Ann Walker Lunacy Commission

⚠️ This research has been updated. Please see the latest version.

Marlene Oliveira, Jude Dobson, Lívia LabateLast updated on 4 January, 2020
This case represents active research and the facts and details included have been and will continue to be updated as new information is uncovered. Refer to the Twitter threads at the bottom for a summary of what was known at specific points in time.

Case summary

After a turbulent few months in which she was surrounded by legal trouble, Ann Walker was removed from Shibden Hall on the 9th of September 1843. The plan to remove her was concocted with the help of Dr. Henry Stephen Belcombe, who had already treated her earlier.

The idea was to get a Mrs. Carr to the door at Shibden Hall and have her ask to speak with Ann. Then, if Carr got into the house, everything would be “easy”. If Ann didn’t invite her to come inside, the accompanying Constable should insist that it was necessary to do so. A coach would be ready at the private door to take Ann away.

On the 9th of September 1843, Robert Parker (Solicitor, Halifax) went to Shibden Hall with Captain Sutherland. Ann had already been removed from the premises. The Solicitor noted this in his memorandum.

Per the list of patients at a “House for the reception of insane persons” (asylum) licensed at Osbaldwick, Ann Was admitted on the 12th of September. Elizabeth Sutherland is listed as the person who sent Ann there. One of the medical certificates to have Ann admitted was signed on the day of her removal from Shibden Hall (9th of September). However, she wasn’t yet listed as having been found a “lunatic” by Inquisition.

Though Ann was effectively prevented from going about her business, she wasn’t already considered a lunatic. So, she still somewhat retained her rights until her state of mind was evaluated and it was determined that she was so. To start the process, Elizabeth Sutherland and Captain Sutherland had to send a petition to the Lord High Chancellor to request the “Commission in the nature of a Writ de Lunatico Inquirendo”. This “Writ de Lunatico Inquirendo” is directed to the sheriff directing him to inquire, by the testimony of good and lawful men, if the party charged is, in fact, a lunatic.

Ann Walker’s Commission and Inquisition of Lunacy was authorized on the 2nd of November 1843 and conducted on the 28th of the same month. Two Commissioners in Lunacy were appointed to go and assess Ann’s lunacy. Several “good and lawful men” made sworn statements to attest that Ann:

“is not sufficient for the government of herself her manors messuages lands tenements goods and chattels and that she is said Ann Walker hath been in the same state of [unsoundness] of mind from the fifteenth day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty one but how or by what means she the said Ann Walker so became of unsound mind the Jurors aforesaid known not unless by the visitation of God”

It isn’t explained why Ann is deemed to be of unsound mind from such a specific date onwards.

After Ann’s lunacy is ascertained, she wouldn’t be allowed to continue to manage her affairs.

Glossary of terms

Commission — The warrant or letters patent which all persons exercising jurisdiction, either ordinary or extraordinary, have to determine any cause or action, as the commission to the judges, special commissions of oyers and terminer, gaol delivery, &c.

Inquisition — Verdict of 12 men, impanelled by the sheriff (a petty jury) to inquire of damages in civil actions, where the defendant has suffered judgement by default, and the damages are required to be assessed: also of various other matters, where the court requires a particular fact certified, or requires the sheriff to do certain acts in furtherance of its judgement.

Petition — a request to do something.

Timeline of events

8 September 1843 - read transcript

Dr. Belcombe writes to Robert Parker (Solicitor, Halifax) detailing the plan to remove Ann from Shibden Hall.

9 September 1843 - read transcript

Robert Parker (Solicitor, Halifax) writes his memorandum of what he found when he went to Shibden Hall on this date. He mentions that Ann had already been removed from the house.

12 September 1843

Ann is admitted into a house in Osbaldwick that accepts people deemed of unsound mind.

30 September 1843

Ann’s name is included in a list of patients from the same House in Osbaldwick.

2 November 1843

The Commission to assess Ann’s soundness of mind is authorized.

28 November 1843read transcript

A Commission of Lunatico Inquirendo assesses Ann’s soundness of mind. It is established, with the Oath of several “good and lawful men” that Ann had been of unsound mind since the 15th of October of 1841.

Summary timeline

You can see the Twitter thread from @moliveiradev for further commentary: