Caring in 19th Century Forres

MFC Paper 18 by D Macnish 1977

The Back to Nature and Humanitarian movements that developed in the 18th and 19th centuries as a reaction to the horrid realities of the Industrial Revolution are usually associated with the names of famous personages ~ Rousseau, Wordsworth, Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, Burns, but behind these figureheads there must have been a mass of caring ordinary people.

One of these, a man who seems to epitomise all the trends of his period must have been Dr. Archibald Duff Brands.

He was the second youngest of a large family. His father was a solicitor in Banff but his people are buried in the Kinloss Abbey. He trained at Edinburgh at the beginning of the 19th century having for a fellow student the famous Professor Clarke. He is first heard of in print during the Moray Floods (1829). He had gone to visit a patient, ignoring the discomforts if not the dangers of venturing into troubled waters. In true romantic hero fashion he at once involved himself personally in rescue attempts. Dick Lauder records how he galloped about, whipping up help, risking his safety in the mud and rowing out with others to try and rescue the stranded. He spent the night with Mr. Suitor in Moy House. A family could be seen till darkness, marooned on a small eminence and Dr. Brands and Mr. Suitor kept candles lit at the windows through the night to let the stranded family know they were not forgotten.

In 1835 the Doctor reappears in public, having a tilt at the Town Council. This showed a certain independence of mind, and some courage for the Town Council was a self-electing body with no small moral and social ascendancy in the Burgh. They proposed to interpret the Electoral Reform Act of 1835 in their own way. Dr. Brands not only voiced his objections locally, he also took his case to Edinburgh and received attention and publicity. The final upshot is not reported but honour must have been satisfied on both sides for, not long after, the Doctor is listed as having contributed half a guinea towards the purchase of a chain of office for the Provost. In fact he even got elected to the Town Council and it is a tribute to his personality that in spite of his trenchant and debunking comments at nearly all the meetings he still seems to have been treated with affectionate tolerance by his fellow Councillors. He attacked the peculiar administration of the Guildry Fund in which some Councillors were involved, he pleaded the cause of the gypsies (and got a dusty answer,) he asked that the town bell which called the faithful of the Established Church to prayer at 11 a.m. might also be rung at twelve for the Dissenters. When the Council met to decide whether the proposed running of Sunday trains was to be considered as a desecration of the Sabbath or not, he deflated the members by asking what was the difference between poor man going for an excursion in a train on Sunday and a rich one driving out his carriage. There were many rich carriage owners in the Town Council.

He always appears as caring for the poor, the unfortunate and the sick. Probably his greatest achievement was the Free Dispensary. Though five local doctors called the meeting to appeal for the dispensary it was he who did the speaking: even visualising the possibility of a free hospital some day. The Dispensary flourished, doctors took a month each, the bedridden were visited in their homes and vaccination was given free. It was maintained by public subscription.

During the cholera epidemic in Findhorn he tried to have the epidemic contained by appealing to the people of Forres to sever all connection with Findhorn. Thereafter he departs for Findhorn and isolates himself there to treat the victims.

His most epic battle was with the pigstyes and the closes. The fact that he lived up a close may have heightened his just indignation. These closes were not the rose bowered alleyways that some conservationists would have us believe. Many of the close dwellers to North and South of the High Street kept pigs on the side, so to speak, and at intervals convenient to the farmers' seasons, the by~product of the pigs, with horrid household additions were carted up to the High Street to await purchase and removal by the farmer. Communications being slow, if anything happened to delay the farmer, these nasty little gold mines could sit about for days. As long as the stuff was in the owner's ground it could be covered with sand carted (free) from the Cluny Hills (not then wooded) but once on the High Street it was nobody's business. Even in the gardens it was a nuisance for on wet days it took off and seeped out into the ruts and holes in the street. Doctor Brand's epithets are both choice and descriptive and he finally succeeded in getting a scavenger appointed. He was appointed a Baillie but finally gave up the Council — no doubt his humanity got in the way of his administration of justice. He went on to the newly formed Police Board instead, to have more say over public health.

He died in 1869 at the age of 78. When he started in Forres the chemists were offering fresh leeches daily, by the time of his death he has seen chloroform and vaccination and antiseptics in common use. He kept himself up to date and created some stir by treating the victim of a fractured thigh with chloroform and an apparatus executed to his own design by the local blacksmith.

Apart from his public health activites he was a man of culture, had a great love of flowers (even judging the fuchsias at the local flower show) and of horses. His later years were shadowed by an accident which curtailed his outdoor life, but he continued to earn the esteem of his fellows to the end. There is a painting of him, in a group, in Forres Court Room.

Though his influence was confined to Forres he seems to me to deserve as much honour as the great ones. Shaftesbury had his chimney boys, Davey his miners, Dr. Brands had his muck heaps. Someone has to attend to the nitty gritty!

  • Forres Gazette Archives
  • "The Moray Floods " Dick Lauder
  • "The Riding of the Marches" (Forres Court House)
  • "Annals of Forres" - Douglas
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