Medical History

The general health of the Easdale inhabitants has been good for the period which records exist. The survey for 1791 (displayed In the volunteers section of the museum) describes a population healthy, of good spirits and above average in learing and in intelligence. Smallpox had been eradicated by a system of inoculation (note that Edward Jenner claimed the success of his system of preventing the disease in 1796, many years after the scourge had disappeared from Easdale).

The doctor was kept busy with accidents happening in the quarries and at sea. On display is an iron splint much in use in the late C19th.

The most prevalent diseases were rheumatism and arthritis, brought on by working, usually up to the ankles in water, often in rain and chilling gales.

Dr Patrick Hunter Gillies 1869 – 1913
C19th iron splint

Poverty, poor sanitation and overcrowding resulted in many cases of tuberculosis towards the end of the century.

At the same period the cities of Scotland were being visited by another virulent disease, cholera. The only cases of this recorded on Easdale Island, were brought in by visitors from Glasgow, coming to the island to recover their health.

The most enlightening records came from Dr Patrick Gillies’ book of draft letters, written during the 1890’s and 1900’s while he was the Medical Officer for the Easadale Slate Quarrying Company. His annual reports on the public health of the parish of Kilbrandon and Kilchattan, provide a fascinating insight into all aspects of life at the time. The Gillies family provided medical care for the district for many generations.

An extract from Dr Gillies’ report on the drainage at the village of Ellenabeich on Seil Island.

“In my report of 1st Nov. 1895 upon this matter I called attention to what I was convinced is the source of evil, a badly constructed drain. A drain which , in its total length of 50ft., has a fall of about 2ft. or one half percent, and no means of flushing. Such a sewer cannot be expected to serve any useful purpose, it serves only one apparent purpose, that is, it forms an excellent breeding ground for the propagation of the typhoid bacillus and its allies.”