A suicide attempt – and admission to Camberwell Workhouse
The first time we meet our subject Caroline Ward in official records is on the 8th of February 1910 when she was admitted to the Constance Road Workhouse in Camberwell, having been transferred there from the infirmary.
The entry in the admissions register is brutal and chilling in its brevity: “Attempted suicide. Mental.” Annie Ballard, an attendant at the workhouse, reported that the patient was “constantly talking to herself to imaginary people”.
Admission to the Manor
Caroline remained in the workhouse until the 19th of February when she was transferred to the Manor Asylum. On her admission to the Manor the medical superintendent wrote a summary of her condition: “She talks utter nonsense and rambles on in disconnected sentences from one subject to another. Her mind wanders too much to answer questions satisfactorily. She has attempted suicide. Very violent at times.”
A further report on her mental state reads as follows: “Very noisy, restless, troublesome and unable to give a sensible account of herself; talks in an incoherent manner to herself, looks about her as if she had hallucinations of sight. Her memory is very deficient, cannot tell how long she has been here.”
Disturbingly, the report ends “She tried to cut her throat” (before admission to the infirmary).
Caroline’s mental state
Caroline was diagnosed with ‘confusional insanity’ and treated with the sedative paraldehyde. During the two months she spent at the Manor her condition did not improve. The following comments are typical of the observations made by her doctors:
“…noisy, restless and unsettled. Unable to do anything for herself. Requires to be washed and dressed.”
“Talks incoherently to herself. Does not seem to have any idea of time or place.”
“Cannot attend to herself. Feeble health.”
“She has been extremely excited recently, rushing about the dormitory.”
“She is very dull and morose this morning and will not answer when spoken to.”
“Very noisy, excited, shouting loudly. Wet, v. dirty. Poor health.”
On the 21st of April the report reads: “…has been in bed for the last fortnight with a slight chill. Poor health. Is still on a suicidal card” (considered a suicide risk). However, by the following day, her condition had clearly deteriorated: “Is no longer considered to be acutely suicidal, the caution card was today removed.”
On the morning of the 23rd of April Caroline had a syncopal attack (when blood pressure is too low and the heart does not pump enough blood to the brain) and died “in a few minutes”. Her official cause of death was given as (i) valvular disease of the heart and (ii) syncope.
Caroline was buried in grave 739b in Horton Cemetery on the 28th of April 1910.
Who was Caroline?
Other than that she was 35 years old at the time of her admission to the Manor, unmarried and working as a domestic servant we know very little about Caroline. Her case notes simply say “No history available” and the Manor Visitors’ Book, so often a valuable source of information about a patient’s family, reads “Relatives unknown”.
Caroline’s Only Visitor
Caroline’s only visitor during her time at the Manor was her ‘mistress’, Mrs Cunnison, of 106, Croxted Road, Dulwich, Camberwell. Research has revealed that Bellamina Cunnison (née Fraser) was the wife of James Cunnison, an advertisement manager.
In the 1901 Census the couple were living in Croxted Road with their seven daughters and one domestic servant, 30 year-old Louisa Keeling. This would imply that Caroline was employed by the family sometime after 1901 but we do not know exactly when. It may be assumed that Mrs Cunnison, as Caroline’s employer, was responsible for her admission to the Constance Road infirmary. It has not been possible to find the Cunnisons, who came from Scotland, in the 1891 Census.
According to the General Register Office, sixteen girls called Caroline Ward were born in the UK between 1874 and 1876. Unfortunately, as we do not know where Caroline was born or the names of her relatives, it has not been possible to determine which of the sixteen was our subject. It is tragic that all we know for certain about Caroline’s life are the two months she spent, mentally disturbed and suicidal, in the Manor Asylum.