John Graham FORREST (1875-1921)

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Rev John Graham FORREST, Clerk in the Holy Orders, was born on 20th Apr 1875 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire[1]. He was the first third child of John FORREST and Eveline RODGER.

He grew up in Cheltenham[2] and was educated at Uppingham School, Uppingham, Rutland[3][4] and in 1897 he received a 3rd Class Bachelor of the Arts in History from Oxford University followed by, in 1900, a Master of the Arts[5]. The following year, he became the curate at Rushden Church in Northamptionshire[6].

John Graham was noted for living a hardworking life and giving up his income to help others and was keen to become a vicar. However, a few days before he was to be ordained he suddenly broke down, and became depressed and started questioning his own moral character and developed anxiety towards his father. He was seen by a number of doctors until he became a paying guest for a year with physician Dr C.S. Segundo in Gloucester Place in London[7].

Chiswick House c1890

On 3rd Feb 1909 he was admitted to Chiswick House asylum in Chiswick, Middlesex[8]. The grand house, previously owned by the 8th Duke of Devonshire, had become an asylum in 1893 and was run by brothers Dr Thomas Seymour Tuke and Dr Charles Molesworth Tuke. Dr Thomas’ obituary stated that “his personal tact with patients led to them looking upon him as a trusted friend even more than a Doctor” and Dr Charles’ obituary noted that “he worked to make the atmosphere of Chiswick House that of a private country house, and to disassociate it from all appearance of an institution”[9].

John spent 11 years at Chiswick House, his medical notes recording that he suffered from delusions that he was being “followed by detectives”, that his father had “accused him of keeping a mistress” and that others found his presence “offensive”. The doctors encouraged sports and hobbies and he composed music on the piano, and actively played cricket, tennis and croquet. Even though two of his brothers (George and Charles) died a short time apart he became mentally well enough to go out alone and visit friends and family.

On 31st Aug 1921 John went to Cheltenham on leave to visit a Dr. Lidderdale. Reports were positive and on the 13th Oct a further one month’s leave of absence was granted to him. John wrote to Dr Tuke expressing his satisfaction of the extension, however at 6pm on 20th Oct 1921 the police found a body in the river Severn near Tewkesbury which was identified as John Graham Forrest.[10]

The verdict recorded by the coroner was “suicide by drowning whilst of unsound mind”. In keeping with his seeming low opinion of himself, in his Will he requested that “I am not buried in the Church yard of Lacey Green but in a public cemetery near to the place where I shall die and that no memorial window or monument of any kind be anywhere erected to my memory”[11].