TODAY, those of my generation have to be so careful of the words we use in order to not cause offence.

We were a generation brought up on Alf Garnett, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and On the Buses ­— to say nothing of the Black and White Minstrels, which will never be repeated on television today, even though in their day, they were among the most popular television shows.

In Queen Victoria’s reign, however, they were not so fussy, and when it came to describing those with mental illnesses, little care was taken.

It was nothing to read of hospital wards being described as for ‘idiots’, ‘imbeciles’ and ‘lunatics’.

Indeed, Whitecroft Hospital on the old maps is described as a ‘lunatic asylum’.

This was the type of language used around 1870 ­— a time when the name of Beckingsale was well known in the Island’s capital.

William Beckingsale, who lived at Fairlee House, was at the time of his death in 1907, described as the oldest practising solicitor in England, entering the profession in 1835.

Living in Lugley Street was brother, John Edgar Beckingsale, who in 1877 was the senior medical officer at the workhouse at Parkhurst.

Life for this gentleman, however, was about to change dramatically when a patient from Brading died while under his care.

Edward Cooper, aged 23, who was born mentally handicapped, was admitted to the workhouse in mid-February, 1877.

Two weeks previous to this, his father had died.

His mother was then left alone to give her full-time attention to Edward, which made it impossible for her to work and as such, she was forced to care for him with an allowance of just two shillings a week.

Friends persuaded her to get her son into the workhouse, where he would be well treated, and where she could visit him on a weekly basis.

This was reluctantly done, and when Edward was admitted, he was said to be ­— his mental state notwithstanding­ — in good health.

Within four weeks, however, he was dead, and an examination of his body post mortem showed that he had severe bed sores, and was in an emaciated condition.

In short, there were accusations that he had been starved to death by means of neglect.

Headlines in newspapers at the time included: ‘Idiot starved to death in the Isle of Wight workhouse’.

A Government Board of Inquiry was set up, composed of mainland gentlemen, thus avoiding any suggestions of a cover up.

Those under scrutiny included the male and female nurse who had been attending Edward, the deputy medical officer, who just happened to be Mr Beckingsale’s son, and Mr Beckingsale himself.

It was found that statements made in the log books by the two nurses with regard to the food the deceased had eaten in the two days prior to his death were untrue, and other evidence given by these two members of staff was found to be unreliable.

It was resolved that both should be dismissed forthwith for dereliction of duty.

When Mr Beckingsale was questioned, he informed the enquiry that he had held his position in the workhouse for 30 years.

When asked about Edward Cooper, he described him as being: ‘a perfect idiot, of the very lowest type that he had ever seen in the house.’

The enquiry took several days, and the upshot was that Mr Beckingsale was asked to resign.

As for his son ­— his deputy ­— the workhouse had no jurisdiction over him as he had been employed by his father.

However, it was stated that the Board of Guardians would decline in the future to employ him in any official capacity connected with the administration of medical relief to the poor.

Later in the year, Mr Beckingsale senior asked to address the board, where he thanked them for their support over the years and then officially handed in his resignation.

The reverberations of this enquiry continued for some time, and without doubt, it would have been a local scandal.

However, the gentry ­— as they always do ­— decided to close ranks, and so it was in May, 1878, that his ex-colleagues on the Board of Guardians, who were the administrators of the workhouse, met, and sent a letter to the Central Board who had sat in judgement on the death of Edward Cooper.

They wrote, stating they felt Mr Beckingsale and his son had been harshly treated ­— the letter being signed by 33 local medical men and 27 clergymen.

In response, the Central Board stated they would give sympathetic consideration to any claim made to grant their late employee a pension, which was later agreed to be set at 40 pounds a year.

Needless to say, Mr Cooper’s mother was not asked to comment, and no mention was made of the two nurses who had lost their jobs.

It appears that Mr Beckingsale’s position within the town was little affected, as for several years, he continued to be a senior magistrate within the borough.

He died eight years after his public humiliation, in 1885.

At his funeral, his coffin was followed to the graveside in Newport cemetery by the mayor and all the members of the town council, with the town sergeants carrying the maces draped in black.

Some might say that for the treatment he oversaw of Mr Cooper and his apparent dismissive attitude, he was undeserving of such civic respect.

His wife, who outlived him by 11 years, was the daughter of William Thatcher ­— the man credited with bringing foxes on to the Island and the owner of the first pack of fox hounds here.

On a lighter note, and on the theme of words used in the past, in 1884, the County Press reported on a case of a breach of promise brought against a Newport taxidermist.

He had lost the case and was ordered to pay a total of £100 plus £12 costs to the lady ­— a sum which bankrupted him.

This was early in the life of the new County Press, and the editor had not yet gotten to know his staff, for one reporter had referred to the taxidermist in print as ‘a bird stuffer’.

I could not possibly comment.

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