Institution Information - Inverness Infirmary

Parish/County: Inverness, Inverness-shire

Alternative Names: Lunatic Wards, Inverness Infirmary; Northern Infirmary

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Text from 1857 Royal Commission Report


This Institution is situated about half a mile above the bridge of Inverness, facing the river. It consists of a central building of three stories, and of two wings of two stories, which are connected with the centre by a lower range of one story.

The accommodation for the lunatics consists of four cells on the ground-floor of each wing, and of a room in each of the connecting buildings. The cells are placed on each side of a central passage—two to the front, and two to the back, and are separated from the rest of the house by strong doors. They consist of stone vaults, which have no means of being warmed. The windows have been originally of full size, but are now strongly boarded up in the inside, till only an aperture about two feet broad, and three and a half inches high, is left at the top for the admission of air and light. This aperture can be closed only from the outside, by means of a lid or shutter. In the back cells this boarding constitutes the sole protection against the weather. There is no glass in the window; consequently, when the lid is open, there is direct communication with the outer air: and in winter there is thus no alternative, between starving the patient with cold, or keeping him in constant darkness. When the lid is closed there is no ventilation, except what may be obtained through holes pierced in the doors of the cells. The windows to the front of the house have glass in addition to the boarding.

The cells measure 8½ feet long, by 8½ broad, and are about 9 feet high in the centre of the arch. They are floored with wood; the passage is paved. The bedsteads are fixed wooden troughs, with a bottom sloping towards the foot where a tray is introduced. At the head and foot, are chains for the purpose of fastening the arms and legs of the patient. This precaution is said to be especially necessary in winter, to keep the patients in bed, and to guard against their throwing off their coverlets and being killed by the cold.

The room in each connecting building is intended for the accommodation of the quieter patients. Each room contains one bed, but is sometimes occupied by two patients. It has an open fire-place strongly guarded, and two windows, barred without, and strongly guarded with trellis-work within. When the patients are quiet, they are removed from the cells and placed in this room during the day; but as a general rule they seem to be kept in the cells. The accommodation on both sides of the house is exactly alike. There are no water-closets, nor any means for washing; but close-stools, and basins, are said to be placed in the cells.

The cells of the Infirmary, it was stated, are used principally for the detention of patients till they can be sent to the chartered asylums in the south. With this intention the Sheriff, we were told, limits the period of their stay to three weeks. Theoretically, this may be the rule, but in practice it is widely departed from. In the winter of 1854-55, a female patient was detained for six months before being sent to Montrose; and during all this time, she was kept in her cell, with her hands muffled. Another patient, a male, was detained for three months. Last winter nine patients were in the house, and, as a general rule, none of them was ever taken out for exercise. There are two reasons for this: firstly, there are no enclosed airing-grounds; and secondly, there are no attendants to take the necessary charge of the patients. There is indeed one man who is styled keeper of the lunatics; but he is at the same time gardener, barber, and porter, and has neither the means nor the time to attend to the patients. Accordingly, he uses what restraint he considers necessary, and keeps them in their cells till they are removed. He has the keys of the females' cells also, but is assisted by a nurse from the common sick-wards in attending upon the women. He distinctly stated, however, that they are under his charge, and that he has access to them whenever he chooses.

No insane patients are received without the warrant of the Sheriff; but he does not appear to take any cognizance whether they are detained longer than the period limited by his warrant, and there is no record of any visit made by him to the lunatic department. The parishes pay at the rate of Is. a day for their pauper patients while they remain. When they are sent to asylums in the south, they are generally accompanied by a policeman, and travel by the steamboat, or outside the coach; the females being unaccompanied by any person of their own sex. The parochial authorities complain much of the expense thus incurred.

There were no insane patients in the house on 8th August 1855.”

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