Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Focus On - Maria STEERS

Maria was my OH’s 3 x Great Grandmother. She is the STEERS ancestor that I now know the most about, mostly thanks to the records kept at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA).

Maria STEERS was born in [allegedly] in Durham in approximately 1815. How she met Thomas Bradshaw STEERS and moved to London I’m yet to find out.

I assume that she married Thomas B STEERS, however as I’ve not been able to find a marriage entry they could have been happily living in sin.

Thomas and Maria first appear on the 1851 census, living one assumes as husband and wife in Bethnal Green at 5 Old Nichol Street. They have five children at this point in time;

Ellen STEERS, born about 1834
William STEERS, born some time between 1840 and 1845
Eleanor STEERS, born about 1841
Anna M STEERS, born about 1844
Watson STEERS, born about 1846

Now all the evidence I have say that the children were born in Hull, Yorkshire. Yet the same evidence tells me that the family lived and worked in London.

[This family are interesting like that, and I’ll get to the knowledge bit soon.]

I cannot find any evidence of the children being born in Hull, or any reason why the family would be up there. Anyway back to Maria.

Maria worked as a needlewoman, an embroidress and a braider. This was an acceptable occupation for a woman in Victorian England. Whilst the family appeared to move around the Bethnal Green and Shoreditch areas of London.

Thomas died in 1868, leaving Maria alone as her children had all moved out.

Maria next appears in the records on the 1881 Census, she’s in the Middlesex District Lunatic Asylum, St. Bernard’s; better known as Hanwell. Today Hanwell is still a Mental Health Hospital, the site (renamed Three Bridges Regional Secure Unit), is run by West London Mental Health NHS Trust and up until a couple of weeks ago I worked with Consultants and Nurses from this Trust and this hospital. It’s odd how things are connected. The records from Hanwell have been deposited at the LMA (reference H11/HLL/B/…) and it was to these records I turned on Saturday.

I had made a previous attempt to find Maria’s records but I was not really sure what I was looking for and it wasn’t my primary goal for that trip so I ran out of time.

Thanks to the partnership between Ancestry and the LMA I had managed to locate Maria’s burial record. She was buried on 19 December 1881 at All Saints, Edmonton, Enfield but unfortunately I was unable to locate her gravestone (see here for more information about that trek). However I had a date with which to start looking.

The first thing I did was to request the “Register of Female Deaths, Discharges and Returns” that covered 1881 (H11/HLL/B/15/003).

Maria was there. This record told me that Maria had died in the Asylum. She died on 13 December 1881 aged 59. Her cause of death was given as 1. Whitening softening of the brain with epilepsy 2. Exhaustion due to epilepsy.

She was admitted to the Asylum on 21 June 1877, and as such had been there for 4 years, 5 months and 22 days. Her “mental disease” was given as dementia, which she had had for upwards of five years.

It was routine for autopsies to be carried out on those that died in the asylums, unless they were asked not to by family members. The records of the autopsies were also deposited (H11/HLL/B/28/004) so I ordered the ledger which covered 1881 and sure enough, she’d had an autopsy performed.

As well as providing the cause of death, the autopsy also showed that Maria had a slightly fatty heart, pneumonia on both lungs and chronic bronchitis. Her liver was recorded as being “fairly healthy” It was very odd to see the weights of the organs written down and I’m still trying to decipher the doctor’s handwriting and meanings of the medical terms.

My next thought was that now I had an admission date I could look up the admission record and see what else that could tell me. This was located within H11/HLL/B/05/009.

Maria was admitted to the asylum on 21 June 1877 aged 60, suffering from mania. She was admitted from 25 Fellow Street near Haggerstone, in the parish of Shoreditch on the authority of J Finnes and W Elsey. They noted that she was not epileptic, suicidal or dangerous and that her health was “good, body fairly nourished” and that “on admission there was a bruise on right arm”. Her first attack occurred at the age of 60 and had been occurring for 6 months, 2 weeks.

After confirming that Maria was admitted to the asylum I ordered the Case Notes which covered Maria’s time in the asylum (H11/HLL/B/19/026). It is these case notes that have provided the most information.

The case notes repeat the information from the admission record but there are a few differences;

Age on admission here is given as 55
Age of first attack is given as 60, but the admitting attack is recorded as being the first attack. Confusing huh!

Maria’s religion is given as Wesleyan, which may explain why I haven’t been able to find a marriage or baptism but it doesn’t explain why she was buried in an Established Church.

The question regarding epilepsy was first answered “No”, but this was then changed to Yes on 21 December 1878 so she must have been diagnosed during her final years.

Instead of “Next of Kin”, the ledger has “Friends Address”, here William STEERS of 17 River Street, Caledonian Road is listed.

Further details are provided as a family history was provided by “Her daughter Mrs H. Lambert Locks Wharf, Angel Road, Edmonton”.

Mrs Lambert tells the doctors that her mother was the eldest of 7 children and all of her brothers and sisters are still alive. Maria had a total of 9 children, 3 of whom are still alive and the youngest was 25.

Her affliction is described as hereditary. The supposed cause of this attack is described as “trouble caused by her son”. Maria is described as “hard working and industrious” with “cleanly” habits. She had blue eyes, was tall and weighed 8 stone 8 lbs (56kg) when she was admitted. She had a “clean tongue” and a “good appetite”.

The history given states that her “mother cut her throat, like to drink much and take opium” and of her father “no faiticulais known” (which I take to mean nothing was known about his mental state).

Mental State on Admission

Here appearance is somewhat sad and dispirited, and her ceremony is greatly impaired…she couldn’t tell how long she has been here, or where she came from. Says that a short time ago she used often to hear voices of her dead father and mother talking to her, but that she has not heard them lately.

About 12 months ago her memory began to fail and she would mistake one of her sons for another and did not always know where she was. Walked about jerking her body backwards and forwards. She had very much trouble with her elder son who seems to be a great scoundrel and on one occasion deliberately invoked a cure upon her (about 7 years ago). This always pressed much on her mind.

The rest of the case notes refer to her time in the asylum. She suffered many “severe [epileptic] fits”, was “demented…forgetful…lost” and spent most of her time wandering around the ward or gardens.

The time leading up to her death, Maria suffered many severe fits and was first weakened then paralysed on one side of her body (most likely to have suffered a stroke).

Also included in Maria’s case notes was a letter from her son, William. I will be transcribing this in a later post but it was very satisfying to see William’s signature.

Marie lived a long and seemingly difficult life. I’ve now got a few more leads to follow in finding this family. I was extremely satisfying to find these records and makes all the research worth it.