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RETURN To an Order of the House for a Return of any written comment on, or reply to, the Report of Commissioners… British Columbia. Legislative Assembly 1895

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 58 Vict.       Correspondence, Re Royal Commission Lunatic Asylum. 659
To an Order of the House for a Return of any written comment on. or reply to, the
Report of the Commissioners who held the late investigation into the affairs of
the Provincial Asylum, by the late Superintendent of said Asylum.
Provincial Secretary.
Provincial Secretary's Office,
Victoria, 626th January, 1895.
New Westminster, B. C,
Hon. James Baker, 24th December, 189-1.
Provincial Secretary,
Victoria, B. C.
Sib,—I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of a copy of the report of the Commissioners appointed to enquire into certain matters in connection with the Provincial Lunatic
Asylum, together with a copy of the evidence taken by the said Commissioners.
I regret exceedingly that the conclusions arrived at by yourself, and the impressions left
upon the minds of the public from its purusal and publication, have been so greatly to my
detriment; yet, notwithstanding all that has been said, and all the erroneous and damaging
statements that have gone broadcast through the country, I have the satisfaction of knowing
that, so far as I am personally concerned, or so far as I have ordered and directed, everything
that has been done was for the benefit of the patients, and altogether in the interest of the
institution, without regard to any other consideration whatever.
I have no desire to in any way criticise the style of your Commissioner's report, for I feel
quite satisfied that both yourself and the public know quite well that things are not always
whiit they seem, and that first impressions and conclusions are often very much modified by
extended acquaintance and familiarity with surroundings and fixed and unaltered conditions.
With regard to cruelties alleged to have been perpetrated upon patients, I must respectfully submit that nothing of the kind has ever taken place by my order, in my presence, or
with my approval. That restraint has been resorted to, when considered necessary, is quite
true, but at all times for the benefit of the patient. It was always my desire, if possible, to
do without the use of mechanical appliances. Yet it is a fact that such appliances are
necessary, and must be used at certain times, and in certain emergencies, by the keepers when
consultation with the Medical Superintendent or other safeguards are impossible.
To assist me in forming a correct opinion as to the efficacy and general use of these
restraints, I some years ago wrote to several Superintendents of Asylums, asking their advice
and experience in this matter, and the following is an extract from the reply of Dr. E. T.
Wilkins, Resident Physician of the Napa State Asylum, California: —
" While I am greatly opposed to the use of mechanical restraint in the treatment of the
insane, I find it next to impossible to get along without it in exceptional cases, and do not
hesitate to use it when my judgment approves. Perhaps one per cent, of our patients are in
restraint of some kind every day. I perfer the muff, the wristlets and strap, or the camisole,
to confinement in dark rooms or seclusion of any kind."
When I first took charge of the Asylum I found all the implements spoken of in the
Commissioners' report in use, and from Dr. Wilkin's letter, as above, and other information, I
have every reason to believe that such " implements " are used in probably all the asylums in
the United States and Canada. 660 Correspondence, Re Royal Commission Lunatic Asylum. 1895
As I have before stated, such restraint or chastisement as was used or allowed by me was
of that kind which any humane man in charge of irresponsible men might, without fear of
being called cruel or unnecessarily harsh, administer to those under his charge for the purpose
of improving their condition, or preventing injury to themselves or others (either patients or
To suggest or think that these restraints were intended as vindictive punishment is
certainly incorrect, for had they been viewed in that light I should have heard of it before, as
every opportunity for making complaint to visitors, the Grand Jury, the attending clergymen
or myself was afforded. In this connection the Ven. Archdeacon of Columbia writes as
follows :—
"I hive acted as Chaplain to the Asylum for the Insane both before and since Dr.
Bentley became Medical Superintendent, and have visited the wards frequently by myself and
have talked to the patients privately, and have never heard one word of complaint from any
of them of any act of cruelty or unkindness. I may say that before leaving England I was
Chaplain to the Warwickshire County Asylum for several years."
With this agrees the testimony of the physician who was appointed with your sanction to
take the Medical Superintendency nearly a year ago, while I was absent on sick leave. This
certificate is as follows :—
"During Dr. Bentley's absence from the city, from the end of January to the end of
March, two months, I visited the Asylum for him. I saw the patients in the wards, and
conversed with them, but neither saw any restraint used nor heard any complaint made to
me by the patients, except that two or three inmates thought they were kept there wrongfully,
and wanted to be sent home at once.    Each of these cases was quite unfit to be at large."
The remarks of the Commissioners that " a good deal of labour has been expended upon
the Medical Superintendent's grounds, etc.," may be misconstrued by persons not acquainted
with the facts, and I wish to say that the grounds spoken of are Government grounds in
connection with the Asylum, and do not belong to the Medical Superintendent. The work
done on this part of the Asylum property by the patients not only afforded them healthy
exercise and pleasant outdoor employment, but enabled us to clean up that portion of the
reserve outside of the high board wall, so that the institution might present a respectable
appearance to the outside world, as well as being clean and comfortable inside (as I am glad
to know your Commissioners found it). They have apparantly overlooked the fact that the
effects of the work of years about the Asylum grounds was defaced by the operation of
enlarging the institution by the addition of wings, etc., which not only blotted out the good
results of years of careful and patient labour, but left the grounds immediately around the
main building in such a state that the cleaning of them up, and the work of draining and
excavating, have occupied much time.
As the unfortunates under my charge in the Asylum were not committed to that institution for a definite number of years, with hard labour, I feel quite satisfied that, considering
the state of the weather, every opportunity has been taken advantage of to keep them employed,
with a view, in the first place, to their own health and recovery, and secondly, to the public
interest, and that my endeavours to have them amused as well as so employed have been
successful. I have only to refer you to the citizens of New Westminster, the names of some
of whom you will find in the copies of the " Columbian " from which the following extracts
are taken :—
[1st December, 1893.]
"The concert at the Asylum Wednesday night was heartily enjoyed by the patients, of
whom 75 (56 males and 19 females) were permitted to attend.    Programme—       *       *       *
" Dr. Bentley is so pleased with the effect of the concert on the patients that he has
definitely decided to have a similar entertainment every alternate Wednesday during the
[14th December, 1893.]
"Asylum Patients' Entertainment.
"The concert at the Asylum last evening was most thoroughly enjoyed by 75 patients,
and a number of ladies and gentlemen present at the invitation of Dr. Bentley. The patients
applauded and encored in regular style, and were quite enthusiastic over several numbers.
Three of the patients assisted in the programme, which was as follows :—    *        *        * 58 Vict.       Correspondence, Re Royal Commission Lunatic Asylum. 661
" Dr. Bentley is greatly pleased with the effect of these concerts on the patients, who he
says talk of them for a week afterwards, freely criticise the performers, and look forward with
much interest to the next entertainment."
[28th December, 1893.]
" The concert at the Asylum last night was a very enjoyable affair, both for the patients
and visitors, the latter present at the invitation of the Medical Superintendent, Dr. Bentley.
The concert room has been tastefully decorated by the inmates, and presented a very pretty
appearance. About 75 male and female patients were permitted to attend, and everything
which caught their fancy was awarded with the heartiest applause. The following programme
was carried out:— * * * "
[11th January, 1894-]
" The entertainment at the Asylum last night was a large success, and thoroughly
enjoyed by the large audience of patients and visitors. Dr. Bentley presided, and the
programme was furnished by the Boys' Orchestra and the Blood, White & Hardman minstrels.
Mr. White was 'bones,' Mr. Hardman 'tauibo,' and Mr. Blood 'interlocutor.' Mr. Wolfenden
acted as accompaniest.     The following programme was rendered:— * *"
(The foregoing extracts only refer to season 1893-4. This form of amusement was begun
in 1891.)
I feel that had an investigation of this kind taken place years ago I would have been
relieved from many self-imposed responsibilities and trying situations while endeavouring to
conduct the affairs of the Asylum in the most economical and efficient manner possible, without embarrassing or compromising the Government in any way, and I am forced to the conclusion that after my long and faithful service, by the publication of, to say the least, an
injudicious report, I have been treated in a manner quite undeserved. However, the Government of British Columbia have the satisfaction of knowing that the Lunatic Asylum, in its
management, percentage of cures, sanitary conditions, pleasant and agreeable surroundings
and general adaptability and usefulness, will compare favourably with much older, more
abundantly endowed and liberally supplied institutions of a similar kind in the Dominion of
Canada, and I sincerely trust that its usefulness will not be impaired or its character
destroyed even if it is not in every particular like English institutions.
I regret that my being in entire ignorance of the " cruelties " alleged to have been committed prevents my dealing further with this, to me, painful and important subject, and in
conclusion would ask that the same publicity be given my reply as has been to your Commissioners' report, and to again assure you that no law, rule or regulation of the Government has
ever been set aside or disobeyed by me or by my order; neither has advice or instructions of
any of your Inspectors or other official visitors ever been ignored or rejected.
I have, etc.,
(Signed) R.  I.  Bentley,  M. B.
New Westminster, B. C, 1st January, 1895.
Sir, — In view of the recent investigation of the Asylum for the Insane and the report
made thereon by your Commissioners, I have the honour to say that, although I have always
done my best to carry out my duties efficiently and cannot consider myself in any way to
blame, for reasons more fully set out in ray answer to your Commissioners' report forwarded
to you on the 24th day of December, I nevertheless consider it best to tender my resignation
as Medical Superintendent and trust that you will see fit to accept it.
I have, etc.,
(Signed)        R. I, Bentley,
The Hon. James Baker,
Provincial Secretary, Victoria. 662 Correspondence, Re Royal Commission Lunatic Asylum. 1895
Provincial Secretary's Office,
Victoria, 4th January, 1895.
Sir,—I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letters of the 24th ultimo
and of the 1st instant, in which you tender your resignation as Medical Superintendent of the
Asylum for the Insane. The Executive cannot concur in your- opinion that erroneous and
damaging statements " have gone broadcast through the country." On the contrary, the
whole evidence taken by the Commissioners more than justifies the damaging nature of their
You state that when you first took charge of the Asylum you found all the instruments
of restraint in use, and the evidence goes to prove that you took no steps to discontinue the
practice. Yet your own rules, sanctioned by the late Provincial Secretary, strictly forbid the
use of severe instruments of restraint.
You were present after the man Schubert was taken out dead from a cell 6x4 feet wide,
into which he had been thrust half an hour previously when bound in a strait-jacket so
tightly laced that, according to evidence taken before the Commissioners, blood was issuing
from his mouth. Yet you did not take any steps to punish the perpetrators of this vile deed,
nor did you stop such practice in the future.
Notwithstanding that this case must have been in your recollection when I personally
visited the Asylum and pressed you with questions as to what was done to restrain violent
lunatics, you assured me that all that was done was to give them plenty of air and to confine
them to their rooms.
The evidence taken before the Commissioners proves that you did not even take the
precaution of having daily reports sent to you by the keepers in charge of the lunatics; in fact
the whole evidence goes to prove that even if, according to your statement, you were unaware
of the cruelties which were being practised almost under your eyes, you were responsible
under the circumstances.
The Executive Council has seen fit to accept your resignation to date from this day.
I am, &c,
(Signed)        James Baker,
Provincial Secretary.
R. I. Bentley, Esq., M. B.,
New Westminster.
Printed by Rit hard Wolfenden, Printer to the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty.


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