Conceived in The Asylum: NSW Friday

1 February 2019

Some cases are easier to crack than others. Often-times we are aware that someone has passed away without leaving a Will. We have their birth certificate, which is a crucial document from which we plan to build up the rest of the family tree. This particular certificate was incredibly interesting. Ernest Foxton’s mother was simply listed as a nurse, Wilma Barrett, which on further investigation proved to be a nurse in a mental asylum. Unusually, Ernest’s father was also listed – despite the couple clearly not being married. Ernest Foxton’s father, E. J. Foxton, was listed as a ‘retired army captain’, and signs his name with a bold, strong, script. We were lucky to get this original image from the General Register Office, rather than a transcription.

We soon found a reference to: E. J. Foxton , M.D., assistant medical officer, the County Mental hospital. Foxton senior had authored a paper on syphilis – sometimes a precursor to mental health conditions. This seemed highly relevant, considering that the mother of his child was known to be a nurse in a mental asylum! We wondered if syphilis was on their mind when their son was conceived.

asylum picture
The Foxton family – 1910

Fourteen years earlier, E. J. Foxton had married, in Ireland and his occupation was listed as a doctor at the very same County Mental hospital! It transpired that Foxton senior had a number of children by his wife, and that this dalliance with the nurse was very possibly a wartime liaison.

Passion cooled, however, and Foxton married somebody else (having divorced his first wife). This left Wilma with her son. Interestingly, she took the name Foxton herself, which made life easier for her and her boy. It rather suggests that she had no intention of bringing up an illegitimate child, and perhaps had been promised rather more than just a quick fumble in the fusty rooms of the asylum.

When we came to dig deeper into the Foxton family, we realised we needed to make contact with the children from the first marriage. We also found that Foxton senior had also been born in an asylum – this time at a large building in the south of Ireland.

Wonder of wonderment, we found a photograph of the Foxton family back in Ireland outside the asylum in a motor-car in about 1910.

What came out of these discoveries is that Edward Foxton’s half-siblings and their family, were very keen to find more about the young boy and what became of, and plan to visit his grave, in the north-west in the coming months.

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