officer of the union or parish).

    • The examination was to take place within three days of the parish officer's notice and if the JP was satisfied that the pauper was a lunatic and the doctor signed a prescribed certificate that he was "a lunatic, idiot or insane person, or a person of unsound mind"

    • the JP was to ("shall") issue a prescribed order * directing the pauper to be admitted into the County Asylum or, if there was none or it was full, into a licensed house or registered hospital.

    • The parish officer was to "immediately" have the pauper conveyed there, and he was to be received and confined therein.

    There were special provisions for paupers who were not fit to be moved.

    Lumley commented on section 48 of the 1845 County Asylums Act:

    "This clause gives no discretion to the justice or any other person and the party proved to be lunatic must be sent to the asylum, licensed house or hospital. It is manifest from provisions of this bill, that this provision cannot at present be carried into force. There are not sufficient asylums for all the paupers who are lunatic and at large, nor can there be for a long time to come" (Lumley, footnote 4, p.160)

    The 1846 County Asylums Amendment Act provided that the JP should "be bound, before signing the order, to satisfy himself of the propriety of confining" the lunatic in an asylum; unless a certificate that he was a proper person to be confined had been signed both by the doctor assisting him and the medical officer of the union or parish "in which case such two medical certificates shall be received as conclusive evidence that such lunatic is a proper person to be so confined".

    These modifications were later incorporated into the 1853 County Asylums Act


    Asylum Committees

    1845 County Asylums Act:
    Asylum authorities were to be created, responsible for managing a County Asylum for their area (sections 4 + 11). Every part of England and Wales was to be within the jurisdiction of such an authority (section 81).

    The authorities were called Committees of Visitors, but I refer to them as Asylum Committees. They were legally quite distinct from the visitors to licensed houses, although Lumley suggests that

    "It will probably be found convenient in most counties to appoint the same persons to be visitors of licensed houses as are visitors of the asylums, so as to secure the most effectual visitation of the whole; and that the same person should be clerk to both committees" (Lumley pp 39 + 41)

    Committee composition

    1845 County Asylum Act:
    Each asylum committee was to be composed of JPs representing the counties and boroughs forming the area and, if a county asylum was being provided as a joint county/subscription, of the subscribers (section 12). If a borough council chose, it could assume the powers and responsibilities under the Act which were otherwise exercised by the JPs.

    Formation of committees

    1845 County Asylum Act:
    Committees were initially to be appointed by the JPs for each county and borough. These could negotiate with other committees (and/or any subscribers) to form a united committee, if that appeared the best way to provide a County Asylum (section 3). Such unions were subject to the approval of the Home Secretary (on the report of the Lunacy Commission) (section 28). Boroughs with less than six JPs did not elect a committee, but had representatives on the committee of the county in which they were situated (section 4). Every place not a borough or part of a borough, in the meaning of the Act, was annexed to the county in which it was situated, for the purposes of the Act (section 81). Where a borough or other place was required to be united or annexed to a county, but was not wholly within one county, the Home secretary determined which it should be united or annexed to (sections 4 + 8).

    A county or borough with a County Asylum (including county/subscription asylums) could continue with the existing arrangements.

    A county or borough without a County Asylum could build one for its own use, or otherwise acquire one (Hull, for example, bought an existing madhouse)

    A county or counties without a County Asylum could unite with an adjacent county that had one, for its joint use.

    Counties and/or boroughs without a County Asylum might unite to erect a County Asylum for their joint use

    Before 1845, unions of counties to build a joint County Asylum were provided for by the 1828 County Asylums Act section 4. The 1828 Act did not, however, provide for counties with a County Asylum uniting with a county without, or for the involvement of boroughs (See 1844 Report, page 11, footnote, and p.204 suggestion 2). The 1845 Act had to be clarified by the 1847 County Asylums Act, section one, to make it clear that unions of more than two authorities were possible.

    Such asylums could be provided jointly with the subscribers to an established subscription hospital

    County/Subscription asylums had been possible since the first County Asylums Act in 1808. Under the 1845 Act such unions were restricted to ones with established subscription hospitals, but this was amended by the 1847 County Asylums Act, section one, to allow union with a subscription hospital afterwards established.


    Respecting County Asylum provision and regulation

    Proposals for provision to the Lunacy Commission

    Applications for loans to the Public Works Committee (and required Treasury approval)

    Asylum General Rules to the Home Secretary

    Asylum Accounts to the Home Secretary and Lunacy Commission

    Respecting disposal of pauper lunatics by local Poor Law authorities

    1845 County Asylum Act: section 47 and schedule D The Clerk of every Board of Guardians (or the Overseers of the Poor outside Unions) had to send annually to the Lunacy and Poor Law Commissions a list of all lunatics chargeable to the union or parish. It was to show where each was (in a County Asylum, licensed house, workhouse, lodgings or boarded out, or with friends), the weekly cost to the parish, which were lunatics and which idiots, whether dangerous to himself or others, or of dirty habits, and for what length of time each was supposed to have been of unsound mind

    The medical officer of every parish or union had to send a copy of his quarterly list of pauper lunatics fit or nor to fit to be at large to the Lunacy Commission

    Respecting County regulation of licensed houses

    1845 Lunacy Act: Clerks of the Peace had to send the Lunacy Commission:

    • the names and addresses and occupations of County Visitors within three days of appointment (They were also published in a local paper) (section 19)

    • a copy of every licence, within fourteen days of its being granted (section 28 and schedule A)

    The proprietor or resident superintendent of every county house had to send the Lunacy Commission a copy of all county visitors' entries in the Visitors' Book, Patients Book and Medical Visitation Book within three days of each visit. (section 67)

    Reports from visiting commissioners

    The Lunacy Act require reports of visits to county houses and registered hospitals and a copy of the minute on visits to any licensed house (see above)

    Reports on workhouse visits were to be made to the Poor Law Commissioners (see above).

    In practice, reports were made on visits to County Asylums as well as hospitals and licensed houses (MH50 15.8.1845) and those on workhouses were made first to the Lunacy Commission, the board of which selected such parts as were to be sent to the Poor Law Commission (MH50 18.3.1847 and 23.3.1847 p.99)


    Hospitals had to be registered and provide printed regulations

    Personal data on certified lunatics

    The Lunacy Commission were to receive notices from all the County Asylums, hospitals and licensed houses on the admission, removal or death of every patient and any escapes or recaptures. It appears to be the intention that a Patients Book be maintained in every asylum with such information (and more) of every patient, and that some of this information would be included in periodic lists that would also be sent to the Commission

    Admission: After two clear days and before the end of seven days from an admission, the proprietor or resident superintendent of every licensed house, superintendent of every hospital (Lunacy Act section 52), and clerk of every County Asylum (County Asylums Act section 73) was to send a copy of the certificate/s and order with a statement in a specified form (Lunacy Act section 52, schedule F and County Asylums Act section 73 and schedule G1)

    Removal or death: Within two clear days of the event, the same persons were to send notice of the removal, discharge or death of any patient, in a specified form, with a statement of the cause of any death (Lunacy Act sections 54 + 55 and schedule G2; County Asylums Act section 55 and schedule E4)

    Escapes: The commission was also to receive notice of the escape, an re-capture, of a patient from a licensed house or hospital within two days of the event (Lunacy Act section 53)

    Patients Book Term used in section 67 of the Lunacy Act (and possibly elsewhere) appears to relate to Registry of Admissions - Register of Patients (Lunacy Act schedule E, relating to section 50). Corresponding to County Asylums Act schedule G1. There was also a Register of Discharges and Deaths (Lunacy Act schedule G1, relating to section 54. County Asylums Act schedule G1). The Register of Patients required: date of last previous admission - no. in order of admission - date of admission - christian name and surnames at length - sex and class (private or pauper) - age - condition as to marriage (married, single, widowed) - condition of life and previous occupation (example given is carpenter) - previous place of abode - county, union or parish to which chargeable - by whose authority sent - dates of medical certificate and by whom signed - bodily condition - name of disorder (if any) - form of mental disorder (example given is melancholia) - supposed cause of insanity - epileptics - congenital idiots - duration of existing attacks (years, months, weeks) - number of previous attacks - age on first attack - date of discharge or death - discharged recovered, relieved or not improved - died - observations.

    Periodic lists

    The commission was to receive periodic lists from asylums and poor law authorities of the lunatics (pauper and non-pauper) detained, and the paupers on outdoor relief who were lunatic.

    County Asylums The medical officer was to send a list of pauper patients, and another of any non-paupers, twice a year on january 1st and July 1st. The non-paupers list only enquired their names, but the pauper list had to show which were fit to be removed to a chronic asylum, how long each had been in the asylum, which were chargeable to a parish or union and which to the county, and which were criminal lunatics (County Asylums Act section 46 and schedule C1)

    Licensed Houses Annually, on applying for a licence, houses had to provide a list of their patients at the time, giving name, sex, and whether pauper or not (Lunacy Act, section 29)

    Hospitals Although not required to send periodic lists, hospitals had to maintain a list to show the commissioners on their annual visit (Lunacy Act section 65). The commission, of course, could (and did) compile its own list from the notices of admission, removal and death.

    Pauper Lists


    The Private Committee was to consist of the Chairman and a medical and legal commissioner chosen by the Lord Chancellor (1845 Lunacy Act section 89).

    Ashley was therefore a member by virtue of his election as chair

    Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst chose Dr Turner as the medical member and Mylne as the legal. (MH50 27.8.1845)

    Lutwidge acted as the Private Committee's secretary (MH50/41). The Committee's secretary, under the committee's direction, was to keep a Private Register of single lunatics, to be kept in his own custody and inspected only by committee members or persons with the Lord Chancellor's written authorisation (1845 Lunacy Act section 91)

    Visits Any committee member on the committee's direction (quorate with two including himself) could, at all reasonable times, visit every or any unlicensed house in which only one patient was received as a lunatic (unless the person receiving derived no profit, or was the committee of a Chancery Lunatic) to inquire and report to the Private Committee on the treatment and state of health of the patient (1845 Lunacy Act section 92)

    Removal On the Committee's representation, with a copy of the report, the Lord Chancellor could order the removal of a single patient from a particular house and from the care of the person in charge (1845 Lunacy Act section 93)

    In practice, Private Committee meetings were held after the Commission's meetings. They were held irregularly and generally lasted for one and a half to two and a half hours. None seem to have been held after the 15th meeting on 17.11.1846 (MH50/41)

    By the 1853 Lunacy Amendment Act section 27 the functions of the Private Committee were taken over by the commission as a whole. Section fifteen of the 1853 Act enabled the commissioners to request County Visitors to visit single patients in order to report to the Commission.

    Next part: The Lunacy Commission as a Government Department

    © Andrew Roberts 1981-

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