Institution Information - Hillend House

Parish/County: Greenock, Renfrewshire

Alternative Names: Greenock Asylum; Hillend 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.

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Text from 1857 Royal Commission Report

“HILLEND HOUSE, GREENOCK; Messrs. Thomson, Proprietors; Visited 13th July 1855.

The house is well situated on a gentle slope, and commands fine views of the Clyde and opposite shore. Originally a house of moderate size, it has been considerably enlarged, to adapt it to the purposes of an asylum. The father of Messrs. Thomson first opened a house for the reception of patients in 1828, and removed to Hillend in May 1840. The number of patients on the day of our visit was 71, namely, 38 males, and 33 females. They are mostly paupers, paid for at the rate of £22 a year, which sum includes clothing. The rate for private patients varies from £30 to £40. Dr. Mackie is the medical attendant. He receives one guinea for each patient; of which half is paid on admission.

Pauper Department.

The buildings occupied by the pauper patients form an extension of the original house. The airing-grounds are behind, and in front is a small court, containing the washing-house and other offices.

Females.—The day-room for the female paupers is entered from this court. It contains a table and some benches. The windows are secured with iron bars, and one of them is guarded with trellis-work. They are too high to allow the patients to look out, and the room is very dull and cheerless. From this room a door opens into a narrow passage, having two sleepingrooms on each side. There are two beds in each room, and two patients sleep in each bed, with the exception of one bed, in which three patients sleep. These rooms are occupied by the worst kind of patients, and the bedding is most wretched. In one of them three female patients lie naked, without any sheet, immediately on a thin layer of loose straw, quite insufficient to protect the body against the pressure of the hard and irregular spars of wood which form the bottom of the bedstead. The other beds had each a sheet spread over the straw, which, however, was scarcely sufficient to cover the rough boards. Indeed, the straw was not only scanty, but very dirty, and completely saturated with urine; and, we had reason to think, it is left in this condition unchanged upon the beds for days, if not for weeks. The urine either trickles through the straw into a trough or drops directly upon the floor. There are no chamber utensils in these rooms, and it seems to be the practice to allow the patients to wet the beds, as a matter of course. Clean coverlets are, however, cast over the beds during the day-time. Gutta percha utensils were at one time provided, but the patients, we were told, had eaten them! The atmosphere of these rooms is exceedingly offensive. The windows are small and high. Above the doors are small apertures, communication with the passage, for the purpose of ventilation, and at the end of the passage is a stove, which is said to be used in winter. The sleeping-rooms are dependent upon it for heat.

The accommodation upstairs is better. The day-room here is clean and cheerful, and commands a view of the surrounding country. It has an open fire-place, and is provided with benches, a table, and two chairs. The windows have iron frames, and are not barred. The sleeping accommodation consists of a dormitory with five beds, but containing only two patients; of another room with two beds, only one of which was occupied; and of a third room with two beds, occupied by three patients. The beds have straw mattresses. The ventilation is imperfect.

There is only one airing-court for the female paupers. It is surrounded by high walls, and commands no view. It is 12 yards broad, and 24 yards long, and is very filthy and ill kept. At one side is a privy, constructed of iron plates, exposed in front.

The patients are generally very dirty and untidy in their clothes, and persons. Those upstairs have only one basin for washing; those below are without any ostensible washing accommodation; but a pail, we were told, is placed in the day-room every morning for the purposes of ablution. The appearance of the patients, however, plainly indicates that it is little used. Their feet were generally bare and very dirty, and their clothing ragged and filthy.

Mechanical restraint is in habitual use. We noticed the attendant hiding a strait-waistcoat as we entered. A girl in the airing-ground had her arms manacled behind her back.

There are two attendants in the female department, who are assisted by one of the patients.

Males.—For the male paupers there are also two attendants. Their airing-court is about the same size as that already described, and contains a similarly constructed privy. The patients were dirty and untidy in their clothes and persons. An epileptic was dressed in petticoats. We found one male patient who had been so tightly bound previous to admission, that a large slough had formed on the arm; although some months have elapsed, it is only now healing, and the use of the arm is in a great measure lost in consequence of the injury.

The day-rooms and sleeping-rooms of the worst class of patients are laid out very much on the same plan as those on the females’ side. The day-room contains a table and some benches, and a folding-down bed for an attendant. It is warmed by a stove. Fixed to the wall is an iron chain, to which the epileptic patient before mentioned is occasionally fastened.

The sleeping accommodation is most wretched. There are two rooms on each side of a passage approached from the day-room, as on the female side. In general, each of the beds is occupied by two patients, who frequently are both of dirty habits. The epileptic patient sleeps on loose straw, very thinly and unevenly spread upon boards, which are so wide apart that the straw can with difficulty be retained on the bedstead. A poor man in the last stage of general paralysis occupied a similar bed. The floor of his room was saturated with urine, the stench was abominable, and crowds of flies were buzzing in the infected atmosphere. Others of the patients sleep on loose straw covered by a sheet. None of the beds have two sheets; some have day-coverlets. At the extremity of the passage is a dormitory, with several beds. There are no means of warming the smaller rooms; but a stove is said to be placed in the dormitory in winter.

Up-stairs the accommodation is better. The day-room contains a table and benches, and a folding-down bed for an attendant; but here, as below, the patients were dirty and untidy. The sleeping-rooms are badly ventilated and crowded, and most of the beds are occupied by two patients. There was one basin up-stairs for all the patients who sleep there. Those below are said to be washed and shaved twice a week.

Two or three of the patients are employed in teasing oakum, and one or two work in the garden. There are about five acres of land belonging to the house, but very few of the patients are ever taken out beyond the airing-courts. Two Bibles, and an odd volume of sermons, were all the books that could be produced; there was a total want of all means of amusement, and of objects of interest. The pauper patients were dirty, noisy, and ill-cared for; as were also the private patients of dirty habits, who are placed with them.

Private Department.

There are two airing-courts for the private patients. They are better kept than those of the paupers, but are smaller, measuring only 20 yards in length, by 14 in breadth.

Males.—The usual rate of payment is from £30 to £40 per annum. There is a day-room for the patients paying £30, and another for those paying £40. The chairs in the former are of wood, in the latter they have haircloth seats. The furniture in the best day-room consists of chairs and a small round table only; but it did not appear to be in occupation, as all the patients were in the other room. The sleeping-rooms of the patients at £40 are rather more fully furnished than the others. In general, there are two beds in each room; and in one instance one bed was occupied by two patients. The bedrooms have open fire-places and sliding window-shutters. The patients dine together in their day-rooms.

Females.—The female patients sleep on the floor above the males, and use the same stair in going out and coming in. The usual rate of payment for them is from £30 to £40 a year. Two or three patients occupy one room.

In the attics, above the rooms occupied by the female private patients, are two bedrooms for such of the female paupers as are employed in household work. One of these contains seven beds, most of them double; but as the house is not at present considered to be full, they are mostly occupied by only one patient. The beds are better than those used by the other paupers; but as there is only one window, (a skylight, about 3 feet long, by 1 foot broad,) the ventilation is very bad, and the room at night must be close and offensive. In the other attic are five beds. Several of them are double; but they are not all occupied at present. Stoves are said to be placed in these attics in winter.

We have remarked that the private patients of dirty habits are placed with the paupers. We allude particularly to two

cases: those of — and —. The sums paid by these two patients are respectively £53, 11s., and £35 a year. We learned from the attendant that for three or four months past they had slept together naked on loose straw. We refer to Mr. Thomson's evidence for further particulars as to these cases.

Diet.—There are no diet tables. The pauper patients are not furnished with knives and forks. The broth contained meat in lumps, and large pieces of fat, which the patients tore with their fingers.

The asylum has an abundant supply of water.

Attendants*.—There are in the whole house three male attendants:— One at £21 yearly; Two at £20 yearly. There are four female attendants and servants:— One at £12 yearly; One at £10 yearly; One laundress at £14 yearly [and] One cook at £14 yearly.

* On a second visit the rates of wages were stated, by one of the attendants, to be considerably lower.

No clergyman or missionary ever visits the house, and none of the patients go to church. On Sunday, we were told, one of the Messrs. Thomson reads to the males and females at separate hours. The two sexes never associate.

The books kept are the Admission Book, Weekly Register, Madhouse Register, and a book, not required by the statutes, but recommended to be kept by Dr. Rainy.

The Weekly Register does not give the names of the patients, but merely their numbers. There is no record of restraint.

The following are extracts from the last two entries made by the official visitors:—

"28th October 1854.—The Sheriff-substitute, accompanied by Dr. —, inspected the house. Dr. — examined the

inmates, and the Sheriff-substitute went over the various warrants in connexion with Messrs. Thomson's Register, and all found in good order."

"18th April 1855.—The Sheriff, along with Dr. —, this day made the necessary inspection and examination, and found all right."”

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