OF LOVE AND EXPLORATION - AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

© Christopher Earls Brennen

ROBERT EARLS

"For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead"

I Corinthians, 15:21

Sometimes you cannot quite let go of a story. There seems to be nowhere to go and nothing that can be learnt. It all seems irretrievably lost in the mists of time, a span of nearly 80 years in this case. And yet you cannot quite forget it. You keep picking at it, forlornly hoping for a lucky break. And then suddenly, unexpectedly, the log jam breaks beyond your wildest imagination and a whole human drama is unlocked. And so it was when I finally learnt the tragic story of my great uncle, Robert Earls.

Robert was born on Dec.20, 1876, the second son of my great-grandfather, James Earls, a teacher and lay preacher, and his wife Margaret Dick. They lived in the rural community of Islandmagee, a peninsula on the coast of County Antrim in Northern Ireland. Photographs of James in his later years show a gaunt man with a long white beard and intense, almost piercing eyes. One suspects that he was a hard task master, a demanding father. James's eldest son John was my grandfather. He was a great success and, after training as a teacher, rose to become the Principal of Belfast Technical College and a member of the upper middle class society in Belfast in the early part of the 20th century.

Many years ago when I first became interested in my family history, I learnt of John's two brothers, my great uncles Robert and Thomas Earls. I was told that both had emigrated and I surmised that they may have done so in part to escape from the twin shadows of their father and elder brother. Thomas emigrated to South Africa. I found it relatively easy to uncover his story and to make contact with his descendants in South Africa and elsewhere. Robert was a different story. Like John, he had trained as a National School Teacher and, after his father retired from the position of teacher in the local Islandmagee National School, Robert was appointed to that position. But that appointment lasted only one year. In 1903, he left to seek his fortune in distant lands.

When she was in her eighties, I persuaded my great aunt Anne, Robert's much younger sister, to write to me and tell me what she could recall of her youth and her family. Of Robert she wrote:
"Robert was my second brother and trained as a teacher but I think he preferred an outdoor life. I was rather in awe of him. He taught analysis of compound sentences which I liked doing. I remember when I was in Carrick(fergus) Model (School) as a pupil teacher we were doing the exam. He called to Dublin to the training college. The sentence began "The barn where we played etc." I put it as an adjective clause qualifying the noun barn. There were nine of us, pupil teachers in Carrickfergus Model. All the others had just seen the word "where" and put adverbial clause. I was the only one that was declared by the elder teachers to be right. Later I transferred...... To come back to Robert, he emigrated to South Africa and taught in a tent. He wrote me letters which were beautifully expressed. In my humble opinion he should have been a journalist."
When I originally received this letter I imagined that Anne had confused her two brothers and wrote South Africa instead of Australia. I should have known that the old dear was sharper than that!

For years, I tried to find any trace of him in Australia. As Anne noted, family legend said that he had taught school there, perhaps in a tent. I tried, without success, to find him in any list of teachers. It was also said that he had a son William, born in Sydney. I could find no trace of William Earls. And so it seemed that the story of Robert Earls was lost forever in the mists of time. Occasionally, I would type the name into various search engines and genealogical web pages in the hope that some clue would emerge. But to no avail. I tried to access the records of births, marriages and deaths in New South Wales, but Australia is very strict about not releasing such information except to people who visit their Registry Offices in person. One could purchase certificates by mail, sight unseen, but at a cost that precluded the kind of scatter-gun technique I had deployed successfully in other cases.

Another of John Earls' grandchildren, my cousin with the same name, John Earls, had emigrated to Brisbane in the 1960s. For several years, I tried to persuade him to visit the New South Wales Registry Office to see if he could turn up some clues. John was willing and interested but somehow the opportunity to perform this mission never quite materialized.

And then one day I came across the first small opening. In the year 2001, the New South Wales Registry Office placed on the Internet, lists of names in its earliest recordings of births, marriages and deaths, covering the years up to about 1930. And in the list of deaths for the year 1926, I found the name, Robert Earls. No other information and so the registration could easily have been someone from a different family. Parenthetically I should note that I had found several large Earls families in New South Wales, but almost all were Roman Catholics who had emigrated from Clare and Galway in Southern Ireland. But I thought I would take a chance anyway and so I wrote out a check for a "replacement" death certificate and mailed it to Australia.

Several weeks later I received an official looking envelope from the New South Wales Registry Office and my excitement grew as I tore it open. As I read, I knew I had finally made some small contact with my long lost great uncle. The certificate told me that Robert Earls, an 50-year-old labourer, born in County Antrim the son of James Earls and Margaret Dick had died in Mulwaree Shire, New South Wales, on 24th June, 1926. It listed him as unmarried so it was unlikely there were any identifiable descendants; I concluded that William was the figment of someone's imagination. What was most startling was the place of death: the Kenmore Mental Hospital in Mulwaree Shire. And he was apparently buried in the cemetery of that mental hospital.

I had to know more. First I contacted my cousin John, who perused his maps and found Mulwaree Shire near Goulburn about 120 miles inland from Sydney on the road to Canberra. Then I took to the internet and came across a story of a family history buff in Australia who had also traced an ancestor to the Kenmore Mental Hospital. He revealed that, upon contacting the authorities in Goulburn and, later, upon visiting the Kenmore Mental Hospital, he had been given a very interesting collection of papers and personal possessions of his long dead relative. Somehow these records had been kept safe and sound for almost 60 years! I began to dream that somehow, even though Robert had been dead for almost 80 years, there might be some record of his demise in the Australian bush. And so I rushed off a letter to the Goulburn Health Service in the remote chance that some more information might be forthcoming.

Several weeks later I received a reply from the Medical Superintendent in Goulburn. He wrote that he had been able to locate Robert's file. From that file it appeared that Robert had fallen upon hard times. In 1922, in Cootamundra, New South Wales, he was found on the road talking to himself and was taken into custody. Considered to be suffering from melancholia with delusional ideas he was transferred on May 8, 1922, from jail to the Kenmore Mental Hospital. When admitted his personal possessions were a halfpenny and a swagbag containing a portion of an old rug, a billy-can, a jam-tin, a knife in a leather sheath with belt, a pocketknife, a small pair of scissors in a leather case and an old canvas bag containing repairing material. And that's all. For whatever reason he had come to the end of his resources and his wits. The Superintendent wrote that there were other papers in Robert's file but that I would have to come to Goulburn in person to claim them. And I would have to present evidence of being Robert's next-of-kin. The first requirement was highly unlikely and the second was impossible since I was not the next of kin. But I wrote back anyway, asking for clarification of what would constitute acceptable evidence of next-of-kin. I never received a response, presumably because the Superintendent could not think of an answer. Not really surprising; I could not imagine an appropriate answer either.

But I had a quite extraordinary ace up my sleeve. For my cousin John Earls, now a Queensland resident, was in fact the next-of-kin. He is the eldest son of the eldest son of Robert's elder brother and, since Robert had no children, is therefore the rightful legal heir. And he lived in Australia. And, quite remarkably, it transpired that he was planning to visit the Goulburn area on other business in just a few months time! It seemed that fate was conspiring in a quite remarkable way to bring Robert back to his family after all those tribulations and all those years.

By this time John was also fascinated by the story. He wrote to the Superintendent asking again for clarification of the question of proof and stating his intention to visit in a few months. John pointed out his next-of-kin relationship, and drew the Superintendent's attention to my web pages containing the Earls family history including what little we knew of Robert. I even urged John to sign himself Dr. Earls (John has a Ph.D.) in the hope that that would sway the Superindendant (John rightly ignored that advice). And still there was no reply. With just a few weeks to go before his visit to Goulburn, John even tried telephoning but with equally little success.

And then, just days before he was due to embark on his trip, a large registered package was delivered to John's home in Queensland. All the papers from the file of the late Robert Earls. A veritable goldmine of information. Robert Earls had risen from the grave and returned to his family.


So here is the story of Robert Earls, pieced together, incomplete, with many questions remaining and several intriguing mysteries (a complete transcript of the Kenmore file is also available*).

Robert Earls was born on Dec.20, 1876, in the small hamlet of Ballymoney on the peninsula called Islandmagee, part of the coast of County Antrim, Northern Ireland. He was the second son of James Earls, the first principal of the tiny Ballymoney National School that had been erected in 1861 on the grounds of the local Methodist church. The building also included a small residence for the use of the teacher. The assistant teacher was Margaret Dick whom James married on May 8, 1874. James rapidly became an influential member of the local community. He took a great interest in the Sabbath-school of which he was the superintendent. When any difficulty arose regarding a pulpit supply he was always ready to step into the breach when he would facetiously remark ``that he was always put into the gap when nobody else could be had''. His reading and exposition of the scriptures were always listened to with pleasure and profit since he was possessed of an exceptionally resonant voice and a convincing manner of presenting what he had to say to his hearers. He was also an ardent temperance advocate and was one of the founders of the Good Templars Lodge which was opened in a new hall at Whitey's Hill in the year 1873. Several family legends attest to James's strict observance of the Sabbath. No cooking was allowed in his house on Sunday; the meals had to be prepared on Saturday and were eaten cold on Sunday. Furthermore he did not shave on Sunday. One story tells of him being interrupted during shaving on Saturday night. The interruption lasted until after midnight so James took the service the next morning with one side of his face shaved and the other unshaven.

As his family grew, James needed a larger home and he acquired the lease on a site at ``Lunnon'' in the townland of Mullaghboy about a hundred yards north of the church and school. With the help of his brother William he built a two-storey house with a shop attached on this site; also included were separate accomodations for his widowed mother and unmarried sister, Jane. The shop became a successful business conducted by his family including his sister Jane.

It seems clear that James was a demanding father and it must have been especially stressful for his children in the small school their father conducted. Later on when broader learning was needed, Robert, along with his elder brother John, attended evening classes at the precursor of the Larne Technical School. This meant spending the night at the house of their uncle William Earls in Pound Street, Larne, getting up at 5.00am the following morning, crossing on the ferry to Islandmagee and walking to his father's school at Ballymoney in time for classes there.

Two serious incidents during his youth clearly had a major effect on Robert's view of life.

First, when he was just 16, his mother, Margaret, died in August, 1893 at the age of 41. His Aunt Jane who lived in the same household also died about the same time. As a result Robert's sister Jane had to give up her teaching career to look after the family. Within a year, to add to the emotional strain, his father, James, remarried to Isabella Taylor who owned a farm in Upper Gransha, Islandmagee. After the marriage James moved to Gransha in order to look after that farm. Meanwhile his first family continued to live in Mullaghboy in the house with the shop attached. James would have an early dinner there before returning to Gransha for the night. Thus the 1901 Census lists James, Isabella and their two children in the Gransha Farm while Robert and his sisters, Jane, Letitia and Maggie are listed as living in Mullaghboy.

His brother John calls Robert, "reserved in his manner and also somewhat reckless". The latter characteristic may have played a role in the second major incident. Shortly after his mother died, when he was about 19, Robert was handling a homemade bomb made from a glass bottle when it exploded unexpectedly. Robert lost his left eye as a result (on reading the accounts below, one cannot help but wonder if John were present when this accident occurred). Despite this major setback, Robert continued with his training to be a teacher, acquiring his diploma from the Marlborough Street Training College in Dublin. When his father retired as principal of the Ballymoney National School in 1899, Robert succeeded him.

His youngest sister Anne, who was a great admirer of Robert's, commented that though he was trained as a teacher, he preferred an outdoor life. This wanderlust clearly came to the fore in 1903 for he gave up his position in the Ballymoney School and headed for South Africa where, at least for a time he taught in a tent. He wrote to Anne, letters which were "beautifully expressed". Anne thought he should have been a journalist. He remained in the Transvaal, South Africa, for some years but then had some difficulty with a school inspector over a 6 months leave he had requested. As a result he took his good service gratuity and left teaching.

Apparently he then went to South America, intent on profiting from the rubber boom. We know little of what happened in South America, but he lost all his money and returned to his family in Ireland entirely destitute. This sojourn in Ireland was brief for in 1910, he emigrated to Australia, arriving (he said) in Sep.1910 aboard the steamship Norfolk. However, when I checked the shipping records, the only record of the Norfolk that I could find is its arrival in Hobart from London on Mar.28, 1911. On the other hand, the Suffolk arrived in Queensland on Sep.16, 1910. Why Robert would have lied about either the vessel or its arrival date is unclear.

Whatever the circumstances of his arrival in Australia, the next 17 months of his time there are undocumented. In 1912, when he was inventing a previous history in Australia for the staff at the Kenmore Mental Hospital, Robert mentioned living and working in many places in New South Wales. Most of the towns and villages he mentions (Wagga Wagga, Junee, Cootamunda, Young, Murringo, Grenfell and Forbes) lie along or near a 100 mile stretch of highway and railroad in south central NSW, west of Sydney and northwest of Canberra. But he also mentions visiting a "brother" and "nearest relative", William Charles Earle living at Ashford, Inverell. Inverell is a mining town much further north in New South Wales, almost at the Queensland border. A number of years ago I had identified a possibly protestant Earls family living in New South Wales, a family that as far as I know is unrelated to our family. One member of that family was William Charles Kerr Earls. He was indeed connected to Inverell, and was married nearby, in Glen Innes. In his invented prior history Robert also mentions working at Quirinidi, between Inverell and the aforementioned group of towns in south central New South Wales. Clearly then Robert knew of William Charles Kerr Earls, and may well have visited him. Perhaps he was given this name and address by a family member before he left Ireland; this would suggest that William might, in fact, be a distant relative. Moreover, in the family history notes she provided to me many years ago, my aunt Irene Calvert recorded that Robert had a son in Sydney by the name of William Charles Kerr Earls. Clearly this was incorrect; indeed, William was older than Robert. But how the name came to be in Irene's records is anybody's guess.

It does seem that Robert wandered the roads of New South Wales for those 17 months, perhaps sinking further and further into mental illness. Then in February, 1912, while he was rooming in Lea's Coffee Palace in Gurwood Street, Wagga Wagga, Robert suffered a severe psychotic episode and was taken to Wagga Wagga jail. One of the two doctors who examined him describe him as "... suffering from delusions, says the Executive Council is sitting to decide whether he is to be hanged or sent up for life. He sees people with lanterns at night and hears them speaking to him. He is addicted to masturbation". Two doctors certify that Robert is insane and "wandering at large" and order him to be transported to Kenmore Mental Hospital for the Insane near Goulburn, New South Wales.

Robert was admitted to Kenmore Hospital on Feb.21, 1912, where he was examined both physically and mentally. He claimed to be just 24 years old (he was actually 35), single and a native of New South Wales. He fabricated a family history, said he did not know his parents location in Sydney and that his father used to drink heavily. As described previously he names William Charles Earle of Ashford, Inverell, as his nearest relative. Perhaps he was ashamed of his predicament and wanted to avoid his family in Ireland from being contacted. When he left Ireland he had promised not to contact them or return until he had made good. He also invented a ten year history of employment in a host of locations in New South Wales.

The report includes a list of Robert's valuables retained by the clerk when he was admitted to Kenmore. The sad, complete list is: 1 watch chain (silver), metal medal, silver coin, two shillings cash, finger sp...., pencil, hankerchief. The list of private property is "clothes in wear", 1 Billy can, 1 Jam tin, 1 knife in sheath, 1 canvas bag containing repairing material, portion of a rug, 1 pocket knife, 1 pair scissors, one halfpenny cash.

The report on his physical condition states: This is a fairly unwashed(?) young man with blue eyes, light brown hair, height 5ft 10 1/2 in, weight 156lbs, left arm(?) 1/8 inch longer than right, palate highly arched and testicles atrophied. The report on his mental state notes: Does not know the day, month. Knows the year. States he has been here 3 days (5). Knows the nature of his surroundings. Does not know why he was sent here but says he must have been insane - states he was arrested for being a spy. ..... The Executive Council will say if he was guilty or innocent of being an anarchist or spy. Imagines he heard two people outside the jail talking to him. Sleeps and eats well. Is willing to stay here for a while. ...... He is slow and dull in his mental processes and sometimes requires to have questions repeated. Would not be too sure if he abuses himself or not. The diagnosis was Dementia Praecox (Paranoia).

Robert spent the next eight years in Kenmore Mental Hospital. For the first month or so he was relatively well behaved; though cheerful he was inclined to laugh without apparent cause. He thrived physically and his weight increased from a skinny 136 lbs upon admission to 160lbs in September 1913. But his mental state appearred to decline. He frequently used "filthy" language and had to be disciplined. In Feb., 1913, he escaped but was recaptured four days later. Moreover, he continued to suffer from delusions. Just after his recapture, he tells the doctor that, in the daytime, he sees the Sacred Star of Heaven, a star the doctor cannot see. He also claims that he is Jesus Christ come from Heaven and has spirits inside him which speak. Six months later, it is discovered that has been drinking the vinegar stored in the small pantry in his ward. And a couple of months later he struck another patient during a quarrel. In the first few years he seemed to do best working in the garden and at the hospital cricket ground, but about 1918 he was transferred to the kitchen though he continued behave irresponsibly and, sometimes, boisterously. Then on Mar.26, 1920, he made good his escape from the kitchen and from Kenmore Hospital.

We do not know what he did for the next 5 months though it seems likely that he wandered the roads and rails. He made his way toward Sydney and in September 1920 was taken into custody for vagrancy; appearing before the court in the Sydney suburb of Liverpool, he was sentenced to 3 months for vagrancy and sent to the penitentiary at Long Bay where he threatened a fellow prisoner with an axe. Perhaps for this reason he was sent to the Reception House in Darlinghurst, Newcastle for mental evaluation. From there he was transported back to the Sydney area and admitted to the Gladesville Mental Hospital. There he seems to have comported himself well, eating and sleeping well. Because he exhibited no aggression and seemed to improve in mental health, he was discharged from Gladesville on April 30, 1921, after just a four month stay.

He seems to have been able to avoid trouble for the next 10 months but in February 1922 appears before the court in Singleton (about 40 miles inland from Newcastle) where he is "deemed to be insane" and is again remanded to the Reception House in Newcastle. Again that institution discharges him, this time after just a months stay. But it is only a brief reprieve for on May 5, 1922, he is taken into custody by the Cootamundra police for "jumping and dancing about on the road, frightening people." Though he protested that "he had done no harm to anyone" he is examined by two doctors who certify that he is insane and sign an order sending him back to Kenmore Mental Hospital. One of those doctors reports that he talks constantly and that his language is "interlaced with filthy expressions; his tone is monotonous and there is no meaning to his talk. On speaking to him, he speaks rationally but without pause and constantly repeats himself and is all the time looking round for somebody or something".

Thus on, May 9, 1922, Robert is admitted to Kenmore Mental Hospital for the second time. The report on his physical condition describes a "tall spare man going bald with dark brown hair, mustache and beard going grey. Blue eye; the left eye is lost (a result of an accident). Teeth in front good but deficient in molars." The list of his possesions is almost identical to the list when he was first admitted to Kenmore, a fact that is a little odd.

This time Robert provides a personal history which is quite accurate. He must have given up any attempt to try to hide his predicament from his family in Ireland for he gives them his brother John's address in Belfast. But his mental condition has clearly not improved. The doctor writes: "Knows where he is and what the place is for but does not think he is mentally affected. Was arrested near Cootamundra. May have been shouting as he walked along. Admits that he uses bad language. Says he is a navvy and picked up the bad language amongst the navvies. Would rather be a navvy than teach in school because he has less worry. He says he goes off like steam and talks to himself. Cant help himself. Does the same when he is in the bush. (Talks about) old people and places that crop up in his memory. Has never heard "voices". Came out here because he thought there was free land out here. Would not take on anything but laboring work as there is no money in the country. He rather meanders along in his replies to questions but his answers are rational." This time the diagnosis is "Melancholia del.".

Robert was to spend the next and last four years of his life in Kenmore. He continued to be a difficult patient, noisy and boisterous, sometimes aggressive. He must have finally realized the seriousness of his condition for sometime between August and Novemeber 1922, he wrote to his family in Ireland. And the package of material we finally excavated from Kenmore in the year 2002, contained a letter written by my grandfather, John Earls, to the Kenmore Hospital. That letter is worth quoting in full. John Earls writes from his affluent Belfast home at 31 Ravenhill Park, Ravenhill Road, Belfast. The letter is addressed to the Medical Officer in Charge, Govt. Insane Asylum, Goulburn, N.S.W. and reads:
Dear Sir,
A letter has come to hand from my brother Robert Earls in which he states that he has been since May last a patient in your Institution.
Neither I nor any of his relatives or friends in this country have had any previous communication whatever from him since he left here for Australia about 12 years ago.
Though glad to hear from him after such a long period of time we regret to learn that he is suffering from mental derangement. He says that he has been committed to the Govt. Insane Asylum "as suffering from fits of violent irritation without apparent cause". His letter, however, is somewhat confused and unnatural and I am therefore taking the liberty to ask if you would be good enough to let me know something of his personal condition, and the chance of his recovery. His father died a few months ago and I am his only brother in this country. I should be glad to know also how he came to be committed to the asylum and whether you know anything of his present circumstances.
He asked in his letter if we knew of any hereditary tendency to insanity in our family, and says that he has heard of his grandfather having been affected in some way during a religious revival. I have never heard of any insanity in either my father's or my mother's family. The incident he refers to must have been during the great religious revival of 1859 when hundreds of people all over the country were "stricken", as it was called, or fell prostrate in a swoon.
I don't know whether or not he had given you any detailed account of his own personal history but with the hope that it may be helpful to you in dealing with his case I shall mention some facts regarding him.
He is 47 years of age in December next, I being just a year older. In his boyhood there was nothing remarkable about him except that he was inclined to be reserved in his manner and also somewhat reckless.
In his youth he met with a rather serious accident which resulted in the complete loss of one of his eyes. The accident was largely due to his own recklessness in handling a "home-made" bomb which had been arranged to explode by means of a fuse and had failed to do so.
This accident, in my opinion, distinctly affected his disposition. Apart from the loss from the point of view of sight, I believe he felt keenly about having to wear an artifical eye, especially as the scars to the socket of the eye made it difficult to get an eye to fit. Indeed, he seemed to be very sensitive as regards this defect and I think it had the effect of souring his disposition and of making him less sociable.
When this happened he was preparing to become a teacher and he eventually qualified for the profession. After teaching for a short time at home he went to S. Africa somewhere about 20 years ago. After following his own profession there for some years he went to S. America about the commencement of the rubber boom. This venture however proved unsatisfactory and he had to come home. After being undecided whether to try Canada or Australia he eventually decided for Australia for which he sailed 12 years ago. From that time we never heard of him till now. He did not even write to say he had arrived.
Two incidents in his career affected him in a very marked degree - one was the loss of his eye and the other was his S. American experience, in which he lost all of a considerable sum which he had saved in S. Africa and arrived home again practically penniless. He was of an independent disposition and I think that, rather than be dependent on anyone, he determined to go to Australia and not communicate with any one unless he "made good".
He is a well educated man, widely read in the best English literature, and an excellent writer himself, especially of descriptive matter, I gather from his letter that he has lived a laborious outdoor life in Australia, in perhaps uncongenial surroundings. Being cut off entirely from all his friends, his life must have been in many respects a lonely one which would probably develop his tendency to unsociability. If, in addition, he has, as seems probable, had to face the hardships and anxieties of a precarious livelihood, the strains imposed upon him partly by circumstances and partly by his own natural somewhat obstinate nature would seem to me to account for his mental breakdown at his present period of life. Whether my conclusions are right or wrong, the facts I have given may be helpful to you in dealing with his case. The information I have given is of course confidential and I think he would probably resent my writing to you about him if he knew about it. You should therefore not let him know I have done so.
I have written to him and made as light of his illness as possible and have my best to disabuse his mind of the idea that his condition is due to hereditary causes.
The following are some facts regarding our family strain. Maternal grandfather lived to 82, grandmother to 93. Father just died at 85. 3 maternal uncles alive aged 84, 83 and over 70. Maternal aunt alive aged 85. All in full possesion of mental faculties. Father's sister alive at 83.
I shall be greatly obliged for any information you may be good enough to send me. And I shall be very pleased to give you any information you may desire.
I am, dear Sir,
Yours faithfully,
John Earls

On Dec.13, 1922, the Medical Superindent responded to John Earls letter though the letter is strangely addressed to Mrs. John Earls:
Madam,
Robert Earls was admitted to the Reception House for Mental cases in Sydney on 19th Nov. 1920 and three days later was transferred to Gladesville Mental Hospital which is just out of Sydney, was discharged from there on April 30th 1921. He was admitted here on 9th May 1922. At Gladesville he was at times sullen and resented being spoken to but improved. He came to Kenmore suffering from Melancholia with delusional ideas and had been found on the road talking aloud to himself. He was quite friendly at first but became quarrelsome with other patients. He said that he was a labourer though trained for teaching but preffered to do labouring work. He is doing a little work at present and is more friendly but there is no idea at present of discharging him. Your letter has thrown much light on his case and will be very helpful in further treatment.
Yours faithfully,
Medical Superintendent

Perhaps motivated by Christmas, John Earls writes again to the Medical Superintendent on Dec.28, 1923:
Dear Sir,
If my brother Robert Earls about whom I wrote to you about a year ago is still a patient in your institution I shall be glad if you will be good enough to send me a report regarding his condition.
I am sending him a letter by the same post as this and if he has left the hospital and you know his address perhaps you will have it forwarded to him; or if you do not know his address please have it returned to me. It contains a small sum of money.
I am, dear Sir,
Yours faithfully,
John Earls

and the Medical Superintendent responds to this second letter on Feb.13, 1924:
Sir,
Robert Earls. I am sorry to say he has not improved mentally and is labouring under delusional ideas and, at times, calls out as though talking to some imaginary person. He is well conducted if left to himself and in good bodily health. We shall hand him the letter when it comes. Money is usually kept in the office for patients and they can draw on it as they desire.
Yours faithfully,
Medical Superintendent

Finally, the Medical Superintendent, writes again on Jun.26, 1926:
Dear Madam,
I regret to inform you that your brother Mr. Robert Earls an inmate of this institution for the past four years passed away on Thursday June 24th 1926, after an extremely acute illness. On Tuesday 22nd. June he became suddenly ill with a double Broncho-Pneumonia and Pleurisy which proved fatal after 36 hours. His end was, however, both pain free and peaceful. He was interred in the Hospital Cemetery,
Yours faithfully,
Medical Superintendent

And so, after the excitement of the search, the story comes to a very sad conclusion. Despite many unanswered questions (the interaction with William Charles Kerr Earls for example) one is left with my grandfather's depressingly dispassionate letter. Was there not more that could have been done to help this poor soul who suffered such debilitating losses in his critical teenage years? Perhaps back then mental illness was so little understood and there were so few remedies that people were more accustomed to shrugging their shoulders and moving on. But surely Robert's illness was clear before he set out for Australia. Was he then encouraged to go? My grandfather's letter seems more intent on denying any genetic defect than on providing help to Robert. Indeed the letter contains a deliberate lie, for another sister in that same family was confined to a mental hospital in Ireland during puberty and spent the rest of her life there. But we probably judge too harshly, viewing the case from the perspective of our era. Robert was, after all, cared for in those Australian hospitals in a way that was superior to the way in which we care for the many homeless who wander the streets and roads of modern America.

*Many thanks to John Earls for obtaining the Kenmore file and to Alison Earls for copying it onto a CD. Thanks also to the Kenmore Hospital staff for the extra effort in unearthing the file.


Last updated 5/15/02.
Christopher E. Brennen