Sherlock Hare was a British barrister working in colonial Rangoon until he was diagnosed as a criminal lunatic in 1891. He was then deported to England where, after briefly escaping, he was confined in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum for the remainder of his life. I have written about him in more detail in an article, if you’re interested (and have a subscription, sorry). In January his Broadmoor case files were released, and one of the notes written by an attendant has had me puzzled:
4th December 1900 – About 2.45pm yesterday Mr Hare asked me if the Superintendent was likely to come in – I told him I did not know – he then said now Mrs Baden-Powell had gone to the cape perhaps the Superintendent would let him go as she was the greatest enemy he had, she had told a lot of lies about him.
Which Baden-Powell is being referred to here? And what, if anything, lay behind this note? Sherlock’s status as a ‘lunatic’ is no reason to dismiss it. Partly because his writing was always lucid, so much so the Superintendent of the asylum had to write to some of Sherlock’s correspondents to warn them against being convinced of his sanity. But mainly because the line between mental health and mental illness is not fixed or easily defined. In Sherlock’s case, it is difficult enough to tell what the causes of his mental anguish were, let alone whether it was a symptom of an illness.
It is certainly credible that Sherlock might have had a run-in with one of the Baden-Powells. At least two of Robert Baden-Powell’s brothers had been trained in law at the Inner Temple at roughly the same time as Sherlock. Robert and Sherlock may even have crossed paths in India. They certainly moved in the same elite Victorian circles. Sherlock’s brother-in-law, and closest supporter, was John Westlake, a one-time Liberal MP and Professor of International Law at Cambridge University, and his father was Thomas Hare, a Tory MP and political theorist. There might even have been cause for disagreement. Sherlock (it seems) and Westlake were both opponents of the South African War that began in 1899, making Robert a household name.
But which Baden-Powell is it? I’m not sure whether Robert’s mother or one of his sisters went to the cape during the war. Robert wasn’t married for another decade, so that’s ruled out. It could have been the wife of one of his brothers. Maybe, the attendant had confused the pronouns. Or perhaps (and I’m really going out on a limb on this one) Sherlock’s comment was a flippant one alluding to Robert’s female impersonations and cross-dressing at school and in the army, which were apparently relatively common knowledge at the time.
It is difficult to know how to read these notes. The attendant recorded the exchange, presumably, because he thought it was relevant to Sherlock’s management and treatment. He might have thought that it was a sign of Sherlock’s paranoia. It is impossible to know for sure why Sherlock made the remark. Was it serious, or was it a joke? This is probably a research dead-end, but the potential intrigue makes it hard to drop.