The Case of Daniel Baker
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.