Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hill, Robert Gardiner

HILL, ROBERT GARDINER (1811–1878), surgeon, originator of the non-restraint system in lunacy, son of Robert Hill of Leamington, was born at Louth, Lincolnshire, on 26 Feb. 1811. John Harwood Hill [q. v.] was an elder brother. At the age of fourteen Robert was apprenticed to a surgeon in his native town. He then studied at Grainger's, Guy's, and St. Thomas's Hospitals, becoming a member of the College of Surgeons of England in 1834, and a licentiate of the College of Physicians, Edinburgh, in 1859. On passing as a surgeon he commenced practice at Lincoln, and in the same year obtained the appointment of house-surgeon to the General Dispensary there. His energy and determination were conspicuous, and he was elected in July 1835 resident house-surgeon of the Lincoln lunatic asylum. Here for some time he literally lived among the patients, and satisfied himself of the possibility of dispensing with any instruments of restraint. Under his management the number of the patients rapidly increased, and the Lincoln asylum attained much fame and prosperity. In 1839 he published his lecture on the ‘Management of Lunatic Asylums and the Treatment of the Insane.’ He argued that ‘in a properly constructed building, with a sufficient number of suitable attendants, restraint is never necessary, never justifiable, and always injurious in all cases of lunacy whatever.’ He proposed to substitute ‘classification, watchfulness, vigilant and unceasing attendance by day and by night, kindness, occupation, and attendance to health, cleanliness, comfort, and the total abstinence of every description of other occupation by the attendants.’ His efforts contributed to the general adoption of more humane methods. He entered into partnership with Richard Sutton Harvey in 1840, and became proprietor of Eastgate House private asylum, Lincoln. On 29 Oct. 1851 Hill was entertained at a public dinner in Lincoln and presented with a testimonial as the ‘author and originator of the non-restraint system in lunacy.’ The claim to the origination of the non-restraint system has been disputed [see under Conolly, John], but in any case Hill was the first to carry out the system to a practical result on a large scale. In November 1852 he was chosen mayor of Lincoln, and elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London on 17 Feb. 1853. In October 1863 he removed to London and settled down as resident medical proprietor of Earl's Court House, Old Brompton, a private asylum for ladies, a residence formerly inhabited by John Hunter. He died of apoplexy at Earl's Court House, London, on 30 May 1878, and was buried in Highgate cemetery.

Hill was the author of: 1. ‘Total Abolition of Personal Restraint in the Treatment of the Insane. A Lecture, with Statistical Tables,’ 1839. 2. ‘A Concise History of the entire Abolition of Medical Restraint in the Treatment of the Insane and of the success of the Non-Restraint System,’ 1857. 3. ‘Lunacy, its Past and its Present,’ 1870. He also wrote articles ‘On Total Abolition of Personal Restraint in Treatment of the Insane,’ in the ‘Lancet,’ 11 April 1840, p. 93, and 22 Feb. 1851, pp. 226–7; and ‘Psychological Studies,’ six articles in the ‘Medical Circular,’ 6 Jan. 1858, p. 1 et seq.

[Thirteenth Annual Report of Lincoln Lunatic Asylum, 12 April 1837, and following reports; Illustrated London News, 3 Jan. 1852, pp. 13–14, with view of the testimonial; Medical Circular, 7 Sept. 1853, pp. 187–9, with portrait, and 23 Nov. pp. 391, 396; Medical Times and Gazette, 1864, pp. 522–3, by Dr. B. W. Richardson; Robertson's Photographs of Eminent Medical Men, 1868, ii. 65–8, with portrait; Times, 15 June 1878, p. 7; British Medical Journal, 15 June 1878, pp. 873, 879.]

G. C. B.