Olive Wharry medical report

Letter from the Deputy Medical Officer at Holloway Prison to the Home Office, July 8 1914 (HO 144/1205/221873).


July 8th, 1914

18732 Phyllis North @ Olive Wharry

I think it expedient to draw the Commissioners attention particularly to the above-named prisoner transferred from Carnarvon Prison on Monday last July 6, so I am sending this report supplementing my daily report on her case.

To those who have had an opportunity of observing her and comparing her mental and physical condition to what it was two years ago, it is apparent she has altered considerably and deteriorated both in mind and body. She is well known to Dr. Sass, Dr. Higson and myself, and we are all agreed there is a marked change for the worse.

At the present time she is very thin, one may almost say emaciated, and I think it important to register this fact at an early date after her arrival in case it might be attributed later to malnutrition due to artificial feeding. Whether this wasting is due to actual disease, or whether it is due to the proper assimilation [digestion] of food not taking place as a result of previous hunger-striking, or whether previous to her incarceration [imprisonment] she had purposely reduced her weight with a view to embarrassing the Prison authorities, it is difficult to say. She can only be examined with difficulty, resisting all the time, so an examination conducted under these circumstances is of little value.

But in addition to physical deterioration [decline], I consider also her mental state has become more unsatisfactory. It was always realised from the first time she came to Prison, that she was mentally unstable and shewed evidence of mental disability partaking more of the moral than the intellectual type of disorder. Her irrational views on social things in general- her lack of moral fibre, diminished will power combined with obstinacy and her habits of cunning and deceit, all point to the fact that she cannot be credited with a full measure of responsibility for her actions. Imbibing [accepting] as she has done to the full, the doctrines of the Women’s Social and Political Union and possibly conceiving the idea of becoming a martyr, her judgement has become warped and her mental view distorted, until at last she is fast approaching the border line of insanity. On account of the limited chances we have of getting her to converse with us, it is impossible to form an estimate as to what stage she has reached, and although it might not be possible or desirable to certify her now, I think it is a case in which every endeavour should be made to remove her from any influences of a character likely to excite the imagination, and pressure should be brought to prevent if possible her participating in any militancy in the future. Otherwise I am afraid in the not too distant future, the excitement and mental strain entailed by association with a Political movement of this kind, will inevitably lead to a permanent breakdown in one whose mental equilibrium is so markedly unstable.

(Signed) Francis E. Forward
Deputy Medical Officer.

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