Ebenezer Pococke was one of the private patients in The Retreat asylum in Fairford. The asylum was founded in 1822 by Alexander Iles in his house at the corner of Milton Street and Horcott Road. It was one of the few privately-owned asylums in Gloucestershire and during the 19th Century it built up a good reputation for the standard of care of its patients. Between 1822 and 1944, when it closed, The Retreat treated about 1,500 patients, some of whom ended their days there.
Ebenezer was born in Hungerford in 1807, one of the 14 children of George and Elizabeth Pococke. George was a Methodist preacher and master of a private academy in Bristol. George was also something of an inventor and experimented with large kites for pulling coaches and for carrying people. Assisted by Ebenezer, George Pococke also invented an inflatable globe made up of pieces of paper upon which sections of maps were printed. This invention had some commercial success and a few examples have survived in museums. In 1833 Ebenezer married Sarah Eliza Holder in Bristol and later the couple had two daughters. In the same year Ebenezer had a book published titled ‘Flowers of the East’, a study of Indian poetry and music. This presumably indicates that Ebenezer must have spent some time in the Indian subcontinent prior to 1833. Ebenezer entered Magdalen Hall in Oxford on 5 July 1838 where he would have received a classical education, but may not have obtained his degree.
Ebenezer followed his father’s profession and by 1841 was the master of a private school at Bitton which had 17 pupils. Ten years later he was living in Sunbury, Middlesex teaching just four female pupils and by 1861 his career had declined even further as he was boarding in a house in Winterbourne as a tutor possibly to the occupant’s children. At this date Ebenezer’s wife Sarah was living with her sister and brother-in-law in Sydenham, Kent and had possibly separated from her husband.
Ebenezer’s mental health had probably been poor for some time before he was admitted to The Retreat on 19 Dec 1863. The Retreat, like all private asylums, had a Board of Visitors who regularly inspected the establishment to ensure it was being managed in accordance with the legal and medical requirements. An entry in the Visitors’ Book dated 5 March 1864 noted that Ebenezer was suffering from ‘nervous weakness’.
After just over three months as a patient Ebenezer Pococke died in The Retreat on 29 March 1864 at the age of 57. He was buried in St Mary’s churchyard directly opposite the grave of Alexander Iles, the founder of the institution where Ebenezer had spent his last days. He is one of the very few patients of The Retreat to have a headstone erected over his grave, presumably paid for either by his wife or his surviving siblings.
As an interesting footnote to the life of Ebenezer Pococke, his sister Martha married Dr Henry Mills Grace of Mangotsfield and in 1848 gave birth to a son, William Gilbert, universally known as ‘W G Grace’ one of England’s most celebrated cricketers.