In the first part of this article, I looked at how the infamous institution, Broadmoor, came into being and the sort of asylum that it was when Christiana arrived there in July 1872. (If you missed it, you can read it here). In this post, I'm looking at life for Christiana once she was admitted and as under the care of Dr William Orange, Broadmoor's resident superintendent.
All of our knowledge of Christiana's time in Broadmoor comes from her medical file, a document filled out by Dr Orange and based entirely on his observations. As you can imagine, her file makes for interesting reading, not just because of its contents but because it is one of the few impressions of Christiana that remains in existence.
According to Dr Orange, Christiana confirmed her diagnosis of insanity in the first few weeks of her arrival at Broadmoor. Though she was a "quiet and orderly" in her behaviour, she showed no remorse for the crimes that she had committed nor did she offer any explanation of her motives. When her mother, Ann, made her first visit to Broadmoor, she was shocked by her daughter's lack of expression. Ann also said that Christiana never expressed any sorrow for the "trouble" she caused her family.
By July 1872, Christiana had only one remaining sibling: her younger sister, Mary who, in these early years, wrote to and visited with Christiana on a regular basis. None of their letters have survived but, according to Christiana's notes, were almost all about make-up and clothing. Specifically, about how to smuggle in contraband ("articles of wearing apparel") and how to apply paint to the face. Christiana’s smuggling attempts became an increasing source of frustration for Broadmoor’s matron, Mrs Jackson. In June 1874, for example, Mary sent a leather cushion to her sister but Mrs Jackson refused to hand it over. In a letter to Dr Orange, she stated that the cushion was "not really sent in to amuse or please" but was, in fact, "a deceptive manner of conveying false hair." Jackson went on to say "she has already great quantities which have been obtained by deception." Ironically, Broadmoor would have allowed Christiana to have the false hair, had she gone through the proper channels. By smuggling it in, it reflected a much more serious problem: that Christiana was driven by a need to be deceitful.
Over the course of 1874 and 1875, Christiana also turned her attentions from Dr Beard to Reverend Henry Cole, the chaplain of Lewes Prison (where she had been incarcerated before and after her trial). In July 1874, for instance, it was discovered that Christiana had sent letters to Cole through her sister and, given her efforts to conceal the letters from Broadmoor staff, it is likely that they contained amorous and personal references.
In her file, Dr Orange commented that he would have "no objection" to Christiana writing to the chaplain but, once again, it was in "conformity with her state of mind to prefer mystery and concealment."
After this, Christiana's behaviour deteriorated: she continued to smuggle in contraband, complained (to anybody who would listen) about her treatment by the staff and delighted in "tormenting" other patients. In July 1876, she was punished with a move to another ward. While she remained "excessively vain" and "frivolous," her behaviour improved significantly and she appears to have (finally) settled into life at Broadmoor.
When Dr Orange retired from Broadmoor in 1886, he was replaced by Dr David Nicholson who found Christiana to be "cheerful and pleasant" in her conversation but "very vain." He wrote in her file that she "courts and desires attention and notoriety" and "pushes herself forward on all occasions." Clearly, Christiana wasn't about to let her age of 58 slow her down.
After Dr Nicholson's retirement in 1895, however, Christiana entered a period of ill-health. According to the notes made by the new superintendent, the aptly-named Dr Brayn, Christiana suffered two serious bouts of influenza as well as catarrh and constipation. By 1906, she was unable to walk without assistance and suffered bouts of neuralgia too. Despite the problems, her vanity was "unabated" and she continued to worry about her personal appearance. While in the infirmary one afternoon, for instance, Dr Brayn overheard the following conversation between Christiana and a fellow patient:
Christiana: How am I looking?
Patient: Fairly well.
Christiana: I think I am improving, I hope I shall be better in a fortnight, if so, I shall astonish them; I shall get up and dance! I was a Venus before and I shall be a Venus again!
But Christiana would not get up and dance again. Over the next year, she weakened considerably and, on the morning of 19 September 1907, she died of "senile debility," a Victorian term for old age. The death of the notorious Chocolate Cream Killer was widely reported in national press and the details of her crimes were retold to a new generation. You can find more about Christiana's time in Broadmoor and her cultural impact in my new book, The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer, available now.
On this day - 5 July - in 1872, Christiana Edmunds was transferred from the Sussex Country Prison to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in Berkshire. Built in 1863, Broadmoor was England's answer to the long-standing question of where to house the criminally insane. Previously, the provision for such people was haphazard and generally inadequate, with many criminal lunatics housed in ordinary asylums or prisons. By 1860, it was felt that such provision was undesirable, as stated by a Select Committee of the House of Commons:
To mix such persons, that is criminal lunatics, with other patients is a serious evil; it is detrimental to the other patients as well as to themselves.
In the same year, the government passed the Criminal Lunatic Asylum Act which authorised the creation of Broadmoor and gave the Home Secretary control over its management and the admission of patients. Construction began shortly after and, three years later, on 23 May 1863, Broadmoor welcomed its first patients: a group of women transferred from the notorious Bethlem Hospital (or Bedlam). Nine months later, these women were joined by the first intake of male patients, and by the end of 1864, the population of Broadmoor had risen to 200 men and 100 women.
As you can see from above, Broadmoor was a visually striking building. Writing in 1865, a spectator remarked on its "lofty and handsome buildings," claiming that a "warmer and more comfortable-looking structure had never been erected in a more wild, though beautiful, situation." The patients of Broadmoor certainly had a lot of space to roam: the asylum was set amongst acres of pine trees in Windsor Forest. This wasn't just about keeping lunatics away from the rest of the population but providing them with plenty of fresh air and space. According to the proponents of "moral therapy," a popular treatment model at this time, fresh air and exercise were instrumental in keeping patients calm and aiding their recovery.
The first man in charge of caring for these patients was Dr John Meyer, the former supervisor to the Convict Lunatic Asylum in Tasmania and once-resident physician of the Surrey County Asylum. Meyer was thus well-experienced in dealing with the insane but it was, perhaps, his military experience during the Crimean War (in which he managed a field hospital) which informed his style of management. Meyer, for example, advocated the use of cages and periods of solitary confinement which contravened the principles of moral therapy but which, Meyer believed, were instrumental in maintaining order at Broadmoor.
Meyer's superintendency of Broadmoor lasted only seven years. When he died in 1870, he was replaced by his deputy, Dr William Orange. Orange was very different from his predecessor: he was an ardent supporter of moral therapy and one of his first actions as superintendent was to remove the cages and restraints, ushering in a more peaceful and caring atmosphere at Broadmoor.
Dr Orange met Christiana before her arrival at Broadmoor when he was appointed by the Home Secretary to ascertain her state of mind, alongside the eminent physician, Sir William Gull. During a lengthy interview, the men agreed that Christiana was of "unsound mind" and their decision saved her from the gallows, though it made her a "pleasure patient" at Broadmoor (a person detained at her Majesty's pleasure).
According to Dr Orange, Christiana arrived at Broadmoor wearing a "large amount of false hair," false teeth and had painted her cheeks with rouge. She was the self-styled 'Venus of Broadmoor' and her sensational and widely-reported case made her one of the institution's first celebrity patients. It wasn't just the shocking nature of her crimes nor her looks which made her stand out: the vast majority of Broadmoor's female patients were drawn from the working classes and a high number of these were confined for the crime of infanticide. In fact, between 1863 and 1902, 286 women were sentenced to a stay in Broadmoor for this reason. Christiana, in contrast, was a woman of considerable means who had killed a child that she had never met, let alone a child that she had birthed and raised.
Find out exactly how Christiana fared in Broadmoor in the next part of this article.