Administrative / Biographical History

LRCS Edin 1832; MRCS Eng 1832; FRCS Eng 1844.

Gaskell was born in Warrington in 1807. He later became the first medical superintendent of an asylum to be made a member of the Lunacy Commission. The Gaskell family was an important one in eighteenth and nineteenth century Warrington, Elizabeth Gaskell was married to his brother the Reverend William Gaskell. Gaskell showed a preference for medical studies at an early age, but fears about eye trouble meant that he was instead apprenticed to a bookseller in Liverpool. However, he spent much of his time studying and before the end of his apprenticeship Gaskell moved to Manchester to start his medical training as an apprentice to Robert Thorpe at MRI. Gaskell went to Edinburgh in 1831 and by 1832 had qualified. His first appointment in Manchester was to one of the emergency cholera hospitals set up in 1832. In 1834 he was appointed resident house apothecary to the Manchester Infirmary and Lunatic Asylum, where he was increasingly involved in the Lunatic Asylum. In 1840 Gaskell was appointed to the post of resident superintendent to the Lancaster Asylum. The Lancaster Asylum was a large institution, conditions were poor and treatment was punitive. Gaskell attempted to bring in humanitarian reforms and classification of patients. Along with minimisation of restraint, attempts were also made to abolish some of the crude treatments such as bleeding and blistering. Gaskell was praised for his work at the Asylum and was seen as an authority. However, he still had to battle with rising admissions. In 1846 Gaskell visited Paris, accompanied by his friend James Bower Harrison. Gaskell was appointed to the Lunacy Commission in 1849 and moved to London to undertake inspections. He was later appointed to the Commission on Lunacy in Scotland. Gaskell retired after a road accident and he died in 1886.