Institution Information - Crichton Royal Asylum

Parish/County: Dumfries, Dumfriesshire

Alternative Names: Dumfries Royal Asylum; Crichton Royal Institution; Dumfries Asylum

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Locating Records for this institution

For people admitted to Scottish Mental Health institutions from 1 January 1858 a record usually survives in the ‘Notices of Admissions by the Superintendent of the Mental Institutions’ which are held by the National Records of Scotland. We are creating an index to these records and can assist you in searching the unindexed period. Search our index here or read more about the project here.

Records kept by the institution are now held by the Dumfries & Galloway Heritage Service at the Ewart Library in Dumfries. You can read more about the records they hold for this institution here or contact us and we can assist you to gain access to the records relating to your ancestors. Many of the records relating to this institution have now been digitised by the Wellcome Trust and you can access these records here.

Text from 1857 Royal Commission Report


I.—Object, Origin, History, and Date of Opening.

The Crichton Institution for Lunatics at Dumfries was erected and endowed by the Trustees of the late James Crichton, Esq., of Friars Carse, in the County of Dumfries, from funds left by him for "Charitable Purposes," but subject in the meantime to the claims of certain annuitants.

It was resolved by his Trustees to erect an Asylum, "which shall be a charitable establishment, the free emoluments or profits to be derived therefrom being to be applied in enlarging or further endowing the same, and that a portion of the said building shall be appropriated for the reception and proper treatment of furious, fatuous, or lunatic poor belonging to the parishes situated within the shires of Dumfries and Wigton, and Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and that these persons shall be received at a low rate of board, and be provided with all the necessary and proper means for their successful treatment and perfect recovery."

A purchase was accordingly made of the lands of Billhead, near Dumfries, for £4999, and the Crichton Institution and superintendent's house were erected at a cost of £40,255. The Asylum was opened for the reception of patients on 5th June 1839, and an act to incorporate the Trustees and Directors received the royal assent on 3d July 1840.

In the year 1849, a second Institution was erected on the same lands of Hillhead, from the Crichton funds, at an expense of £11,241, 15s. It was named the Southern Counties Asylum, and receives pauper patients only. On its opening, the paupers in the original house were transferred to it, and the Crichton Institution now receives private patients only.

II.—Constitution, Government, and Management. Asylum.

According to the Charter of Incorporation, the government and management of the Asylum are conducted by three Trustees, named in Mr. Crichton's will, who are empowered to elect their successors; by seven Extraordinary Directors, ex officiis, and by five Ordinary Directors, certain of whom go out of office annually, and are replaced by others appointed by the Trustees and Directors present at the annual meeting. Besides the annual meeting, the Treasurer of the Institution, or any two or more Trustees or Directors, may at any time call a special general meeting of the Trustees and Directors. The ordinary meetings are ordered to take place once at least in every month, and may be adjourned from time to time, and from place to place. Every question, at either general or ordinary meetings, is to be determined by the majority of votes of the Trustees and Directors then present.

III.—Quantity and Appropriation of Land.

The land constituting the site of the Institution, and the garden and grounds, amounts to about forty acres, and .is all enclosed by a wall, with the exception of about four acres. It is partly laid out as pleasure grounds, and is partly cultivated by the patients of the Southern Counties Asylum.

IV.—Amount and Description of Accommodation for Patients of the several Classes and respective Sexes.

The Crichton Institution was built for the accommodation of 120 patients of all classes.

The original intention was to afford accommodation for twenty patients at £30 per annum; twenty at £40; ten at £50; ten at £60; ten at £70; ten at £80; ten at £90; ten at £100; four at £200; and four at £350.

Various circumstances, however, have rendered it necessary to depart from this arrangement.

The accommodation for patients consists of eleven galleries,— two of them having been originally intended for domestic purposes.

Suites of two rooms are allowed to patients of the upper classes; a bed-room and the use of two public rooms to patients of the middle classes; and a common dormitory and public room to patients of the lowest class.

The Southern Counties Asylum was built to receive 150 pauper patients, but this number is already considerably exceeded.

V.—Sources and Amount of Income. The income of both the Crichton Institution, and the Southern Counties Asylum, is drawn entirely from the payments made for the care and treatment of patients. The receipts of the former, for the year ending 10th November 1855, amounted to £8276, 8s. 9d., and the expenditure to £8033, 3s. 5d., leaving a surplus of £243, 5s. 4d.

The income from the Southern Counties Asylum for the same period amounted to £3829, Is. 2d., and the expenditure to £3763, 15s. 1d., leaving a surplus of £65, 63s 1d.

VI.—Rates of Payment for Patients. For private patients, the rates in the Crichton Institution range from £30 to £350 per annum. The following Table shews the different rates and the corresponding advantages enjoyed by the patients.

Rates of Payment.

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The rate of payment for pauper patients is £17 per annum, for those from the counties of Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, and Wigton, and £22 per annum, for patients from other counties. This charge includes clothing.

VII.—Medical, and other Officers, Attendants, and Establishment, with Salaries, Wages, and Allowances.

The staff consists of the following officers, attendants, and servants, receiving the annexed salaries and allowances:— Per annum.


1. Secretary and treasurer, £300 0 0

2. Chaplain, £60 0 0

2.—In Crichton Institution.

1. Resident medical superintendent (with separate house), £600 0 0 †

2. Matron, £80 0 0 *

3. Medical assistant, £60 0 0 *

4. House steward, £90 0 0 *

5. Forty-eight male and female attendants, coachman, and other servants, receiving wages varying from £8 to £32,

making a total sum of £972 18 4 *

3.—In Southern Counties Asylum.

1. Matron, £40 0 0 *

2. Medical assistant, £40 0 0 *

3. Twenty-three male and female attendants, receiving wages varying from £12 to £30, making a total sum of £341 18 11 *

4. A gardener, whose wife acts as doorkeeper, (with house, coal, and gas,) £40 0 0

Total, £2624 17 3

† This officer has the medical superintendence of both houses. * With board and lodging.

The Trustees of the Asylum do not contemplate making any addition to the building for the higher classes during the lifetime of the annuitant; but, owing to the increased application for the admission of paupers from the three counties of Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, and Wigton, they have instructed their architect to prepare plans for the erection of additional buildings, in connection with the Southern Counties Asylum.

VIII.—Total Capital Expenditure on 14th May 1855 for the Crichton Institution and Southern Counties Asylum.

For Houses and Land, £56,495 15 0

For Furniture to November 1840, £4,506 13 8 *

Total, £61,002 8 8

* About £3000, expended for furniture since November 1840, has been charged to revenue.

The proportion of this expenditure for each patient, on the estimated accommodation for 294, amounts to £207, 9s. 9d.

IX.—Condition of the Asylum and Patients when visited by the Commissioners.

The Crichton Institution was visited on the 16th of May 1855, and at that time contained 66 male and 54 female patients.

The Asylum stands in a beautiful situation, about a mile from Dumfries, overlooking the valley of the Nith.

It is a handsome three-storied edifice of red sandstone, of which only half the design is as yet completed. The central staircase is so constructed as to afford means for inspecting the several wards which radiate from it, and most of the wards have open galleries or balconies, which are enclosed by iron gratings. The corridors run through the centre of each ward, with rooms on each side.

The corridors are paved with stone, which is painted, and are in general without furniture, but there is one which is furnished and occupied as a day-room. The sleeping-rooms for single patients are of good size, and are comfortably furnished, more or less expensively according to the amount of annual payment. The associated dormitories, for patients at the lowest rates, are provided with all essential articles of furniture.

Each ward has two day-rooms, besides a room which was intended by the architect as a sick-room, but which is now given up to patients paying £100 per annum, as a separate sitting-room. There is gas throughout the house, and it is introduced into every sleeping-room. The windows are closed at night by moveable shutters. There is an aperture about a foot square above the doors, to assist ventilation, and hot air is introduced into the corridors. At night, the furniture is removed from the sleeping-rooms into the corridors, and replaced in the morning. Even in the rooms of the highest class of patients, this precaution is generally taken, although there may be an attendant in the room all night.

So far as is practicable, the patients are classified according as their intellect, sentiments, or propensities are affected, or according to the degree of fatuity.

The scale of attendance is nominally as follows:—

For patients paying £350,—one attendant.

For every two patients paying £200 each,—one attendant.

For every four patients paying £100 each,—one attendant.

But this scale is not rigidly adhered to, for an attendant is given, whenever it is considered necessary.

Patients paying £200, have a suite of rooms, composed of a large and airy bedroom and sitting-room, with water-closet attached.

For the higher class of patients, covers are always laid at the matron's, table, where they may dine when so disposed, unless there are medical reasons to the contrary.

The sleeping-rooms of the dirty patients are clean and comfortable, and perfectly free from offensive odour. There are no artificial contrivances to insure cleanliness. Watchfulness on the part of the attendants is alone relied on, and every effort is made to induce the patients to adopt cleanly habits.

A night watchman makes the round of the house every hour, visiting both the male and female wards, a practice which, with regard to the latter, is of doubtful propriety.* The patients go to bed at eight, and the bell to call them rings at six in the morning. As soon as the attendants are ready, they replace the furniture in the rooms, and assist the patients to rise and dress.

* In consequence of the misconduct of the watchman, this arrangement was altered in June 1855, and a female attendant was appointed to visit the females' wards.

There are abundant means of recreation and amusement. An omnibus and other carriages are provided, which enable the patients to make frequent excursions; and there is a small theatre, seated for 110 persons, in which concerts are given, and plays performed. The attendants are principally the performers, but Dr. Browne takes care that at least one patient shall be among the actors to keep up an interest in the performances. Writing and drawing materials, and books, are liberally supplied, and courses of lectures also are delivered. During the ensuing summer a triple course is contemplated, on botany, chemistry, and natural history, by Dr. Browne and his assistants. There is a library of 5000 volumes, and an extensive museum of natural history, the specimens of which serve for illustrating the lectures. Dr. Browne lately gave a course of twenty-five lectures to his assistants and the attendants, on their duties, and on the nature and management of mental disease.

The concerts and other amusements are attended by patients from both houses. There is a billiard-room, and during the summer a house is taken at the sea-side, for the benefit of the patients.

The chapel serves both for the Crichton Institution and for the Southern Counties Asylum. A presbyterian chaplain is regularly appointed by the Directors, but an episcopalian, and also a Roman catholic clergyman, are in the habit of giving religious consolation to the patients belonging to their respective Churches.

A night-book is kept, in which the names of the restless patients are entered, and reports on their condition are from time to time made in it by the night attendant. A journal is kept of interesting cases.”

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