145 Canongate, EH8 8BN
The famous Scottish poet Robert Ferguson (1750-1774) died tragically when he was just 24 years old. In the years before his premature death, he suffered from bouts of depression taking the form of debilitating religious guilt. While out on the town with his friends he took a fall, which caused a serious head injury. Because his mother (then his only living parent) was unable to care for him, he was committed to the Edinburgh Asylum for Pauper Lunatics, where he later died in his cell. Fergusson’s incarceration and death inspired physician and joint founder of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Andrew Duncan (1744-1828), to establish Edinburgh’s first public lunatic asylum in Morningside. Duncan had been one of the physicians treating Fergusson and was appalled by the conditions in the asylum. In a letter to the Scottish Sheriff Deputy he wrote of his experience of his visits with the poet that it “afforded me an opportunity of witnessing the deplorable situation of Pauper Lunatics even in the opulent, flourishing, and charitable Metropolis of Scotland”. By establishing the asylum in Morningside, Duncan contributed to Fergusson’s legacy, not just as a brilliant poet, but as someone who had a lasting impact on public health in Scotland.
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