Any experts on property law in Victorian England lurking around here?
May 10, 2016 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Dear Victorianists of MeFi: I'm looking for an answer to a specific question about property law in Victorian England.

OK, so here's my specific question, but I'd also appreciate any help re: pointing me to possible resources on this. If a local, middle-class business owner were to go senile, would his or her son be able to take control and ownership of the business, power-of-attorney-style? Could that son potentially sell the business and reap the benefits? I know women were committed fairly frequently by their husbands in order to get them out of the way, but am not sure how commitment or hospitalization (or declared senility) of a head of household would work in roughly the 1860s.

Any help much appreciated! Are there any (ideally online or accessible in North America) databases that would touch on this information? Or, if anyone knows the actual answer to the question, that would be even more helpful.

Thanks, historians!
posted by Miss T.Horn to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You'll want to search for "personal property" or "personalty." Or "wills" or "estates" or "succession."

The term "property law" as used in your question would generally be taken to refer to real property, not ownership of a business.

ownership of the business, power-of-attorney-style ...Power of attorney is not ownership.

Hope this helps your searching.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:02 PM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Overview, link to database:

A specific research paper, here.
posted by wilko at 1:52 PM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

In nineteenth-century law, a person suffering from senile dementia would be judged 'non compos mentis' or 'of unsound mind'. Ex parte Cranmer (1806) established that such persons could be covered by a Commission of Lunacy:

There are innumerable instances of Commissions, the objects of which were clearly persons not lunatic in the strict sense; the disorder arising from causes that could not possibly admit lucid intervals; old age, for instance; a glimmering only of understanding left; a state, produced by no sudden cause, but by the gradual effect of time upon the mind.

The relatives (in your hypothetical case, the son) would therefore have to apply to the Lord Chancellor, or after 1845 to the Commissioners in Lunacy, who would examine the medical evidence and appoint a committee or guardian for the non compos and his property.

The laws relating to the disposal of property of non compotes mentis were highly complex, but mostly covered by the 1830 Act 'for consolidating and amending the Laws Relating to Property belonging to Infants, Femes Covert, Idiots, Lunatics, and Persons of Unsound Mind'.

On the work of the Lunacy Commission, see D.J. Mellett, 'Bureaucracy and Mental Illness: The Commissioners in Lunacy 1845-1890', Medical History 25 (1981), full text available here. The blog by Emily Andrews, Victorian Dotage, has some helpful information on nineteenth-century attitudes to senile dementia.
posted by verstegan at 3:11 PM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oooh, verstegan, good stuff: full text of the Law Concerning Lunatics, Idiots, and Persons of Unsound Mind. Though "...any acts of business disprove idiotcy." Section CXXVI is giving me fits with pasting, but may provide you with an answer.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:30 PM on May 10, 2016

"Sec. CXXVI. " And where a lunatic (') has been engaged in a trade
or business, and it appears to the Lord Chancellor intrusted as afore-
said, C) to be for the benefit of the lunatic or bis estate that the business
premises should be disposed of, the committee of the estate may, in the
name and on behalf of the lunatic under order of the Lord Chan-
cellor intrusted as aforesaid, make such conveyance of the messuages,
buildings, or hereditaments, of or belonging to the trade of business,
or used in connection therewith, according to the lunatic's estate
and interest in the same, to such person, and shall apply the monies
arising thereby in such manner, as the Lord Chancellor intrusted as
aforesaid shall order." "
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:55 PM on May 10, 2016

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