Saturday, 23 May 2015

Harold Strelley 1824- 1864 Criminal Lunatic

Is there no privacy in this world? Today we jealously guard our privacy and worry that things such as facebook and emails will come back to bite us.

Poor Harold Strelley has been discovered despite his family's best efforts to conceal him.
Who would have thought that 1841 census records would be available to the world at large 175 years later? Those census records aren't too bothersome. A family living at Oakerthorpe- the family farming property- nothing seems out of order there.

Harold has been really caught out because without knowing about him I found him on Family Search, 1851 census and  death records in Wiltshire just through doing a Strelley  surname search.
 It was the notation "criminal lunatic" in the 1851 census that gave me a bit of a heads up and then a few incorrect facts from a relative  and a newspaper article sealed the deal.

Digitized newspaper records show that there is no rest for the wicked. Harold's murder of a fellow inmate was reported over several counties and probably because of the family notoriety and the other circumstances of the case the trial details were well reported in the next three months before he headed to the Bethlem Hospital to be incarcerated.



Harold Strelley 30 had pleaded “Not Guilty” to wilfully murdering Samuel Tomlinson his fellow roommate.  Harold had come to the asylum three months prior to Tomlinson’s death.Apparently the keeper was alerted to a noise between 6 and 7 in the morning of the murder which he thought was singing. When he heard another noise he went to the room. He had thought it was pots rolling on the floor.  Strelley was standing near his bed and Tomlinson was rolling about on the floor moaning.  After leaving the room for some light he returned and Tomlinson was quite dead.  A spare bed lath was found in Strelley’s bed covered with blood. He was found not guilty on the grounds of Insanity!
 Harold was sent from the County Gaol in Derby to a Criminal Lunatic Asylum at St George’s Fields in the County of Surrey. The institution was known as Bethlem Hospital and despite its long history as a psychiatric hospital for the care and control of the insane it was notoriously called “Bedlam”. Several wings and additions were built for the growing admissions of criminally insane but it was continually criticized for overcrowded accommodation. 

Harold's records for Bethlem are available to the researcher and they give a complete description, details of his illness, religion and commentary. Admission papers completed on the 15/7/1849 describe Harold as being a farmer with temperate habits. His record shows he can read and write and has received a good education.  He is a man of  5’8 ½ “  with brown hair, hazel eyes and fresh complexion.”  He is of Church of England religion.  He had been quiet and inoffensive in hospital –his bodily health was good but his memory impaired.
 The following comment appears on his record:
"fancies that he had been a soldier and had been wounded in … Actions and that he had been in the company of Napoleon and at the time he committed the murder had thought that his victim who slept with him was going to kill him for desertion”.  None of this had been reported in the newspaper coverage   and neither had a few other little gems recorded on the files. They cast aspersions on his paternal relatives mental health!

“Supposed cause of insanity- hereditary.”
Under the heading Relatives Similarly Afflicted reads :
“Father and still more his grandfather, eccentric and some say insane”.
This would be referring to Benjamin Strelley and the well known Derbyshire businessman Robert Strelley Esq. 
Several reports on Asylums also help to paint the picture of  treatment of the  insane  in mid 1800s. Bethlem cops a beating. Then he gets transferred to Fisherton House in Wiltshire. Again we are able to access his full medical record, his height, weight and medications. Fullerton is not without its critics but does receive a favourable report in an article   "A Visit to a Convict Lunatic Asylum" written in The Glasgow Herald in 8/10/1864. After a visit to the Fisherton Asylum  the writer’s article describes encounters with inmates, medical staff and an inmates' social ball which was a song and dance night once a week. There were no lock- up cells or handcuffs despite 30 murderers. The staff of warders maintained order by kindness and power of the staff. The accommodation consisted of a long, dormitory style sleeping ward where the warder slept in a cage in the middle of the room as well as a well ventilated and light day room and exercise yard. The article gives a generally favourable impression of the institution. This article was written towards the final days of Harold’s sad life. 

For a small fee we access his cause of death and burial details.   
To fill in the pieces of the story the websites, newspaper archives, wikipedia, and 100+ years old e-books provide me with information, sketches, articles form the times and old advertising. 

When Rev Charles Kerry wrote about the pedigree of the Strelley family for his article for the Journal of the Derbyshire Archeological and Natural History Society in 1891, Harold was left off the record: something unusual for such an accurately researched article. 

We worry that people will dig up information on us through our use of social media and copious information collected on us in every day life but as we see records have been kept for eons  and are  becoming more available through breakthroughs in scanning and distribution technology. Harold and the Strelleys would never have thought this story would surface 175 years later. Information comes from a variety of sources- and finding it gives us insight into a whole lot of things for better or worse!!!
(The full story of Harold Strelley Criminal Lunatic is available... just email me)

Thought of the Day 
Family history provides stimulation to the brain and mental activity for a researcher.  Don't disregard the many options for filling in the pieces of your family story.