Institution Information - Southern Counties Asylum

Parish/County: Dumfries, Dumfriesshire

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

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Notes: The Southern Counties Asylum opened in 1845, but was merged with the Crichton Royal Institution in 1885.

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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


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, 63. Id.

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 number of patients on the day of our visit was 192, namely, 114 males, and 78 females.

The house is somewhat overcrowded, but it is clean, and free from offensive smells. It is a plain sand-stone building, the entrance being in the centre, and the wards extending on both sides, with a central projection to the back.

The bath-room is near the entrance, and contains twelve baths. Every patient, we were informed, is bathed once a week at least, and oftener when required.

The bedsteads are of iron and wood, and have each two mattresses, one of wool, another of straw. The coverings are good and abundant. The day clothing of the patients, which is supplied by the Asylum, is also abundant. Their own clothes are laid aside when they are admitted, and they receive them back when they leave. The workers have out-of-door shoes which they change on entering the house, leaving them in a place set apart for the purpose.

The corridors are to a certain extent furnished with seats, but are generally deficient in furniture. Most of the patients sleep in dormitories containing sixteen beds each. The dayrooms are over-crowded, and are used also as work-rooms, but this defect will be remedied when certain proposed additions to the house are completed.

A cross gallery on each side is set apart for the noisy and dirty patients, who occupy smaller dormitories and single rooms. The windows of the day-rooms in this department are guarded with wire work, and the fireplace is inclosed by a grated fire-guard. The single rooms contain 1144 cubic feet of air.

At present the day-rooms of the upper floor are used also as work-rooms; but this is merely a temporary arrangement till additional accommodation be provided. The benches in the dayrooms have backs.

The front building is of two stories, but the centre part of the house, which extends backwards, is three stories high. It is divided into small dormitories, each containing six beds, and there are four such dormitories and a sitting-room to each ward. The day-rooms are rather small for the numbers occupying them.

The kitchen is on the basement, where a railroad extends the whole length of the building for the conveyance of the food, which is hoisted by lifts to the different wards. The panels of the doors of the dormitories are of thick unpolished glass, which allows light to pass from the corridors into the sleeping-rooms during the night. Only one has been cracked since the house was opened. Attendants sleep in the dormitories, but there is no regular night-watch in this house.

The Asylum is well supplied with water-closets and lavatories. The latter generally contain eight fixed basins, and are clean and well kept. The dormitories and corridors are heated with warm air. The window shutters are made to slide. No instance of their having been destroyed by violent patients, either here or in the Crichton Institution, has occurred. No physical restraint is ever used; but there is a patient in the Crichton Institution on whom it is thought necessary to place a belt round the body, to enable the attendant to hold him while walking, as he has a tendency to commit suicide by precipitation.

A considerable proportion of the male patients are occupied in field labour, and others in the various workshops. Between forty and fifty females are employed in the work-room; the greater number of them being engaged in sewing, knitting, and other feminine employments. All the women's dresses, the underclothing for the males, and the stockings used in the house, are made here; and from these sources a full supply of work is insured. The female workers are clean and well dressed. They generally work from ten to half-past twelve, and from two to four o'clock.

The Sheriff's warrant is very frequently not signed till after the patient is admitted into the house, and the Sheriff generally requires that Dr. Browne shall give a certificate of insanity, before he grants his warrant, for which no fee is paid. The parochial medical officer signs the certificate of the pauper patients, and the signature of one medical man is considered sufficient. No patient is ever refused admission from being considered troublesome or dangerous, or on account of pregnancy or the fear of introducing infectious diseases. Dr. Browne has often represented to the Directors the benefit that would ensue from the erection of a house for the reception of feeble-minded patients, who feel and admit their incapacity to take care of themselves, and who are desirous to place themselves under the directions of others. A number of such individuals make voluntary application for admission into the Crichton Institution, but under the present law they cannot be received.

This Asylum is very ably conducted. The patients are clean and tidy in their persons; and in both houses there is a total absence of all mechanical contrivances in dress and bedding far the palliation of faulty habits. The quantity of land, however, is insufficient for the due employment of the pauper patients; and on this account it is to be regretted that the Southern Counties Asylum has been erected in such close proximity to the Crichton Institution. Mechanical restraint is never used, except in the cases of patients who refuse their food, and seclusion, to an undue extent, is not employed as a substitute. The padded room in the Crichton Institution is so little required, that it is now used as an ordinary sleeping-room. The airing courts of the Crichton Institution are of small size, but from the facilities for exercise beyond them, they are little used. The Southern Counties Asylum is overcrowded, but measures are at present in progress to remedy this evil.”

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