Haslar Heritage Group

William Knapp - Letters from Haslar

Patient Admitted to Ward 30 Haslar March 1869

The following is an account of the admission of William Knapp a Coastguard. Stationed at St Alban’s Head, Worth Matravers, Dorset.

William Knapp left his family (wife and 4 children) in Worth Matravers in January 1869 on a Coastguard cutter bound for Haslar hospital at Gosport. (it is possible that he travelled from Chapman’s Pool a small cove close to the St Alban’s Headland and Worthy Travers).

William was suffering from an abscess in his side (family records show that he served in Crimea and that he was wounded and possible that deep seated shrapnel from an old wound from the Crimean war had some years later caused an abscess). He had left on the Sunday morning late January on-board a Coastguard cutter and arrived at Gosport at 10.00am on Monday morning, having had to endure sleeping on bare deck boards on the boat. In the morning a man had put a jacket over his legs and he was thankful not to get a cold that would not have helped his condition.

He was not admitted into the hospital until Tuesday when he was admitted to Ward 30. The doctors placed a linseed poultice on his abscess which was discharging and he was not allowed out of bed. The doctors don’t tell him anything about his condition.

He was sent 6 shillings, possibly pay and posted to the hospital by post office order. A clerk came to the hospital with papers for him to sign. He would have not received the money until he leaves the hospital the money being placed it in the hospital office for him.

William Knapp Death Certificate
William Knapp Letter to Home

Staff continue to apply strong poultices to his wound and by 6th Feb the doctors allow him to get up and walk around. By 10th February he is progressing favourably, they are still poultisising his side but there is not so much discharge.

By 14th February he is becoming very anxious about his wife who is expecting their child any day and is beside himself waiting for news. – Wiliam imagines the worst and thinks that his wife has died in labour and they haven’t told him. They are still applying a poultice.

By 17th February he feels better as he has received a letter from his wife, but no birth news. He feels he is getting stronger. He has 2 good glasses of port wine and a pint and half of beer a day (this was normal routine for patients). Also a pint of lime juice also 3 ounces of cod liver oil. He is informed that cod liver oil is the best thing to kill the abscess.

By 23rd February his son is born much to his delight. (Actually 20th February, Thomas Henry Knapp) He admits to having several good cries for her especially when he has her letters in his hand. He has a cold in his head and also a cough, but his side is not discharging as much. By 25th it seems to have stopped discharging altogether but they are still using poultices. His cough is bad.

By 1st March his cough is still very bad and his side has started discharging again. It seems to be healing by degrees. Some days nothing and other days a discharge. He is allowed to get out of bed. He also longs to see his wife and children.

By 6th March his cough is almost gone and his appetite is getting better. He doesn’t believe that his lungs are affected. He has stopped taking cod liver oil. By 11th his side is still discharging and a small piece of bone has come out of the abscess. The doctors are still using poultices, which the will do until it is cured which William knows can take a long time. His cough is better but he has diarrhoea which has made him very weak.

The letter written for him around 18th March indicates that he is getting worse. His legs are swelling, although his side has stopped discharging. He is confined to bed. 21st March he admits to being very ill in bed. His legs and belly are swollen and he still has discharge. 23rd March he is too fatigued to write himself – some days are better than others. He says he is very well treated and desperately hopes for a change so he can go home and be with his family. (this was in his last letter).

Baby Thomas Henry was christened on 26th March 1869 in the church at Worth Matravers. It is assumed that he never met his father William. William’s died on the 2nd April 1869 his Death certificate states Abscess 14 months, Albuminuria and Exhaustion. Page 70 of Burials at Haslar in the Parish of Alverstoke lists him as entry 556 buried April 5th 1869 aged 42 but he is not listed as such at Clayhall Naval Cemetery and the Haslar cemetery closed in 1859 and the search goes on.

Letter pictured above reads as follows:


Haslar Hospital
18th February 1869
My Dearest Wife
I write these few lines to you in answer to your kind and welcome letter that I received from you. Now my dear I will tell you what came into my mind when I could not get a letter. I thought that you were so weak that you died in labour and that they would not write and tell me about it and I could not get it out of my mind until I got a letter from you and then my mind was put at rest thank God for it. My dearest wife I am thankful to hear that dear mother and my dear children are all quite well thanks be to God for it. Tell Will he must be a good boy and learn his books and do what mother tells him. My Mary she must be a good child and do what she is told. I suppose she can sew by this time and do anything pretty well. Allice she must be a good child and learn her letters. Let me know how Emma Louisa is, whether mother has turned her out of bed or not yet. You must let me know all their characters when you write again. I know my dear you must be very helpless by this time. I suppose you can scarce get about but my dear you must wait God’s appointed time and trust Him, he will help you through it all. As for myself, I am getting stronger than I have been. I am getting two good large glasses of port wine, a pint and half of beer a day and a pint of lime juice and in case taking 3 ounces of cod liver oil a day. (They say) cod liver oil is the best thing to kill the abscess there is going. I wish you had the wine, I would gladly give it up. W hen I was taking of it last night and I thought you had none I do not know (how) I felt. Give my love to dear mother and Mrs Syms and all friends. Now my dear with my heart full of love, hoping the Lord will bring you safe through all your trouble is the prayers of your affectionate husband
William Knapp
The Lord be with you all


• At this time William is 7, Mary is 6, Alice is 4 and Emma Louisa is about 18 months. Emma is 36 and is nearly at term in her pregnancy. Perhaps Emma Louisa had been sleeping wit h her Grandmother in the same bed?

With Letters written between January – March 1869 from Haslar Hospital by William to his wife who was expecting a child an addition to their family.

St Alban’s Head is the most southerly aspect of the Purbeck Peninsula and a Coastguard Station and houses were part of the Peninsula.

There are 19 Haslar Hospital Letters and notes

Eric C Birbeck MVO


Grateful to Julie Alderman and family for permission to tell William’s Story and the provision of letters, certificate and photo of William Knapp’s son Thomas.

Scroll to Top