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Poor Relief and the Dangerous and Criminal Insane in Scotland, c. 1740-1840

From: Journal of Social History
Volume 40, Number 2, Winter 2006
pp. 453-476 | 10.1353/jsh.2007.0017


The historiography of Scottish poor relief from the latesixteenth to the early nineteenth century conventionally portrays it as anundeveloped version of the English system. It assumes that the lack ofstructured care based on rating (that was the foundation of the Englishmodel) equates to parsimony. By focusing on limited entitlements anddebates on disablement, historians have studied exclusion more thanprovision. This article gives a different emphasis on poor relief in Scotlandthrough a study of a particular group of the deserving poor. Offering ageneral discussion illuminated by detailed case studies, its aim is to locatedangerous insane paupers within the structures of Scottish poor relief andto assess how distinctively they were treated compared with the merelypoor. It also outlines change over timein the legal parameters governingpauper lunatics and particularly the changes in law and practice during the1800s and 1810s. Finally, it seeks to demonstrate the strength of thecommitment to caring for the insane as an element of the deserving poorand to show how a system based more on casual charity than that ofEngland could nevertheless be effective.