In today’s post, Borough Archivist Kath Shawcross introduces one of her favourite characters from the plates; Dr Pearn.
“It was a few years ago that we required an image of a typical Edwardian gentleman for a different project. Immediately we thought of the Knights-Whittome collection as the ideal source. Not having an index to the collection we randomly searched the plates for any that would fit the bill. When we found an envelope on which was written “Dr Pearn” we thought for sure this would answer our needs.
You can imagine our surprise when this is what we found.
We had a good laugh about it and went on to find someone else. But I was fascinated by this man. Who was he? Why was he in fancy dress?
With a date on the envelope of 11 Aug 1911, my first point of call was the 1911 Census where I discovered that Oscar Phillips Napier Pearn, aged 31, was a medical officer at the Horton Asylum in Epsom. With his full name and age I was able to locate him on previous censuses discovering that he was born in Southsea in 1880. His father, Charles, was a senior clerk in the HM Dockyards at Portsmouth. Ten years later the family had moved to Rochester where Charles is working for the Admiralty and Oscar was a student. By 1901 Oscar, aged 21, is a medical student boarding in Hastings which brings us up to 1911 and the medical officer post at the Horton.
In 1915 Horton Asylum was taken over by the Army Council and its 2143 inmates were transferred over four weeks to its sister asylums in the area. It became the Horton (County of London) War Hospital, a general hospital for servicemen from all parts of the Empire wounded during WW1.
Digging deeper into Dr Pearn’s background via Google Books I found that he was employed at Westminster Hospital in 1907. He was a member of the The Medico-Psychological Association of Great Britain and Ireland which records his qualifications and employment: MRCS, LRCP, L.S.A.Lond, (Assistant Medical Officer, London County Mental Hospital, Horton, Epsom); Lord Derby’s War Hospital, Warrington, Lancashire. The Electoral Registers for Surrey state that by 1920 he was working at Cane Hill Mental Hospital in Coulsdon, Surrey. The Lancet confirms this and records that Dr Pearn was the Deputy Medical Superintendent at Cane Hill.
In 1914 Dr Pearn published the “Case of Hereditary Deaf Mutism, with Pedigree” in the Journal of Mental Science but is better known for the book, “Mental Nursing Simplified” which was published in 1931.
We know from his WW1 medal card and the London Gazette that he was a temporary Lieutenant (1/12/1914) then Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). He was sent to France on the 13 May 1915 but we can’t be sure of exactly where he was posted as his service records have been lost. We do know from the London Gazette that by December 1916 he was employed at Lord Derby’s War Hospital (see image below) where he stayed until 1919.
During WW1 local asylums were used to treat soldiers returning with shell shock and other mental illnesses. Winwick Asylum in Warrington, which opened in 1902, was home to over 2,000 patients when war broke out. In 1915 the asylum and hospital were requisitioned as a military hospital and renamed the Lord Derby War Hospital. It has been estimated that between 1915 and 1920 this hospital treated approximately 56,000 injured soldiers. The hospital was portrayed as one of the largest in the country; a haven of rest with its large grounds and a staff of over 600 to care for the patients. The Lord Derby War Hospital treated severe shell shock cases and experimented with ‘electrical treatment’.
From various online family history sites we know that Oscar Pearn married Agnes Kelly in 1914 but they don’t appear to have had any children. He died on the 2 Apr 1944 at the Burghill Mental Hospital, Hereford although his address on probate records is given as Topsham, Devon so perhaps he was working or visiting the Hereford hospital.
As to the costume he is wearing in the Knights-Whittome photograph, I am none the wiser – a fancy dress ball locally? Alas we may never know.
1881-1911 censuses for England and Wales, available on Ancestry or Find My Past
Epsom and Ewell History Explorer Google Books, searching for Oscar Phillips Napier Pearn
Free BMD for birth, marriage and death Probate records available on Ancestry
Merseyside at War for information about Lord Derby’s War Hospital The Gazette http://www.thegazette.co.uk