The Case of Daniel Baker

Dorset - - Dorchester -

The story of Daniel Baker shines a light on how men­tal ill­ness was treated in the prison sys­tem. The 84-year-old was brought be­fore the county quar­ter ses­sions, on 29th June 1904, for steal­ing a shirt. This was his 59th ap­pear­ance be­fore a mag­is­trate, and 80th occasion he had stood in the dock at Shire Hall.

The Grand Jury would have been pro­vided with the long list of pre­vi­ous charges against Baker. His first con­vic­tions were for pub­lic nui­sances: breach of the peace, as­sault, and drunk­en­ness. Later charges in­cluded va­grancy and theft. But his ap­pear­ance in front of the bench at Shire Hall in 1904 was to be his last. The case was put for­ward that Daniel was men­tally un­able to plea and so the case went from the charge of steal­ing a shirt, to whether Daniel was in a fit state of mind to face a trial. The de­ci­sion, made by a jury of his peers, was that Daniel was not fit to plea. He was de­tained un­der the Crim­i­nal Lu­nacy Act of 1800 and sent to Her­ri­son Asy­lum, where he spent the last two years of his life.

The mu­seum team were able to lo­cate a de­scen­dant of Daniel Baker, called Dan Baker. His fa­ther was a prison of­fi­cer, which led to the dis­cov­ery of the fam­ily his­tory con­nec­tion. Dan said that he was glad that his an­ces­tor had peo­ple to look after him for the fi­nal years of his life and that “some­one cared.”

A po­lit­i­cal car­toon re­flect­ing the pub­lic opin­ion about the sen­tence given to the Tolpud­dle Mar­tyrs. The two oars­men guide the boat to­wards a ship from which is re­turn­ing a boat, con­tain­ing the six Tolpud­dle Mar­tyrs. Among thepoliti­cians are Lord Chan­cel­lor Brougham.

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