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Mary Rawes

Patients’ lives and activities while in institutional care can also reveal interesting stories. One such example is Mary Rawes.  Originally from Marnhull in Dorset, Mary was admitted to The Retreat in York in August 1808 at the age of 23. Her story can be reconstructed from the various casebook entries relating to her confinement in The Retreat Archive (see especially RET/6/5/1/1A/129 and RET/6/5/11/2/200), and personal letters (see especially RET/1/5/1/37/11/11), as well as birth and death records and William Hargrove’s 1818 work, ‘History and Description of the Ancient City of York’.

Handwritten notes in ink faded to brown on paper. The document is part of a larger volume and details the admission of Mary Rawes to The Retreat.

Mary Rawes was born in Dorset on 1 August 1785 to Quaker parents William and Eleanor. Mary had been receiving institutional mental health care since the age of 22, originally in Bristol and then in London, where she was diagnosed with mania blended with hysteria. Treated unsuccessfully with cold baths, she is described as ‘in high spirits’ and ‘vociferous’ but also ‘harmless’ and ‘good-natured’. She was admitted into the care of The Retreat on 27 August 1808.

It was there that Mary wrote a poem entitled ‘Address to Melancholy’, which provides a compelling insight into her condition and also her desire for expression.  Although it is undated, it would appear to have been written while Mary was a young woman, most likely in 1808, and it was published by Hargrove in 1818 (History of York, pp. 545-547).  She is reported to have written the poem in a few minutes, immediately after her wish to be temporarily released from her straightjacket was granted.

Handwritten poem in black ink on a paper background, written by patient Mary Rawes whilst she was at The Retreat. 
Transcript of the poem in full

Before the turn of the new year her condition had evidently improved considerably and she entered a three-month trial which saw her discharged from The Retreat on 16 March 1809.

Sadly, in December 1833, Jonathan Flounders of the York Quaker Meeting found it necessary to approach The Retreat to enquire whether it would be possible to readmit Mary as she had been confined within York Asylum the week previously, seemingly at a risk of harm.  She was duly readmitted and it appears she remained there until her death from ‘Pulmonary Consumption’ on 2 July 1837, at the age of 52.