Victorian London - People - Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man)

"THE ELEPHANT MAN"

TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES

Sir, - I am authorized to ask your powerful assistance in bringing to the notice of the public the following most exceptional case. There is now a little room off one of our attic wards a man named Joseph Merrick, aged about 27, a native of Leicester, so dreadful a sight that he is unable even to come out by daylight to the garden. He has been called "the elephant man" on account of his terrible deformity. I will not shock your readers with any detailed description of his infirmities, but only one arm is available for work.
    Some 18 month ago, Mr. Treves, one of the surgeons of the London Hospital, saw him as he was exhibited in a room off the Whitechapel-road. The poor fellow was then covered by an old curtain, endeavouring to warm himself over a brick which was heated by a lamp. As soon as a sufficient number of pennies had been collected by the manager at the door, poor Merrick threw off his curtain and exhibited himself in all his deformity. He and the manager went halves in the net proceeds of the exhibition, until at last the police stopped the exhibition of his deformities as against public decency.
    Unable to earn his livelihood by exhibiting himself any longer in England, he was persuaded to go over to Belgium, where he was taken in hand by an Austrian, who acted as his manager. Merrick managed in this way to save a sum of nearly 50, but the police there too kept him moving on, so that his life was a miserable and hunted one. One day, however, when the Austrian saw that the exhibition was pretty well played out, he decamped with poor Merrick's hardly-saved capital of 50, and left him alone and absolutely destitute in a foreign country. Fortunately, however, he had something to pawn, by which he raised sufficient money to pay his passage back to England, for her felt that the only friend he had in the world was Mr. Treves of the London Hospital. He therefore, though with much difficulty, made his way there, for at every station and landing-place the curious crowd so thronged and dogged his steps that it was not an easy matter for him to get about. When he reached the London Hospital he had only the clothes in which he stood. He has been taken in by our hospital, though there is, unfortunately, no hope of his cure, and the question now arises what is to be done with him in the future.
He had the greatest horror of the workhouse, nor is it possible, indeed, to send him into any place where he could not insure privacy, since his appearance is such that all shrink from him.
    The Royal Hospital for Incurables and the British Home for Incurables both decline to take him in, even if sufficient funds were forthcoming to pay for him.
    The police rightly prevent his being personally exhibited again; he cannot go out into the streets, as he is everywhere so mobbed that existence is impossible; he cannot, in justice to others, be put in the general ward of a workhouse, and from such, even if possible, he shrinks with the greatest horror; he ought not to be detained in our hospital (where he is occupying a private ward, and being treated with the greatest kindness - he says he has never before known in his life what quiet and rest were), since his case is incurable, and not suited, therefore, to our overcrowded general hospital; the incurable hospitals refuse to take him in even if we paid for him in full, and the difficult question therefore remains what is to be done for him.
    Terrible though his appearance is, so terrible indeed that women and nervous persons fly in terror from the sight of him, and that he is debarred from seeking to earn his livelihood in any ordinary way, yet he is superior in intelligence, can read and write, is quiet, gentle, not to say even refined in his mind. He occupies his time in the hospital by making with his one available hand little cardboard models, which he sends to the matron, doctor, and those who have been kind to him. Through all the miserable vicissitudes of his life he has carried about a painting of his mother to show that she was a decent and presentable person and as a memorial of the only one who was kind to him in life until he came under the kind care of the nursing staff of the London Hospital and the surgeon who has befriended him.
It is a singular affliction brought about through no fault of himself; he can but hope for quiet and privacy during a life which Mr. Treves assures me is not likely to be long.
    Can any of your readers suggest to me some fitting place where he can be received? And then I feel sure that, when that is found, charitable people will come forward and enable me to provide him with such accommodation. In the meantime, though it is not the proper place for such an incurable case, the little room under the roof of our hospital and out of Cotton Ward supplies him with all he wants. The Master of the Temple on Advent Sunday preached an eloquent sermon on the subject of our Master's answer to the question, "Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" showing how one of the Creator's objects in permitting men to be born to a life of hopeless and miserables disability was that the works of God should be manifested in evoking the sympathy and kindly aid of those on whom such a heavy cross is not laid.
    Some 76,000 patients a year pass through the doors of our hospital, but I have never before been authorized to invite public attention to any particular case, so it may well be believed that this case is exceptional.
    Any communication about this should be addressed either to myself or to the secretary at the London Hospital.
    I have the honour to be, Sir, yours obediently,
    F.C.CARR GOMM, Chairman London Hospital. 
    November 30

The Times, December 4th, 1886

"THE ELEPHANT MAN"

TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES

Sir, - In a letter which you were kind enough to insert some weeks back about Joseph Merrick who had formerly exhibited under the name of "the Elephant Man" I asked whether any one could suggest a fitting home where he could be received, adding that I felt sure when such a home was found charitable people would come forward and enable me to place him therein. The letter interested many, and I received numerous kind answers from all parts of the country, and had my appeal been directly for money I am convinced abundance would have speedily been sent to me.
    The practical result of the correspondence is that no home is to be found so suitable to his needs as the hospital, and we now feel ourselves justified in keeping him with us; and although a general hospital supported by voluntary contributions is strictly for curative purposes where each occupied bed represents an outlay little short of 70 per annum, our committee have decided under the peculiar circumstances to set apart a small room where the poor fellow not only secures that privacy which is so essential to his comfort, but also is supplied with all that can possibly alleviate his sad condition, such as baths, good nursing, and medical supervision.
This is in accordance with the wishes expressed by most of the contributors, and Merrick himself, naturally enough, much prefers remaining where he has found so much sympathy and comfort.
    His generous supporters will be glad to hear of our decision and Merrick has desired me to convey to them his most grateful thanks, and to say that he is deeply sensible of their kindness and that he has never had so happy and peaceful a Christmas time as he has had now. He is newly clothed and well supplied with books and papers, while the kind care of the sister and nurses, with visits from the chaplain and others, relieves the monotony of his existence. One lady has most thoughtfully engaged to provide for his being taught basket-making, to give him some definite occupation, and I hope at once to start this work.
    If he leaves us, and he is of course a free agent, I shall now be able to provide for his being properly taken care of by an uncle at Leicester, who is too poor a man to take him in unless means were given him, but there can be no question that he is far better off with us than he could possible be outside, and this is his own feeling.
    As I have personally replied to each one who has written except, of course, anonymous contributors, I have not thought it necessary to publish any list, but I have received and hold in trust sufficient to enable me to provide for the poor fellow's comfort for some four or five years to come, and if more should then be required, I will ask for it.
    As many have desired to know particulars of this unique case, I would add that some details are given, with illustrations, in the British Medical Journal of the 11th ultimo, one of our objects, however, is to prevent his deformity being made anything of a show, except for purely scientific purposes, and the hospital officials have instructions to secure for him as far as possible immunity from the gaze of the curious.
    I have the honour to be, Sir, yours obediently,
    F.C.CARR GOMM, Chairman of the London Hospital. 
    London Hospital, Whitechapel-road, E. Jan.3

The Times, January 5th, 1887

DEATH OF "THE ELEPHANT MAN."

An inquest on the body of Joseph Merrick, better known as the "Elephant Man," was held yesterday at the London Hospital by Mr. Baxter. Charles Merrick, of Church-gate, Leicester, a hairdresser, identified the body as that of his nephew. The deceased was 29 years of age, and had followed no occupation. From birth he had been deformed, but he got much worse of late. He had been in hospital four or five years. His parents were in no way afflicted, and the father, an engine driver, is alive now. Mr. Ashe, house surgeon, said he was called to the deceased at 3.30 p.m. on Friday and found him dead. It was expected that he would die suddenly. There were no marks of violence, and the death was quite natural. The man had great overgrowth of the skin and bone, but he did not complain of anything. Witness believed that the exact cause of death was asphyxia, the back of his head being greatly deformed, and while the patient was taking a natural sleep the weight of the head overcame him, and so suffocated him. The coroner said that the man had been sent round the shows as a curiosity, and when death took place it was decided as a matter of prudence to hold this inquest. Mr. Hodges, another house surgeon, stated that on Friday last he went to visit the deceased, and found him lying across the bed dead. He was in a ward specially set apart for him. Witness did not touch him. Nurse Ireland of the Blizzard Ward, said the deceased was in her charge. She saw him on Friday morning, when he appeared in his usual health. His midday meal was taken in to him, but he did not touch it. The coroner, in summing up, said there could be no doubt that death was quite in accordance with the theory put forward by the doctor. The jury accepted this view, and returned a verdict to the effect that death was due to suffocation from the weight of the head pressing on the windpipe.

The Times, April 16th, 1890