Ancestors in the asylum – part 1

5 of my relatively close ancestors died in asylums between the 1870s and the 1940s and I have decided this summer to trace the details of their time in the asylum. 4 were in public asylums and 1 was in a private asylum. Their asylum stays ranged from 1 year to 40 years. 3 were related, a grandfather and 2 grandchildren. I’m particularly interested in why they were admitted to the asylum. This blogpost is intended to serve as an introduction to my asylum research.


John was my 2 times great grandfather. He was born in 1861 in Ettrick, Selkirkshire to John Stevens and Elizabeth Tullie and married Elizabeth Gamble in Ballymoney in 1895.

The General Register of Lunatics in Asylums tells me that John was admitted as a pauper (ie under the poor law system) to Hartwood Asylum, Shotts and he was there for 12 months until his death in February 1905. He died from acromegaly (a hormonal disorder causing bones to increase in size) and acute endocarditis (a heart infection).

This is Hartwood Asylum:


I intend searching for John in the Hartwood Asylum records and the North Lanarkshire poor law records ay North Lanarkshire archives and in the national asylum records at National Records of Scotland.


Allan McDonald was my 4 times great grandfather. 2 of his grandchildren were also in asylums. Allan was born in the parish of Southend in Argyllshire in 1795 to John McDonald and Mary McLachlan. He married Mary Ann Cameron in the same parish in 1827.

I know that Allan was in the private asylum, Sir Gabriel Wood’s Mariners Asylum in Greenock in 1861 and he died there in 1870 after a stay of at least 9 years. He died from asthma and chronic bronchitis.

This is Allan:


This is Sir Gabriel Wood’s Mariners Asylum:


This is a private asylum and its records have not been deposited in any archive. The trustees don’t have the historical records. However the asylum still exists as a care home and I am waiting to hear if the home has retained its historical records. Otherwise I intend researching this private asylum in newspapers and libraries.


Mary Ann was the sister of my 2 times great grandfather and the granddaughter of Allan McDonald mentioned above. Mary Ann was born in 1860 in Arbroath to Alexander Hunter and Mary Ann McDonald.

The General Register of Lunatics in Asylums tells me that Mary Ann was admitted to Kirklands Asylum in May 1910 as a pauper and was transferred 16 months later to Govan Asylum which was at Leverndale Hospital, Renfrewshire. She died there in August 1923 after 12 years and 1 month at Leverndale. She died from cholecystitis (inflammation of gall bladder) and gall stones.

This is Leverndale Hospital:


I intend researching Mary Ann in the national asylum records at the National Records of Scotland, in the poor law records at the Glasgow City Archives and in the Govan and Kirklands asylum records at the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives.


John was the brother of my 2 times great grandfather, the brother of Mary Ann Hunter and the grandson of Allan McDonald (both mentioned above).

John was born in Arbroath to Alexander Hunter and Mary Ann McDonald.

The General Register of Lunatics in Asylums tells me that John had 2 spells in asylums. John was admitted to Govan asylum as a pauper in July 1884 and was transferred 5 months later to Barony Asylum (also known as Woodilee, Lenzie) from which he was discharged as recovered another 5 months later in March 1885. John was readmitted to Govan Asylum in July 1896 where he was to die 28 years and 8 months later in February 1925. John died of a stroke.

This is Woodilee:


I intend researching John in the national asylum records in the National Records of Scotland, in the asylum records at the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives and in the poor law records at the Glasgow City Archives.


Jane was the 1st cousin of my 2 times great grandmother. She was born in the parish of Daviot and Dunlichity in Inverness-shire in 1870 to James Mann and Ann McCulloch.

The General Register of Lunatics in Asylums tells me that Jane was admitted to Inverness Asylum as a pauper in January 1901 and she was to die there after 40 years and 2 months in Inverness Asylum in February 1941. Jane died from senile dementia.

This is Inverness Asylum:


Unfortunately I know from previous research that the relevant poor law records haven’t survived. However I intend researching Jane in the Inverness Asylum records in the Highland Archives and in the national asylum records in the National Records of Scotland.

My next blogpost will be published in June with an update on my asylum research.

5 thoughts on “Ancestors in the asylum – part 1

  1. I enjoyed reading the above. I hope you are able to find out more information. I’ve discovered the occasional ancestor of mine being in an asylum in different parts of England, mostly in the Lancashire area. I was of the understanding that in most cases they were very poor and I wondered if that is why they ended up in the institution rather than having an authentic mental illness. Makes for interesting research.


  2. Very interesting! My Great Great grandfather was also sent to an asylum in Pennsylvania. I doubt very much that he suffered from mental illness, but instead was a violent alcoholic. I can’t find any record of his release, or death. The hospital records are sealed. Very frustrating research indeed. Best of luck to you in your research…looking forward to your next post.


  3. Interesting..I never knew records were available for asylums. My great-grandfather’s sister died in Shotts asylum in 1899.


    • Hi Hugh. You should contact North Lanarkshire archives. They should have records for your great grandfather’s sister. Best wishes. Jacqueline.


  4. Hi Jacqueline, I did contact them and they sent me all sorts of stuff. Doctors reports, neighbours and family testimonies. Very harrowing to read but I’m glad I did. She had a hard life indeed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s