Joseph Merrick- better known to history as the Elephant Man- was born with a rare condition which resulted in facial growths, an enlarged skull and lumpy skin. Due to his physical appearance, he was cruelly rejected by society.
Unable to make a living, Merrick escaped the workhouse and exhibited himself in London, where:
'As soon as a sufficient number of pennies had been collected by the manager at the door, poor Merrick threw off his curtain and exhibited himself'.
The police ruled that his exhibit was against public decency and shut Merrick down. Merrick then travelled to Belgium to continue his career as a 'living exhibit'. He was beaten and robbed of his earnings, leaving him destitute in a foreign country, and forced to pawn his way back to England.
He was taken in by the Royal London Hospital- who quickly ruled his condition as incurable. This left the Hospital with a dilemma. They did not have the funding to house those with incurable conditions, and other homes or hospitals refused to take him in.
So, on the 4th December, 1886, F C Carr-Gomm, Chairman of the London Hospital wrote to the Times, explaining Merrick's life and situation. He appealed to the general public for help:
'It is a case of singular affliction brought about through no fault of himself; he can but hope for quiet and privacy during a life which Mr Treves assures me is not likely to be long.
Can any of your readers suggest to me some fitting place where he can be received?'
Carr-Gomm's letter led to an outpouring of public support- letters and money were sent to the hospital. Enough donations were received, and Merrick was able to spend the rest of his life at the Royal London Hospital. He sadly passed away at only 27, from suffocation caused by his condition.
After Merrick's death, Carr-Gomm sent another letter to the Times, thanking the public for their support. Their donations had allowed Merrick:
'to pass the three and a half remaining years of his life in privacy and comfort... Each year he much enjoyed a six week's outing in a quiet cottage, but was always glad on his return to find himself once more 'at home'.
Carr Gomm's letters are a reminder of the power of the individual. The combination of small donations led to some semblance of comfort in a life that had previously been full of torment.
Joseph Merrick' story- while one of suffering- can act as a reminder to us all that kindness is the most important human quality.
Carr Gomm's full letters to the Times can be found here: https://lettersofnote.com/2016/08/05/the-elephant-man/