Disability Timeline

Early History


Evidence exists that shows that there were impaired individuals living in prehistoric subhuman primate groups. Anthropologist Gershon Berkson argues that individuals survived when an injury (impairment) did not interfere with foraging or escaping predators. Archaeologist Ralph Solecki (1971) describes an example of an adult Neanderthal male with severe arm and head injuries incurred at an early age.

Ancient Civilisations

c. 3100 BCE – 100 BCE Ancient Egyptians - Carvings in ancient Egyptian tombs depict  dwarves as a Shaman and as the Keeper of the Royal Wardrobe, whilst other drawings, such as those at Tel el Amama, depict blind people as harpists and singers. 

c. 2334 BCE – 1654 BCE Babylonians - Records from the ancient Babylonian civilisation indicate that Semitic Chaldean seers kept a list of ‘birth deformities’. Specific prophetic meanings were connected to categories of impairment and the births of children with congenital impairments were used to predict the future.

c. 1000 BCE – 600 CE  Ancient and Classical Greece – .Greco/Romano notions of ‘beauty’ and ‘physical perfection’ still dominate contemporary western society.

However, these aesthetic ideals need to be seen in context; Greek and Roman civilisations were founded on militarism, imperialism, slavery and the subjugation of women; in reality, democracy only existed for a privileged elite.  In Sparta, children were the property of the state and those born ‘puny and ill shaped’ were taken to Apothetae – a chasm where they would be disposed of. Plato’s Republic introduced the concept of Eugenics and according to Aristotle, writing in 355 BCE ‘those born deaf become senseless and incapable of reason’. In 218 BCE Marcus Sergius, a Roman general who led his legion against Carthage (presently Tunis) in the Second Punic War, sustained 23 injuries and a right arm amputation. An iron hand was fashioned to hold his shield and he was able to go back to battle. However, he was denied a chance to become a priest because he did not have two ‘normal’ hands.

c. 800 BCE – 476 CE  In Ancient Rome, children with impairments were drowned in theTiber whilst people considered to be ‘mentally defective’ were prohibited from marrying. There are records of dwarves fighting to the death at The Coliseum.

c. 600 BCE – Celts arrived in what is now Scotland. Celtic societies were based around tribal structures and there were were distinct social classes in tribal divisions. Tribal law was set up for the good of all and all tribal land was owned by the tribe in common.

There were large sections of land that were set aside for the public good, and was used by the entire tribe.. Other sections were set aside for elderly, impaired, and poorer members of the tribe.

c. 700 CE  Asylums for people with mental health support needs are established by the Arabs inBaghdad,Fez (Morocco) andCairo. Arab thinking was that insanity was divinely inspired as opposed to being demonic in origin, therefore these facilities were generally benevolent.

Religious Traditions

c. 800 BCE – 63 BCE Old Testament Some of the world’s earliest historical manuscripts, such as the books of the Old Testament, have numerous and sometimes contradictory references to impairment. In Leviticus 21: 16-20 Jehovah tells Moses ‘none of your descendants throughout their generations shall draw near, a blind or lame man, or he that hath a mutilated face or a limb too long, or man that has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback or dwarf or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be with scurvy, or scabbed’.

The Old Testament exhorts people to be charitable but also warns them that impairment is a curse from the Lord to sinners:

‘There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land’. (Deuteronomy 15:11)

“If you do not carefully follow His commands and decrees … all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: the Lord will affect you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. At midday, you will grope around like a blind man in the dark.” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 28-29)

‘Now they grope through the streets like men who are blind. They are so defiled with blood that no one dares to touch their garments’. (Lamentations 4.14)

c. 500 BCE The holy book of Hinduism, the Bhagavad-Gita, begins with the inquiry of the blind King Dhritaraashtra about the victory of his sons in battle. Sage Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata, wanted to give the blind king the ‘gift of eyesight’ so that the king could see the horrors of a war for which he was primarily responsible.


c. 70 BCE New Testament The view of impaired people as charitable objects of pity are also rooted in early religious thinking. In the New Testament the emphasis was put on the notion of cure and healing as people with impairments became the focus of Christ’s miracles and proverbs.

c. 200 BCE – 500 CE Jewish Talmud In sections of the Talmud, it is suggested that disability is a holy state and a means of getting to heaven; similar sentiments also expressed towards those that help Disabled people.

Elsewhere in Judaic texts, the Torah describes how people were said to be forbidden from serving God if they had physical impairments or ‘tameh’ (polluted) “for each of these disabilities wounds the unblemished character of the House of God. Rabbi Joshua b. Levi said: ‘When Israel left Egypt, there were among them men crippled by heavy labour, for as they worked in clay and bricks, now and then a stone would drop from a structure and break a man’s arm or sever his leg. Hence the Holy One said: It is not right that I give my Torah to cripples.’ What did He do? He beckoned to the ministering angels and they came down and healed them.” Midrash Tanachuma, Yitro 8

Early Common Era

41 CE – 54 CE The Roman Emperor Claudius was born into the heart of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. In an age that despised weakness, Claudius was born with physical impairments, “he limped, drooled, stuttered and was constantly ill. The normal rites de passage of an imperial prince came and went without official notice, allowing Claudius voluminous free time in his youth to read voraciously. He became a scholar of considerable ability and composed works on all subjects in the liberal arts, especially history; he was the last recorded person who could read Etruscan. These skills, and the knowledge of governmental institutions he acquired from studying history, were to stand him in good stead when he came to power. Most famous for invading and annexingBritain during his short reign, Claudius died suddenly in 54 A.D.

129 CE Galen’s influential writings on medicine remained the unchallenged authority for over a thousand years. After he died in 203 CE, serious anatomical and physiological research ground to a halt, because everything there was to be said on the subject had been said by Galen, who, it is reported, kept at least 20 scribes on staff to write down his every dictum. Although he was not a Christian, Galen’s writings reflect a belief in only one god, and he declared that the body was an instrument of the soul.

200 CE The physician Areataeus records the symptoms of diabetes.

c. 300 CE  Bishop Nicholas opens a hostel for people with learning difficulties in southernTurkey

c. 700 CE  Asylums for people with mental health support needs are established by the Arabs inBaghdad,Fez (Morocco) andCairo. Arab thinking was that insanity was divinely inspired as opposed to being demonic in origin, therefore these facilities were generally benevolent.

Impairment in Myths, Legends and Folk Tales


Composed around 3500 BCE, the Rig-Veda, an ancient sacred poem ofIndia, is said to be the first written record of prosthesis. Written in Sanskrit between 3500 and 1800 B.C., it recounts the story of a warrior, Queen Vishpla, who lost her leg in conflict, was fitted with an iron prosthesis, and returned to battle.


In one Sumerian myth, the goddess Nammu creates humans out of clay. Afterwards, Sumerian deities hold a feast to celebrate the creation of humankind. At the feast, the goddess Ninhursaga (Ninmah) and the god Enki get drunk and hold a contest. Ninhursaga creates people with impairments and challenges Enki to try and find a place for them in society. Enki succeeds with his mission. For instance, he gives infertile women the role of priestesses and blind people the role of musicians.

Ancient Greece and Rome

Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire and metal-working is one of the few instances of an ancient deity with a physical impairment. His Roman counterpart was Vulcan. Also in Greek legend are the stories of Tiresias, a blind ‘seer’ who ‘deprived of worldly sight’ develops intuition and knowledge far beyond the understanding of ordinary mortals.

It is believed that the Greek and Roman god, Janus, depicted with two faces, one young and one old, may have been based on an incidence of conjoined twins. There is a similar theory that Centaurs, a combination of horse and man, could have been inspired by parapagus twins, conjoined twins who may have appeared to have been one person with four legs.


In the mythology of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, the sky god Olodumare sends his sons Obatala and Oduduwa down to earth. Obatala drinks palm wine from a tree and falls into a stupor. When he wakes up, he moulds beings out of clay, but due to his drunken state, he fashions people with impairments. In Yoruba tradition, Obatala is the patron deity of disabled people.

A West African epic tells the story of Sunjata, a son of the king of Mande who has an impairment and rises to power to found the Mali Empire in the early 1200s. Sunjata’s father impregnates two wives around the same time. One wife, Sogolon Conde, gives birth to a son, Sunjata. Another wife, Sasuma Berete, gives birth to a son named Dankaran Tuman. In order to prevent Sunjata from inheriting the throne, Sasuma Berete has magic workers cast a spell on Sunjata, which impairs his legs and prevents him from walking. Sunjata eventually learns to walk with the help of a staff, which his mother cuts from the jonba tree.

Northern Europe

Impairment also plays an important part in Norse mythology. Balder, the sun-god, had a series of ominous dreams which alarmed the other gods. When Odin, the father of the gods, learned that the House of Hel, the goddess of death, was being prepared to welcome his son, Frigga, mother of the gods, set out to exact an promise from every creatures that they would not harm Balder. They all gladly gave her the assurance she craved, and it seemed the danger was averted. One thing only had been overlooked: the mistletoe, too slight and frail to pose a threat.

Loki, the trickster god, learned of this oversight. He made a dart from a stem of mistletoe and went to where the gods were amusing themselves hurling weapons against Balder, who stood laughing and invulnerable as the missiles rebounded and fell harmless to the ground. Only Balder’s twin, the blind god Hoder, stood apart. Loki approached him and offered to guide Hoder’s aim so that he too might enjoy the pastime. But the dart he placed on Hoder’s bow was the fateful mistletoe. It pierced the sun-god’s heart, and Balder died and began his journey to the House of Hell.

Western Europe

Western European folklore and folk religions also mention changelings.  A changeling  is usually described as being the offspring of a fairytrollelf or other legendary creature that has been secretly left in the place of a human child. Sometimes the term is also used to refer to the abducted child. The theme of the swapped child is common among medieval literature and reflects concern over infants who developed then unrecognised conditions such as autism or learning difficulties.

Some folklorists believe that fairies were memories of inhabitants of various regions in Europe who had been driven into hiding by invaders. They held that changelings had actually occurred; the hiding people would exchange their own sickly children for the healthy children of the invaders.

Scotland and the Borders

In Scottish folklore, the children might be replacements for fairy children in the Tithe to Hell, an old lowland term for a tribute due to be paid by the fairies to the devil every seven years. This is best known version of this folk tradition is from the ballad of Tam Lin.

According to common Scottish myths, a child born with a caul (membrane) across their face is a changeling, and of fairy birth

In the Borders it was believed that Elves and Fairies lived in barrows under hills and that they could spirit away children, and even adults, and take them back to their own world. Often, it was thought, a human baby would be snatched and replaced with a simulacrum, usually a male adult elf, to be suckled by the mother. The real baby would be treated well by the elves and would grow up to be one of them, whereas the changeling baby would be demanding and ‘wearisome’

At Byerholm in Liddesdale, sometime during the early 19th century, a dwarf called Robert Elliot or Little Hobbie o’ the Castleton as he was known, was reputed to be a changeling. He was renowned for his courage and when he heard that his neighbour, the six-foot three-inch (191 cm) William Scott of Kirndean, a sturdy and strong borderer, had slandered his name, he invited the man to his house, took him up the stairs and challenged him to a duel. Scott beat a hasty retreat.

Middle Ages – 1700 CE

Early Middle Ages Formation of alms-houses, charitable foundations for the care of the poor, especially elderly people.

c. 1100s CE Institutions for the quarantine of people with leprosy became prolific throughout Europe, these places are known as leprosariums or ‘colonies’ and the majority are linked to religious orders. This is an early example of the ‘confinement and segregation of disabled people.

A Leper Woman

A Leper Woman


Numerous ‘Lazar Houses’ (leprosariums) are built across Scotland ‘Thus we have found the establishments in question spread from Berwickshire to Shetland and from Aberdeen to Ayr….’





St Dympna


1200s CE  The Belgian village of Gheel supports people with learning difficulties in family care settings, providing vocational opportunities in a community setting with an infirmary and a church centred around the shrine of St Dymphna, the patron saint of ‘the insane’.

1227 CE St Leonards Hospital for lepers is founded near Dunfermline.



1243 CE St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, is officially consecrated by the Bishop of St. Andrews. The mother church of Presbyterianism is dedicated to the ‘Patron Saint of cripples and lepers’.




1270 CE Death of King Louis the Ninth of France. Louis is later canonized in 1297 for his commitment to the care of 300 knights blinded during the Crusades and his founding of the first institution for blind people in the world, the Quinze-Vingts hospice in Paris Asylums for people with learning difficulties are founded in Damascus and Aleppo by Arabs.

1280 CE The foundation of St Leonard’s, York, one of the first and greatest medieval hospitals, housing 229 inmates.

c.1300 CE Spectacles are invented in Italy.

1329 CE Death from leprosy of King Robert (Robert the Bruce) at Cardross, Dunbartonshire on 7 June 1329.




1325 CE  The Venetian Republic founds the first national health service in Europe, and obliges licensed practitioners to attend an annual course in anatomy. In 1368 they are required to attend monthly meetings to exchange notes on new cases and treatments.

1326 CE A ‘madhouse’ is constructed as part of the Georg hospital in Elbing, Germany.

1344 CE  A ‘Royal Ordinance’ decrees that lepers should leave the City of London and “betake themselves to places in the country”.

1348 – 50 CE The Black Death or bubonic plague reaches Britain from Europe, killing a quarter of Scotland’s population.

The first outbreaks of bubonic plague are in China and India in 1344 and the Black Death rapidly becomes the most horrific natural disaster of the Middle Ages, killing 25 million people in Europe alone – compared with 10 million deaths in World War 1.

1350 CE The beginning of the Renaissance period of art and culture in Europe leads to a resurgence of the obsession with physical beauty and perfection.

1350 CE A Guild of Blind Beggars is established in Padua, Italy, which results in regulated begging and organised pensions for elderly blind beggars.

1350 CE St Ninian Croft leper hospital is established at The Gorbals, near Glasgow.

1360 CE Idiot cages are constructed in the centre of European towns as a way of keeping individuals with learning difficulties out of trouble and to protect them from harming themselves or others. More often than not, however, occupants of the cages are seen as a source of free, public entertainment.

1363 CE A Leper Hospital is founded at Spittal Hill, Aberdeen.

1388 CE An English statute gives a mandate to local officials to discriminate between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor claiming alms. Specific reference is made to disabled people: The Statute of Cambridge (“Poor Law”) concerning Labourers, Servants and Beggars strengthens the powers of the justices of the peace; distinguishes between “sturdy beggars” capable of work and “impotent beggars” incapacitated by age or infirmity; and makes each “hundred” responsible for housing and keeping its own paupers, but makes no special provision for maintaining the sick poor. This statute points the way to the Tudor Poor Laws of 1531, but for the next two centuries the aged and infirm are forced to depend upon charity for survival.

1405 CE Report of a ‘Visitation’ enquiring into the deplorable state of affairs at Bethlem Hospital. There is a report of a Royal Commission, in 1405, as to the state of lunatics confined there.

1409 CE Spain has been described as the cradle of humane psychiatry because of the treatment at asylums such as Valencia, Sargossa, Seville, Valladolid, Palma Mallorca, Toledo (the Hospital de Innocents) and Granada. Valencia, opened at the beginning of the century, is said to have removed chains and used games, occupation, entertainment, diet and hygiene as early as 1409

1410 CE St. Andrew’s University is founded.

1432 CE An Enactment in the Scottish Parliament  restricts the movement of lepers in cities.  Glasgow magistrates ordain:

“That the Lippers of the hospital sall gang onlie on the calsie syde near the gutter, ang sall haif clapperis, and ane claith upoun thair mouth and face, and sall stand afar off quhil they resaif almous, &.”

1436 CE Margery Kempe (c.1373-14380, dictates a book of her spiritual experiences (1436) which shows how she went “out of her mind” after childbirth, was bound in a storeroom to prevent her from self-harm, suspected of demonic possession, but escaped burning, had visions of angels and visions of men’s sexual parts and was seen as both holy and heretic. Through hearing holy sermons and books, she “ever increased in contemplation and holy meditation, but learnt through divine visits to her during and after “cursed thoughts” and “pain” that “every good thought is the speech of God”.


1440s CE  Attitudes in rural Britain harden further towards the ‘sinful poor’. It is recognised that agricultural accidents are very high, particularly at harvest time, scythes are mentioned as the most lethal weapons. There are also records that many people over the age of 45 die of exposure in the month of January. It is suggested that parish relief and almshouses can no longer cope with the vast level of need.

1464 CE Two examples taken from the Calendar of Patent Rolls for Edward 4th are of people being granted custody of the person and property of an ‘idiot’:


1480 CE Following the invention of the printing press, mass communication becomes much easier. Henry Tudor is quick to exploit the new technology in order to pillory and caricature his rival, the disabled king, Richard III.




1489 CE  During a two hundred year period between 8 and 20 million people, mainly women are put to death across Europe, following accusations of witchcraft. Many are women whose impairment is seen as the badge of evil doing. Others are the mothers of children with impairments, The infamous ‘witch finders’ manual, the “Malleus Maleficarum”, is  published in  1489 and ascribes  various symptoms of mental distress  to witchcraft.

1493 CE According to the writings of the French surgeon Ambroise Pare, a child born in 1493  was judged to be the result of “illicit intercourse between a woman and a dog, a creature resembling in its upper extremities its mother, while its lower extremities were the exact counterpart of its canine father”. Such cases based on bigotry and ignorance under the guise of medical science, lead to religious hysteria, prejudice and the murder of disabled people across Catholic Europe.

1494 CE The Vagabonds and Beggars Act is passed in England. “Vagabonds, idle and suspected persons shall be set in the stocks for three days and three nights and have none other sustenance but bread and water and then shall be put out of Town. Every beggar suitable to work shall resort to the Hundred where he last dwelled, is best known, or was born and there remain upon the pain aforesaid”. Beggars too infirm to work were to remain in their Hundred and be permitted to beg.


1494 CE Publication of ‘The Ship of Fools’ by religious preacher, Sebastian Brant. The Ship of Fools allegory depicts a vessel filled with ‘deranged, frivolous, or oblivious passengers’ aboard a ship without a pilot, and seemingly ignorant of their own direction.




1495 CE Syphilis, possibly introduced from the new world breaks out amongst troops in Italy and rapidly spreads across Europe, reaching England and Holland in 1496.

1497 CE Major outbreak of ‘grandgore’ (Syphilis) in Aberdeen

1501 CE Birth of Girolamo Cardano, the first physician to recognize the ability of D/deaf people to reason.

1505/6 CE Incorporation of the Barber Surgeons of Edinburgh. A charter, the Seal of Cause, decrees “… that no manner of person occupy or practise any points of our said craft of surgery… unless he be worthy and expert in all points belonging to the said craft, diligently and expertly examined and admitted by the Maisters of the said craft and that he know Anatomy and the nature and complexion of every member of the human body… for every man ocht to know the nature and substance of everything that he works or else he is negligent.”

1516 CE “Utopia” by Thomas More is published (English translation in 1551). “But hospital patients get first priority – oh yes, there are four hospitals in the suburbs, just outside the walls. . . These hospitals are so well run, and so well supplied with all types of medical equipment, the nurses are so sympathetic and conscientious, and there are so many experienced doctors constantly available, that, though nobody’s forced to go there, practically everyone would rather be ill in hospital than at home.

1530 – 1540 CE With the Dissolution of the Roman Catholic monasteries and hospitals by Henry VIII, large numbers of disabled people become vagrants and beggars.

The Poor Law Act directs “how aged, poor, and impotent persons, compelled to live by Alms, shall be ordered, and how Vagabonds and Beggars shall be punished’. The former are to be licensed to beg (see 1531), the latter if found begging are to be whipped or put in the stocks for three days and nights with bread and water only and then to return to their birth-place and put to labour.



1531 CE  Justices of the peace are ordered to issue a ‘licence to beg’ to the infirm poor, thus making begging by ‘the sturdy’ an offence.

1535 CE   The Poor Law Act requires that “all Governors of Shires, Cities, Towns, Hundreds, Hamlets and Parishes shall find and keep every aged, poor and impotent Person, which was born or dwelt three years within the same limit, by way of voluntary and charitable Alms … for as none of them shall be compelled to go openly in begging. And also shall compel every sturdy Vagabond to be kept in continual labour … “and gave powers to apprentice children aged between 5 and 13’.

1538 CE The City of London unsuccessfully petitions Henry VIII to give them five hospitals plus their endowments in order to house:

“….the miserable people lying in the street, offending every clean person passing by the way with their filth and nasty savours”

1547 CE In 1547, Henry VIII hands over to the city of London the Priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem (which became the infamous Bedlam Hospital) for the express purpose of housing “lunatics.”

1551 CE The 5th outbreak of fever and ‘sweating sickness’ (influenza) since 1485 kills thousands of people in Britain and lead to a dispute between the Protestant King Edward VI and his Catholic sister Mary. Edward claims that the epidemics are divine retribution against Catholic non-conformists.

1552 CE Parishes are ordered to register their poor; onus for the relief of the poor is placed on parish councils; and parishioners are exhorted to show charity to their neighbours. Each parish, Parliament suggests, should appoint two collectors of alms to assist the churchwardens after service on Trinity Sunday to “gently ask and demand of every man or woman what they of their charity will be contented to give weekly towards the relief of the poor”. The collectors were to receive the weekly payments and distribute the money to the registered poor of the parish.

1572 CE The Poor Law Act make each parish responsible to provide for its own ‘aged, impotent and sick’ poor; appoint “overseers” of the poor and empower them to assess the parish; introduce a compulsory poor rate; and make refusal to work for lawful wages or work provided by the overseer punishable offences.


1574 CE  The Scottish Poor Law Act is enforced.

1575 CE Licenciado Lasso, a Spanish lawyer, concludes that deaf people who learn to speak are no longer dumb and should be conferred with the right to their inheritance..

1579 CE In Sicily 65 people, many of whom were believed to be associates of fairies, are put on trial for sorcery.

1586 CE Severe famine in England which gave rise to the Poor Law system.

1590 CE Lu K’un orders city officials in Northern China to provide training for blind people in


1590 CE The first major witchcraft persecution in Scotland begins with the North Berwick witch trials when a number of people from East Lothian face accusations  of witchcraft in the St Andrew’s Auld Kirk, North Berwick. The trials run for two years and implicate seventy people, including Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell on charges of high treason.  More than a hundred suspected witches in North Berwick are arrested, and many confess under torture to having met with the Devil in the church at night, and devoted themselves to doing evil, including poisoning James VI and other members of his household, and attempting to sink the King’s ship on his journey from Denmark to Scotland.

Approximately 3,000 – 4,000 people accused of witchcraft are killed in Scotland between 1560 and 1707.

1593 CE The Act for the Necessary Relief of Soldiers and Mariners requires that “Every parish shall be charged with a sum weekly towards the relief of sick, hurt, maimed soldiers and mariners”. Amending acts raising the amounts to be collected  are passed in 1597 and 1601.

1594-98 CE Intermittent famines, some associated with typhus and dysentery (“bloody flux”). “People were starving and dying in our streets and in our fields for lack of bread”.

1597 CE The Poor Law Act consolidates and extends previous acts and provides the first complete code of poor relief by re-enacting the requirements for raising local poor rates, replacing voluntary giving by taxation decided by the overseers, and requiring the local justices of the peace to appoint, annually, and to supervise “Overseers of the Poor” for the purpose of setting to work those in need, apprenticing children, and providing “the necessary relief of the lame, impotent, old, blind and such other being poor and not able to work”.

1597 CE Poor Law legislation in Scotland enables voluntary contributions via the Kirk to support the ‘aged’ and ‘impotent’.

1597 CE James VI publishes his Daemonologie, detailing his reflections and studies on the matter of how to deal with witchcraft.

1597 CE  Witch trials at Logie-Coldstone. 

1598 CE Poor Law Act: Every parish is required to appoint overseers of the poor to find work for the unemployed and set up parish-houses for poor people unable to support themselves.


1600s CE One quarter of all children born in the 1600s die before the age of 10. Two thirds of this number die in the first year of life, most in the first month of life. Half of infant deaths are due to difficulties in birth and ‘congenital defects’.

1601 CE The Poor Law makes economic provision for people dependent on charity, including disabled people.

C.1604 CE  As leprosy begins to disappear the remaining colonies are converted to other uses and become filled with people considered ‘deviant’: orphans, vagabonds, ‘lunatics’, ‘incurables’, prostitutes, widows, criminals. These “cities of the damned” have the power of “authority, direction, administration, commerce, police, jurisdiction, correction and punishments,” and have at their disposal “stakes, irons, prisons and dungeons.”

1611 CE Publication of the Authorised (King James) Bible with its influential portrayal of disabled people as wrong doers or objects of pity.

1613 CE Death records are introduced – ‘That Bills of Mortality were appointed to be kept in Glasgow, this year for the first time.’

1616  CE Giovanni Bonifacio publishes a treatise discussing sign language, “Of The Art of Signs”.

1621 CE  Publication of Robert Burton’s ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy. What it is, with all the kinds, causes, symptoms, prognostics and several cures of it… Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically opened and cut up.’1646 CE Outbreak of the bubonic plague in Perth.1649 CE Famine in northern England and the borders.1654 CE  In Glasgow, ‘The surgeons gave in a paper to the session offering their services in behalf of the diseased poor within the burgh.’



1657 CE Begging is outlawed in Paris.

1657 CE  Two large asylums open in Paris: the pitie Salpetriere, which houses 1,416 women and children; and the Bicetre, which holds 1,615 men.



1664 CE The Great Plague followed shortly by the Great Fire of London reinforce the traditional religious view that disease and impairment are a divine judgements on sinners.

The Council of Scotland orders the closure of the border with England.  All hiring fairs and foreign trade are forbidden, causing economic collapse and widespread unemployment.

1681 CE  Royal College of Physicians is formed.

1680s CE Sugiyama Waichi (1610 – 1694), a senior blind acupuncture specialist in Japan, opens a school at Edo in Tokyo.

1682 CE  Czar Feodor Alekseyevich (the older brother of Peter the Great), establishes two charitable organizations in Moscow, providing disabled people with food, minimal health care and a place to live.

c. 1690 CE The ‘Ill Years’ Famine kills 15% of the Scottish population.

1690 CE In his ‘An Essay Concerning Understanding’, John Locke argues that there is a degree of madness in almost everyone. This is because emotions force us to persist in falsely or unreasonably associating some ideas. Madness is the inability to let reason sort out ideas by relating them correctly to our experiences.

1696 CE Education Act requires every parish in Scotland to have a school.

1697 CE Daniel Defoe (1660-1731, journalist and novelist) proposes that the insurance principles should be applied to social problems associated with poverty, including disability pensions and medical and institutional care.


The Scottish Enlightenment

The Scottish Enlightenment 1707 – 1800


1707 The Act of Union


1716 Rural hardship gets worse and disabled people feature highly amongst the new homeless class of rural England.


1718 Paupers in Liverpool are made to wear a special badge so that the same person is not helped twice.


1718 Birth of Hugh Blair, Minister and Author

c.1719 Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757), one of the most successful women artists of any era, is commissioned to paint a portrait of Maria Clementina Sobieska (1702 – 1735), wife of ‘The Old Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart.


1720 – 1745 Most of London’s most famous hospitals are founded during this period.

1720 One of the earliest recorded workhouses, “the workhouse called Paul’s work”, is known to have operated in Edinburgh from at least 1720.

1720 Escape of Robert Porteous from a private lunatic asylum near West Linton.

1721 The birth of poet Thomas Blacklock (1721 – 1791).


1722 Sir Thomas Guy, a wealthy bookseller typifies the new trend towards social philanthropy by donating £300,000 for a hospital in London.



1722 Janet Horne, targeted for giving birth to a disabled child, is the last witch to be burned in Scotland.


1728 Birth of Robert Adam, Architect


1731 Birth of John Walker (1731–1803) Natural Historian


1731 The Town’s Hospital, containing an infirmary, a workhouse, a home for the aged infirm and for orphans, and an asylum, is built on Great Clyde Street near the edge of Glasgow Green. ‘The Hospital was managed by the Lord Provost and a group of 48 directors: 12 elected by the town council, 12 by the General Session (representing the church in each parish), 12 by the Merchants’ House (the merchants’ guild), and 12 by the Incorporated Trades (the producers’ guild)’.

1736 Birth of James Watt (1736 – 1819) Inventor and Mechanical Engineer

1739 A Foundling Hospital is set up in London following reports that “the unwanted children of the poor are often maimed by gin-soaked parish nurses so that they excite pity whilst begging”.


1739 Birth of Count Joseph Boruwlaski (1739 – 1837). Known as the Polish Dwarf, Joseph Boruwlaski tours the palaces and courts of the European and the Turkish empires, giving talks and concerts.


1740 A contract between the Town Council and kirk sessions is agreed setting the terms of the foundation of a new Charity Workhouse for Edinburgh to be built adjacent to the ‘Bedlam for Lunatics’.

1740 Birth of James Boswell, Lawyer, Biographer and Diarist


1741 Birth of the Poet, Lyricist and Muir ale house keeper, Isabel Pagan (c.1741 –1821). “A spirited woman who lived alone” and was “unapologetically promiscuous, habitually drunk, and irreverent towards religion.”



1743 The Edinburgh Charity Workhouse in Port Bristo opens and is financed by voluntary subscriptions. Funds for its operation are raised by a variety of means such a grant from the town council, a tax on the valued rents of the city, collections at church doors, charitable donations and other contributions including an annual benefit play at one of the city’s theatres. ‘It was a substantial building that, in 1777-8, could accommodate 484 adults and 180 children.’

1746 Birth of Hokiichi Hanawa, Son of a humble farmer, Hanawa loses his sight in early childhood but becomes a notable professor of literature, compiling the Gunusho Ruiju, a classified collection of over 1,200 classical Japanese books and documents.


1749 19 ‘lunatics’ confined in the Edinburgh ‘Bedlam’.

1750 Birth of Robert Fergusson (1750 – 1774) a poet.

1750 Birth of Henry Moyes in Kirkcaldy (c.1750 – 1807), who was a Lecturer of Natural Philosophy

1753 Birth of Dugald Stewart (1753 – 1828) Philosopher and Mathematician (graphic 26)

1755 Samuel Heinicke establishes the first oral school for deaf children in the world in Germany. (graphic 27)

1755 Charles Michel Abbe del’ Epee establishes the first free school for deaf children in the world in Paris. (graphic 28)

1759 – Birth of Robert Burns (1759 – 1796) Poet (graphic 29)

1760 Teacher, Thomas Braidwood opens his ‘Academy for the Deaf and Dumb’ in Edinburgh. (graphic 30)

1761 Edinburgh’s West Kirk parish opens the Canongate Charity workhouse at the east side of Tollbooth Wynd. It is financed by church-door collections and voluntary contributions, and managed by annually chosen members of various public societies such as the incorporated trades. (graphic 31)

1761 Birth of Charles Byrne (1761 – 1783), also known as Charles O’Brien or “The Irish Giant. “His appetite was great, as befitted him; he could eat a granary, he could drink a barrel. But now that all Ireland is coming down to ruin together, how will giants thrive? He had made a living by going about and being a pleasant visitor who fetched not just the gift of his giant presence but also stories and songs … many hearths had welcomed him as a prodigy, a conversationalist, an illustration from nature’s book. Nature’s book is little read now, and he thought this: I had better make a living in the obvious way. I will make a living from being tall.” (graphic 32)

Scottish surgeon John Hunter (1728 –1793) ‘acquired the skeleton of the 7′ 7″ Irish giant Charles Byrne against Byrne’s clear deathbed wishes—he had asked to be buried at sea. Hunter bribed a member of the funeral party (possibly for £500) and filled the coffin with rocks at an overnight stop, then subsequently published a scientific description of the anatomy and skeleton.’ (graphic 33)

1762 Land tenure reform leads to the Highland Clearances and massive emigration for several decades. (graphic 34)

1763 40 ‘lunatics’ confined in the Edinburgh ‘Bedlam’. (graphic 35)

1765 Birth of Thomas Muir of Huntershill (1765 -1799) Political Reformer (graphic 36)

1766 The arrival of Europeans in the Americas has a major impact on countries like Brazil. In 1766, the first leprosarium opens in Rio de Janeiro. (graphic 37)

1770 Birth of Ludwig Van Beethoven. Already deaf when he composes his 9th symphony, Beethoven relies on visitors’ notebooks and written messages to communicate with others. (graphic 38)

1770 Birth of James Hogg (1770 – 1835) poet and novelist (graphic 39)

1771 Birth of Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) Historical Novelist, Playwright and Poet (graphic 40)

1773 During his famous journey to the ‘Western Islands of Scotland’ Dr Samuel Johnson visits ‘a college of the deaf and dumb, who are taught to speak, to read,
to write, and to practice arithmetick, by a gentleman, whose name is Braidwood’. (graphic 41)

1775 Catherine the Great issues a decree in Russia establishing social service committees and encouraging individuals to establish charitable organizations. (graphic 42)

1778 Birth of Thomas Brown, Philosopher (graphic 43)

1781 The Montrose Lunatic Asylum, Infirmary and Dispensary is founded by Mrs. Susan Carnegie of Charleton for the treatment of private and pauper patients. Her intention is ‘….to rid the Town of Montrose of a nuisance, that of mad people being kept in prison in the middle of the street, and the hope that by providing a quiet and convenient Asylum for them, by good treatment and medical aid, some of those unfortunates might be restored to society.” (graphic 44)

1783 Birth of John Claudius Loudon, botanist and landscape designer. (graphic 45)

1785 There is an expansion in private ‘lunatic asylums’ across Scotland. ‘Mrs Stodart, near the foot of Leith Walk, North Side: “begs leave to acquaint the public that, for these 16 years past, she has been in the practice of keeping persons troubled in their minds. From her experience she hopes she may say that such as are in this unhappy state can be no better attended than with her….” (graphic 46)

1790 The Enclosure Acts in England ‘privatise’ common land and force impoverished rural labourers into towns and cities. (graphic 47)

1792 Thomas Muir, lawyer and political activist, charged with sedition and sentenced to 14 years transportation to Botany Bay. (graphic 48)

1793 The Edinburgh Asylum for the Relief of the Indigent and Industrious Blinde, is established by The Reverend Dr David Johnston, Minister of North Leith; Dr Thomas Blacklock, and Mr David Miller. (graphic 49)

1794 Joseph Gerrald, Political Reformer, charged with sedition and sentenced to 14 years transportation to Botany Bay. (graphic 50)
‘When you see Mr Gerrald…..making speeches such as you have heard today’ observed Lord Braxfield (the Lord Justice-Clerk) in his ‘charge’ to the jury ‘I look upon him as a very dangerous member of society, for I dare say, he has eloquence enough to persuade the people to rise in arms.’

1795 Birth of Frances Wright (1795 – 1852) lecturer, writer, freethinker, feminist, slavery abolitionist and social reformer (graphic 51)

1796 The Tuke family open a new asylum in York which challenges the orthodox and widespread treatment and detention of ‘lunatics’. The Retreat is run on Quaker principles and has “no cells, no chains, no cold baths and no beatings”. (graphic 52)

1796 Smallpox vaccination is discovered by Edward Jenner. (graphic 53)

1796 An estimated 10,000 people attend the funeral of Robert Burns in Dumfries. He is buried with full military honours, accompanied by two regiments of the British Army and a Militia. (graphic 54)

1798 An infirmary opens in Dundee. (graphic 55)

Cure, Containment and Curiosities

Cure, Containment and Curiosities 

1800   Aberdeen Lunatic Asylum opens and is constituted through a royal charter and an act of parliament. It is financed through public subscription and “built to replace cells provided in the original Infirmary at Woolmanhill since the 1740’s for ‘those who deprived of the use of their Reason…’. (graphic 1)

1800 Neuroanatomist and physiologist Franz Josef Gall (1758 – 1828) develops “cranioscopy“, a method to determine the personality and development of mental and moral faculties on the basis of the external shape of the skull. (graphic 2)

1800 First Medical Classification of Mental Disorders. Phillipe Pinel writes a ‘Treatise on Insanity’ in which he develops a four-part medical classification for the major mental illnesses: melancholy, dementia, mania without delirium, and

mania with delirium. (graphic 3)


1802 Birth of Hugh Miller (1802 – 1856) Geologist, Folklorist, Evangelical Christian and Political Reformer.(graphic 4)

1804 The Royal Northern Infirmary, Inverness, is opened (graphic 5)

1804 Glasgow Blind Asylum opens on Castle Street. (graphic 6)

1804 The Royal College of Surgeons agrees to establish an Anatomical Museum in Edinburgh.  “That it would greatly facilitate the teaching of surgery and prove useful

as well as creditable to the College to form a Museum of morbid preparations, casts and drawings of diseases and that all the members of the College should be

requested to give their assistance in promoting this very necessary part of the

plan by supporting it with all such articles of this kind as may be in their power.” (graphic 7)


1805 Birth of Mary Jane Seacole (1805 – 1881) Nurse and Heroine of the Crimean War and the daughter of a Jamaican mother and Scots father.  “I am a Creole, and have good Scots blood coursing through my veins. My father was a soldier of an old Scottish family.” (graphic 8)


1808 The County Asylum Act becomes law. Counties in England and Wales are permitted to build institutions to confine “criminal and pauper lunatics”. (graphic 9)


1808 The first typewriter proven to have worked is built by Pellegrino Turri for his blind friend Countess Carolina Fivizzono, enabling her to write love letters legibly. (graphic 10)


1809 Birth of Louis Braille (1809 – 1852) Teacher.  (graphic 11)


1810 Montrose Lunatic Asylum receives a royal charter.


1810-1814 The third Royal Charter Asylum for Lunatics is built at Parliamentary Road, Dobbies Loan, Glasgow and paid for through public subscription. It is built in the style of Bentham’s Panoptican with four projecting wings segregating inmates by gender, social class, and prospects of cure. (graphic 12)

1811   Birth of Sir James Young Simpson (1811 –1870) Doctor.  In 1847 he discovers the anaesthetic properties of chloroform and successfully introduces it for general medical use. (graphic 13)

1812 William Wull inherits the position of Town Drummer for Prestonpans. ‘The new town drummer was a strong-bodied man, with not altogether uncomely features, but he was very much malformed in his nether limbs. His knees were flattened
outwards, and his heels came in till they met together. He walked, or bounded rather, with the aid of a pair of crutches. His youthful tormentors maintained that he leapt like a frog, and they nicknamed him ‘Puddock’ Wull. ‘After a brush with the law he stood dressed in his finest garments beating his drum in front of the Prestonpans tavern. Bellowing at the top of his voice he announced, “Lost! Lost! Lost! Lost at Haddington the other day! A lawyer’s conscience! A jailor’s benevolence! And the sympathy of a policeman! Somewhere between the Nungate Brig and the Westport Toll I fancy, and the finder is sure to be rewarded!” (graphic 14)

1812 German Physician Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832) develops and expands on Franz Josef Gall’s theory of “cranioscopy“ and introduces a new term, ‘Phrenology’. (graphic 15)

1812 The St Vigean’s Destitute Sick Society is formed in Arbroath. (graphic 16)

1813 Scotland’s fourth royal charter lunatic asylum opens in Morningside, Edinburgh. The first patients are expected to pay fees but from 1842 it admits pauper patients: ‘By arrangement with the City it took Poorhouse Insane….’ (graphic 17)

1813 The Edinburgh Society for the Suppression of Begging is formed ‘to eliminate the evil of street begging in this metropolis.’ (graphic18)

1813 The Edinburgh Society for Relief of the Destitute Sick is founded. (graphic 19)

1814 The Highland Clearances begin. (graphic 20)

1815 A hostile article by the anatomist John Gordon is published in the Edinburgh Review, denouncing phrenology a “mixture of gross errors and extravagant absurdities”. In response, Spurzheim comes to Edinburgh to take part in public debates and to perform brain dissections in public. (graphic 21)

1815   An Act to regulate private asylums in Scotland comes into force. Annual licences are required “for the reception and the care and confinement of furious and fatuous persons and lunatics” kept for profit in private madhouses containing more than one person. ‘Twice yearly inspections were to be conducted by sheriffs accompanied by a nominated medical man during one such visit. In addition, sheriffs could order the inspection of any public asylum, hospital or poorhouse in which lunatics were kept.’ (graphic 22)

1815 A Medical Society and The Charitable Society for Suppressing Begging are established in Inverness. (graphic 23)

1816 There is disquiet about the growing number of private ‘madhouses’ and their variable provision. After the inspection of Mrs Veitch’s premises at Newbigging, one Edinburgh Sheriff notes ‘the alarm exhibited by the Keeper, lest the patients should communicate with the Sheriff’s Reporter, not in her hearing. This, together with her general demeanor, satisfied the Reporter that she was by no means of a temper suitable for such a job…’ (graphic 24)

1817 A typhus epidemic occurs in Edinburgh and Glasgow. (graphic 25)

1817 Laurent Clerc, a deaf teacher born in Labile, France in 1785 and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, establish America’s first school for deaf children at Hartford. (graphic 26)
1818 Publication of Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus  by Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; 1797 – 1851). The novel is contains gothic and romantic elements and is a very early example of science fiction and eugenics. ‘Mary Shelley was frail as a child and during 1812-14 spent several recuperation visits at Broughty Ferry. The introduction to her most famous work, Frankenstein, says that time spent around Dundee gave “the eyry of freedom and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy.” It is supposed that the town’s active whaling trade gave Mary the inspiration for the novel which starts on a voyage through the Arctic’.   (graphic 27)

1819 The Glasgow Society for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb is established at Townhead. (graphic 28)

1820 The Royal Lunatic Asylum opens at Stobswell near Dundee. It is the fifth Scottish asylum to be financed through public subscription and constituted through a royal charter and act of parliament. Its founding rules are influenced by the regime at The Retreat in York. (graphic 29)

1820  Dr Étienne-Jean Georget, a pioneer in psychiatric medicine, commissions the artist  Théodore Géricault to paint a series of portraits of ‘mental patients’ so that his students can study the facial traits of “monomaniacs”. Between 1821 and 1824 Géricault creates ten paintings of inmates at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris, including those of a kidnapper, a kleptomaniac, a gambling addict and a woman “consumed with envy”. (graphic 30)


1820 The Edinburgh Phrenological Society is founded by brothers Andrew and George Combe at the suggestion of the Evangelical minister David Welsh. ‘The object of the Phrenological Society is ‘to hear papers’ and ‘to discuss questions’ connected with Phrenology. It would ‘hold correspondence’ with societies and individuals taking an interest in Phrenology, and collect and pursue facts and views that ‘may improve and enlarge the boundaries of the Science’. The society grows rapidly, members publishing articles, giving lectures and defending phrenology from opponents like the philosopher Sir William Hamilton and the editor of the Edinburgh Review, Francis Jeffrey. It acquires large numbers of phrenological artefacts, such as marked porcelain heads indicating the placement of phrenological organs, and endocranial casts of individuals with ‘abnormal personalities.’  (graphic 31)

1823 Glasgow Blind Asylum states its aim of providing a residential school for blind boys and girls between ten and sixteen years of age.  In addition to attending

classes, boys make nets for wall-trees and sew sacks, whilst  girls are educated along gendered lines, assisting in household work and knitting silk purses, stockings and caps. (graphic 32)

1824 The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg is published anonymously. The first edition sells very poorly, however, ‘since the latter part of the twentieth century it has won greater critical interest and attention. It was praised by Andre Gide in an introduction to the 1947 reissue and described by the critic Walter Allen as ‘the most convincing representation of the power of evil in our literature’. (graphic 33)

1824 Louis Braille develops a tactile system using just 6 raised dots to represent the standard alphabet, enabling blind and partially sighted

people to read and write independently. His best friend Gabriel Gauthier becomes the first person ever to read Braille. (graphic 34)


1825 The Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh purchases a series of fifteen oil paintings, by Charles Bell, of war wounds inflicted on soldiers at the Battles of Corunna and Waterloo. (graphic 35)

1825 Birth of ‘Giant’ Angus MacAskill (1825 – 1863), the tallest Scotsman ever to have lived, and the tallest recorded true giant. Born on the island of Berneray, in the Sound of Harris, he and his parents and 9 siblings are “cleared” from their land and forced to emigrate to America where he joins “P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome” in 1849. (graphic 36)


1825   Birth of William Topaz McGonagall (1825 – 1902) Poet and Actor. (graphic 37)

1826 Robert Owen (1771 – 1858) writes The Social System – Constitution, Laws, and Regulations of a Community “In advanced age, and in cases of disability from accident, natural infirmity or any other cause, the individual shall be supported by the colony, and receive every comfort which kindness can administer”. (graphic 38)


1827 The eponymous Murray Royal Lunatic Asylum opens in Perth. Although it has a royal charter, the hospital is founded by James Murray, a labourer who inherits a fortune in 1809, when his half-brother drowns on the return voyage from India. (graphic 39)

1827 Birth of Martin Irons (1827-1900). He emigrates to the U.S.A. where he becomes a Trade Unionist and leader of the Great South West Strike. (graphics 40 and 41)


1828 Publication of ‘A general view of the present state of lunatics and lunatic asylums in Great Britain and Ireland, and in some other kingdoms’ by Sir Andrew Halliday who records ‘that in 1826 there were 648 individuals in public and private asylums in Scotland and 10 in public gaols; but this bears no proportion to the number of insane in the Kingdom..’ (graphic 42)

1828 Birth of Margaret Oliphant Wilson Oliphant (1828 – 1897) novelist and historical writer. (graphic 43)

1828 Publication in Glasgow of ‘An appeal to the public and to the legislature, on the necessity of affording dead bodies to the schools of anatomy, by legislative enactment’ by ophthalmologist William Mackenzie (1791-1868). (graphic 44)


1829   Execution of William Burke (1798 -1829) Cobbler. From November 1827 to October 31, 1828 Burke and his accomplices murder or are complicit in the murders of 17 people, at least three of whom are disabled, in order to sell their bodies for dissection at Edinburgh Medical School. (graphic 45)

1831 A cholera epidemic in Paisley causes the deaths of around 450 people. (graphic 46)

1832 Cholera outbreaks occur in Edinburgh, Dundee, Inverness and Dumfries. (graphic 47)

1832 The Cholera Act and Cholera (Scotland) Act enable the Privy Council to make orders for the prevention of cholera, ‘provided that any expense incurred should be defrayed out of money raised for the relief of the poor by the parishes and townships’. (graphic 48)

1832 William Ramsay Henderson leaves a large bequest to the Edinburgh Phrenological Society to ‘promote phrenology as it sees fit’. This enables the phrenologists to publish a popular version of The Constitution of Man, which goes on to become one of the bestselling books of the 19th Century. (graphic 49)

1832   Edinburgh Society of Arts offers a gold medal for the best method of printing ‘for the blind’. The medal is ultimately awarded to Dr Edmund Fry, of London, for a plain roman letter which, slightly modified later, became very popular in this country and America. (graphic 50)

1833 John Alston (1778 – 1846), the Honorary Treasurer of the Glasgow Asylum for the Blind, modifies Fry’s type to make it easier to read. Known as Alston type it uses raised Roman capital letters without swirls or serifs. (graphic 51)


1834 “A statute of quite uncommon Callousness.” The Poor Law Amendment Act comes into force in England. It establishes a Poor Law Commission which abolishes “outdoor relief” and instead embarks on a strategy of building .centrally administered union workhouses, overseen by local Boards of Guardians. (graphic 52)




1834  An Enquiry into drunkenness is “appointed to enquire into the extent, causes and consequences of the prevailing vice of intoxication among the labouring classes of the United Kingdom in order to ascertain whether any legislative

means can be devised to prevent the further spread of so great a national evil…” The Committee hears evidence from John Dunlop the author of ‘Drinking Useages of North Britain’, William Collins, a Glasgow Bookseller and William Murray, a ‘Glasgow Iron and Coal master.’ (graphic 53)


1835 Elgin Pauper Lunatic Asylum opens. (graphic 54)
1836   Dundee Eye Institution is established by Dr Cocks, a practitioner in the city, to provide a free service to those unable to afford ophthalmic treatment. (graphic 55)

1836 A dispensary ‘for the relief of the poor’ is established in Arbroath, paid for by public subscription and run by local medical practitioners. (graphic 55a)

1837  Five lectures by phrenologist and medical superintendent of Montrose Lunatic Asylum, William A.F. Browne  (1805–1885), are published together under the title ‘What Asylums Were, Are and Ought To Be’.  (graphic 56)

1838 Patients are admitted to the Crichton Institution, Dumfries, the first asylum established south of Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is the sixth Scottish asylum to be constituted through a royal charter and is funded with a bequest from Dr James Crichton, the former physician to the Governor General of India. (graphic 57)

1839  The Crichton Institution is described by the Saturday Magazine as “surpassing everything of the kind that has yet been established in Europe.”  The first medical superintendent, William A.F. Browne, introduces activities for patients including writing, art, group activity and drama. (graphic 58)

1840 The Scottish economy falters and it becomes apparent that the demand for poor relief is growing and its administration is haphazard.

1840 Publication of “Observations on the Management of the Poor in Scotland and Its Effects on the Health of the Great Towns”, by WP Alison (1790-1859) successively professor of medical jurisprudence, Edinburgh.

1840 Birth of Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake (1840 – 1912) Doctor, Teacher and Feminist (graphic 60)

1840 The Total Abstinence Movement gains momentum in Scotland with its emphasis on ‘cures’ for ‘habitual drunkards’. (graphic 61)

1841 A Chartist demonstration in Glasgow is addressed by Fergus O’Connor (graphic 62)

1842 Disabled Trade Unionist and son of a former slave, William Cuffay, is elected to the national executive of the National Charter Association and subsequently becomes the President of the London Chartists. (graphic 63)

1842   Publication of the report ‘on the Diseases, Conditions and Habits of the Collier Population of East Lothian by S.Scott Alison, MD, Hon.Sec. Medical Society of London.’ from R.F.Franks to the Children’s Employment Commission for Eastern Scotland. (graphic 64)

’The physical condition of the Collier population of East Lothian, in North Britain, including men, women and children, is bad and much inferior to that of most other classes of the population which have come under my observation….’

1843 Scotland’s first ‘Hydropathic’ institution opens. ‘Dr Paterson’s Glenburn House at Rothesay’  offers  ‘a series of water treatments: showers, baths sheets and rubbing or massage, drawn together in a supervised and individually tailored regime that emphasized exercise, good diet and no alcohol’. By 1900 there are 15 similar residential establishments across the country. (graphic 65)

1843 Patients from the lunatic asylum at Dobbies Loan are transferred to a new asylum at Gartnavel, in the west end of Glasgow. The Panoptican building which they vacate is adapted for use as a poorhouse. (graphic 66)

1843 The existing poor law system of administration, via Kirk Sessions, is put under severe pressure when the established Church of Scotland suffers a split and 40% of its clergy leave to form the Free Church. (graphic 67)



1843   A Commission of Inquiry is set up to examine the system of poor relief in Scotland and suggest improvements. According to John Hutchison, the Parish Clerk of Kirkcaldy, ‘We have five idiots, lunatics, or fatuous persons on the roll, of whom four are in the asylums of Perth, Dundee and Montrose. The remaining one is a man, aged about thirty. His allowance is 6s a month. He lives with his parents; his father is a shoemaker, who had a family, who are, however, all off his hands. The son is, I think, well provided for.’ (graphic 68)

1844 The Poor Law inquiry (Scotland) report notes ‘that in Scotland the people entitled to parochial relief were those either wholly or partially disabled by age or infirmity and unable to maintain themselves, this included children. Exceptions to this were illegitimate children, who the parish often refused to assist, leaving the mother to fend for herself as a warning to others of the consequences of immorality. Besides these cases, relief was occasionally given to a family of able-bodied people during sickness, but not as a matter of right, and usually only as a result of fevers or epidemics.’(graphic 69)

1844 Landowners on the Isle of Arran express concern that tenant farmers are taking in boarders with learning difficulties as ‘an easier way of making a living than adjusting to improved farming.’  (graphic 70)

1845 The Scottish Poor Law Amendment Act (The Amendment and better Administration of the Laws Relating to the relief of the Poor in Scotland) creates a central board of supervisors based in Edinburgh which oversees a national programme of Poorhouse construction. Parochial Boards are set up in each parish to administer poor relief which can be given in the form of cash or in kind, or through a poorhouse set up to shelter the sick or destitute, but not the ‘able-bodied’.  Parochial boards are required to keep a pauper roll which includes name, age, country and place of birth, marital and religious status and details of spouse and children. Over 70 poorhouses are eventually constructed in Scotland, many serving a number of parishes (called ‘poor law unions’ or ‘combinations’). For example Glasgow was divided between four parishes: CityBaronyGovan and Gorbals. (graphic 71)

1845   People who are destitute or have incurable conditions are treated in Poor Law

hospitals. As treatment is financed out of the local rates, hospital managers are under pressure to keep expenditure low, leading to economies in the provision of medical facilities. Operations are performed on the patient’s bed or on a table in the ward as there are no funds for separate operating theatres. (graphic 72)


1845 An infirmary opens in Arbroath, funded by public subscribers and a donation from Lord Panmure.


1845   Start of the Potato Famine in the Highlands. Troops are used to suppress riots in Inverness. (graphic 73)

1846 James Loch, MP and agent for the Duke of Sutherland, in a letter on the developing potato famine states “I do not think that some measure of distress will not reach our people. I think it will and I think it ought, it is the only thing that will induce them to work.” (graphic 74)


1846 ‘Distressing Colliery Accident – Another distressing colliery accident occurred at Stevenson Colliery, by Holytown, a few days ago, when a collier of the name of Alex. Forest was severely hurt by a fall of coal, in consequence of which he was removed to the infirmary in Glasgow, where he lingered till Wednesday morning last, when death put an end to his sufferings. He has left a wife near her confinement, and three young children, to deplore his unhappy fate.’ Glasgow Herald 31 August 1846 (graphic 75)

1847 There is a Cholera epidemic in Glasgow. (graphic 76)

1847 Last ‘Beggars Badge’ is issued in Scotland. (graphic 77)

1847 Birth of Alexander Graham Bell (1847 – 1922) Teacher, Scientist, Inventor and Eugenicist (graphic 78)

1848 There is further outbreak of cholera in Dundee. (graphic 79)

1848 59,465 people are recorded as being in receipt of poor relief in Glasgow. This figure represents just under half the 1841 population of the city. (graphic 80)

1849 The outbreak of cholera in Dundee continues (graphic 81)

1850 Birth of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894) Author (graphic 82)

1851 Donaldson’s Hospital for the deaf is founded in Edinburgh by James Donaldson (1751–1830), publisher of the Edinburgh Advertiser.The original bequest allows for special bursaries for the education of poor children between the ages of seven and nine and applications on behalf of deaf children are encouraged. (graphic 83)

1851 The first attempt is made to identify sensory impairments in the national census. (graphic 84)

1851 The opening of the Parochial Asylum of the Abbey Parish Poor House, Paisley. The asylum is licensed for 90 inmates and a general hospital is built next to it in 1890. The whole complex is known as Craw Road Institution. (graphic 85)

1852 Whilst confined in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum artist Richard Dadd completes a portrait of Sir Alexander Morison, a 19th-century Scottish physician and proponent of physiognomy, the belief that a patient’s facial expression revealed the underlying mental condition. The painting shows Morison standing in the grounds of Anchorfield, his childhood home on the shores of the Firth of Forth, with sailing ships on the Fife coastline and two Newhaven fishwives in the background. (graphic 86)


1853 Sir John and Lady Jane Ogilvie establish “an orphanage or hospital for orphans and imbecile children,” which becomes the Baldovan Asylum for Imbecile Children. (graphic 87)

1853 The Barony Parish Poorhouse at Barnhill opens and is described as “a very capacious asylum for the children of poverty and well adapted by its cleanliness, ventilation and position to mitigate the ills of their condition.” With the merger with the City parish, it is enlarged and becomes Scotland’s largest poorhouse. (graphic 88)


1854   The American social reformer, Dorothea Lynde Dix (1802-1887), known as ‘the champion of the insane’, visits Scotland to examine the treatment of people in asylums. She reports her findings to the Home Secretary, Lord Palmerston. (graphic 89)

1855 A Royal Commission is appointed to enquire into ‘The Asylums and Lunacy Law of Scotland’. (graphic 90)

1855 Civil registration of Births and Deaths begins. (graphic 91)

1855 The Nuisances Removal (Scotland) Act is passed to deal with the removal of nuisances, control of epidemics and the inspection of common lodging houses. (graphic 92)

1855 Influenza pandemic (graphic 93)


1856 The Parochial Board of Dundee opens the East Poorhouse on a five-acre site acquired from the Craigie Estates near Stobswell, on what is now Molison Street. Financed by a loan of £10,000 from the National Bank of Scotland repayable at 4% interest, the building has accommodation to house ‘800 paupers, 100 sick and 100 lunatics’. (graphic 94)

1857 The Lunacy and Asylums Bill Scotland establishes a General Board of Commissioners in Lunacy for Scotland (1859-1913), which takes over duties from the Board of Supervision. The act lays down conditions for certification and, unlike the English acts, provides powers to keep a patient under observation for six months without certification and to board out harmless lunatics in private homes. The Act requires the construction of publicly financed District Asylums throughout Scotland. (graphic 95)

1857 Cuninghame Combination Poorhouse in Ayrshire opens. (graphic 96)

1857 ‘Giant’ Angus McAskill tours England and Scotland, going as far north as Aberdeen. He accompanies small person General Tom Thumb (Charles Sherwood Stratton 1838-1883) who is also managed by P.T. Barnum.  ‘The General’s Scotch costumes, his national dances and the “bit of dialect” which he had acquired had long been a feature of the performance and was especially admired in Scotland’. (graphic 97)

1857 Opening of the Britannia Music Hall, Glasgow, which becomes a popular venue for exhibiting ‘curiosities’. (graphic 98)

1857 The Mission to the Outdoor Blind is established in Scotland ‘to teach the blind to read raised type and encourage them in finding employment. There are now 10 separate societies, employing 21 missionaries’. (graphic 99)

1858  A ‘Communication addressed to the Secretary of State’ raises concerns about

‘the treatment of pauper lunatics and their management in Scotland by the Board of Supervision for the Relief of the Poor’. Edward Ellice, M.P. for St. Andrews, claims ‘there to be a discrepancy between the findings of the Lunacy Commission and the reports of the Board’ which he believed ‘were calculated to allay government suspicion of abuses’ by  concealing that ‘the Commissioners had found pauper lunatics,  in

authorised places of confinement, to be exposed to starvation, manacled and ill-treated to the extent of suffering a high death rates’. (graphic 100)

1858The governor of Cuninghame poorhouse obtains permission to provide separate accommodation for ten male and ten female `pauper imbeciles and idiots’. This develops into an asylum building adjoining the poorhouse. (graphic 101)

1858 A new lunatic asylum opens at Sunnyside Farm on the outskirts of Montrose. (graphic 101a)

1859  A survey by the Edinburgh Review finds that the single biggest cohort in ‘Female Lunacy Wards’ is that of former governesses and the next biggest group is that of ‘Maids of all Work’. (graphic 102)


1859 Birth of Rachel MacMillan (1859 -1917 ) Educationalist and founder member of the Independent Labour Party (graphic 103)

1859 ‘The Woman in White’ by Wilkie Collins is published. One of the main protagonists has learning difficulties and the plot hinges on the illegal confinement of a sane person in a lunatic asylum, alluding to recent social and economic shifts for women such as the 1857 Divorce Act. (graphic 104)


1859 Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution and the notion of the ‘survival of the fittest’ through natural selection lead to the widespread and apparently scientifically justified view of disabled people as inferior. (graphic 105)

1860 Two-fifths of all deaths in Glasgow are due to respiratory diseases and tuberculosis. (graphic 106)

1860 The Hospital for Sick Children opens in Edinburgh. (graphic 107)

1860 Down’s Syndrome identified by Dr Langdon Down. (graphic 108)

1860 Birth of Margaret MacMillan (1860 – 1931) Educationalist, Christian Socialist and member of the Fabian Society. (graphic 109)

1861 The American Civil War results in widespread physical impairment on a massive scale. During the war (1861 – 1865) there are 30,000 amputations reported in the Union Army alone. (graphic 110)


1861 The Board of Supervision for Scotland identifies two classes of parish poorhouses: those being used for the purposes of statutory poorhouses, and those that are dwellings for those receiving outdoor relief. Many parishes, particularly in the east of Scotland, instead (or sometimes additionally) operate smaller and more informal poorhouse establishments variously known as almshouses, parish homes, parochial houses, or parish lodging houses.  (graphic 111)


1861 Markinch, Dysart, Wemyss and Leslie Parochial Boards in Fife form the Dysart Combination and open a poorhouse east of the village of Thornton, financed by a loan from Scottish Widows, Edinburgh. Its intended capacity of 130 inmates is soon exceeded. (graphic 112)

1862 The Lunacy in Scotland Act is passed, regulating the care and treatment of lunatics, and the provision and maintenance of lunatic asylums in Scotland. (graphic 113)

1862 The Inveresk Combination is formed, in conjunction with the seven other parishes of Gladsmuir, Humbie, Ormiston, Pencaitland, Prestonpans, Salton and Tranent. (graphic 114)

1863: Dr Henry Littlejohn becomes Glasgow’s first medical officer. (graphic 115)

1863 The Scottish National Institution for the Education of Imbecile Children is established on land to the north of present-day Larbert at a cost of £13,000. It provides care for children and young people between the ages of 5 and 21. (graphic 116)

1863 The Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children receives a royal charter. (graphic 117)

1863 The Vaccination (Scotland) Act makes vaccination of infants compulsory.(graphic 118)

1863 Chalmers’ Hospital for the Sick and Hurt opens in Lauriston, Edinburgh  ‘opposite the Cattle Market, and sprang from a bequest by George Chalmers, a master plumber, of about £30, 000, left at his death in 1836, and allowed to accumulate till 1861. The hospital was erected in 1861-63, is an oblong edifice of comparatively plain but pleasing aspect, and is under the management of the dean and faculty of advocates….’ (graphic 119)

1863 ‘A Home for Cripple Children under the age of 12, suffering from spinal affection and hip-joint disease, is at 20 North Mansion house Road, Grange…’ (graphic 120)


1863 Charles Reade’s Hard Cash, about a villainous confinement in an asylum, appears as instalments in Charles Dickens’s magazine All the Year Round. (graphic 121)

1863 A bazaar is held in the music-hall, Edinburgh, in aid of the ‘Scottish institution for Imbecile children’ (graphic 121a)

1864 The Morayshire Combination poorhouse is built at Bishopmill to the north of Elgin. The two wings of the front block contain male and female accommodation, probably with ‘the aged’ at the front side and ‘able-bodied’ or “dissolute” inmates at the back. (graphic 122)
1864 Highland District Lunatic Asylum, Inverness, opens. (graphic 123)

1864 Duthil poorhouse, part of the Nairn Combination, opens near Carrbridge and is financed through the poor rates and the Fire Insurance Society. (graphic 124)

1864 The Liff & Benvie parish poorhouse is built at the north side of Blackness Road at a cost of £7,000, for up to 200 inmates. Male quarters are at the west of the site, and female at the east. Male and female lunatics are located at the far end of each section. (graphic 125)




1864 Birth of Elsie Inglis (1864 – 1917) Leading surgeon and suffragette. She improves maternity facilities and fights for better healthcare for women in Scotland. She establishes a maternity hospital in Edinburgh staffed only by women. (graphic 126)

1865 One of the most physically remote asylums in Britain opens at Ladysbridge, Banffshire. (graphic 127a)

1865 An ‘Institution for the Blind’ is established in Dundee. (graphic 127)

1866 Opening of an asylum for the Haddington district. “Near the town stands the County Lunatic asylum, a handsome building….. with accommodation for 90 patients” (graphic 128)

1867 The Anatomical Museum is transferred to Edinburgh University. (graphic 129)

1867 Public Health (Scotland) Act consolidates previous legislation relating to nuisances, sewers, water supplies, common lodging houses and prevention of diseases; and permits the appointment of medical officers of health and the levy of a general rate for public health purposes. (graphic 130)

1868 Edinburgh’s St Cuthbert’s parish opens a new hospital and a poorhouse with separate sections for ‘Very Decent’, ‘Decent’, ‘Bastardy’, and ‘Depraved’. (graphic 131)

1868 Birth of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 – 1928) architect, designer and artist. (graphic 132)

1868 Birth of Dr Alice Moorhead (1868 – 1910) Pioneer of Women’s Medicine (graphic 132a)

1868 The British and Foreign Blind Association is founded by Thomas Armitage (graphic 133).

1869 Sophia Jex-Blake is in the first group of female medical students to attend Edinburgh University. (graphic 134)

1869 The Stirling District Lunatic Asylum, costing £20,000, opens at Bellsdyke (adjacent to Scottish National Institution for the Education of Imbecile Children). (graphic 135)

1869  Edinburgh’s old Charity workhouse is replaced by the Craiglockhart Poorhouse with accommodation of up to 1569 inmates with the intention to provide both a ‘comfortable home for the aged and poor’ and also a reformatory for the ‘dissipated, the improvident, and the vicious’. The male wing had divisions for ‘old men of good character’, ‘dissolute men’, ‘doubtful old men’, and ‘boys’, with similar divisions in the women’s quarters. (graphic 136)

1870 Edinburgh Royal Infirmary is built on Lauriston Place. (graphic 137)
1870   Alexander Drysdale provides funds to build the ‘Dundee Institution for the Education of the Deaf’ at Dudhope Bank on Lochee Road. (graphic 138)



1871 The national census now includes a column about impairment and also asks if an individual is a “lunatic” or an ‘imbecile or idiot’. The impairment column is included in the 1881, 1891 and 1911 censuses with varying wording. (graphic 139)

1872 Govan Poor House is extended to include a new 240 bed general hospital and 180 patient lunatic asylum. (graphic 140)

1872 Section 69 of the Education (Scotland) Act gives parochial boards the power to pay the school fees of poor children. Blind children are included in this clause but ‘deaf and dumb’ children are omitted. (graphic 141)

1872   Publication of a report from the Select Committee “To enquire into the best plan for the control and management of habitual drunkards.” The Committee hears evidence from Dr David Skae, a physician at the Royal Edinburgh Asylum who ‘reported that in Scotland there existed the principle of providing curatorship for the insane, derived from old civil law’ and ‘recommended that this principle should be applied to drunkards who required confinement in order that their property might be saved.’  Dr. William MacGill, Surgeon of the Police Force of the City of Glasgow ‘described injuries caused by intoxication and the effect on the homes and families of inebriates which he had witnessed. He advocated the confinement of inebriates in reformatories or asylums.’  (graphic 142)

1874 Attendance Officers report that many disabled children rarely if ever go to school. In response, William Mitchell, Chairman of the Attendance Committee of the Glasgow School Board, establishes the ‘Association for Visiting and Aiding Permanently Infirm and Imbecile Children’.  (graphic 143)


1874 A report on the implementation of the 1872 Education (Scotland) act states that 50 blind children are being taught in mainstream Scottish schools. (graphic 144)


1874  Early admissions to East Park Home, Maryhill, Glasgow,

are dominated by children with rickets, spinal diseases, hip joint disease and

paralysis. Initially the home is built to accommodate thirty children although by the

end of the century this increases to 84 and by the outbreak of the First

World War it has 151 children in residence. (graphic 145)



1875   Opening of the Barony Parochial Asylum for ‘pauper lunatics’ on the Woodilee estate near Lenzie Junction on the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway line.  It is the largest parochial asylum in Scotland, with 400 inmates and within 10 years it is licensed for another 200. (graphic 146)

1875 Edinburgh Association for Incurables is formed in conjunction with the opening of Longmore Hospital, for patients in need of long term care and treatment. (graphic 147)

1876 Poor Relief Applications for 1876 include:

Record No. 163.   Applied on 27 Mar 1876 at 1 pm.   Residence Overton Row; born in Ireland; a widow aged 59; religion protestant; partially disabled – general debility.
This woman appears to have a settlement in Dreghorn.   Her family are Joseph 25 born in St Quivox, married with 2 children; Henry 23 born in Dreghorn, single, has a sore arm; Mary-Ann 20 born in Dreghorn, defective eyesight; Jeanie 18 born in Dreghorn, at service.
First application.   28 Apr – refused.   Family able to maintain her.

Record No. 185.   Applied on 17 Dec 1876 at 2 pm.   No fixed residence.   Single aged 27; wholly disabled – insane.

This woman was found wandering about the village with a knife in her possession.
First application.   6 Feb sent to poorhouse and admitted by Newton on Ayr on 20 Dec 1876. (graphic 148)


1876 Women and children at the Royal Blind Asylum are relocated to to ‘a spacious new building at West Craigmillar’, Edinburgh. Male inmates continue to live and work  at Nicholson Street. ‘The institution is managed by a body of directors, and instructs and employs the males in making mattresses, brushes, baskets, mats, and other objects, and in weaving sackcloth, matting, and rag-carpets – the females in knitting stockings, sewing covers for mattresses and feather beds, and other occupations’. (graphic 149)

1878 One of the worst outbreaks of anthrax in Scotland occurs at the Adelphi horse-hair factory in Glasgow. ‘The outbreak was attributed to “Russian manes and tails” imported to be used in carpet and furniture making’. (graphic 149xxx)


1879James Paul (1848 -1919) a former pupil at the Glasgow Institution for the Deaf founds the National Deaf and Dumb Society (graphic 149a)

1880 – 81 First Boer War. The Army Medical Corps discovers that a high proportion of men presenting for service are physically unfit to fight. (graphic 150)

1880 The International Congress of Educators of the Deaf, meeting in Milan, Italy, calls for the suppression of all sign languages and the sacking of every deaf teacher. This triumph of ‘oralism’ is seen by D/deaf advocates as a direct attack upon their culture.(graphic 151)



1880The first ‘Convention of Deaf Mutes’ is held in Cincinnati and The National Association of the Deaf is then formed by deaf people in the USA. It becomes the leading organisation fighting the ‘oralists’. (graphic 152)


1880 The Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women is founded by Dr Sophia Jex-Blake with support from the National Association for Promoting the Medical Education of Women.(graphic 153)

1880 Birth of Marie Carmichael Stopes (1880 – 1958) author, palaeobotanist, campaigner for women’s rights, pioneer in the field of birth control and Eugenicist who ‘ wrote that were she in charge, she would “legislate compulsory sterilization of the insane, feebleminded… revolutionaries… half castes.” (graphic 154)

1880s With the expansion of the British Empire come Social Darwinist ideas linking race and impairment to ‘social evils’. (graphic 155)

1880s   A committee of women works to find temporary accommodation and potential placements in service for ‘Poor and Friendless Female Convalescents on Leaving Asylums for the Insane’.  They assist former patients from 18 different asylums in England and Scotland and also place “some people at risk of becoming insane’ in cottage homes. (graphic 156)

1881 According to the Census of 1881, ‘there are 3,158 blind people in Scotland. About 240 of these are of school age, 108 of whom are receiving no education beyond the occasional visits of missionaries and teachers of the Out-door Blind Association’.

There are 2,142 ‘deaf and dumb’ people in Scotland according to the Census. ‘From the returns it was apparent that agriculture, bookbinding, tailoring, shoemaking and dressmaking were their main occupations. There were six institutions for the deaf and dumb in Scotland, and there were six societies for the adult deaf and dumb. The combined system, oral system, sign and manual system were all used in Scotland.’ (graphic 157)

1881 The Report of The General Board of Commissioners in Lunacy for Scotlandin the Journal of Mental Science notes that:

The most important changes that have taken place of late have been manifested chiefly in three directions: –

  1. In the greater amount of liberty accorded to the patients
  2. in the increased attention that is devoted to their industrial occupation and
  3. in the more liberal arrangements that are made for their comfort.


“It is year by year becoming more clearly recognised that many advantages result from the working of the open-door system, and it has now been adopted to a greater or less extent in most of the Scotch asylums” (graphic 158)


1881 Minutes from the Select Committee established to inquire into the Contagious Diseases Acts, 1866-1869, their administration, operation and effect … and to report whether the said Contagious Diseases Acts should be maintained, amended or repealed”  hears evidence from  Alexander MacCall, Chief Constable of Glasgow, stating that ‘you will not find a city in which there is less of that upon the public streets, or less temptation in a general way to lead young people astray than you find in Glasgow” In support of this ‘he quoted the reports from the Registrar General, which showed that the number of patients in Glasgow Lock Hospital, where women were treated for venereal disease, had also reduced. The hospital was supported by voluntary subscriptions and women entered it of their own accord. It was argued that the voluntary character of the institution induced women to seek medical aid at an earlier stage than they would do otherwise.’ (graphic 159)

1881   A new hospital wing for ‘female lunatics’ opens at Perth Prison. ‘The prison has now accommodation for a total of 884 prisoners, i.e., separate accommodation for 734, and associated for 150, thus divided:-in the male department, hospitals for 10 sick, for 20 epileptic and imbecile, and for 58 lunatic prisoners; on the female side, hospitals for 32 sick, epileptic, and imbecile, and for 30 lunatic prisoners.’ (graphic 160)

1881 In the U.S.A. Chicago City Council enacts the first “ugly law,” forbidding “any person, who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or deformed in any way . . . to expose himself to public view.” This law remains on the statute book until 1974. (graphic 161)


1882 The last of the patients from the old Royal Asylum in Stobswell are moved to a new purpose-built asylum at Westgreen, near the small village of Liff, outside Dundee. (graphic 162)
1882 An article “On the Diagnosis and Prognosis of Idiocy and Imbecility” is published in the Edinburgh Medical Journal. The author, William W Ireland, is the licensee of the Larbert Training School for Imbecile Children.(graphic 163)
1882 ‘About three quarters of a mile West South West of the town of Melrose , on Bowden Moor, is the district lunatic asylum for the counties of Roxburgh, Selkirk, and Berwick, which with its grounds covers a space of 25 acres. The buildings occupy three sides of a rectangle; the principal front to the South West being 377 feet long, and the wings each 148 feet. They are mostly two stories in height, and two towers are 100 feet high.’
“From early on patients are discharged after a probationary period, and the second Medical Superintendent Dr J. Carlyle Johnstone introduces parole for patients and the removal of locksfrom some interior doors.” (graphic 164)1882 Glasgow Asylum for the Blind relocates to new premises in Castle Street  where it has ‘thirty girls and thirty ‘lads’ resident along with twelve women, while its school is attended by an additional five non-resident children.’ (graphic 164)1882 The U.S. Congress endorses an immigration policy that excludes “defective” individuals, and the practice of intellectual testing to identify ‘mentally deficient’ immigrants is instituted at all ports of entry. (graphic 166)


1883 In the Barony Parish, Glasgow, the occupants of wards 141 (skin diseases) and 142 (sexually transmitted diseases) are found to be sharing the same WC and bath due to overcrowding. (graphic 167)


1883 The Royal Hospital for Sick Children opens in Glasgow. (graphic 168)


1883 The First women are elected onto Poor Law Boards in Scotland (graphic 169a)


1883 Long Island combination poorhouse is erected at Lochmaddy on North Uist to serve the parishes of Barra, Harris, North Uist and South Uist. (graphic 169b)


1883 Concern is expressed by Arran landowners that ‘numbers of paupers, children and persons of unsound mind … sent to lodge or board with tenants … are after a time left unprovided for and consequently become burdens on the poor rates in the Island.’ (graphic 169)


1883  Sir Francis Galton coins the term “eugenics” for the science of “improving

the stock” of humanity by preventing “undesirables” from being born. (graphic 170)


1884 A new medical school is established at Edinburgh University. (graphic 171)


1885 Anna Adler establishes a printing house in Moscow which produces the first-ever Russian language Braille book. (graphic 172)

1886 Publication of Robert Louis Stevenson’s best-selling novella, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde which explores the theme of ‘dual personalities’. (graphic 173)

1886 A Royal Commission is established, under the chairmanship of  Wilbraham Egerton, Lord Egerton of Tatton, in order “to investigate and report upon the condition of the blind in our United Kingdom, the various systems of education of the blind, elementary, technical, and professional, at home and abroad, and the existing institutions for that purpose, the employment open to and suitable for the blind, and the means by which education may be extended so as to increase the number of blind persons qualified for such employment.”

On 20th January 1886, its terms of reference are widened: “that the Commissioners to be nominated for the purposes aforesaid should be authorised and appointed to investigate and report similarly upon the condition and education of the deaf and dumb, as well as such other cases as from special circumstances would seem to require exceptional methods of education.” (graphic 174)

1886 John Batty Tuke, superintendent of Perth and Kinross District Asylum from 1866 to 1873, advocates boarding-out as one method of discharging insane paupers from the institution, which is required to have a regular turnover of inmates and be seen as providing some curative or improving intervention.(graphic 175)

1887 Birth of  Edwin Muir (1887 – 3 January 1959) Poet, Novelist and Translator (graphic 176)


1888 ‘Colonies for epileptics’ begin to be established in different parts of Scotland and England. (graphic 177)

1889 A House of Lords debate proposes notices of rights for people detained in asylums. (graphic 178)

1889   The Royal Commission established in 1886 publishes the Egerton Report ‘on the blind, the deaf and dumb and others of the UK’.  The report notes that ‘many blind children still remained uneducated’ and that ‘The Commissioners thought it should be the duty of every school board to ensure that all blind children attended school. Institutions should enlarge their workshops to provide industrial training for all blind people, and where no institutions existed, the school boards should set up technical schools of their own….’ (graphic 179)

1889 Death of Hugh Lennox (? – 1889) Street Singer  ‘Hugh Lennox

was a tall friendly figure on the streets of Dundee and was known as “Blind Hughie”. The tall, friendly faced man would take up his stance, clear his throat and deliver tunes in “broad Scotch” complete with heartfelt passion according to whether the tune was gay or dramatic. Known for his honesty he travelled across Fife and Tayside to markets and fairs in order to entertain and make his living. His marriage to a frail Montrose woman was short lived and after her death he returned to Dundee, where he spent his time watching the police court in action…’




1890 The British Deaf Association is formed by Francis Maginn to protect sign language and promote better education for D/deaf people. (graphic 180)

1890 The Education of Blind and Deaf Mute Children (Scotland) Act becomes law.(graphic 181)

1891 A Grand Christmas Bazaar raises £6,000 to build an ‘Institute for Adult Deaf’ in Glasgow and the West of Scotland, with Queen Victoria as patron. (graphic 182)


1893 A Departmental Committee is established “to enquire into the best mode of dealing with habitual drunkards.”  The Committee hears evidence from Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Burness McHardy, Prison Commissioner for Scotland who ‘stated that the proportion of apprehensions for drunkenness was much greater in Scotland than in England’ and ‘considered it preferable for drunkards to be looked after by friends or by some society rather than being committed to an institution where the “normal conditions of life” were impossible to attain. Failing this, they should be boarded-out in the same manner as lunatics were often boarded out in Scotland.’ (graphic 183)


1894 The Poor Law Board of Supervision is replaced by a more powerful Local Government Board which is directly responsible to Parliament. The parochial boards are replaced by parish councils with a three year term of office. (graphic 184)


1894 The Society for the Suppression of Mendicity reports that it apprehends some 1000 beggars a year pretending, in the Society’s view, to be disabled in order to attract greater pity. (graphic 185)

1894   Publication of the First and second reports from the Select Committee established “to enquire into the sufficiency of existing laws as to the disposal of the dead, for securing an accurate record of the causes of death in all cases, and especially for detecting them where death may have been due to poison, violence, or criminal neglect.” The Committee hears evidence that the current system ‘allowed too much scope for crime and fraud and should, therefore, be eliminated’. Dr.Glaister of Glasgow said that he “saw no difficulty for anybody to perpetrate a crime, get the whole matter certified and registered and the body buried without anybody detecting it”. (graphic 186)

1895 Sigmund Freud publishes his theories on hysteria. half century.(g.187)

1895 Opening of Govan District Asylum at Hawkhead. The asylum is built on behalf of Govan District Lunacy Board with accommodation for 400 patients in 1895. By 1908 this has risen to 520 patients. (graphic 188)

1895 Lanark County Asylum opens with its own private railway to transport patients from nearby Hartwood station. Originally intended for 500 inmates, it eventually contains 1,800. (graphic 189)


1895 A meeting of the Royal Commission “to consider whether any alterations in the system of poor law relief are desirable, in the case of persons whose destitution is occasioned by incapacity for work, resulting from old age, or whether assistance could otherwise be afforded in those cases” hears evidence from Malcolm McNeill, Secretary to the Board of Supervision in Edinburgh, on the composition and duties of the Board of Supervision and the parochial boards. ‘He was not in favour of State-aided pensions……and it was his view that many paupers came mainly from the lower labouring class and a large proportion of old people in need of relief in Scotland were ne-er-do-weels”. (graphic 190)





1895 Minutes of a Departmental Committee established “to inquire whether the number of such persons (habitual offenders, vagrants, beggars and inebriates in Scotland) is increasing, and into the cause of such increase; and further, to suggest such remedies as may, while deterrent, be likely to bring about their reformation and to prevent further additions to their numbers … and also to inquire into the number of male and female juvenile offenders sent to prison in Scotland…” record that ‘Turning their attention to the non-criminal class of habitual drunkards, the Committee considered their admission to licensed retreats, homes and lunatic asylums, the periods of detention in these institutions, maintenance by friends, Church philanthropic or other agencies, the Habitual Drunkards Act, 1879, Inebriates Act, 1888 and secret cures, such as the “Tyson Cure” and “Metabolic Treatment”.’ (graphic 191)



1896 The Interim report of the Departmental Committee into ‘Dangerous Trades’ is published. The remit for the Committee is to examine ‘industries among these which were chiefly in need of regulation, outlining the processes involved and the dangers these posed to the employees’ and ‘to report what, if any, special rules should be made under section 8 of the Factory and Workshops Act, 1891, for the protection of the persons employed in these industries.” The Committee’s ‘attention is drawn to the case of a fifteen year old girl who had worked for a small Glasgow firm of lithographers for eleven months……. The manager refused to supply her with a respirator although she was frequently ill.’ (graphic 192)


1896   Birth of Elizabeth Mackintosh (1896 – 1952) Playwright and Author. Under the pseudonyms of Josephine Tey and Gordon Daviott she writes plays and a series of bestselling crime and mystery novels including ‘The Franchise Affair’ and ‘The Daughter of Time’. (graphic 193)


1896 Members of the Royal Commission into ‘the effect of food derived from tuberculous animals on human health’ hears evidence ‘that Dr Henry Duncan Littlejohn, Medical Officer of Health for Edinburgh  and Consulting Medical Officer to the Board of Supervision had  condensed(sic)  a number of animals as unfit for human consumption  if they were found to be even slightly affected with tuberculosis ……..He had discovered that a large amount of tuberculosis milk

was sold in Edinburgh and many children therefore became infected. As a result of the recent slaughter of animals following a government order concerning pleuro-pneumonia, it became apparent that most of the dairy cattle in Edinburgh were infected with tuberculosis.’ (graphic 194)


1897 Originally a ‘dispensary for women and children’ run by female doctors, the Dundee Hospital for Women is established by Dr Alice Moorhead (1868 – 1910) and Dr Emily Thomson (1864 – 1955) to provide surgical care at a low cost. (graphic 194a)
1898 Birth of Sarah Jane Gall (1898-1978) MissionaryKnown as “Ma” this blind girl was born in the Hilltown area of Dundee to a jute spinner and shipyard worker. She was a natural musician and singer and was a familiar sight on street corners playing an organ to raise funds for missionary work’.


1899   A new trade union, The National League of the Blind (NLB), is founded and campaigns to introduce state pensions and equal rights for blind workers.  (graphic 195)


1899 A house surgeon at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, seeks a ruling on the admission of a child described as a ‘congenital idiot’; the hospital directors issue instructions ‘that such cases should be refused’. (graphic 196)

1899 The top telling song sheet is ‘What will poor Callaghan do?’ A disabled ex Highland soldier, Patsy Callaghan, has his wooden legs stolen by four drinking companions in a bar and is abandoned on a pub bench. (graphic 197)

1899 A public meeting is held in the Dundee Town Hall “for the purpose of considering and devising means for the establishment and maintenance of a sanatorium for the treatment and cure of consumption” and a Sanatorium Organisation Committee is formed. Provost Moncur donates up to £25,000 for a 30 bed hospital. (graphic 197a)

1899 King’s Cross Hospital for the treatment of infectious diseases opens at Clepington Road, Dundee.( graphic197b)

1899 The Society in Aid of Incurable Persons in Dundee and District raises funds to purchase a property on Jedburgh Road. Balgay House is extended and adapted to become the Victoria Hospital for Incurables.(graphic 197c)

1899 – 1901 2nd Boer War (graphic 198)


1900 A meeting of the Dundee Sanatorium Organisation Committee reports that “Lord Airlie had offered the committee a free gift of a site at Auchterhouse measuring fully 21 acres and in every way suitable for the erection of a sanatorium” (graphic 199a)


1900 Educated at the Glasgow Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, artist William Agnew (1846 – 1914) completes the last of a series of 5 portraits, known as the ‘Royal Condescension’ paintings, depicting Queen Victoria on a visit to the Isle of Wight, using finger spelling to communicate with a deaf woman. (graphic 199)

1901 Birth of novelist James Leslie Mitchell (1901-1935). He writes Spartacus and the ‘A Scots Quair’ trilogy under the pseudonym Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Graphic 200)

1901 Birth of Donald Ewen Cameron (1901 – 1967) in Bridge of Allan. Psychiatrist, Advisor to the Central Intelligence Agency, President of the Canadian, American and World Psychiatric Associations, the American Psychopathological Association and the Society of Biological Psychiatry. (graphic 201)



1902   The National League of the Blind affiliates to the TUC. (graphic 202)


1902 ‘A cripple boy from Buckpool, Wm Murray ‘Costie’ had a narrow escape from drowning at Cluny harbour when his crutch slipped on a run of a ladder and he was plunged into the water’. (graphic 203)



1903 The British Journal of Nursing reports that at the Edinburgh Royal Asylum “An alarming event of the year was the outbreak of an epidemic of asylum dysentery or colitis, in connection with which seven deaths occurred. Dr. Clouston is of opinion that one possible and likely means of the propagation of the disease was the ward cats, two of which were found to be suffering from it” (graphic 204)


1903 The Edinburgh Evening News reports a ‘Typhoid Fever Outbreak near Lochgelly. Already there are over 20 cases under observation. One death has occurred and several of the sufferers are in a serious condition. It is feared that the water supply is the cause of the outbreak…..’ (graphic 205)


1903 Whilst recovering from meningitis, artist Hugo Simberg completes his allegorical portrait of ‘The Wounded Angel’, which is subsequently voted Finland’s “national painting” in 2006. (graphic 206)



1904   Alfred Binet develops a system for testing intelligence and begins the trend for discriminating between schoolchildren on the basis of their supposed ‘mental age’. (graphic 207)


1905Contaminated milk leads to an outbreak of typhoid in Larkhall, near Motherwell. 124 people are infected. (graphic 208) 1905 The Aliens Act is passed in order to restrict immigration. It gives immigration officers the power to search ships and exclude any ‘aliens’ who appear to be ‘criminal, diseased, insane or destitute’ unless it can be proved that they are genuine refugees. (graphic 208a)


1906 Bridge of Weir ‘Colony of Mercy for Epileptics’ is opened in Renfrewshire on the Hattrick Farm site, adjacent to the Quarrier Home for Orphans. (graphic 209)

1906 Waverley Park Home (for girls) is established at Kirkintilloch, Dumbartonshire. It is run by the Glasgow Association for the Care of Defective and Feeble Minded Children. (graphic 210)

1906   A. E. Pickard buys the Britannia Music Hall in Glasgow and changes its name to the Panopticon. He installs a freak show, a roof top carnival and a waxworks.(graphic 211)

1906 Barra Council goes bankrupt, all the councillors resign and it is reported that the local population is no longer able to support its 53 paupers.(graphic 212)

1906 North and South Leith parishes combine for poor law purposes. A new poorhouse is erected near the south side of Seafield Road to accommodate about 650 inmates. It is the last poorhouse to be built in Scotland.(graphic 213)

1907 Proposals are made for the conversion of poorhouses in the highlands and islands to other uses. The poorhouse at Lochmaddy is licensed for the reception of 28 “harmless lunatics” in addition to the ‘ordinary poor’. This saves the parishes of the Long Island Combination the expense of sending people from the Hebrides to the asylum at Inverness. (graphic 214)

 1907 The Eugenics Education Society is founded and in 1908 Francis Galton becomes its President. It changes its name to the Eugenics Society in 1909. (graphic 215)1907The U.S.A. eugenics movement gains momentum. Between 1907 and 1943, 30 states pass sterilisation laws aimed at “social misfits: the mentally retarded, criminals and the insane…” (graphic 216)1908   A Royal Commission produces the Radnor report on the ‘care and control of the feeble-minded’. (graphic 217)1909 Old age pensions are introduced by the Liberal Government for people over the age of 70.(graphic 218)1909Renfrew District Lunatic Asylum opens in Dykebar. (graphic 219)1910A newsletter for the Consumption Sanitoria of Scotland announces ‘We are glad to notice in many circles an increased interest in the problem of consumption…….Meanwhile our sanitoria, with beds for 140 men, women and children, are quietly filling a gap and have been a blessing to many sufferers.’ (graphic 220)1911 The Lewis Combination poorhouse at Stornoway is licensed to ‘accommodate lunatics’. (graphic 221)

1911 Edinburgh School Board acquires Holland Lodge and two neighbouring Georgian villas in Duncan Street to provide “a school for “mentally defective children” and “cripple and invalid children” in ‘7 classes of about 20 children’. (graphic 222)


1911 – 1912 The National Insurance Acts gives limited access to healthcare to some male Scottish workers earning less than £160 per annum but not to their families. (graphic 223)


1913  Home Secretary, Winston Churchill (MP for Dundee 1908 – 1922) brings in The Mental Deficiency Act which categorises people as:

  •  idiots
  •  imbeciles
  •  feeble minded
  •  moral defectives


Under the Act, 50,000 children and 500,000 adults are incarcerated in long stay institutions during the first half of the 20th century. (graphic 224)


1913 The General Board of Commissioners in Lunacy for Scotland becomes the General Board of Control for Scotland. (graphic 225)

1913 Stoneyetts Hospital, Chryston, Lanarkshire is opened by James Cunningham, Chairman of Glasgow Parish Council and is the first certified institution to be established under the Mental Deficiency and Lunacy (Scotland) Act of 1913. Soon
“Stoneyetts’ becomes seriously overcrowded and arrangements were made with Falkirk Parish Council for patients to be cared for at Blinkbonny Home.







1913 The Poor Law and Local Government Magazine for Scotland observes that

‘The problem presented to our legislators was the elimination of the industrious

aged poor— the unfortunate overtaken by sickness or unemployment —from the ranks of the work-shy, idle, and those of nomadic habits. The latter remain to be dealt with. Legislation for this class is the most difficult…..It is questionable if any

form of repression is too drastic if it successfully eliminates these pests of society or puts a sufficient curb upon them. What form it may take no one knows. Its aim

should be their compulsory detention, under sufficient safeguards, for lengthened periods, with compulsory labour.’ (graphic 227)

 To Be Continued…….