As demand for the services for the Douglas Medical Dispensary grew, it became clear that the Strand Street premises were no longer adequate. Work began to establish a ‘proper’ hospital for the Douglas poor and £1,030 was raised for the project.
Although there was some disagreement about the site, including concerns that a central location for the hospital would lead to the spread of disease, a house on Fort Street was eventually bought for £800.
It can be seen on the photograph of Douglas in Source A, as the large rectangular building next to the shore, on the right-hand side of the picture. The photograph in Source B shows how its surroundings changed, as Loch Promenade and other developments transformed the layout of the town.
The first matron was Nelly Brennan, who by 1849 was well known following her work with the Douglas poor in the cholera epidemic. She served in the post until 1851.
The hospital’s early years were fraught with controversy, especially regarding the quality and availability of care. In 1851 there was a public scandal when Jane Fitzsimmons died, pregnant and destitute, shortly after being turned away at its doors. The first House Surgeon the hospital, Dr Eves, was asked to resign in 1853 following an argument with the committee about his supposed neglect of a patient with a scrofulous thigh-bone. Over the years, there were also complaints that the nursing staff were untrained and “frequently drunkards”.
There were also ongoing problems with funding the hospital, especially when Douglas was hit by epidemics. The medical staff usually treated the poor in their own homes. Only a very small number were admitted to the hospital as ‘in-door patients’ and many preferred to stay in their own homes with their families.
By the 1870s there were concerns that Fort Street site, although convenient for quayside accidents and located near the fresh sea air, was no longer a satisfactory site for a hospital. Although it could fit between 14 and 20 beds, there was nowhere to isolate infectious patients and doctors were concerned that it was too small to cope with epidemics.
Changes to the layout of Douglas, including the building of Loch Promenade, had transformed Fort Street from a shore road to a backstreet, too built-up to benefit from the fresh sea air and surrounded by busy tourist attractions and noisy industry.
Other issues included the poor hygiene facilities, the unsuitable layout and the lack of an operating theatre, which meant that operations took place in the same room as other patients! Concerns about the spread of disease remained, with boarding-house owners especially worried that a nearby hospital would be off-putting for tourists.
Fort Street Hospital and Dispensary came in for its fair share of controversy and criticism over the years. Find out more here