The Hospitals of Skye
The establishment of the Gesto Hospital in 1878 gave the people of Skye access to free medical attention from a fairly early date compared with the rest of the Highlands. Gesto had 12 beds plus a medical officer who served the whole island and he was well used! It was a general hospital which, by the mid 1950s, had become mainly geriatric and this local need kept it well used until the 21st century.
The Gesto was endowed by Kenneth MacLeod who had made his fortune in India growing indigo. In 1907, the John Martin Hospital opened in relatively nearby Uig. John Martin endowed it through a fortune made by growing coffee in Ceylon – now Sri Lanka. The Martin had specialised in maternity by the 1930s and continued as such until it closed in the 1960s.
After many years of fund raising, the Mackinnon Memorial, the last of Highland’s voluntary hospitals, opened in 1914. It was initially the smallest and poorest but due to its location is the only one of the original Skye hospitals to have survived.
In the 1880s, following the death of Dr Ross from fever, money was raised to build the Ross Memorial Hospital in Portree. In 1889, local authorities became responsible for providing fever hospitals and the hospital committee handed over the new building to the recently formed Skye District which then ran it as a fever hospital. It opened intermittently, as was common with fever hospitals. Skye District also opened a small wooden emergency smallpox hospital at Stein which was apparently never used and eventually blew down in a gale around 1919. In the late 19th century Skye District also purchased a hospital caravan - a bit like a gypsy caravan pulled by horses - which could accommodate patients and/or nurses in areas without public accommodation or where - as in much of Skye - houses had no rooms to spare.
Meanwhile, the Skye Union Poorhouse had opened in 1861. It was very much underused and there were probably never enough residents to justify a separate sick ward except for a short time during the 1st World War when it was used for pulmonary tuberculosis patients.
The benefits of a central hospital for all of Skye had been recognised for many years and eventually, in the 1960s, a new 12 bed unit opened in Portree which included 6 maternity beds and allowed the Martin to close. By then there were 24 surgical/medical beds at the Mackinnon Memorial which had become Skye's main hospital.
The Hospitals of Skye, published in July 2011, draws on research into sources not, until then, available within archive collections. It has sold over 500 copies and unfortunately is now out of print. The Skye charity Lucky2Bhere has been instrumental in promoting the booklet and we are very grateful to Ross Cowie, descendant of the Dr Ross mentioned above, for his exceptional efforts on our behalf.
Both the Gesto and the Martin hospitals are now used as holiday accommodation.