Margaret Fisher born 1819

Housekeeper

In 1841, the Fisher family having been 'cleared' from Murthly, the census showed Margaret Fisher living with the Rev. D Campbell and his family in the manse at Innerwick and working as a farm servant while her brother was on the other side of Ben Lawers with his family in the village of Lawers.By the 1851 Census Maggie was a 32-year-old unmarried housekeeper residing at Chesthill. Her brother Alexander was living down the glen with his family at Culdaremore.

John Menzies the head of the Chesthill household and apparently without a wife had quite a retinue of servants. As well as Maggie there was a 'brother' of no profession, cook, dairymaid, general servant, groom, footman, agricultural labourer, gardener, cowherd and shepherd.

Alexander Stewart in his book a Highland Parish gives an interesting description of John Stewart Menzies;

'In his younger days he lived a somewhat loose and dissolute life, but in his later years he settled down to more orderly habits and wielded considerable influence in the affairs of the county.'

Alexander's daughter, Alexandra Stewart, was much more outspoken in her book Daughters of the Glen;

Stewart Menzies when he was laird of Chesthill was a notorious lecher. There is one story about him on the way to Rannoch on horseback when he met a handsome lassie on the hill road. The old rake dismounted and began to flirt.
'And what's your name, my lass?' he inquired'
She told him.
'Your mother is not Mrs So-and-so?"
"Yes sir, she is."

Chesthill was onto his horse and away. The girl was his own illegitimate daughter, one of many.
My father's radicalism was partly the result of a really nasty piece of selfishness by Stewart Menzies, when he threw the whole family out of Woodend and installed his mistress there with child. My grandfather had to take the family to Ardtrasgart, and return every day to his workshop in sight of the stranger installed in what had been the family's home for over a century. The lady called herself 'Mrs Menzies' and did nothing to make herself popular. Some locals said she was as a witch. After about two years the laird got married and threw her out, and the family returned to their home.

As his unmarried house-keeper in 1851 Maggie must have been a candidate for his attentions. Fortunately the census entries below did not record her as having a child. Stewart Menzies died in 1868.

At the time of the 1861 census she was a domestic servant visiting the Stewarts in Dunkeld Street in Aberfeldy. In 1871 she was a house keeper living by herself in Kenmore street.

Pauper lunatic

Subsequent events show that in the next 5 years she became mentally ill and unable to live independently in Kenmore Street, even with the help of friends. She went to live with her younger sister, Elizabeth, whose husband James Anderson was farming Duneaves.

Notes in marginOn 17 December 1875 Margaret, described as a pauper lunatic formerly housekeeper, was admitted to Perth District Asylum, Murthly in the Parish of Little Dunkeld with a 5 year history of mental ill health and diagnosed as suffering from 'Melancholia with Monomania of Suspicion'.

The local inspector of the poor*, James Crerar, was tasked with coordinating the process. On 17 December he arranged for two general practitioners, Donald Munrow and John Thompson, to examine Margaret and confirm that she was of unsound mind. She was then be admitted to Murthly where the asylum doctor further assessed her as needing emergency admission. This certificate enabled her to be detained for 3 days until Hugh Barclay the Sheriff substitute could issue his certificate stating that she was 'a person of unsound mind and a proper person to be detained and taken care of'.

The paper work was completed on 20th December 1875. The Petition to the Sheriff and her hospital notes make interesting reading. Despite a gap of 140 years the process to get a mentally ill patient to a place of safety is not so dissimilar to that used today. Today we would probably say she was suffering from a depressive psychosis and be able to treat her successfully with medication.

Fifteen months after being admitted she died in Murthly Asylum, age 59, of 'exhaustion + diarrhoea' for 3 weeks.We might conclude that she died prematurely of a hospital acquired infection:

 

The Record of payments book (CC1/11/3/1, 1862-1877) in the Perth & Kinross Council Archive shows that she was admitted on 17 December 1875 and died on 21 March 1877 and that Weem Parish was responsible for the charge (there being no NHS).

* Margaret's nephew, Robert Fisher of Culdaremore, was an inspector of the poor as well as a farmer.

Page last updated - 28/4/17