The Court of Session shared its Edinburgh home with some of the leading medical institutions in the British Atlantic world. The University of Edinburgh's medical school and the Royal College of Physicians educated new doctors, including many Americans, in the latest advancements in medical science and patient care. The consultation letters of doctor William Cullen, the man depicted here, offer unique insight into eighteenth-century medical knowledge and treatment, including a substantial correspondence with individuals in Virginia, New York, and the Carolinas. The famed physician shared more than just his professional home with the Court; his son, the advocate Robert Cullen, later became one of the Lords of Session.
Session Papers shed light on how Scottish society and the law dealt with physical and mental illnesses in this period. The cases included here illuminate how Scots and their legal system adjudicated illness. Then as now individuals, family members, communities, and courts struggled with the challenge of caring for the mentally unwell, individuals unable to manage their own affairs, and the legal consequences of falling ill. The documents listed below offer revealing insight into the people who lived with a medical affliction at the intersection of law and medicine in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
|The Heritors and Kirk-Session of the Parish of Dalmellington v. The Magistrates, Minister and Kirk-Session of Irvine||3 Dec 1800||This case determined which of three parishes—Irvine, Dalrymple, or Dalmellington—was required to provide for the maintenance of James Wallace, an insane pauper. The statutory obligation to aliment certain persons was assigned to parishes based on residency. However, Wallace was an itinerant worker, complicating the analysis. Before losing the ability to support himself, Wallace had been a dance master who spent winters in the town of Irvine but traveled in the summer to teach. He spent his early years in Dalrymple and later went to Dalmellington, where he was employed for a time. More than a dozen witnesses from the three parishes testified about Wallace’s whereabouts over the course of his life, giving sometimes contradictory evidence. The court found that the parish of Irvine was liable, comparing Wallace to tradesmen who travel to seek work in the summer.|
|Robertson and Others, Petitioners||1777||Curator Bonis, Insanity||At the beginning of 1772 William Laird was said to have been "seized with a violent disorder which affected his head." According to Hary Robertson and George, James, and Alexander Oswalds, since then Laird had been incapable of conducting his own affairs and had been intermittently confined to his room for months at a time. At the beginning of 1777, upon returning from Mr Paxton's in Edinburgh, where he had been "riding, fencing, and learning the manual-exercise of a soldier," Laird assaulted James Dennistoun of Colgrain at the Cross of Glasgow. Laird was then seized and about to be committed to the tolbooth, when Robertson and the Oswalds persuaded the Glasgow Magistrates to allow his confinement at the Town Hospital instead. Robertson and the Oswalds then petitioned the Court of Session to appoint Harry Robertson "or any other proper person" as Laird's legal representative with the power to oversee his affairs. They explained that Laird had earlier granted a commission in favour of them to manage his business affairs, but that they also required the legal power to manage his private affairs as well.|
|Barr v. Buchanan||1780||Suspension||James Barr brought a bill of suspension seeking his release from prison. Barr alleged that he had been imprisoned because of the “groundless prejudice” of James Buchanan of Drumpellier, a justice of the peace. He also cited procedural irregularities. However, Buchanan alleged that Barr had caused a number of disturbances for reasons stemming from his mental illness. Buchanan argued that Barr’s friends should find security for the suspender’s future conduct and conduct him to a safe place.|
|MacGill v. Campbell||1780||Factor Loco Tutoris||This case was about the appointment of a guardian for John Brand, who was unable to manage his own affairs. William Ayton was appointed tutor by the Court of Exchequer, but he died before Brand’s incapacity was lifted. The beneficiary of Brand’s will, Sarah Macgill, requested the appointment of a factor loco tutoris (administrator) to manage Brand’s affairs on an interim basis. William Campbell and John Brand, W.S., relatives of the incapacitated Brand, opposed Macgill’s petition, arguing that Campbell had already petitioned the Court of Exchequer to become tutor-dative.|
|Sibbald v. Maben||1784||Apprentice||Thomas Sibbald, a student at Heriot’s Hospital, entered into an apprenticeship with William Maben. In accordance with the school’s regulations, the indenture provided that the master would feed, clothe, and board the apprentice. However, in a separate agreement, Sibbald’s father agreed to relieve Maben of these obligations. Sibbald initially lived with his father and commuted to Maben’s shop near Edinburgh, but Maben later closed his shop and moved to Dunse, in another county. In consultation with an official at Heriot’s Hospital, Sibbald’s father notified Maben that he considered the apprenticeship to be at an end. Maben sued for damages, on the ground that Sibbald had deserted his apprenticeship.|