Supplementary evidence as to the management of the Nova Scotia Hospital for the Insane, Mount Hope, Dartmouth

I, James S. Wilson, of the City of Halifax, make oath and say as follows : —

I was engaged as an assistant, and afterwards as an attendant at the Provincial Hospital for the Insane. I was employed there about fifteen months, and left there the 9th December last. I was employed in all the Male Wards, except M 7.

The food was frequently very inferior, the butter rancid, and at times more like lard than butter. In some of the Wards, there was none given to the patients, the attendants had only enough for themselves. The bread was occasionally sour. There were four or five barrels flour which I saw in the bakery, which was sour, about the months of July and August. The baker called my attention to it, and said, ”that he could make bread almost out of saw-dust, but that he could not make good bread out of that flour.” The meat was often very poor; I remember well on one or two occasions when the corned beef was so tainted that it could not be eaten. The milk was frequently sour, with the cream taken off it. I saw butter-making going on in the kitchen. The molasses was often sour, and very dark, and the sugar the color of molasses sugar. The fish occasionally was not sound, and had a bad smell.

Wet beds were permitted to remain so for days on which the patients slept at night. The practice in the Hospital was, in Summer, when the weather was fine, to put the beds out sometimes, just as they were, to dry in the sun, and in the Winter time, occasionally to take them in the same state to the hot air chamber below. The beds have often been allowed to remain in a wet state for several days together. I never saw the Male Supervisor examine a bed after it was made up; he passed through mostly like any other visitor. I never saw Dr. DeWolf examine a bed but once. Mr. McNab was in the habit of giving notice to the attendants when the Commissioners were coming, to get the outside quilt on, and any of the rooms not in a good state, to lock them up. There was an insufficiency of bed- clothes, particularly sheets ; and a great cause of the wet beds was the want of bed-sacks. I had to wait about three months before I could get half-a-dozen sacks, which I had applied for. I found several of the patients lousy when I entered the Wards, and there was not sufficient clothing to change them with, so as to keep them clean. I had to put the clothing in salt and water in the bath tub to destroy the vermin. Mr. McNab stated they were complaining in the laundry about sending too many clothes to the wash. In the Ward which I had charge of, there were twenty-five patients and two attendants. We had often to wash some of our own clothes in the Ward. We had some very dirty patients ; and as well as I can recollect, there was an aver- age of not more than eight sheets a week sent to the wash. About every three weeks a bed had one sheet put on it.

The air in the Wards was at times very bad; the registers of the hot air flues were some of them off altogether, and others broken. The patients would often put food, human filth, and other rubbish down these flues. I have seen it cleaned out below. I made application to have those registers put on, and repaired, and spoke to the Medical Superintendent about it, but it was not attended to. There was no fire brigade organized, nor were the attendants ever shown how to put out a fire or how to use fire apparatus. I saw only one old piece of hose which was unfit for use, and the taps for fire purposes in the wards were never once turned or used while I was there. There were no wrenches to turn them with, and no spanners to couple a hose on.

Doctor DeWolf did not go through the wards daily, he was very irregular in his visits. At times, not often, he would visit the wards sometimes once a week, and at times not more than once in three weeks. Dr. Fraser was generally very regular in his visits, mostly daily. I have known patients confined to the dark room for over a week, and never seen by the Superintendent during that time; they were very violent patients, some of them were naked and their rooms were in a bad state. I know that Thyne and Hubley were afraid to go into the rooms, and they occasionally came to me to give them assistance.

Ward M 1 was frequently very cold in Winter, and not promptly attended to when complained of.

The idea generally among the attendants was, they had better for their own sakes make as few complaints as possible.

A man named Fayle was sick, and I was attending on him in M 2. I saw he was very low, and I sent for the doctor two or three times, but he was not to be found in the building. After some time, he came up from his daughter’s, but the man was dead. Dr. Fraser was in Halifax at the time.

I have seen the steward (Downie) under the influence of drink, frequently, with as much as he could carry.

I have seen Hon. Robert Robertson pass through the Wards occasionally, not often, sometimes with Mr. Dustan; neither ever examined a bed, raised even the bed clothes, turned one over, or out, while I was in the Ward. They could not have done so without my seeing them.

It was generally known and talked of in the institution, that the doctors were not on friendly terms.

[Sd.] JAMES S. WILSON.

Sworn at Halifax, N. S., this 12th day of July, A. D. 1877, before me, William Evans, J. P. }


Province of Nova Scotia, Halifax, S.S. }

I, Michael Meagher, of the City of Halifax, Yeoman, make oath, and say as follows : —

I say that I was an assistant attendant in M 8 Ward, in the Provincial Hospital for the Insane, from, or about the month of September, 1875, until May, 1876. I had constant opportunities of noticing the quality and quantity of the food used. The butter was often uneatable from being rancid; it had frequently to be sent back; it was sometimes two or three days before we got any in its place. The butter was always strong.

The tea was of poor quality, often very poor. The milk was hardly noticeable in the tea, the quantity was so scanty. In September, when I was first employed, the bread was sour and soggy. Afterwards, it got a little better.

Sometimes, the meat was insufficient, except tor ten or twelve who worked outside There were from thirty to thirty-five persons in my Ward. Some days the patients got no meat, other times we showed them a sign of it, to prevent complaint. Other times we had to see which patient to take it from, in order to give it to another who would be more troublesome. One class of patients got butter, others none.

There were a number of wet beds daily in my Ward. They were rarely taken out in the air. They were generally left for some days as they were. One patient, Norman McNeil, was in a very bad state from bed-sores. He was paralyzed, and generally mute. I called Dr. Fraser’s attention to his state, so that I should not be under any responsibility about him. Nothing was done for him. Being nearly helpless, his bed was in a worse condition than other patients who could look after themselves. It was revolting to look at him. The sores were on his hips chiefly, and on his back. The bed-clothes were put out in the attic to dry, but it only hardened them; when the patient laid on them, the warmth and perspiration made them worse than ever. The bed-clothes of this patient were never taken to the laundry to wash, to my knowledge. I understood that they complained at the laundry, if we sent many clothes, especially if they were dirty. We sometimes washed them in the bath tub. It was the practice to leave the beds wet for days. There was not enough clothing to keep some of the patients warm in winter. There was not enough supplied to keep them clean. The clothes of some of the patients got full of lice. We had to soak the clothes in the abthtub to clean them of vermin.

Dr. De Wolf’s visits were irregular; he was absent from the ward generally from three to five days. His visits were generally what you call flying ones, except when he had friends with him, or the Commissioners. He never, to my knowledge, examined the patients medically, unless the attendants called his attention to a serious case. I have seen Dr. De Wolf, Dr. Fraser, Mr. McNab the Supervisor, the Commissioners and the Hon. Robert Robertson, going through the ward. I never saw them examine the beds turn them up, or turn them over. I was generally preset in my own ward, and would have seen them if they had done so. The Commissioners generally went through the corridor or sitting room. Seldom or never entered the patients’ rooms. Mr. McNab used to give us warning of the Commissioner’s visit, so as to make preparation for it. I know that Norman McNeil’s bed was in the condition I have described during some visits of the Commissioners. It was always in a bad condition, more or less. Mr. McNab was in the habit of walking through the ward like a casual visitor; he did not seem to examine anything as an official. From his conversation with me, I understood, on one occasion, that it would be better to let things go on quietly, and not make complaints. This was on an occasion when I called his attention to some deficiency.

I had no knowledge whatever of any fire organization, or appliances for extinguishing fire in the building. I saw one piece of old hose which was never used. I saw some taps, but there were no keys to turn them. There was no spanner to my knowledge. There were no fire buckets. Dr. DeWolfe and Dr. Fraser seldom or never visited the ward together. I saw them together only on two or three occasions. It was generally understood that they were not on good terms with each other.

A patient named Graham was in the dark room while I was at the Hospital. It was in the winter time. The glass was broken, and the rain came in and wet the floor. Graham was lying on the floor on a mattress. The room was in a very dirty condition. There was straw on the floor, and human excrements. I saw the snow not melted on the floor. We put the food in over the door sometimes. The doctor would occasionally enquire how he was. He never took a list of patients in that condition to my knowledge. He never went to see them. A man put in the dark roomw as entirely neglected. Graham was subject to fits; he might have died without assistance during the night; he was left entirely to his own resources after locking him up. Graham was a powerful muscular man. It was the practice of the attendants to give as little food as possible to patients in that state to reduce their strength; just enough food to sustain them. The doctors never enquired into the quantity of food given them. Graham was in the dark room from one to three weeks. The room was bitterly cold; it was hardly fit for a dog; it was not fit for a human being. I never saw McNab examine the bedclothes or other clothing while I was at the Hospital.

[Sd.] Michael Meagher

Sworn to at Halifax, this 3rd day of July, A.D., 1877, before me, William Evans, J.P.}


Lunatic Asylum, Mount Hope, 18th Sept 1873}

Rev. Sir, —

I take the liberty of addressing you, as I understand you were making enquiries last evening about injuries received by Abraham Landre whom you visited here, and I am in a position to give you some information. Landre, it seems, used to assist in the dining room in this ward, and about March last had some altercation with one Dyke, an attendant, who cruelly kicked and stamped upon him, inflicting the injuries, from the effects of which the unhappy man is now dying. Dyke, whose christian name is Edwin, (but I am not quite sure, as some say it is Isaac), was afterwards discharged, but not for this matter, as the other patients were too much intimidated at the time to give evidence, though some inquiries were made. I, myself, was not here at the time, but there are tow convalescent patients, Charles Thompson and Benjamin King, who are still in the ward, witnessed the assault, and can give you all the particulars, should you require them. Edwin Dyke, I understand is a discharged soldier, and resides in Halifax.

I trust, Rev. sir, that you will not think me officious in making these matters known to you; but I, myself, have suffered so cruelly from brutual usage in this place that I wish, if possible, to save other poor creatures from similar treatment. I was brought here on the 7th June, and the next day, Sunday, I was brutually kicked and beaten; news of the outrage was leaked in my case, and three attendants, Wm. Robertson, W. Neil and Alex McCoy were discharged in consequence; but I do not think I shall ever completely recover from the injuries then recieved. My treatment has been good since that time. I have no personal animosity towards the Superintendant, Dr. DeWolf, whom I have always found courteous; but I have no hesitation in stating that he grossly neglects his duty of personal supervision and inquiry into individual cases, else such things as I have mentioned could never have happened. Several cases of ill-usage, though not quite the same extent, have come under my own eye. The secrecy which shrouds everythnig is also a very bad feature of the management here; friends are ratrely aqllowed to see the patients, and visitors are only taken to wards kept in order for show, while others reek with filth and misery. I have been in this ward, containing about 30 patients, for three months and a lf, and you, Rev. Sir, are the only clergyman who has entered in that time.

You aare quite at liberty to make any use of this letter you may deem fit, and I remain, Rev. Sir, Respectfully yours, Peter McNab. Rev. Mr. Woods &c,. &c.


I, Lida Hay, of Dartmouth, in the County of Halifax, make oath and say as follows : — I say that I was an assistant attendant in the N. S. Hospital for the Insane for about four months during the summer of last year. I had constant opportunities of seeing how some of the female patients were treated. I am acquainted with Miss Buree. She was the female night watch, and was usually engaged about half the day in what was called the infirmary ward. I have frequently heard her abuse and scold the invalid patients in the most violent manner. I saw her shake her fist in their face. I saw her prod the finger ends of a patient named Eliza Fanning in BBB ward with a pin, and heard the patient scream in consequence. I heard her threaten the patients that she would dip them. I did not at first understand what this meant, until I saw the operation performed. It is to tie a towel over the face, put the patient in the bathtub, head under water, until she would almost smother, and come out in a fainting condition. This dipping is not the usual bath taken by the patients every Friday; it is a special arrangement for punishing. I saw a very weak and infirm old lady named Mrs. Hassey, and said to have been in a convent formerly, forced through the corridor of the ward to the bath room in her bare feet, by Miss Buree, to undergo this process. She was dipped because she refused to eat. This patient was occasionally fed by Dr. Fraser with a stomach pump, and she died just before I left the Hospital.

From all that I have seen at Mount Hope, I would prefer that any relative or friend of mine would die rather than see them placed there.

Lida Hay

Sworn to at Dartmouth, this 4th day of Feb’y, A. D. 1878, before me, D. Farrell, J. P. Visiting Com’r. Nova Scotia Hospital for the Insane.}


I, Kate Cameron, of Princeville, River Inhabitants, in the Island of Cape Breton, do solemnly declare — That I served as an attendant in the Nova Scotia Hospital for the Insane for about four years, that is, from 1874 until the 3rd December, 1877, under the management of Dr. DeWolf, and afterwards, from the 6th July, 1878, until January, 1879, under the management of Dr. Reid.

That there was a marked difference between the management under Dr. DeWolf and Dr. Reid.

That under Dr. Reid the patients were well attended to and regularly visited by him and his assistant, Dr. Sinclair ; that the patients had medicine and sick diet whenever necessary, and their wants in every respect provided for.

That under Dr. DeWolf the food was often unfit for use, and, when sent back, was told that it was good enough, and got no better. The meat I have seen rotten, and as a general thing the tea, butter and meat were bad. I have seen the bread often bad also.

That attention is now paid to the cleanliness of the patients. Formerly this was not the case, as the filthy condition of the beds was such that I have seen maggots crawling out of some of them.

That I have known patients to have been inhumanly treated and sadly neglected. The first act of cruelty which I remember was to an inoffensive woman named Elsie Turpel, from Granville, who was in the habit of tearing her clothes. She was stripped naked, her hands and feet tied, her hands behind her back, in a room, on a cold December night, in old F Ward, in 1874, without a bed. Next morning she was found dead, coiled up in the corner. I was called in to unbind her hands and feet. She had not been visited by the Superintendent or Assistant Physician until she was dead. There was no inquest ; the Doctor said she died of cramps.

That it was known to me that Mrs. McCoy, from Lake Ainslie, Cape Breton, was cruelly treated in No. 9 Ward. She was often put into the drying room, or closet, and cold water poured over her. One morning I heard that she would not eat her breakfast. I went down to see her and in about an hour after she died. She had a large cut in the back of her head. I heard that she was opened and that there was not a particle of food in her stomach.

That I had a patient named Bridget Dwyer locked in for about three months. Dr. DeWolf only saw her twice during that time, to my knowledge, and the Assistant Physician never once. Numbers of other cases of the same kind.

That a patient named Abbie Armstrong was sick for about five months. She suffered from diarrhea; nothing done for her, and no suitable nourishment. She died about a week after I left the ward. That another patient named Mary Walsh was also sick; she had sore toes for about three or four months, and was suffering with diarrhea ; she, too, had neither medicine nor nourishment of any consequence.

That I had to wash blankets, in the Ward, for Dr. DeWolf’s daughter, Mrs. Harrington; they were given to me by Mrs. DeWolf, who stated that Mrs. H. had no tub at her house large enough. The blankets had Ward marks on some of them.

That I was not called to give evidence at the investigation, believing that if I had been, and that I told all I knew, my time would be made short in the institution. That I am prepared, at any time, to substantiate, under oath, before any tribunal, the foregoing statement of facts. And I make this solemn declaration conscientiously, believing the same to be true, and by virtue of the Act passed in the thirty-seventh year of Her Majesty’s reign, entituled: (sic) “An Act for the Suppression of Voluntary and Extra Judicial Oaths.”

KATE CAMERON. Solemnly declared before me, at River Inhabitants, in the Island of Cape Breton, this 5th day of March, A.D. 1879. John McMaster, J. P.

The following is a copy of Dr. DeWolf’s letter announcing the death of Mrs. Turpel to her son:

10th December, 1874.

Mr. Alexander Turpel: Dear Sir, — I have to inform you, with much regret, of your mother’s decease, which occurred at an early hour this morning. I was called to her, but life was extinct. She had been better than usual of late, and was much attached to her attendant. Her death was due to a fit of paralysis, and was very sudden. Please telegraph whether you wish the interment to be in Dartmouth. I sent you a despatch this morning, which will have reached you ere this come to hand. Dear Sir, Sympathetically, J.R. DeWolf.

The Medical Superintendant’s Report for 1874 concludes as follows:

“It now remains to express our sincere gratitude to the Supreme Being for past mercies, and to invoke His blessing upon our future labors. The last hour of the old year was spent by a large number of attendants and many of the patients, in our chapel, where songs of grateful praise resounded at the solemn midnight hour, and ushered in the coming year. James R. DeWolfe, M.D. Superintendent.

“Supplementary evidence as to the management of the Nova Scotia Hospital for the Insane, Mount Hope, Dartmouth” [S.l. : s.n., 1879?] https://hdl.handle.net/2027/aeu.ark:/13960/t3tt5cc6m