More Buchan ‘Lunatics’

I was very excited to receive an email from Roy BUCHAN – author of the book ‘From Peterhead to Passchendaele’ mentioned on this blog and distant relative of mine.

He also mentioned that the Mr Peter BUCHAN listed above (on the Rimutaka 1893 passenger list) as aged 35 was, in fact, mentally retarded from birth and died 3 years after landing in New Zealand.  This was roughly the same time as his brother, and my direct ancestor, Alexander Ritchie BUCHAN died while working on a fishing boat.
Before I’d even had a chance to look into it, another distant BUCHAN relative, emailed me the information that Peter had actually died in July 1897 (seven months after his brother, Alex).  He apparently died at Seacliff Hospital, Dunedin – also known as Seacliff Lunatic Asylum.
(NOTE: A further email from the same relative warns that this may not be true)
Seacliff Hospital, Dunedin, NZ c.1910

Peter was the son of  Charles and Jessie (nee RITCHIE) BUCHAN.
I will now be checking for his asylum records.

Next Steps:

  • Check for Peter BUCHAN’s death in New Zealand (Place of death – asylum?)
  • Look into story from Roy Buchan’s book that suggests he went out ‘wandering’ and died from exposure

I Feel the Need… the Need for FOCUS

I’ve been MIA the last few weeks as I travelled back to Australia for my brother’s wedding (which was lovely).
Sadly, my grandmother’s health has deteriorated and she has now moved to Sydney to be closer to my uncle. (Interestingly, she is a direct descendant of the BUCHAN lunatics I’ve been blogging about and is also suffering from senility). 

However, this move uncovered many photograph albums that I think even grandma had forgotten existed.  She told me once that she had thrown out all her old photos because she didn’t think anyone was interested (!).  Happily, this has turned out not to be the case and I pored over loads of antique photographs of her life (which until now I had never seen).  More on those when I have access to a scanner…

image via doubleday

In other news, I am currently reading a new book entitled, ‘Tasmania’s Convicts’ by Alison Alexander, which I found whilst in Australia.  I am less than halfway through but find it addictive reading and am happy to recommend it to anyone researching convict ancestors in Van Diemen’s Land.  It even mentions my ancestor Elizabeth ALLEN (very briefly) who was transported there in 1843 for stealing a shawl.

My brother has just returned from his honeymoon in Tasmania, where he had spent part of it ‘researching’ at Port Arthur. I hope to receive some information from him in the near future.

My head is swimming with genealogy right now so I’ve decided to focus on my convict ancestors for a while to give me a bit of focus.  No doubt when I get this scanner, I’ll be flitting around again though.

Workhouse Call

Read 1st part here and 2nd part here.

It took some time (and a bit of money) for me to find the right George PALMER’s death certificate. I am now quite sure this is the correct one as the age, occupation and location fit.


George Palmer’s death certificate – 29th October 1896
After an eventful life, George died in Westminster Union Workhouse. How did he end up there?
Note that George died of ‘Senile Decay’. Does this mean I have another lunatic on my hands?
Ancestry UK now has London Poor Law records available to view online. I searched the Westminster Union ‘Register of Lunatics’, which thankfully has a surname index and found there were no PALMER lunatics between the years of 1890 and 1898.
Unfortunately the ‘Admission and Discharge Book’ does NOT have a surname index. Using George’s date of death, I found his ‘discharge’ (death).

October 1896 Westminster Union Workhouse ‘Admission and Discharge Book’
George died on Thursday, October 29th 1896. His last meal was breakfast and his diet was described as ‘class 2’ (The Workhouse site explains the class of diet from 1900 onwards but I have yet to find a key to the Westminster Union classes in 1896).
The 1891 census for Westminster Union Workhouse contains a George Palmer of the same age, occupation and county of birth as mine.
George PALMER on the 1891 census in Westminster Union Workhouse

Presuming the George on the 1891 census is mine (the town of birth is listed as Winchester, Hampshire whereas all the other information that I have, states that George was born in Portsea, Hampshire), I have a window of 10 years in which to search for his admission.
Considering there is no surname index, this is a bit of a tedious task as I have to trawl through each page in the book for his surname – wish me luck!

Snow Friend of Mine

image source: h is for home

I’ve been gone a while as I haven’t had much time to do genealogy lately. I haven’t even emailed my fabulous archivist for more information on the new lunatics I’ve uncovered from the last information received (She’s probably glad for the break).
At least this glorious snow we’ve been having will give me an opportunity to try and get in the swing of things again.
I’m going to sit back and relax now, read my brand new family tree magazine and wait for inspiration to strike. I’ll be back.
(Oh, and thankyou for the compliments and blog awards – you’re all very kind).

A Family of Lunatics!

I received the case notes for Wilson BUCHAN today. The contents were very interesting. Wilson’s case is sad but what strikes me from these notes is that the sense of family was very strong. It also strikes me that insanity very much runs in my family.

On the 17th June 1875, Wilson BUCHAN was admitted in the Royal Aberdeen Lunatic Asylum.

I can almost visualise Wilson – his description was more unique than that given for his sister Agnes. At age 60, he was a short man with a square, stooping figure. His eyes were black, his hair grey with a bald scalp and his complexion ruddy.

His history upon admission reads:

The present attack , supposed to be the first, has lasted for eight months during which time he has twice attempted suicide. There is a strong hereditary predisposition to insanity, his father committed suicide, his sister Mrs James Tait was in this Asylum two years ago, and his nephew James Third is at present a patient here.
According to the medical certificates, he distresses himself unreasonably about his wife’s death, will not engage in his ordinary occupation, imagines that the Police are to apprehend him for murder & stealing, talks of committing suicide and has been found with a rope round his neck.

On the 7th October 1876, Wilson was “Removed by his friends – Much Improved”.

I have become even more interested in these small fishing villages where everyone seems to be related and plan to do a bit more research on them.

Other facts I have managed to glean from these records:

  • Wilson’s wife died before June 1875 (this was unclear on his death record)
  • his father (& Agnes’) committed suicide
  • a sister Mrs James TAIT (also Agnes’ sister) was in the asylum two years ago,
  • a nephew, James THIRD presently in the Asylum
  • a son John Buchan (and his address – 91 Cairnbulg)
  • 3 daughters – Mrs Mary BUCHAN or Stephen; Mrs Robert STEPHEN; Christian BUCHAN

Next steps:
Work out his sister’s & daughter’s names by finding their marriages
Gain more information about the locality (map of houses)

image via flickr