Saturday, February 11, 2017

Surname Saturday: Mary Slatter, Melancholy and Demented?

Last month, I wrote about discovering in the Banstead Asylum records a woman named Mary Slatter who was possibly my husband's great-great-grandmother. I was doing a Genealogy Go-Over and learned that more records had become available, so I dove in.

The only way to find out more was to see these records in person, since they're not available in any other format. My wonderful cousin Anna in London was kind enough to visit the London Metropolitan Archives, where she read the admission and discharge registers.

If this was indeed Mary Shehen Slatter, her life was even sadder than the family could have imagined. Get out your hanky. Here's what the records say:
  • Mary was admitted to Banstead Asylum on September 28, 1877, at age 40. (This is within a year or two of the age I would expect her to have been at that point.) She was married, the wife of a laborer, and she was from Whitechapel (these facts fit exactly with the Mary Slatter I'm trying to find).
  • Mary's "previous place of abode" was--oh, dear--Colney Hatch Asylum. In other words, she was institutionalized before she even got to Banstead. Colney was notorious, another place to hold paupers, originally meant to be more humane but then resorting to straight jackets and other restraints. Wait, there's more.
  • Mary's form of mental disorder was characterized as "Melancholy and demented." 
  • Mary's cause of insanity was described as "Misfortune and destitution."
  • The duration of Mary's previous attacks of insanity was 3 years, 4 months.
  • Mary died young of phthisis--meaning tuberculosis--on April 19, 1889, at age 52.
Now my cousin is going to view the Colney Hatch records in person to try to learn more about whether this is indeed our Mary Shehen Slatter.

From what I know about hubby's g-g-grandmother, this could very well be her sad fate. The family was chronically impoverished, I have confirmed from the records and from later comments made by Mary's children as adults.

Mary's first-born child, Thomas John Slatter, didn't live to the age of 11. He was born in 1860 (see him in the 1861 UK census excerpt here, with the Slatter family listed in Whitechapel) and he died sometime before the 1871 UK census. * Was this why Mary was first institutionalized?

I hope the Colney Hatch records will give me more insight into Mary's life. Also, I've sent for Mary Slatter's death cert to see what it says. UPDATE: Mary's death cert is a single line in a ledger. It says "date of death is April 19, 1889; place: "Middlesex Lunatic Asylum, Banstead; female, age 52, wife of a labourer, Whitechapel; cause of death is phthisis." No place of burial mentioned, no maiden name. Since the Mary I'm seeking was the wife of a labourer in Whitechapel, the death cert supports my theory but doesn't prove that Mary Slatter in Banstead was Mary Shehen Slatter, hubby's g-g-grandma.

* Elizabeth, in a comment below, notes that Thomas seems to be alive and living with his grandparents in the 1871 census. Thanks to her help, I have clues to dig deeper!


  1. Children of Mary Slatter from the GRO Index:

    SLATTER, THOMAS JOHN Mother's Maiden Surname: SHEHEN
    GRO Reference: 1860 J Quarter in SAINT SAVIOUR SURREY Volume 01D Page 8

    SLATTER, ALBERT WILLIAM Mother's Maiden Surname:SHEHEN
    GRO Reference: 1862 M Quarter in WHITECHAPEL Volume 01C Page 416

    SLATTER, JOHN DANIEL Mother's Maiden Surname: SHEHEN
    GRO Reference: 1864 M Quarter in WHITECHAPEL Volume 01C Page 425

    SLATTER, MARY Mother's Maiden Surname: SHEHEN
    GRO Reference: 1869 D Quarter in WHITECHAPEL Volume 01C Page 399

    SLATTER, FANNY LOUISA Mother's Maiden Surname: SHEHEN
    GRO Reference: 1873 S Quarter in SAINT SAVIOUR SURREY Volume 01D Page 18

    Thomas is alive in 1871 living with his grandparents John and Sarah Shuttleworth. See John Shuttlworth born about 1811 living in ChristChurch Southwark in 1871 Census. John was a widow when he married Sarah Slatter in 1862 in St Mary, Lambeth.



  2. Thank you, Elizabeth, for all these details! Just wonderful to have your help.

    I can confirm that the first four are definitely Mary Shehen Slatter's children. I'm not sure about Fanny Louisa, however. Mary did have other children as well: Henry Arthur (1866) and Adelaide Mary Ann (1868). I'll be going back through the Slatter tree and will post again once I have more.

    Again, thank you!

  3. I'm glad Elizabeth was able to help you out - isn't that one of the reasons we blog? - and hope you are able to determine if this was your Mary or not. What a sad story, though!

  4. Dana, I agree with you - blog community is so helpful and kind, and I'm lucky Elizabeth gave me the benefit of her fresh eyes and creative searching. Soon I hope to know more about this Mary Slatter. My cousin is going back to the archives before March. Stay tuned!

  5. It sure sounds like you found your husband's ancestor, Marian. Sad. There is unlikely to be any happier news in the Colney Hatch registers.

  6. Oh, Dara, you are so right. What makes me saddest is that "misfortune and destitution" were cited as the cause. Maybe the Colney Hatch registers will be more specific about Mary's mental problems.

  7. I wonder how today's medical professionals would diagnose Mary's condition. I can see how being extremely poor could cause depression when worried about one's family's basic needs, but surely there was some better treatment than a straight jacket if doctors recognized that was the cause of her problem. So sad, indeed.

  8. From everything I've read about those asylums, they were overcrowded and understaffed and so even with the best of intentions, they couldn't manage the high number of patients. My hope is to discover the event that triggered her initial mental problem and landed her in Colney Hatch in the first place. If only she could know how well her children turned out as adults! Until time travel is invented, I can't tell her.