Lunatic in the Family – Case Notes

I received my case notes from the archives yesterday which made for very interesting reading:

This is a case of senile insanity and patient is stated to have been more or less doted for twelve years. Her brother however is insane.
Medical certificates testify that for some time she has been very excitable, that she uses foul and obscene language and that she sometimes exposes her person. Further that she is sleepless, refuses food, and that she fancies people are going to kill her.
Not just any people though. One of the medical certificates state that she “suspects her friends and relatives are going to kill her. Fancies that they blame her for killing [her] daughter“. (I would like to find out which, if any, of her daughters died before her but I’m also aware that the daughter’s death could also have been imagined).
On her return to the asylum (after 6 months in the poorhouse wards), another doctor states that Agnes “Talks in an excited manner. Her memory is deficient. She fancies the other patients in the ward eat coals. She has delusions about her husband and family“.
Although poor Agnes’ case is quite tragic, I think its important to have sense of humour about these things and I find it amusing that she felt her fellow inmates ate coal, of all things. It seems I will never know exactly what her delusions were about her then deceased husband but these notes have given me a pretty good indication of her state of mind.


The case notes also give me a vague description of Agnes. She has a pale complexion, her hair is grey (not surprising for an 81 year old), and her figure is ‘stooping from age’.

Did she look like the fisherwoman in the photo on the left?

Among other information that I had already gleaned from other records, the sheriff petitions have given me 2 former addresses, the occupation of her son John, and the name of a brother who had also been declared insane.


Fortunately they give the name of this brother, Wilson BUCHAN who I was able to find christening, marriage and death records for. The death record mentions nothing of his insanity and as his wife is still alive, I assume he was being cared for at home. I have emailed the archivist to ask if she can offer any help finding out more.
One of my next steps in the previous post was to find out if any other family members lived at home in the 1881 census to care for Agnes. It looks as if that responsibility fell on her 48 year old daughter Jean (or Jane). I can only imagine that an already tough life as a Victorian fisherwoman was made tougher when she needed to care for her mentally ill mother.

Agnes, Arthur and Jane BUCHAN on the 1881 census.
Click to see larger image.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.