A Sad Family Story

I have always known about Kate’s brother, Edward. The family story was that he went to Hungary to tutor a young girl and fell in love with her. When her father found out, he said “no” and Edward was told to leave. He then fell out of a train (either accident or suicide attempt from love) and was never the same again. Kate used to visit him once a year (possibly in Northampton, my mother remembers) and Alys (his little sister, my great grandmother) never saw him again. And that was all we ever knew.

Until I started to transcribe Kate’s diaries…..

They do not make for happy reading – you have been warned.

Edward Boyd was the eldest child and only brother of Katherine (Kate) and Alys. His father, Phillip Boyd, died of tuberculosis when Edward was only 11 leaving him to be the head of the house, the “man of the family”.

The Boyd family – all wearing mourning clothes in 1846. L-R Kate, Edward, Alys, Lucy (mother)

Edward was educated at Clifton College, Bristol and then Sidney College, Cambridge University (1895 – 1898) where he attained Exhibitioner Natural Science Tripos 1st Class.

The family were thrilled with his achievements and, from the diaries, it was clear to see that Edward was a much-loved and admired member of the family.

Entries from Kate’s diaries

“Friday, 17th June 1898
De B’s encore in bed to breakfast. Aunt Ada and I to Westbourne. Had croquet out. Edward got 4 telegrams to congratulate him on his getting a “first class” in his Tripos!!!  Oh Joy!!! A drive at 2.30. We played tennis a lot. Speeches at dinner.”

Having taken his Degree, Edward left a few days later to work for the family of Countess Pejacsevich-Mikó,

Kate’s Diary entry…

Thursday, June 23rd 1898
Mother, Alys, Ed and I drove to town; had photographs taken and shopped. Cut sandwiches in afternoon; and had tea-party, as see mem. Wade came and helped to serve. Played tennis and croquet. Uncle P “migraine”.

The official Family Photograph taken before Edward leaves for Hungary L-R Alys, Mother (Lucy), Edward and Kate

Friday, June 24th June 1898
Rained all day hard. We packed and saw to Edward’s things. He and Uncle Pierre to town. Wadie came and did sewing. Had songs in evening. Dear old Edward sang “Sleep”. Uncle P sang.

Saturday, June 25th June 1898
Packed and did heaps of things. All morning. Rainy, showery. At 1.30 we all to station to see Edward off to Hungary via see “mem”. Mother and Alys home. The De B’s, Aunt Ada and I to Winter Gardens. Walked home, songs, etc, in evening.

Mem: Edward to Harwich, Rotterdam, Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich, Danube, etc.

Letters went backwards and forwards, even a lovely birthday present (scarf and ring) for Kate, when suddenly 3 months later a telegram arrived.

“Monday, 19th September 1898
Wrote to Aunt Alice, Tades, Mrs Geddes, Sarah, Minnie. Ella and Alys to tea at Menies. I rested and read Lamb’s Essays 45. Telegram from Uncle H. Ed sunstroke. Mrs Carnie and Hannah and Norah in.”

Lucy (Edward, Kate and Alys’ mother) and Uncle Harold (Lucy’s brother) went straight to Troppau where Edward was in hospital and with that their whole world collapsed.

The diagnosis of sunstroke changed to “malarial fever” and Edward was subsequently declared insane.

Suffering from delusions and auditory hallucinations, Edward had thrown himself out of a train to kill himself.  There was no unrequited love story.

With the help of Edward’s Austrian psychiatrist and possibly a man-servant/hospital orderly, Mother and Kate (aged 19) took him home to England where he was swiftly transferred to Holloway Sanatorium Virginia Water in Surrey – a private mental institution known for the care and treatment of the insane. Edward was only 22.

Only photograph of Edward in his medical notes

Just over one year later, Edward was discharged from Holloway Sanatorium and moved to Bethlem (Bedlam) Hospital – a psychiatric hospital in London.

He stayed there for 4 years and was then transferred, I think, to Bryn-y-neuadd Mental Hospital, Llanfairfechan, Caernarvonshire (though there may be more hospitals in between – I can find no record.)

Edward died in 1946 aged 69 at St Andrew’s Hospital, Northampton.

If you are interested his mental health records from his stay in Holloway and Bethlem are here. (WARNING: It is fairly brutal reading.)

It must’ve been a very sad state of affairs for the whole family. I may find out more as I transcribe more diaries. The 1899 one is missing, and I don’t know why. Maybe it was all too much in that year and Kate destroyed it. We will probably never know.







14 thoughts on “A Sad Family Story

    1. Frances Post author

      It is desperate, isn’t it? Their world was trimming hats and calling on folk endlessly and then suddenly, wham. Everything changes. It has taken me a while to get my head around the whole situation and to decide to include it in the Diaries. That poor family.

  1. Cathy

    What a tragedy. A gifted and much loved brother, it’s hard to imagine how they could ever come to terms with what happened. And how sad that he lived on in his twilight world, with no hope of improvement, until 1946.

  2. darby callahan

    Such a sad story. I am a psychologist and have worked in modern mental hospitals. Even today it is still tragic when a young and promising life is forever changed by mental illness. true the treatments are far less harsh and there is some hope for going on to live some kind of productive life but so often never the bright promise imagined. and so hard on the families.

  3. Judith Garbutt

    It’s impossible to imagine how traumatic those events must have been for the family. Particularly sad that Edward was moved through so many different hospitals/asylums. His sisters must have found it so difficult. Painful to read about it. Feel for you, Frances. xx

    1. Frances Post author

      Thank you, Judith. I am just glad we found the actual truth. I only have a small insight into their lives but it is all so real and hopeless and yet, life goes on…. it has to.

  4. Joe Boyd

    Thank you, Frances, for the wonderful work you are doing by transcribing these diaries and sharing them with us. Whether blood-related or not, I feel a deep kinship with this Boyd family. It is probably true that every family, at some point, has had to deal with some dark tragedy. Please stay strong and see this project through to completion. I may be first in line to buy the book when it is published.

    1. Frances Post author

      Thank you Joe for your message. It means a lot. I am finding out a great deal and it is the best history lesson (which I did not study). Real life is very harsh.

  5. Shelley

    I’m struck by the time delay your family must have experienced as normal. These days Edward would have been safely home within a week but it had to have been excruciating for Kate and her Mother to travel slowly to Hungary in a state of prolonged fear and anxiety. And getting Edward home had to be a nightmare of changing trains and worry about his health and safety.

    Question: In the photo of the family before Edward left you have from left to right Alys, Kate and her Mother. I would have guessed it was Kate on the right?

    1. Frances Post author

      I agree. In the photo, I thought Kate was on the right but no, that’s her mother. Kate looks much older, which is kind of shocking too.

      Editted to say – I spoke to my mother this morning and Kate is on the far right. I got it completely wrong and have changed the wording!

  6. Evelyn

    This may well have been TB. In my farming family TB, sometimes caught from cows in those days, affected the brain – leading to violence and even murder.


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