Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

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Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby jf42 » 06 Nov 2017 22:03

"Fenton’s image ofLord Balgonie, the first visual record of someone suffering from “shell shock”-

Alexander_Leslie-Melville,_Lord_Balgonie.jpg
Alexander_Leslie-Melville,_Lord_Balgonie.jpg (143.64 KiB) Viewed 172 times


I was curious to read the above passing reference in a recent review of an exhibition currently at Holyrood House in Edinburgh- "Shadows of War: Roger Fenton’s Photographs of the Crimea 1855."

Apparenty taken from the 'multimedia guide'- whatever that might be- harrumph-, I was curious to know if anyone else was familiar with this interpretation of the portrait in question (seen more clearly here: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesig ... ger-fenton).

True, Captain, Lord Balgonie, Grenadier Guards, who was only 23 when this photograph was taken, died shortly after the war aged 25,as a result of the rigours of the Crimean campaign and seeing this photograph, we might not be surprised. However, apart from the fact that the term 'shell-shock' is being used rather broadly here, arguably being something of an anachronism in this context, it occurs to me that the subject in the photograph might be tired, ill, deeply hacked off with life and not particularly keen to pose for Fenton, or even, indeed, a little mad, but not necessarily suffering from the effects of battle.

Do the sources tell us anything about Lord Balgonie suffering from a condition that might be equated with shellshock? Or has someone jumped to conclusions?
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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby ED, in Los Angeles » 06 Nov 2017 22:12

He looks like my neighbor across the street. Seriously. He may have PTSD, but you can't tell by his eyes. Seriously, If you did not post "Shell Shock" with the photo, I would not have deduced it. He looks like any bearded Caucasian "hipster" from the West side of Los Angeles.
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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby jf42 » 06 Nov 2017 22:53

Thanks for the postcard, Ed, but.... :?:
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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby ED, in Los Angeles » 07 Nov 2017 04:53

Translation...I am agreeing with your post 100%.
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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby crimea1854 » 07 Nov 2017 14:18

In this context it’s important to understand the Victorians attitude to portrait photograph. To smile when a photograph was being taken was to suggest to the viewer that the sitter was ‘simple’, hence the reason that in virtually all portraits the sitters' wear a rather sombre expression.

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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby RobD » 07 Nov 2017 16:44

Personally, I see no sign the photographer and subject were intending to imply the presence of an illness here.
He is warlike, healthy, sword at his hip, hat in hand etc.
The manifestations of batle stress/ illness have changed / evolved over time (read A War of Nerves by Ben Shephard) , but this still does not look like an early example of shell shock to me.
If you google the video clips of WW1 shell shock sufferers you will get an idea of how it manifested 1914-1918.
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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby jf42 » 07 Nov 2017 18:40

I am not at all surprised that each of you see a range of possibilities, more or less unremarkable, in the subject's appearance.

What I am curious to know, however, is whether there is biographical evidence that Lord Balgonie had suffered a physical injury, or in some other way, during his time at Sevastopol, that provoked a long-term condition that would justify the reference to shell shock.

With reference to the individuals diagnosed as suffering from shell shock in the Great War, they had been exposed to bombardments of an intensity and duration many times greater, and involving explosives of a much greater potency, than those encountered in the Crimea. That's not to say that, as far as I am aware, proximity to a single shell-burst or other black powder detonation could not inflict serious neurological damage.
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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby RobD » 07 Nov 2017 20:39

jf42, apropos the proximity to blasts and shell-shock:

I found it remarkable to read in "A War of Nerves" that, of the huge number of sufferers in the Great War, 90% recovered within a few weeks of the Armistice. Of those still fully disabled >10 yrs later, more that half had never been to the Front, or had been only briefly.
The doctors of the time concluded that conscription of unsuitable men, and lack of training, set the scene for shell shock - the idea that every man has his breaking point, but selection and training raised the threshold at which men would collapse.
Also, they noticed that the further away from the Front a shell shock victim was treated, the less was the probability of his returning to active service. Hence the practice, later in the War, of treating men "within the sound of the guns".
Thus shell shock was considered a form of neurosis or hysteria - at a time when Freud and psychiatry was in the ascendance.
Thus according to this view, your man in Crimea could easily have broken down because of psychological illness without a close proximity to a blast.

However: recently the experience of IEDS and the advent of MRI scans has rekindled the understanding that blast produces characteristic changes in the brain, see for example https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/me ... ied_blasts

So the pendulum still swings between physical and psychological explanations of shell shock.
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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby jf42 » 07 Nov 2017 21:55

Yes, good points. I think the relentlessness and intensity of stimuli, both physical and psychological, for men in the front line, certainly during 'big shows,' were what made the First World War a new departure in the experience of battle, and still set it apart. Men saw no end, no escape and their minds closed down.

Imagine men going to bed on the night of Waterloo, knowing they would have to go through it all again the next day, and the next (Not forgetting many had fought at Ligny and Quatre Bras as preludes!)

Nonetheless, whatever we call it, however we describe it - neurasthenia. battle fatigue, combat stress- mental breakdown in the face of combat manifests itself in a wide range of scenarios and can be set off in a number of ways.

So yes, there could be a number of reasons why Balgonie might have reached the end of his tether, or been on his way. I would like to know what they might have been!
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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby 95th » 09 Nov 2017 11:07

This is a great photo,as for shell shock it's anyone's guess.To me he looks healthy and alert but people with mental health problems can be very good at hiding them.One thing that fascinates me with old military photos like this is the intensity of the faces even when theyre supposedly relaxed,hard men from hard times I suppose.
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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby mike snook » 09 Nov 2017 17:44

Check out the Fenton photo of Captain Verschoyle, Grenadier Guards. It looks to me like it was taken at the same sitting (same regiment, same background) and he has exactly the same eyes as Captain Lord Balgonie. Trick of the light perhaps.

Balgonie carried the Queen's Colour at the Alma, so he was a subaltern when the war began.

The Royal Archive has the photo captioned in such a way as to suggest that Balgonie died of injuries sustained in the war. Such a thing was not uncommon.

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M
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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby ED, in Los Angeles » 09 Nov 2017 17:53

I saw all the Fenton photos and the Verschoyle portrait stuck me the same, the eyes.

The last words that photographer Fenton said to Lord Balgonie before he opened the camera shutter was.....

"Keep you eyes wide open and don't blink. This will take some time"
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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby mike snook » 09 Nov 2017 18:06

VISCOUNT BALGONIE, ELDEST SON OF DAVID, 10TH EARL OF LEVEN AND 7TH EARL OF MELVILLE, WAS LIEUT. AND CAPT. AND BREVET MAJOR, GRENADIER GUARDS. HE JOINED THE REGIMENT ON 13TH NOVEMBER, 1850, AND PROCEEDED WITH THE 3RD BATTALION TO TURKEY IN 1854. HE SERVED IN THE CAMPAIGN IN THE CRIMEA, BEING PRESENT AT THE BATTLES OF THE ALMA AND INKERMAN, AND AT THE SIEGE OF SEVASTOPOL, WHERE HE ACTED AS AIDE-DE-CAMP TO MAJOR-GENERAL SIR H. BENTINCK, K.C.B., COMMANDING THE BRIGADE OF GUARDS. HE DIED ON 29TH AUGUST, 1857, FROM DISEASE PRODUCED BY THE HARDSHIPS HE HAD UNDERGONE DURING THE CAMPAIGN.

From a plate that was once on display in the Guards Chapel. Apparently now lost (but I wouldn't swear to that personally). It is only an opinion but I see nothing whatever that can be considered out of the ordinary about the photograph.

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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby mike snook » 09 Nov 2017 18:54

Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser - Friday 04 September 1857

On the 29th ultimo [August], at Roehampton House, after lingering illness, brought on by his service in the Crimean campaign, Major Viscount Balgonie, aged twenty-five years. Lord Balgonie (says the Fife Herald) was born on the 10th November 1831. He entered the Grenadier Guards in 1850, and was in active service during the whole of the late Russian war. He was at Varna, Alma, Inkermann, Balaklava, and Kertch. He might have returned home with perfect honour long before the close of the Crimean campaign - many a stronger but less chivalrous and less sensitively honourable man did so – but he resolutely remained at his post till the downfall of Sebastopol although there is little doubt that his doing so, amid all the hardships and exposure of camp life must have implanted or at least fostered in his constitution, naturally delicate, the seeds of that disease which has prematurely ended a career so hopefully and auspiciously begun. Lord Balgonie, in the autumn 1855, returned to Melville House, the family residence in this county, laden with honours. He had gained all the Crimean medals except Kinburn [sic - doesn't mean anything to me], besides that of the French Legion of Honour. He took ill in a few days after reaching home, and his life has been little more than an alteration of partial recoveries and relapses ever since, all borne with a serenity and patience truly wonderful. Last winter his Lordship went to Egypt in the hope of gaining that improvement in health denied to him in his own country, but the season proved unpropitious there, and in May last he returned to England weaker and more prostrated than he had left it. From that period he gradually sunk until Saturday last, when his solemn change came. In the full flush of autumn beauty, gently and happily he died, in his uncle's quiet house, with all his friends around him. Lord Balgonie was beloved by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance as young nobleman of a peculiarly generous and amiable disposition and his death will be deeply regretted by a wide circle. The body will be interred in the family burying ground in the quiet church-yard of Monimail on Saturday first. For this purpose it has been conveyed to Melville House, where it presently lies. The heir apparent of the Earl of Leven, consequent on the death of Lord Balgonie, is the Honourable J. T. Leslie Melville, the Earl's brother.

Those who went through the whole war were very much a minority. That would be extremely punishing to the constitution and one's general health, in all sorts of ways, such that only a M.D. well versed in the history of the Crimea could advise us in any scientific detail. I see no reason, in any of the [non-scientific] historical data presently available to us, to believe that Balgonie suffered from 'shell shock' or any of its derivatives. Perhaps there are private family papers which suggest otherwise, but in the absence of any such evidence, the fact that he stayed to the end of the war in a high profile appointment on a general officer's staff would suggest that he was in excellent mental health, even if his physical health was ruined. A trip to Egypt for the sake of his health, (a famously dry climate), might conceivably suggest some kind of respiratory ailment arising from exposure to the Crimean Winter and living in damp tents and muddy rude huts. It plainly didn't work, but I'm sure a MD would tell us that it isn't that easy anyway.

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Re: Lord Balgonie & "Shell shock"?

Postby jf42 » 09 Nov 2017 21:57

Thanks for those biographical details, Mike. I had noted the mention of 'DISEASE PRODUCED BY THE HARDSHIPS HE HAD UNDERGONE' when looking for background information and concluded that it was not the origin of the shell shock assertion. The trip to Egypt does suggest that he died of TB, pleurisy, or some other pulmonary ailment. Why so far, I wonder? Wouldn't Provence, Malta or Italy have done? He can't have been overjoyed at sailing towards the eastern end of the Mediterranean all over again.

I guess someone is just going to have to up to Edinburgh and have a decko at that multimedia catalogue to see what the Guardian was on about. Unless someone just got-it-wrong.... (Shome mishtake shurely)
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