The Seaforth Sanatorium
The Seaforth Sanatorium was a purpose built hospital for tuberculosis sufferers on Brahan land, half a mile from Dingwall, on a south facing plateau with views over the Cromarty Firth. It was intended to provide free care for 18 residents.
Colonel Stewart-Mackenzie of Seaforth had been increasingly concerned about the poor physique of the present generation ‘being undermined by the most insidious disease, consumption; and though the martial spirit was as strong now as ever, the men of today were not so strong as were those of their county battalion…’ In 1900 over ten thousand Scots died from tuberculosis. TB accounted for 50% of all deaths from disease yet very little could be done to prevent the spread of the disease or to cure those affected. Indeed sufferers were denied hospital care, as the disease was considered too infectious. Tuberculosis or ‘consumption’ was regarded as a ‘social’ disease related to lifestyle and as such was kept secret and denied.
The Seaforths resolved to gift £100,000 to build, maintain and equip a sanatorium for the treatment of consumption in the men and women of Ross-shire. The Sanatorium should provide good food, rest and fresh air which Mrs Stewart-Mackenzie hoped would provide 'a real and lasting benefit'.
Dr Maclean was appointed its first Medical Superintent in 1908, not least because ‘he has the Gaelic’. Indeed one of his contemporaries at the Edinburgh Medical School was Robert Philip who went on to found the 'Victoria Dispensary for Consumption' and the 'National Association for the Prevention of Tuberuclosis'. Such was Dr Maclean's interest in this subject that he returned to his medical studies in Edinburgh, adding Doctor of Public Hygiene to his qualifications in 1899.
Dr Maclean’s annual reports on the Sanatorium were published in the Scotsman and it would seem that the Sanatorium was indeed seen as a ‘lasting benefit’ by Highlanders since Dr Maclean had to turn away tuberculosis sufferers who were anxious to enjoy its benefits but who were not residents of Ross-shire.
Dr Maclean’s reports detail bed use (80%), length of stay (approximately 15 weeks) and success rate. In his second report in 1910, there were 42 cases of whom 17 improved to such an extent that 12 were able to undertake light work, 10 whose disease was arrested, 8 who showed no improvement but were still alive and 7 who were worse (4 died within a week of admission).
Dr Maclean consistently argued for patients to be sent in the early stages of the disease if he was to be able to help them. In this he was influenced by Robert Philip who introduced contact tracing and the isolation of still healthy, infected individuals. The care of TB patients continued to be frustratingly limited despite the BCG vaccine being made available in 1924. There was no certain method of success until the introduction of antibiotics from 1944 onwards which was to have a revolutionary effect on the life expectancy of tuberculosis suffferers.
The Seaforths also undertook to renovate a derelict house in Hood Street so that Dr Maclean and Louisa were able to move into a modernised three bedroom stone house. Maryburgh Cottage was updated with electricity, a hot /cold bathroom and a shed for the motor. There was also a drawing room, dining room and conservatory plus a study for Dr Maclean’s extensive library. This was to be Dr Maclean’s home for the rest of his life.
Photo: The opening of the Seaforth Sanatorium, 1908