Decline of Williams Health
We’ve always known that William H. Hill died in the Seaview Lunatic Asylum in 1921. Recently, we were lucky enough to find the documents and medical records that showed how William had actually became severely mentally ill in the years following the accident.
On 6th October 1903, Newspaper clippings show that Mary Jane went to court to plead for a judicial separation from William on the grounds of cruelty and threat of personal violence. This was opposed by William. Apparently, they had a happy marriage and family life until about 9 months previously when William developed a jealous mania. He had got the money to buy a revolver and slept with it under his pillow. He made horrible accusations about her. No direct acts of personal violence but he had terrorised the family by nailing shut the doors and windows so they could not leave and keeping the children home from school to watch her actions. He became so violent in language and behavior that on occasion the family had to flee to the neighbours for protection. 8 witnesses were called. William had complained of severe pains in the head over the past few months and case was adjourned as he consented to further medical testing and evaluation.
On the 10th of November 1903 the papers reported that the matter had been amicably arranged and the case was therefore struck out. Remember at this time that Mary Jane was 5 months pregnant with the twins Charles and Isabella.
Following the Brunner Mine Disaster in March 1896 and until Williams first entry into Seaview the couple had a further 9 children including a set of twins. One of the twins Charles died aged 2 weeks and an inquest was held, possibly because of concerns for Williams mental well-being and it’s likely there was suspicion around the baby’s cause of death.…there was a coroner, a detective and 6 jurors present…the verdict being the baby had in fact died of natural causes…and on top of this, he would have received word that his mother Mary Jane had died in Durham in June of 1906.
December 1906, William is first admitted to Seaview Mental Hospital. Stayed 5 months and discharged in April 1907 just 3 weeks before his last child Florence was born. The admission was for delusions caused by jealousy with an attack period leading up to admission of 6 months but that this was the 3rd instance in 3 years of such attacks. He was 46 years old and the records show in good health.
First admission summary: Some of the notes written in his case file
- Talks freely of his wife’s supposed infidelity. Says the whole village is against him and they watch the house at night.
- Wishes to go to Seaview to avoid killing his persecutors. Has procured a revolver to defend himself.
- Cannot get sleep at night for men coming after his wife. That Dr Cran (Mine doctor) is the father of two of his children and the Mr Russell (Mayor) is the father of two others. And that Constable Glass is watching the house…
- Night terrors thinks he will be killed by staff. Stands at his door hammering and asking to be let out.
- Patient is a powerful build, well nourished and of florid complexion.
- Nothing unusual about condition of the skin.
- Managed to get out after midnight and made for the town but was soon recaptured and so have calmed him.
Note: Is medicated with Potassium Bromide. Now used by vets as anti-epileptic medication in dogs. Used as an anti-convulsant and sedative in the late 1800’s to mid-1900’s. Potassium bromide can aggravate pre-existing mental conditions. May cause a bromoderma, a skin rash. can aggravate pre-existing mental conditions. Systemic effects of bromide ion are chiefly mental: drowsiness, irritability, confusion, sensory disturbances, mania and hallucinations.
He lasted back with his family only 5 months before his second admission to Seaview on 27th December 1907. I can only imagine what that particular Christmas must have been like for his family. However, does this date sound familiar? It’s was also his and Mary Jane’s 23rd wedding anniversary.
Second hospital Admission
This time he is again suffering from delusions but the cause of his insanity is drink. From 1908 to 1914 – the following was recorded in his notes…
- Imagines his wife is carrying on with other miners. Anyone coming to his house is suspected of immoral purposes and is threatened with shooting.
- Speaks rationally on any other subject other than that concerning his wife.
- Becomes very excited when talking, his facial muscles twitching violently.
- He is of powerful build and in excellent physical health – has not so far been violent.
- Although excited and abusive, is never violent.
- Although powerful, formidable and threatening, he has never been reported as being violent.
- Will do no work – as deluded as ever.
- Says that he is chloroformed at night by a man called Bob Murray (there being no such patient in the place).
- The very last entry…has required no medical treatment during the year. Very deluded.
The last entry on Williams file was New Year’s Eve 1914 – seven years before he died. It appears he was never assessed again, and he was never released from Seaview. He died of Diabetes and Heart Failure on 24 March 1921 a year after Mary Jane and after being institutionalised for 14 years. His death came at the same time a massive public inquiry was being launched into unsanitary conditions and ill treatment of patients at the hospital.
He is now buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery just behind the old Seaview Mental Hospital in Hokitika. Nearby lie his sons Robert and Newearest. There are plans afoot to mark the graves with small plaques. You donations would be greatly received!