Saturday, 1 April 2017

Nooks & Crannies of the Mental Health Act 1: The Farne Islands (Removal of Lunatics to England & Wales) Regulations 1927

The Mental Health Act has been evolving over centuries. Indeed, the Victorian Lunacy Acts in the 1800’s contained recognisable germs of the current MHA (an example being Sec.136, the origins of which can be found in legislation written over 150 years ago).

The Mental Treatment Act 1930 first introduced the idea of treatment for people with mental disorder, while the MHA 1959 introduced the concept of the Mental Welfare Officer, whose role provided an independent check on doctors having complete control of the detention process.
The MHA 1983 further refined this process of legal protection for people being detained against their will in psychiatric hospitals, and the 2007 Act enshrined subsequent changes in human rights legislation into mental health law.

These Acts, and accompanying regulations and statutory instruments, tended to amend, consolidate or even abolish previous legislation. Sometimes, however, anomalies survived.

The smaller islands of the British Isles are a case in point. The Isle of Man, for instance, with a population of around 81,000, has its own Mental Health Act, which still has Approved Social Workers rather than AMHPs, and Jersey in the Channel Islands its own Mental Health Law going back to 1969.

Part VI of the Mental Health Act consists of almost unreadably tedious regulations covering the removal of mental health patients from one part of the British Isles to another.

But what is almost unknown (and not mentioned at all in the Jones’ Mental Health Act Manual) is the existence of regulations relating to mentally disordered persons in the Farne Islands. This piece of legislation appears to have been forgotten by legislators, with the result that The Farne Islands (Removal of Lunatics to England & Wales) Regulations 1927 was never repealed, and is not even mentioned in Part VI.

The Farne Islands are a group of small islands off the coast of Northumberland in Northern England. They are now owned by the National Trust.

Mainly inhabited by a vast range of seabirds, including puffins, as well as a large colony of seals, in the early part of the century there was still a community of people living permanently on the islands.

This small but tight-knitted group, known disparagingly as “Fannies” by the mainlanders, eked a precarious living by farming seaweed, milking seals to make seal cheese, and taking eggs and any seabirds they could catch using finely woven nets thrown off the top of the guano covered cliffs.
"Fannies" preparing to catch puffins

The Farne Island regulations were created as a result of a notorious incident in 1927 known in the press of the time as the Wellington King.

An aristocrat known as the Honourable Petrus Wimple-Burgoyne developed the delusion that the Farne Islands were the remains of the lost continent of Atlantis, and that as his family originated from Atlantis, he was the rightful king. He started to petition King George VI, challenging him to the throne of the Farne Islands, and demanding that he be invested in Westminster Abbey.

He became such a nuisance that he was eventually committed to a lunatic asylum under the Lunacy Act 1890. However, he got wind of this, and before the ambulance arrived he fled to the Northumberland coast, where he hired a boat at Seahouses and just after dawn on 1st April 1927 he reached the Farne Islands.

He was able to convince the rather credulous and inbred “Fannies” that he was their rightful king, and in a ceremony involving the smearing of the rather oily seal cheese over his entire upper body, an india rubber wellington boot was forced over his head, crowning him the “Wellington King” of the Farne Islands.
The Wellington King

When it was discovered where he was, efforts were immediately commenced to recover him to the mainland. It was at this point that it was realised that there was no legal instrument that could be invoked to lawfully remove him.

An emergency session of Parliament was convened, and so was born the Farne Islands (Removal of Lunatics to England & Wales) Regulations.

Within days, a Naval Frigate sailed to the Farne Islands and a dozen sailors alighted on the island of Inner Farne to apprehend him. Despite the sailors being pelted mercilessly with puffin eggs and foul-smelling lumps of seal cheese by the loyal “Fannies”, the so-called “Wellington King” was seized, and returned to England, where he was placed in St Bernard’s Hospital in Southall, Middlesex.

To this day, the Honourable Petrus Wimple-Burgoyne is the only person for whom this regulation has been used.