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The wrong Frederick Osborne when an “e” makes a difference

Frederick entered the Asylum system under the name of Frederick Osborne. This led to some confusion and it was only discovered when I received his death certificate. I had found a Frederick Osborne and a family tree with a photograph. He was born in 1871 and was in the Lunacy Register in Bethnal House transferred from Royal Earlswood in Reigate. His father was a London missionary. He was lost in the system in late 1893. So, this was not our Frederick. I researched for the family and believe he went to Claybury Asylum. They are continuing their own research. 

Our Frederick first went into the asylum in early 1894 close to the other Frederick’s dates plus the ‘e’ in Osborn, hence the mix up. 

Federick’s death certificate gave his name as Frederick Osborn, address Acorn Place Camberwell and from here I was able to trace the correct family. 

Frederick’s Birth was registered as 

The right Frederick Osborn

Frederick John Osborn and family’s story.

Frederick was born on 26 May 1872 to parents Thomas Osborn and Sophia Harris. 

Thomas Osborn born on 22 March 1825 in Ketton, Rutland and was baptised in Tinwell 2 miles away. His parents were John Osborn and Ann Seaton. In the 1841 Census he is living at home aged 15 with his parents. His father John was a Publican in Ketton. I am unable to find him in the 1851 census but we know he joined the 55th. Regiment in 1845 and served abroad so this is probably why.

On 23 August 1859 in St Giles church, Camberwell, Thomas married Sophia Harris from Bedwyn, Wiltshire. She was 13 years his junior. Thomas is now a Police Constable having joined up in 1856 and stating his father is a butcher. Sophia is the daughter of John Harris, a Market Gardener and his wife Harriett Edwards. 

The 1860s

The 1861 Census shows the family to be at 8 Acorn Place, Peckham in the parish of Camberwell where we find Thomas and Sophia have started a family, a daughter Ada Harriett. 

Ada was born on 11 Oct 1860 and baptised on 15 Feb 1861 at St Mary Magdalene, Peckham. 

There was also a visitor, Elizabeth Reaffer/Reeffer aged 78 from Bermondsey. I haven’t found any connection to the family. 

There were four more children who came along before the next census: 

  • Albert Thomas who was born in 1863, baptised 6 Sep 1863, St Mary Magdalene. 
  • William who was born in 1865, baptised 15 Oct 1865, St Mary Magdalene, address 5, Windsor Terrace, Carlton Street
  • Alice who was born in 1867, baptised 18 Aug 1867, St Mary Magdalene, address Harelock? Terrace.
  • Emily who was born in 1870, baptised 19 June 1870, St Mary Magdalene, address 10 Harelock? Terrace. 

The 1870s

By the time of the 1871 census the family had moved to Avenue House, High Street, Peckham. The family consisted of Thomas aged 45 a Police Constable, Sophia aged 32, sons Thomas aged 8 (Albert) William aged 5, daughters Ada aged 10, Alice aged 3, and Emily aged 1. 

Frederick John was born on 26 May 1872 at 10 Coopers Terrace, Bird in Bush Road. No baptism has been found online.

After Frederick a further two children were born into the Osborn family, Arthur George in 1876, who was baptised 13 years after his birth on 14 Nov 1889 in Holy Trinity church, Gough Square, abode 59 Acorn Place; and lastly Sophia born in 1879. No baptism record has been found. 

I found eight children born to Thomas and Sophia. 

There were big changes for the family as Thomas retired from the Metropolitan Police Force ‘P’ division, in 1878 due to Rheumatism. He had served for 21 years which made him the ideal candidate for his next job as a Railway Policeman at Willow Walk Depot on the LB&SCR, Bricklayer Arms line, approximately 1.2miles from Bird in Bush Road where Frederick was born. 

Map of Willow Walk depot. 

The family cannot be found in the 1881 census. I have checked past and future addresses but no luck. From the addresses held they do not seem to have moved far so it is a mystery where they might be. By 1889 on Arthur’s late Baptism the family were back living at Acorn Place. Peckham, further along the road at number 59.

The 1890s

In 1891 the census shows Thomas, aged 66, is now a retired railway policeman, Sophia aged 51, Frederick aged 18, a shop assistant, Arthur aged 14, an Errand boy and Sophia aged 12. Their daughter Ada, now Purdue, aged 30, is a visitor, and sadly a young widow.   

On 22 July 1893 Thomas died aged 68. 

Frederick’s health declines 

On 21 May 1894 Frederick Osborne Church of England is admitted to Camberwell Workhouse in Havil Street. 

The register states he was born in 1873, a Labourer, alleged Insane. He is discharged on Monday 28 May 1894 to Barming Heath, Kent County Lunatic Asylum, Oakwood Psychiatric Hospital.

He is then recorded as Fredk Osborne when he was transferred on 22 Feb 1901 to Chartham Asylum Kent described as not improved. After a period of only 18 months on 7 August 1902 Fredk Osborne is again transferred, ‘not improved’ to the newly opened Horton Asylum. 

Frederick remained here until his untimely death on 25 July 1909. His death is registered as Frederick Osborn no ‘e’. formerly of 59 Acorn Place. Peckham. 

A tragic event had led to Frederick’s death, broncho-pneumonia produced by accidental burning. An inquest took place on 27 July. The coroner was George Federick Roumieu for West Surrey. I am unable to find the minutes or any newspaper reports regarding the accident. 

Frederick was buried 30 July 1909 in grave no 467b

Without any medical notes it’s not known what caused the decline in Frederick’s health. Was the attack stimulated by his father’s death? On the Poor law records that I found in the next to last column ‘duration of existing attack’ the answer looks like Birth. Was Frederick born with an Intellectual disability? It also states no profession but he was a shop assistant in 1891 and a labourer on admission to the workhouse. Was his disability mild and allowed him to take on simple jobs? Again, I could assume that it was the death of his father that caused him to become unmanageable for his mother Sophia. 


An interesting newspaper article was found relating to Sophia in a sad case of her neighbour who was an alcoholic.

South London Observer dated 4 May 1878


Mr Carter held an inquest at the Dapple Grey, Peckham on the body of Harriett Sims aged 36, whose death we reported last week, Henry Day was foreman. The widower, Mr. Joseph Sims, deposed that he carried on the business of a greengrocer and coal factor in Ledbury-road, Peckham. Deceased was a habitual drunkard. ‘On Thursday when he came in from work he found her asleep, so he left her, and on his return later on in the evening he found that she was lying on the floor quite dead. A Mrs Osborn helped to lift the corpse on to the bed, and Dr Smith, of Asylum road, was sent for, and on arriving said that life was extinct.

“By the Coroner: She smelt of drink, but I was so accustomed to that that I hardly noticed it. (Sensation) She has been addicted to it for the last seven years, “and she has always been much about the same as to getting drunk. I never catched her sober on a Saturday night as yet” Mrs Sophia Osborn: “I am the wife of a retired police-constable, Thomas Osborn. I knew deceased as a neighbour. I was called on Thursday night to the house, and I found her lying dead on her back on the floor. 

The Coroner; Did you know in any way as to what character the deceased bore? Witness: Yes, Sir; that of a reported drunkard.

 A small boy, who was not sworn, was next called, the Coroner deeming the administration of the oath undesirable. The following was taken in lieu thereof. Small boy: I’m nine and a half. I go to school. My mother that’s dead was lying on the kitchen floor. I can say a prayer—(bursting into tears.) 

 Mr. Carter: Well, my little man, what prayer do you know? Don’t be frightened. 

Small boy : “ Chart in Evven.” 

Coroner : “ Our Father, which art in Heaven?” Don’t you know any other prayer?

Small boy : No. Annie fetched the gin. She used to go fetching it for mother all day. Six times a day, and a quartern each time, and—- 

The Coroner : You mean half a quartern 

 Small boy : No I doesn’t, Sir! A quartern each time, and mother drank ’em all. I saw her drink em. She didn’t drink gin with water in it or anything in it at all.

The jury found a verdict to the effect that deceased died in consequence of her habitually intemperate habits, which eventually produced syncope.

The 1901 census shows Sophia along with her children Ada and Arthur have moved to 69 Acorn Place or the houses may have been renumbered. 

Sophia died in 1907 and thankfully before Frederick’s terrible death. 

Frederick’s father Thomas. 

I found his retirement papers and it gives a good description of him including the fact that he had a bullet wound on his left side. His obituary tells us about his history and where he was wounded. He was prior to joining the Police Force a military man who served in the Crimean War. He was wounded in the attack of Redan.

 The Great Russian Redan (Bastion #3) was one of the large Russian fortifications that ringed the city of Sebastopol. The Redan was the centre of the defences the British forces were attacking. It became a symbol of the attempt to capture the city and eventually a symbol of its fall. The British made two unsuccessful attacks on the Redan. It was eventually abandoned by the Russians.

After leaving the army Thomas chose another career in public service.

The Register of Joiners for the Metropolitan Police Force shows Thomas signed up at Carter Street Police Station on 23 December 1856. He was Police Constable P203. The P denoted the division he was attached to. The city was divided into areas  known as divisions for Policing purposes. P was Camberwell division.

Newspaper articles from 1867 show he was commended for the capture of a prisoner who later went to trial at the Old Bailey.

The transcript from the Sunday Gazette dated 7 July 1867

LAMBETH James Downham was charged with a burglary in the residence of Mr. Harvey Lazenby at Dulwich Common, and stealing a quantity of jewellery and bank-notes. About five o’clock on Saturday morning police constable Osborne, P 203, saw the prisoner in a field near Peckham Rye with a bundle under his arm. He told him he should take him into custody for the unlawful possession of the articles in the bundle. The prisoner resisted, and they both struggled together for some time. The prisoner said “Act like a man, and we will square it; no soul shall know anything about it.” He found a quantity of silver spoons in the bundle, a silver and gold watch, and six £5 Bank of England notes. After a desperate struggle another constable came up, and the prisoner was secured and lodged in the station. The property was worth £120. A remand was granted to produce evidence as to the antecedents of the prisoner. The conduct of police constable Osborne was commended for the capture of the prisoner, who it was stated had been previously sentenced to eighteen months for a burglary.

He served for 21 years until ill health forced him to resign.

Below is a transcription of his obituary which appeared in the South London Observer dated 2 August 1893.

FUNERAL OF AN OLD PUBLIC SERVANT, The funeral of the late Mr. Thomas Osborn, of 59, Acorn Place, took place at Forest Hill Cemetery on Saturday week, and was attended by a large number of relations and friends, amongst whom were several of his old comrades of the Police, and also several members of the Railway Mission, St. James’s-road, some being in uniform. The children of the Band of Hope which is attached to the above Mission were also present, and after the service formed round the grave and sang the deceased’s favourite hymn, “ What a friend we have in Jesus ” and “ Christians Good Night,” afterwards throwing bunches of flowers into the grave. The deceased was born in 1827 and in 1845 joined the 55th Regiment, served during the Crimean war, and was wounded in the attack on the Redan. He afterwards purchased his discharge. He then joined the Metropolitan police, and was sent to Peckham. where he did good service. He was an energetic worker at the Peckham Park-road Baptist Chapel for over 20 years and took a great interest in the Railway Mission, St. James’-road. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs. May, of Peckham.


  • In 1882 Frederick’s eldest sister Ada had married William Samuel Purdue who sadly died in 1884. Their only child Alice Edith was born and died in 1883. Poor Ada never remarried. She lived a long life and her death is recorded in North Surrey in 1954 aged 94. 
  • Albert Thomas became a Metropolitan Policeman like his father and served in T division (T 660) for 27 years until 1917. He married and had a family and his death is recorded in Brentford in 1934.
  • Emily had a daughter in 1890 before she married in 1893. 
  • Arthur married and his death is recorded in 1935 in Peckham Rye.
  • Sophia married and had a family her possible death may be in 1966 in Richmond.
  • Alice may have married Edward Wraight and died in 1924.
  • There are positive finds for William. 

Final thoughts

Frustratingly, there is a good amount about Frederick’s family but very little about him. Case notes for Barming Heath (Oakwood) and Chartham could be held at Kent Archives and until such time as I am able to check them the full extent of his mental health issues are unknown. What is clear is that he came from a family where public service was important and his decline must have been felt keenly by his mother who had only been widowed a year before Frederick’s admission into the care system. His father’s death may have been pivotal in this. He must have been fairly strong to have survived in asylums for 15 years and if he hadn’t had an accident, who knows how many more years he would have lived.

Thank you to Linda Miles-Cartwright for her research into Thomas’s Army and Police records.

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