During lockdown we have developed a number of online volunteering projects to continue to provide our students with opportunities to gain practical experience working with our historical collections. The William Simpsons Asylum project is recording and mapping information on the first patients of the institution, which opened in Plean in 1836.
“…an Asylum to be called William Simpson’s Asylum for the reception, residence and entertainment of indigent or reduced men of advanced age who may be destitute of the means of subsistence and incapable of precuring these means by industry, recommending in preference persons who may have served in the Navy or Army…”Extract from the will of Colonel Frances Simpson (1760-1831)
The first phase of the project is recording information contained in the pages of the first admission register for the asylum which provides details of the first 59 patients admitted between 1836 and 1846.
Most of the men were in their 60s or 70s when admitted and had served in the army or navy. The register notes the length of their military careers and the trades they had entered after military service. The men came from all strata of society and included labourers, sailors, innkeepers, schoolmasters, farmers, grocers, tailors and a ‘head constable of police.’
The bundles of papers which accompany the registers of the asylum reveal further information about these men. Our access to these documents is a result of the slow, careful cleaning, flattening and repacking of this material by the students who volunteered on our earlier project to transfer the papers from the metal trunks where they had sat untouched for over 150 years.
Our project team are currently transcribing a set of papers relating to the first inmates of the asylum. The documents uncovered to date include:
- A petition written in 1839 and signed by 20 inmates requesting an increase in their weekly tobacco allowance
- ‘An explanation of misconduct’ caused by the constant snoring of an inmate
- A petition in favour of a veteran who served aboard the HMS Leviathan at the ‘First of June’ a key naval battle in the French Revolutionary Wars which took place in the Atlantic Ocean in 1794
- A letter from 1844 in which a former inmate, a veteran of the Royal York Rangers, asks to be readmitted to the institution, apologising for his departure for London ‘in a fit of derangement’ to settle some private affairs with the Royal Chelsea Hospital
In the new year we will move onto the next phase of the project, expanding our reach to cover the first one hundred inmates of the asylum. Further information on these men will be taken from the ‘Descriptive roll of inmates’, a volume recording statistical patient information, and we hope to discover further documents providing more details of the lives of the men who sought comfort and care at the asylum.