# 41664

HADFIELD, James (1771/2 - 1841)

Epitaph of my poor Jack, SQUIRREL. … Died Sunday Morning, July 23rd, 1826.

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[Bethlem Hospital, London, before 1841]. Manuscript in brown ink with calligraphic title in blue and decoration in black, yellow and magenta inks, 230 x 185 mm (sheet); written entirely in the hand of criminally insane inmate James Hadfield, and signed by him in full at the foot, followed by ‘Bethlem Hospital’ in sanguine ink; mounted recto of a nineteenth-century album page, inscribed in another hand in the upper margin: ‘This was given to me by Hadfield himself at Bethlem Hospital. Hadfield had shot at George the Third.’; very well preserved.

Autograph manuscript poem by James Hadfield, would-be assassin of George III, written in Bethlem Hospital, London, and obtained directly from him by a hospital visitor.

James Hadfield (1771/2-1841) was a soldier who in 1793 had received severe head wounds and been taken prisoner by the French at the Battle of Lincelles. After his return to England he was discharged from the army and granted a small pension on the grounds of insanity. He began to suffer religious delusions and became convinced that his being executed by the British government would lead to the Second Coming of Christ. To that end, he made an (unsuccessful) attempt to assassinate George III by firing a pistol at the royal box in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on 15 May 1800. He was charged with high treason, but acquitted of attempted murder by reason of insanity after a brilliant legal defense by a leading barrister of the day, Thomas Erskine. However, the trial directly resulted in the passing of the Criminal Lunatics Act, which was retrospectively applied to Hadfield’s case with immediate effect. This ensured that he could be detained at His Majesty’s pleasure, since he was now classified as a potentially dangerous ‘criminal lunatic’ who posed a threat to public safety. The case was a landmark one for its impact on the way mental health issues are treated in criminal law.

Hadfield was initially incarcerated in London’s Bethlem Hospital (aka Bedlam); then, following an escape and brief period on the run in 1802, he was next held in Newgate Prison up until 1816; finally, he was moved to the new Bedlam at St George’s Fields, where he remained until his death from tuberculosis on 23 January 1841. At St George’s Fields, where he was housed in one of two purpose-built wings for the criminally insane, he was allowed to keep pets, including cats and dogs, as well as birds and squirrels. Hospital records inform us that for the vast majority of his time as an inmate, Hadfield was perfectly lucid and compliant, and his general behaviour was observed to be for the most part indistinguishable from that of any sane person – apart from his tendency to produce eccentric poetry.

A number of Hadfield’s own manuscript versions of his poem Epitaph of my poor Jack, Squirrel have survived, including several in the Bethlem Hospital collection. He was allowed to sell his manuscripts – of this, and other poems he had penned – to visitors to the hospital, where he was something of a celebrity, and he apparently used his meagre earnings to buy tobacco. Sometimes Hadfield would illustrate his poems, but every one of his manuscripts that has survived is unique in a particular way.

Provenance: Autograph album compiled by a member of the Balcombe family, “The Briars,” Mornington, Victoria (Australia); à Beckett family, Melbourne (by descent).