From Iowa to Alloa, a patient’s story…
Last week David, one of our project volunteers, came upon a particularly unusual entry in the earliest admission register for Stirling District Asylum. While transcribing the information recorded in the volume onto a database which will greatly improve access to the material he noted that the “Previous place of abode” given for James Dempster, a patient admitted to the hospital in August 1881 was Iowa. The normal locations recorded for patients are the towns and villages of Central Scotland, not the American mid-west. The register recorded James’ occupation as “Farmer”, the “Parish to which chargeable” as Alloa and gave his “Supposed cause of insanity” as “Sunstroke.” It also noted he remained in the hospital until February 1909 when he was briefly discharged before being re-admitted in March 1909.
Armed with the information contained in the admission register we were able to locate James’ case notes in the asylum’s case books, shedding further light on his case. Unusually for the Stirling Asylum James was recorded as being a private patient. His uncle provided an account of James’ unstable behaviour while staying at the family home in Clackmannan, where he threatened both his sister and a servant. Described as suffering from “recurrent mania” James was admitted to the asylum on 20 August 1881. His case notes recorded that James “went to America at 24 years of age. Has been insane probably since the age of 32 as a result of sunstroke and has never recovered. Had been three years in a US asylum before return.” James’ farming skills were put to good use in the asylum and he was put to work on the hospital farm. The hard physical labour took its toll and by 1901 he had been moved to the less strenuous surroundings of the hospital garden. Described as being a “good worker, very quiet and no trouble” James spent much of his time in the grounds of the hospital, a note written in September 1909 recording that he “takes a great interest in the small stream beyond the house and says that fairy children play there and gets wildly excited if a horse is driven through the stream as it may kill his fairy children.”
James’ story is one of thousands contained in the 50 volumes of case books for Stirling District Asylum which cover the years 1869-1918, many of which are brought to life by the evocative photographs of the patients which are pasted into the pages of the volumes. The fantastic work being done by our team of volunteers who are cleaning and cataloguing the asylum records is making these stories accessible for the first time.