TWO YOUNG WOMEN FRANCES EVE BENJAMIN AND HANNAH LEVY BENSUSAN
THEIR HISTORY AND TREATMENT AT BETHLEM HOSPITAL IN THE LATE 19TH CENTURY by Dr P Kirby
My interest in writing about Frances Eve Benjamin and Hannah Levy Bensusan arose when researching Benjamin distant relatives. The Bethlem Museum of the Mind had posted selected medical records and photographs on a small number of patients admitted to the hospital in the late 1800s.
There is no indication as to why the particular patients were selected but from a historical and family research perspective the data and photographs provide an important and fascinating insight into the individuals. Sadly as will be described both Frances and Hannah were young women when they were admitted and Frances was later to be re-admitted and died in another mental institute. Similarly, Hannah died young and possibly also in an institute.
Both young women came from established Anglo Jewish families and Hannah was from Sephardic roots and the younger of the two women. The following records and data place each woman within a family context and include evidence from their admission records to indicate their health and any existing mental issues. Importantly, the records include some details on family background which help confirm relationships. The medical records also confirm treatments and give insights into the medical and emotional treatment of patients admitted to mental institutes at the time.
Hannah Levy Bensusan (1874-1902)
Hannah was born to Jacob Samuel Levy Bensusan (1846-1917) and Miriam Levy (1848-1926). The family appear in CemeteryScribes records (Jacob Samuel Levy Benusan F139).The family were Sephardic Jews from Gibraltar who had settled in London. Her father was an ostrich feather manufacturer and in the 1881 Census at 7 Weighton Road, Penge, Surrey Hannah age 6 was living with her parents and siblings Samuel (8), Ruth(3),Moses (1). Hannah’s grandparents Samuel (82) and Esther(67) plus her aunts Orovide(38) and Miriam (29) were also in the household.
By 1891 the family were living at 11 Mowbray Road,Croydon,Surrey.
However in 1893 Hannah age eighteen and a half was admitted to Bethlem Royal Hospital a psychiatric hospital and formerly the notorious Bedlam Hospital in London.
The Medical and admission records for Hannah: Hannah was living at 11 Mowbray Road Upper Norwood on admission. She had shown early symptoms on 17 April 1893 when she told a friend that she was engaged to a young man and that the Queen would be very pleased to hear of it. She had also had hallucinations and was afraid she was going to be attacked and murdered. On admission her state of health was poor and she had not been eating or keeping clean.
She had not been previously admitted to an asylum. Previous history recorded that she was ‘Always weakly and rather dull-excitable’ and had problems with weak articulation which made it difficult to understand her. On admission she was incoherent, refused to take food or medicine and was dirty in her habits. Her family background was briefly recorded and stated that her mother’s father was eccentric. Her parents were third cousins. The family history on her parent’s side revealed good health living into old age.
On 29 April Hannah was fed with a nasal tube. She had been noisy and struck the nurses calling them ‘devils’. The record notes described how she made progress with her eating, dressing and making weight gains. Her improvement led to being discharged as well 4 April 1894. Currently, there is no record of Hannah in the 1901 Census and she may have been in an asylum. Her parents had moved to Bexhill Sussex where they were living alone with two servants. They were still in Bexhill in the 1911 Census at Glen Lyn, Wickham Avenue recorded as being married 41 years with 5 children 1 dead. The dead child was Hannah. She had died in 1902 (GRO Death Index Dec qtr. 1902 age 28 Holborn 1b 467).
Hannah’s mother died in 1926 St. Leonard’s on Sea. Her father died in 1917 age 71 at 41 Wickham Avenue and was buried Mile End Cemetery 14 July 1917. Hannah appears in Cemetery Scribes records ID 7193 with a photograph of her tombstone at Nuevo Cemetery. Her father is ID 7186 and mother ID 7190.
Hannah’s grandparents on her paternal side were Samuel Levy Benusan 1790-1886 and Esther Bernal 1814-1898. (Cemetery Scribes Samuel Levy Bensusan ID 7184, Esther Bernal ID 7185 both buried Nuevo Cemetery).They were both born in Gibraltar. Her siblings were: Esther 1870-1951; Samuel 1872-1958; Ruth 1877-1957; Moses Ferdinand 1880-1938. Hannah’s brother Samuel (1872-1958) was a successful playwright and author and her sister Ruth a medical practitioner and pioneer in family medicine and social care. Her other sister Esther married the painter Lucien Pissarro.
FRANCES EVE BENJAMIN
When Frances was admitted to Bethlem Hospital January 28, 1888 she was 28 years old (GRO Birth Record March qtr.1860 Strand 1b 455). Her address was 35 Mostyn Road, Brixton.
The following data relates to the parents of Frances Eve aka Eva Benjamin and her siblings:
The Jacobs Family Tree website has data on Rebecca Simmonds and Abraham Benjamin the parents of Frances- see also JewishGen 1851 Anglo Jewry Data base Rebecca Simmonds ID 31985 1817-1890 (her parents Wolfe (Benjamin) Simmonds b abt 1776-1844 and Eve Jacobs b abt 1781-1869-CemeteryScribes ID 16707 William aka Wolf Simmonds- see Family chart). Frances father was Abraham Benjamin 1814-1860 (parents Nathan Benjamin, Catherine Moses).He is CemeteryScribes ID 322.
The Jewish Chronicle August 8 1890 recorded the death of Rebecca on 2nd August at 35 Mostyn Road Brixton in her 74th year, Rebecca relict of the late Abraham Benjamin formerly of 128 Strand.
The data suggests that Frances Eve was newly born when her father died. The Bethlem Record in 1888 for Frances indicated ‘Domestic Conflict’ as one cause of her mental health issues but there is no indication for the basis of this statement.
Medical Report and admission records: The medical report for Frances revealed that her mother had said that she had been previously admitted to Bethlem between January 1880-July 1880 but had been well since. The initial pre admission records indicate that an informant regarding France’s symptoms was A H Simmonds 66 Camberwell Road. This maybe a transcription error for Henry Morris Simmonds Surgeon and Medical Practitioner. Further research is needed but current data suggests he is closely associated with the Benjamin and other Simmonds in the local area as a relative born in Barbados but trained as a doctor in London.
Frances symptoms were diagnosed as acute mania. No previous diseases or illness were recorded but she had been worried about her mother’s breast tumours. She refused to eat, threw objects, cried and laughed and refused to speak.
The family background said that her paternal uncle was in Haywards Heath Asylum and an aunt was also insane. Her paternal uncle was Henry Benjamin who had died in the asylum in 1879 leaving a widow Frances living at 30 Grace’s Road Camberwell. He had been a master tailor in the 1851 census born Leigh Essex with wife Fanny and daughter Fanny age 9 months. His brother Edward was living with the family. Henry had married Fanny Solomon July qtr. 1849 Brighton 7 415 and died age 56 January qtr. 1879 Lewes Sussex 2b 111. He had been admitted to the asylum 5 August 1859 and died 8 February 1879.
On admission Frances after refusing to eat was administered with a stomach pump. She later ate without assistance but again refused food and another stomach pump was given. She was injected with hopeintypoderm. By August 7th she was much improved and discharged August 29 as being well.
Later on Frances married William John Garrett a printer and compositor.
The following records relate to Frances Eve/Eva Benjamin including her marriage: GRO Marriage Index April qtr.1897 Lambeth 1d 942- William John GARRETT. A daughter, Annie Frances, was born in Lewisham district 1898. The history of Frances became more tragic because she was admitted to Constance Road Workhouse Camberwell Southwark on Monday 30 November, 1908 as temporary disabled and later transferred to Long Grove Hospital (psychiatric hospital) the same year.
Frances died in (March qtr. 1910 Epsom 2a 37 age 50). Her probate recorded: Frances Eva Garrett 194 Dunstans Road East Dulwich Surrey (wife of William John Garrett) died 19 March 1910 at Long Grove Asylum Epsom. Administration to William John Garrett compositor Effects £85.
Treatment of psychiatric patients late 1800s.
Bethlem Royal Hospital had been the original notorious Bedlam well documented for its inhumane treatment of patients leading to public outrage and parliamentary action.
A new Principal Physician Dr T.B. Hyslop was appointed in 1888 until 1911. He brought a new administration and medical practices to the hospital.
“By the late 1880s at the Bethlem Royal Hospital the ‘stomach pump’ seems to have made an appearance the moment a meal was missed (which had not been the case in the 1850s). On the passing of the 1890 Lunacy Act, restraints “used only for the purpose of forcible feeding and merely held by attendants, not tied or fastened were considered outside the realm of medical coercion, and therefore did not have to be recorded in the asylum constraint book.” (Fat and Well: Force –feeding and Emotion in the Nineteenth Century Asylum. Chaney June 21, 2012 online article).
In her article Chaney referred to the relationship held at the time by physicians between feeding and maintaining health as a sign of psychiatric recovery. Similarly, digestive issues and mental disease was considered as indicative of melancholia. Refusal to eat was considered to be a common reason for certification to an asylum. Voluntary patients were never force fed but once certified a patient who refused to eat was often force fed.
The treatment of Hannah and Frances does not reveal any deep analysis of the reasons for their behaviour and factors such as eating and improved behaviour appear to be dominant reasons for them to be deemed well and discharged. There are no later details for the reason why Frances was re-admitted to a psychiatric institute where she died nor what happened to Hannah to cause her early death. Records of other patients reveal some discharged as ‘uncured’ or re-admitted.
The impact that the two women had upon their families is not known and their medical records suggest that a short period of time was given for their support and later wellbeing. It is rare to have such personal medical and psychological records on individuals made available for study and family history plus the inclusion of their photographs.