Wednesday, 26 May 2010

A man of wide interests

Andrew Duncan Senior: physician of the Enlightenment, edited by John Chalmers.

Dr Andrew Duncan (1744-1828) is best known for his founding role in the Edinburgh Lunatic Asylum. When Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was built in 1738, twelve rooms were set aside for care of the insane, but these had been abandoned to other uses. A Charity Workhouse Bedlam and private "mad houses" existed, but were overcrowded or costly, thus excluding pauper lunatics.
Duncan attended a mentally ill poet, Robert Fergusson, who was forcibly locked up in the Edinburgh Bedlam, and after Fergusson's early death he wrote, "His case, however, afforded me an opportunity of witnessing the deplorable situation of Pauper Lunatics even in the opulent, flourishing, and charitable Metropolis of Scotland."
In 1790, when he became President of the Royal College of Physicians, Duncan started the campaign for a lunatic asylum in Edinburgh.
The foundation stone was laid three years later in 1809 and the first patient admitted in summer 1813. Edinburgh Lunatic Asylum was sited in Morningside, but it proved financially impossible to admit pauper patients. Duncan tried to raise more funds to complete the building, and died in 1828, with the asylum admitting only 40 fee-paying patients annually. Lack of money in his lifetime proved to thwart his ambition of a facility open to all.
In the following years the asylum thrived, and pressure to admit pauper patients increased until fee-payers were turned away. In 1869 it was reported that 7,144 patients had been admitted since opening, and in the 1920s the "Royal Ed" became a renowned academic and therapeutic centre.
The original Craighouse complex is now part of Napier University and has been renamed the Thomas Clouston Clinic.
This book explores Duncan's wide interests, organisational vigour and his commitment to public health. It contains some fascinating drawings of Edinburgh 19th century medical institutions and includes an extensive bibliography.

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