Saturday, 10 November 2007

Edward Fitz-Henry and the Royal National Hospital on the Isle of Wight

In my last post, I described my great-grandfather's parents and 8 siblings all living together in a couple of rooms in Katharine Buildings. One of his younger brothers, Edward (born 1878) turned up obligingly on the 1881 and 1891 census living with the family, but then disappeared. It wasn't until I was geekily cross-referencing my Fitz-Henry index births and deaths that I realised that I had an Edward of the same age who died in the Isle of Wight in 1899. Perhaps he was in the Navy, as several of the Fitz-Henry men went on to do in WW1 and WW2, and died when on ship.

I sent off for the death certificate, and the truth was very different. Edward had been sent to the Royal National Hospital for Diseases of the Chest in Ventnor for the treatment of his tuberculosis. He had died there in October 1899. The certifying doctor (Dr. Foster) noted that he had had the disease for 3 years.

This led to a trip to the IOW to the Newport Records Office last week. What a fantastic place - one of the smallest records offices that I've been to and looking very 1950s, but crammed with lots of old reference books, card indexes and with really helpful staff. Unfortunately when the hospital was closed in 1964 only a small fraction of the records were saved for posterity. Edward's were not amongst them. However, minutes of the various hospital committees showed what the conditions were like there at the time.

The aim of the hospital was to cure the patients of TB - terminally ill patients were not admitted. The patient was referred to a selected group of physicians on mainland England. If, after examining the patient, they agreed that the disease was curable they were admitted to the hospital. The treatments were more based on good sea air and nutritious food as there were no effective antibiotics at that time. Each patient had to pay 10 shillings a week for their upkeep - this was twice what my g-g-grandfather was earning. However, the money brought in by the patients' fees was a small fraction of the cost of running the place and the Hospital relied heavily on charitable donations. The bills for food and coal were enormous (four boilermen were employed to keep the furnaces stoked all day every day, and during the winter they burnt several tons of coal a day).The patients were diligently weighed twice a week to make sure they were putting on weight. Many were discharged with "Cured" triumphantly written at the foot of their notes.

I was also thwarted in finding any records of where Edward may have been buried - again the staff of the Newport crematorium who administer the records for the old Ventnor cemetery were very helpful, but we found no trace of him.

So I left the Island with more questions than I had answered
1. Who referred Edward to the Hospital?
2. More importantly, who paid for his hospital fees?
3. Where is he buried, and is it possible that the family had him brought back to London for the burial?
4. What happened to Dr. Foster? In the minutes of the Hospital House Committee it is recorded that he left suddenly in January 1900 for unnamed reasons without serving a term of notice and was therefore not paid!
Answers to any of these questions gratefully received!

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