Driven mad by overwork? The sad story of Mary Jane Vosper

Mary Jane Vosper was born at St Clether to the north of Bodmin Moor in 1850. She was the eldest child of Nathaniel Vosper, a farm labourer, and his second wife Jane. The census records tell us that Nathaniel moved at least twice during the 1850s, ending up south of the moor at Trebarret Farm, Boconnoc in 1861. Mary had some schooling and in the late 1860s obtained a post as a kitchenmaid in the house of Frederick Savile, a Church of England clergyman living in Torquay in Devon.

The church at Torquay where Frederick may have been the rector
The entry for Mary in the Bodmin Workhouse admissions book

Things may not have been easy at the rector’s house. A year and half after the 1871 census Mary was back home in Boconnoc. She was then admitted to Bodmin Lunatic Asylum in November 1872. Her ‘disorder’ was given as ’dementia’ due to overwork. Two years later in October 1874 she was discharged and given 20 shillings from the Basset Benevolent Fund to help her find her feet.

Mary drifted to Plymouth in search of work. However, in February 1875 she was admitted to the workhouse there, ‘not having obtained a situation and having no settled home’. Her physical condition was described as ‘weak’ and she was said to be suffering from ‘mania’.

Unfortunately, her father had died in 1873 and her mother followed him to the grave a few years later while Mary Jane was in the workhouse at Plymouth. Two younger sisters had departed on marriage, one to Yorkshire and the other to Bristol, so Mary was left with no obvious familial support. At some point between 1875 and 1880 she was again admitted to Bodmin Asylum, where she died in 1880, aged just 30.

(Many thanks to Barbara Schenck for digging out this information on Mary Jane.)

One thought on “Driven mad by overwork? The sad story of Mary Jane Vosper

  1. After the house responsibilities, probably having to clean and dust a church without a vacuum cleaner would be tough. Then she’d be polishing all the wood and brass and spotlessly washing the linen. It’s time consuming cleaning a church, but it usually brings a spiritual reward. Poor Mary-Anne.


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