Gin a body meet a body

Chapter Seven of ‘Repeats its Love’: Gin a body meet a body

1907. This was the year that colour came to Mavisbank Institution for the Nervous. It was the year that Rudyard Kipling won the Nobel prize for Literature; however it is for the invention of colour photography by Louis Lumiere and his brother that the world celebrates 1907. Yet, scholars of the history of photography will know this to be a record certainly misplaced. For colour photography, and the true brightening of today (forget religion and metaphysics) we must return to James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), the Edinburgh great-great grandson of Baron Clerk.[1]


Figure 1: It was a colourful year: 1907 and the Batty Tuke revision.

Above, recorded in splendid colour is a postcard of Mavisbank dated 1907. However if you look closely, you will see that, inset in type, it is denoted otherwise. For in 1907, the bright botanic wonder of Saughton Hall, Gorgie, Edinburgh, was brought by Dr John Batty Tuke to Mavisbank. In doing so, the Institution was renamed as the less than imaginative, New Saughton Hall. Was it then, that after 183 years, the mavis had lost her song of love, and the Baron, from his poem, his stone villa?

The reasons are not apparent, as to why, in 1907, as advertised in the Journal of  Mental Science[2] “Circumstances rendered it imperative that the old mansion house of Saughton Hall should be surrendered to the City of Edinburgh, and the private patients resident there were transferred to Mavisbank.” This move was under the direction of Sir John Batty Tuke (1835-1913) and his son John (1860-1920), both Edinburgh trained psychiatrists. The patients may have moved, but the Batty Tukes did not; indeed till his last day Sir John Batty Tuke lived in his Mansion House, Balgreen in Gorgie. The Scotsman advert makes it evident that considerable alterations had been at Mavisbank by the Batty Tukes, so that their New Saughton Hall compromised 90 beds (an expansion of more than a third.) The minimum charge of board, per annum, as advertised was £105.


Figure 2: John Batty Tuke (1835-1913)

Sir John Batty Tuke was easily the brightest and certainly the most colourful Superintendent of Mavisbank, and Dr Thomas Clouston apart, was the most influential Scottish Psychiatrist of the late Victorian epoch. Whilst there has indeed been a post-mortem scramble to lay claim the ‘moral guide’ to asylum reform – initially the forgoing of restraint and later opening of doors – it is by Batty Tuke in his earlier stewardship of the Fife and Kinross District Asylum that the latter philosophy was actually practised. As early as 1877 Dr Batty Tuke (he was not Knighted until 1898) was able to boast that within the Saughton Hall asylum. “It is now possible to traverse the entire building without requiring to use a key.” Dr Batty Tuke had also introduced the experiment of placing his patients under the care of educated ladies, who were to be companions and guides accompanying them on their walks and drives.[3] This was the privilege of the well-to-do and certainly lost to the majority of the disadvantaged, both mentally ill and poor. Yet today, 100 years on, it must be remarked that the doors – in a culture where risk must be calculated – are once again locked: whether it be dementia homes or forensic wards. As for ‘befrienders,’ the equivalent of Batty Tuke’s admirable beneficence: well they are as rare as hens teeth!


Figure 3: Sir John Batty Tuke and the flowering of Saughton auld

Two years after moving to Mavisbank, the new Asylum housed 28 male patients and 44 female patients.  Born in Surrey in 1835, Batty Tuke spent his early boyhood in Beverley, Yorkshire, and lifelong retained the characteristics of the Yorkshireman. In circumstances that are not clear, he came to Edinburgh before the age of ten to live with his uncle, Dr. John Smith, one of the proprietors of Saughton Hall. He followed his uncle into medicine and gained his degree in Edinburgh in 1856 but soon after left for New Zealand where he served as senior medical officer in the Maori War until 1863. Nobody who met Batty Tuke thereafter had any doubt, that his fortitude and forbearance in war had left its stamp upon him.

However, in terms of medical outlook, Batty Tuke was guided by the charismatic Dr David Skae of Royal Edinburgh Asylum, under whom he served for several years as assistant physician. The pathological framework for Insanity, that holds sway to this day, had in its roots Dr Skae. In 1863 as President of the Medico-Psychological Association he gave his address on “The system of classification of insanity.” [4] Skae was a clear thinking, disciplined man, who had the draughtsman’s eye. He was also wonderfully charming. His influence reached well beyond Batty Tuke, and Asylums across the British Isles adopted the pathological clarity of his Annual Reports from Morningside. It is interesting to note that Dr Skae, more than a generation before Batty Tuke, was also raised and mentored by his doctor uncle. In the days, as they were then, when brain weight and head size were equated with intellect, it was proudly remarked by Skae’s even more brilliant follower that:

“Skae carried a stout figure, a kindly expression, ever ready to break out into a winning smile or a jovial laugh, reassuring brown eyes, a massive head, only second to Simpson’s among the Edinburgh doctors, set on a strong neck and shoulders, the impression he made on a stranger was that of one who enjoyed life and wished others to enjoy it too. He was careless to a fault in his dress, was a great smoker, and did not despise the good things of this life.”[5]


Figure 4: Dr Skae – he had a massive head; he was loved but his legacy was pathological; T.S. Clouston followed.

Batty Tuke was Skae’s truest disciple. He was the first physician in Scotland to learn the new methods of staining (methylene blue) and section-cutting which then revolutionised normal and morbid histology. His microscope was carried everywhere and he advanced new microscopic understanding of the dementias in a way that really has not properly been acknowledged. It was Dr Batty Tuke who first described ‘a new appearance which he called milliary sclerosis’ which later Alzheimer realised was the neurofibrillary plaques of progressive dementia. He thereafter advocated a uniform system of recording post-mortem examinations in the insane, and he himself reported thirty cases on that system. In his first Morison Lectures he described The Insanity of Over-exertion of the Brain”[6] and in his second a “new pathological classification of insanity.” [7]

Dr Batty Tuke returned to Edinburgh from Fife in 1873 to take up the work of his uncle Dr John Smith and Dr. Lowe, his partner, at Saughton Hall. He very soon became a power in the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh, of which he was a Fellow. Batty Tuke developed and pushed the idea that the College should institute a laboratory, ‘The Pathological Club’, where its fellows and young medical scientists of Edinburgh should have an opportunity of developing skill and knowledge. This development was epochal in the medical science of Edinburgh and many who went on to be famous and contributing Professors of science were borne of this laboratory.

Sir Batty Tuke was Knighted in 1898, became an MP on the century’s turn, was fond of art and literature, and had the widest of acquaintances among all classes of professional men in Edinburgh, where he was regarded as an outstanding figure. Yet this Aesculapian – considered the best of that league of gentlemen; and to whose society he left many of his riches; was a man who allowed no liberties to be taken with him, and was ‘a trifle irritable at times.’ [8]


Figure 5: THE first colour photograph (Edinburgh 1861) &THE creative mind (scientist) who brightened the world!

Continuing the colourful theme of this chapter, yet here again the kaleidoscope of time reveals itself marvellous. Through no more than elementary research it has emerged that when John Batty Tuke came to live with his uncle, Dr John Smith in Edinburgh, he lived in the family home, number 16 India Street. Next door, at number 14, James Clerk Maxwell was born and lived a good part of his life. Before returning to Scotland’s finest scientist, it is worth recording that Dr John Smith was partner with Dr W.H. Lowe,[9] ministering to the insane at Saughton Hall. Dr Lowe time has forgotten completely (we cannot remember all) but survives in the flower gardens of Saughton. Dr Lowe was a man interested in nature as much as man and in his day was one of Edinburgh’s finest botanists, and had the largest collection of butterflies in Scotland.[10] Colour – how welcome it is, in every revisit, and in every time.

Dr John Smith (1798-1879) the uncle of Batty Tuke, and immediate neighbour of Clerk Maxwell, chose to minister not just the insane but also the poor. He was for nearly fifty years physician to the city workhouse in Forrest Road, Edinburgh, and gave all for no charge. His reward for such selfless ministering was to be completely forgotten by the good folk of Edinburgh.[11] History can be cruel in its ignorance. However, for a brief moment, this researcher thought that Smith, the man of good, and of name so common, had survived lyrical, after finding the Aesculapian Club address of 1898 entitled The Clinical Examination.” It is a lovely Scottish ditty that records the theme of this chapter – that we are the sum of oor pairts – and not to be seen just as specimens pathological. [12]

I was just aboot smoored wi’ a kittling cough,
Whilk at times was jist fair suffocation,
An’ the sounds o’ my voice were sae wheezing an’ rough,
I was thocht for till be in an ill situation,
Till be an ill situation.

The professor next day cam an’ gied me a look,
When at ance wi’ profound admiration;
He clerkit me doon in a long narrow book
As desrvin’ a clinical examination,
A clinical examination.

My liver, my kidneys, my lungs an’ my hairt.
They disparaged withoot reservation:
‘Deed they spak wi contempt about every pairt That exists in my bodily organization.
My bodily organization.

Ilk threipit my case tae his mind was quite clear,
Whilk to me but was sma consolation;
For they differed sae muckle it made it appear
I was ailin’ o everthing in combination.
O’ everthing in combination.

Then I rose frae my bed, an’ I said I wis cured,
For I felt that a continuation
O’ the scandalous treatment that I had endured
Wad hae brocht a mans days tae a swift termination.
My days tae a sift termination.

The doctors, the medicine, the nurses, the meat,
I maun aye haud in high commendation;
But I’d rather forgae them an’ dee on my feet
Than submit tae a clinical examination.
A Clinical examination.

This poem was by Dr John Smith (1825-1910) President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, dentist to Queen Victoria, artist, historian, musician and painter.

After Sir Batty Tuke died in 1913, his son who carried his name and shared his profession, continued at Mavisbank up until his death in 1920.[13] He was a quiet, unassuming man, of a mould rather different to his distinguished father, whom he survived only by 7 years. Batty Tuke junior submitted an interesting Mavisbank case for discussion: it related to a 57 year old unmarried woman who was admitted to the Institution on the 24th August 1908. She was suffering from chronic delusions that she was the Bride of Christ. One year and five days after her admission to Mavisbank she received a message from Christ commanding her not to take food or drink of any kind. She refused all – even simple moistening of her lips with water – and so ’perfectly quiescently’ she was fed three times a day by feeding-tube. Such was her life at Mavisbank for 9 years.[14] Her case has vague parallels with the social activist, mystic and philosopher Simone Weil who was born the year Miss Mavisbank stopped eating. Simone Weil was a strange lass, precocious, bookish and ascetic. She was the product of a strange family with a parental admixture that was the Nobel prize winning microbiologist father who discovered phagocytosis (cellular eating) and a mother who had a morbid fear of germs, so that she would not allow anyone outside the family to kiss her children, a fear that she successfully communicated to her daughter Simone.[15] The corner’s report concluding: “the deceased did kill and slay herself by refusing to eat whilst the balance of her mind was disturbed.”

Before concluding this chapter let us return to 1907 and colour. It was the year Mavisbank was advertised in colour as New Saughton Hall. It was the year the Lumiere brothers patented the colour ‘autochrome process’ and most importantly the year that Albert Einstein with a simple thought experiment involving an observer in free fall, started his eight-year search for a relativistic theory of gravity. One can understand then why Einstein was certain that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” This brings us neatly to James Clerk Maxwell. Einstein kept a picture of Clerk Maxwell on his wall, and revealed that he felt as a scientist he sat not upon the shoulders of Newton, but in fact Clark Maxwell.

At number 14 India Street, the house in which Clerk Maxwell was born, there is now a museum to him which includes the three glass plates in red, green and blue of tartan ribbon. Taken in 1861, they were projected by Clerk Maxwell and focussed onto one screen to form the first true colour image. However this was only a prelude to one of our greatest advances in knowledge; for before Clerk Maxwell there was only the Newtonian view of the world as consisting of matter in space. In developing this, Clerk Maxwell pointed the way to the existence of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation and the truth then unknown that energies reside in fields as well as bodies. This pointed the way to the application of electromagnetic radiation for such present-day uses as radio, television, radar, microwaves and thermal imaging. As the basis of electronics, they shape our lives and the ideas that he formulated almost 150 years ago touch us all.

Clerk Maxwell loved poetry, and wrote his own poems throughout his academic life, and he even went on to develop complex mathematical problems and their solutions in verse! The best known is Rigid Body Sings.[16]

“Gin a body meet a body
Flyin’ through the air.
Gin a body, hit a body
Will it fly? And where?
Ilka impact has its measure
Ne’er a ane hae I,
Yet a’ the lads they measure me,
Or, at least, they try!

Einstein was quite clear about Clerk Maxwell’s status. His field theory, he said, changed our “conception of reality.” Today, such reminders of brilliance, brings my thoughts to Raymond Tallis, a far better poet than Clerk Maxwell although not surely the physicist. Tallis recently sent this writer a manuscript before publication, not for considered review (this writer is not up to that) but out of kindness, realising that we shared equal disappointment that science had marginalised consciousness. Tallis in ‘The Disappearance of Appearance[17] discusses mankind’s difficulties in explaining the mystery of consciousness. His work in this field would appear to this writer, to carry forward Clerk Maxwell, with similar imagination to the great physicist who could see beyond matter to the energy fields that now govern our everyday life.  There are bearers of the Enlightenment in every generation: Gin a body meet a body.

“Brains became telegraph systems, then telephones and now computers. Such metaphors are powerful, and may be helpful. But too often their seductive powers blinker our capacity to see the world. As I will argue, brains are not computers, and genes are not selfish.” Steven P.R. Rose[18]

[1] Brown, Dr Iain Gordon (1987) The Clerks of Penicuik Portraits of Taste and Talent

[2] The Journal of Mental Science (1907) New Saughton Hall soon to open under Sir John Batty Tuke

[3] British Medical Journal (October 1913) Obituary of Sir John Batty Tuke

[4] The Medico-Psychological Association (1863) Dr Skae as President of the Medico-Psychological Association gave his address on “The system of classification of insanity.”

[5] The Journal of Mental Science (Jul 1873) Obituary to Dr David Skae by Dr T. S. Clouston; 19: 323 – 324.

[6] The Journal of Mental Science (Apr 1894) The Insanity of Over-Exertion of the Brain: The Morison Lectures, delivered before the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, 1894: By John Batty Tuke, M.D., F.R.C.P.E., F.R.C.S.E. With Illustrations and Diagrams. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co.

[7] The Journal of Mental Science (Jan 1914) Sir Batty Tuke’s new pathological classification of Insanity; Sir John Batty Tuke, M.D.Edin., F.R.C.P.Edin., F.R.C.S.E., LL.D., D.Sc.

[8] British Medical Journal (October 1913) Obituary of Sir John Batty Tuke; by Thomas S. Clouston

[9] Aberdeen University Special Archives; Lowe, W. H; (1840) Report, together with rules and regulations, of Saughton Hall private lunatic asylum near Edinburgh; Book; Record number 000801132

[10] The Journal of Mental Science (1900) Obituary of Dr William Henry Lowe

[11] British Medical Journal (1879) Obituary of Dr John Smith

[12] British Medical Journal (1898) The Clinical Examination; A song by Dr John Smith, sung by him to a meeting of the British Medical association in Edinburgh

[13] British Medical Journal (1920) Obituary of Dr John Batty Tuke

[14] The Lancet (May 1918) A case of prolonged artificial feeding; Correspondence by Dr John Batty Tuke

[15] British Medical Journal (Feb 2009) Nil by mouth; Theodore Dalrymple in Between the Lines

[16] Campbell, Lewis (1892) The extended biography The Life of James Clerk Maxwell

[17] Tallis, Raymond (2010) ‘The Disappearance of Appearance;’ Due to appear in the New Scientist 9th January 2010

[18] Rose, Steven P. R. (2001) Moving on from old dichotomies: beyond nature—nurture towards a lifeline perspective ‘the current enthusiasm on the part of behaviour geneticists to, so to speak, suck the environment into the genome.’

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