Hannah Hopkins fully acknowledged she had bouts of insanity. The implications to her parents Robert and Susannah Hopkins were all too real. Nonetheless, exactly how her insanity manifested itself is hard to discern. What is more apparent is how her parents supported their daughter through her trials.
Taking a step back, in Victorian times mental patients were typically labelled with mania, dementia, melancholy or moral insanity — terms that do not cross-reference well with today’s psychiatric diagnoses. In addition, asylum admission requirements sometimes looked more like the institutionalization of social misfits or problematic family members.
In the end, Hannah remained at Banstead Lunatic Asylum outside of London for at least her last 15 years, dying there and likely buried in Banstead Asylum’s unmarked pauper graves. Banstead Asylum was known for accommodating the incurably insane, so once Hannah entered it would become her final home.
However, long before Hannah arrived at Banstead her parents actively helped her, seeming to minimize the damage caused by her actions to her and/or her two children.
Born in 1834 Shadwell, England, by sixteen Hannah got pregnant out-of-wedlock. Her parents baptized her child Robert William Hopkins when he was about a year and a half old, less than one month before they immigrated to the United States.
Robert and Susannah may have determined posing as their grandson’s parents (even though they were close to 50 years old) as their best way to help Hannah. A single woman with a child in Victorian England had very poor prospects. Research suggests this method would not have been unusual — “A better-concealed “love child” might be one that is passed off as the youngest child in a large family…It was not unknown for granny to tie a bit of padding around her middle while keeping her eldest daughter out of sight for a few months.” However, just as effectively, moving far away provided the distance needed to reset the family story.
The Hopkins family arrived in the United States in Aug 1854 sailing on the Richard Cobden. Robert and Susannah, along with their children Mary Ann, John, Hannah and Susannah, and Hannah’s son (Robert) William made up the Hopkins family party. Only Robert and Susannah’s eldest son William was not traveling with them as he was in the Royal Navy.
The Hopkins family settled in Peninsula, Grand Traverse County, Michigan around 1855 (today’s Old Mission Peninsula). They were very early settlers, before the massive forests were logged, when the road to Traverse City was no more than an Indian trail, when the Peninsula was almost complete wilderness with just two general stores miles from the Hopkins land. How Hannah faired in such a remote, tough environment is unknown, but one can assume like any family member she was required to work long and hard.
The best description we have of the Hopkins homestead comes from Hannah’s Uncle William Holdsworth when he and his family arrived from England in 1858. In his memoire A Long and Busy Life he notes, “My sister and her husband were glad to see us, but as their house was very small they would do the best to make us comfortable. We got our bedding ashore and after supper fixed up for the night, it was an awful cold one. In the morning we found ice half an inch thick in the room. Thought we had got to a cold country.”
In the 1860 U.S. Census Hannah and her son William were living with her parents in Peninsula. The census also shows that Hannah’s older brother William owned an adjacent property (although he also lived in Titusville during the Pennsylvania Oil Boom over this timeframe). Hannah’s younger sister Susan and her out-of-wedlock son Thomas were also living with Robert and Susannah. Sadly, Hannah’s older sister Mary Ann was not on the census as she had died of epilepsy the previous winter.
Later in 1860 Robert Hopkins sold 40 acres of his land to another immigrant, Louis Clement, a widower from Canada. When Clement returned from the Civil War in late 1864 he marries Hannah against the consent of Hannah’s mother.
During divorce court depositions less than two years later Hannah’s mother is clear as to her daughter’s situation, “Louis Clement was acquainted with her for many years before they were married. The defendant has been subject to intervals of lunacy for some time years past. This I told Mr. Clement this fact before they were married and also told him that she was not fit for a wife and that he should never have her with my consent. I told him so more than once or twice but he replied that he would have her for a wife and that she would get well if she was married.“
Though Louis Clement was given fair warning he claims during their divorce proceedings that Hannah was an adulteress and the child she gave birth to in 1867, Luzia Mary Clement, could not be his. Still, they both agreed that they had intercourse for the first time in many months on 21 August 1866 slipping into the woods during their walk toward the Hopkins’ cabin. Hannah gave birth 28 weeks after this encounter.
Robert and Susannah’s depositions state that they never let Hannah out of their sight so she could not be an adulteress. Nevertheless, University of Pennsylvania, School of Nursing states the situation succinctly, “At the turn of the twentieth century, a baby born prematurely (before thirty-eight to forty weeks gestation) had dismal prospects for survival.” Though the court determined Louis Clement would be responsible for the cost of Hannah’s defense lawyer, the court did not make him pay child support (nor did the Hopkins request this).
Additionally, during Hannah’s short marriage, her father requests the Grand Traverse County Probate Court to make him her illegitimate son William’s guardian. In his statement Robert provides insights into Hannah and her son’s story back in England. As a result, Robert is made guardian of his grandson by the court. Nevertheless, in less than two years Robert requests the court to void his guardianship due to his grandson leaving Robert’s home and marrying without his consent.
In mid-1870 Robert Hopkins moved his family from Peninsula to Traverse City (his property was located at the corner of Webster St and Boardman Ave, today across the street from the Grand Traverse County Court House). Hannah was now 36 years old and had almost continuously lived with her parents, minus the year or so she lived with Louis Clement. Sadly, Hannah’s mother dies four years later leaving Hannah, her daughter and Robert living together.
Around the Boardman River, Traverse City was industrial and rough-cut during the 1870s when the Hopkins lived on Boardman Ave
Within a few years after Susannah’s death Robert moves back to England. Hopkins family stories suggest Robert wanted to have psychiatric care for Hannah, which was available in Victorian England but not in northern Michigan. In fact, it would be almost 15 years before the Northern Michigan Asylum opened.
Once back in England Robert remarries in 1882, and by 1884 Hannah is admitted to Banstead. Robert writes his son William and daughter Susan both still living in Grand Traverse county in May 1884, “…Your sister Anna and her daughter is well in health but Hannah will never be fit to come out of the Asylum.”
Robert’s death in 1888 in the Hackney Union Workhouse Infirmary leaves Hannah’s daughter Luzia Mary Clements without family support as she had been living with Robert prior to this. Mary continues to be admitted and discharged from the Hackney Workhouse for many years following Robert’s death, but then she disappears from records. Six years after Robert’s death, Hannah dies at Banstead.
Exactly what was Hannah’s psychosis is not clear. Moral insanity (a real diagnosis in Victorian times) or something else?? What does jump-out is what Hannah’s story tells about her parents steadfast support. They baptized her son as their own. One of the possible reasons they immigrated to the U.S. was to provide Hannah a fresh start. They tried to do what was best for Hannah in not consenting to her marriage, and advocated for her in her divorce. They became legal guardian of her illegitimate son. Robert immigrated back to England so Hannah could get sufficient care. And, Robert took in Hannah’s daughter until his death.
Robert and Susannah fought for their daughter and her children through-out their lives. They demonstrated what it meant to them to be a family, to be parents. Self-sufficiency was really “family self-sufficiency”. In Victorian times, plenty of children were orphaned or left to fend for themselves. Plenty of children deemed problematic were pushed aside and forgotten. Robert and Susannah did neither. They helped Hannah irrespective of her troubles. Hannah’s story is really as much a story of durable parental love as it is of her and her sometimes insanity.
- Mania, dementia and melancholia in the 1870s: admissions to a Cornwall asylum, Simon A. Hill and Richard Laughnarne, JRSM (Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 2003, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC539549/
- Lost Hospitals of London, https://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/banstead.html
- Banstead Hospital, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banstead_Hospital
- Exploring Surrey’s Past, https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/subjects/mental_hospital_records/
- St. George in the East Church, http://www.stgitehistory.org.uk/history.html
- Illegitimate Children and Missing Fathers: Working Around Illegitimacy, Donna Przecha, https://www.genealogy.com/articles/research/52_donna.html
- The Story of a Long and Busy Life, William Holdsworth, before his death in 1907
- U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules, 1850-1885, https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=8756&h=190827&ssrc=pt&tid=54200939&pid=26660394737&usePUB=true
- Care of Premature Infants, Elizabeth A. Reedy, Penn Nursing, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, https://www.nursing.upenn.edu/nhhc/nurses-institutions-caring/care-of-premature-infants/
- Probate Files, 1853-1901; Author: Michigan. Probate Court (Grand Traverse County); Probate Place: Grand Traverse, Michigan
- 1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.
- Hopkins History (family stories passed down for generations), Bonnie Bort and Arlys Leach, 1970s
- Commissioners in Lunacy, 1845–1913. Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, Series MH 94. The National Archives, Kew, England.
- Scott-Hopkins Family Tree, Ancestry.com, see following records: Robert Hopkins, Susannah Holdsworth, Anna Marie “Hannah” Hopkins, Luzia Mary Clement, Robert William Hopkins
@copyright Elizabeth Scott Wright 2019