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.