(150 Years Ago Today)
SIR-- Political economy is doing its bloody work-- slowly, steadily, but not the more surely. One day we read of 47 deaths from starvation in Mayo, ratified by the solemn verdicts of so many coroners juries. Another, we read of frightful destitution in Skibbereen, dreadfully augmented by fever and dropsical complaints. Not a single day passes by without abundant evidence of the total inadequacy of the present government, to wield the destinies of this great empire, or to preserve from actual starvation the great majority of this long misgoverned and unfortunate country.
Were you to seek for an exception to the general distress prevailing over the face of the country, could you discover one spot before another not entirely suffering through the dreadful ravages of the famine, you may fix on this parish as a resting place-- as an oasis in the desert. True, our poor people are not all employed-- true, the rate of wages allowed is not entirely sufficient for the support of the working man himself; but, ere this, we have had no reason to complain of any death immediately caused by starvation. This was a proud, a triumphant boast; but now, Sir, we can no longer make a similar boast-- one of our poor people-- one of God's poor people-- has already gone to his account, a victim of Whiggery, before that just and awful God, who on the last day will see no distinction between the lord and the vassal-- the beggar and the prime minister-- before that Court of Justice where paltry special pleading on Bourke's political economy will not avail.
Yes, Sir, a poor fellow, named Courtney, after working a few days on the public road, badly fed and worse clothed, caught cold. Little though his earnings were, 10d. a day, doled out with a niggard hand, still it kept him alive till sickness prevented his being able to work, and, horrid to relate, he was obliged in his pitiable state to depend for several days on cabbage to support existence, till death, more merciful than our rulers, came to the rescue, and took him to himself. He has left a wife and six children in a most miserable state. How else could they be? The lowest price of meal and flour here is 2s. 8d. per stone. Good God! how could any man with 10d. per day support a wife and six children on this paltry stipend?-- eight persons depending for support on 5s. for seven days, not minding any wet days on which they may not be able to work; --1 1-14th pence per day, equivalent to 7-1/2 ounces of flour! Think of a working man-- yes, or even an idle man-- living on 7-1/2 ounces of flour every twenty-four hours. It is absurd-- it is horrifying-- it is more than dreadful to contemplate; but why pursue it further? It is dark enough before.
The Irish are the most patient people on the face of the globe. Cast your eyes over the wide world, and can you discover another people suffering so much, and bearing those sufferings so patiently? The people heretofore had some hopes; they are now beginning to give themselves up to despair; and I would remind our rulers that if the bounds of descretion be once set at defiance-- they may find it more difficult, nay more expensive, than to restrain a frantic multitude, maddened into despair, than now to feed a hungry, a quiet, but a feeling people.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
To the letter of this day we call the serious consideration of the Press-- of the Public; for, if active measures be not taken by the Government-- who must be coerced to humanity by the indignant voice of the country-- before April next ONE-THIRD OF THE POPULATION WILL BE SWEPT AWAY! This is not our prophecy-- it is that of the harrassed, broken-hearted Priest-- the Rev. Mr. FITZPATRICK-- whose soul-harrowing duty it is to bend low over the dog-couch of rotten straw, and hear the last words of the famine-victim, whose breath is laden with pestilence, whose blood is corrupted in his languid veins. It is the solemn warning of the Minister of GOD, who, in one day, visits a whole plague-stricken village, in every house of which there is death.
In a short note which we received from Mr. FITZPATRICK, he says:-- "The condition of the poor people is getting worse every day; disease is spreading fast; and a number of men, about 700, recommended by the Relief Committee, and approved of by the Inspector-- MAJOR PARKER-- cannot get employment on the public works. This great number of unemployed persons-- heads of families-- who could in some way support themselves by labour, if they got it, are thrown for their support on the charity of the benevolent, and add greatly to our difficulties here."
How much of woe and horror is brought before the mind in that short, quiet passage! Seven hundred men depending for actual existence on the worn-out means and blunted sympathies of private benevolence-- and these seven hundred but the representatives of so many families!
Though the hourly presence of death in every appalling shape has almost brutalised the sufferers-- that is, extinguished every human sympathy, and loosened every tie of blood and friendship,-- though the wife's eye is stony, and her lips without a quiver, as she hears the death-rattle in the throat of her gasping husband,-- though the father coldly sees the child stricken in its tender infancy, and its limbs rigid in its death-sleep,-- though the survivor stares at the wreck heaped up around him with stolid insensibility, and bows not his head with grief-- for hunger is as selfish as a wolf-- still there is one anxiety strong even in the midst of desolation-- to procure for the once-loved one a decent burial. But, so great is the mortality, and so exhausted are private resources, that a coffin-- one coffin to one dead body-- is a luxury!
And, in the Parish of Kilmoe, decency is ingenious in its devices-- for in that parish a coffin with a false bottom is used; the body of the last deceased is carried to the Churchyard in the rude contrivance, and then dropped into the open grave-- there to lie in the rags that covered it in life. Even this mockery is a consolation to the survivor. Good GOD! would not one imagine that we were quoting one of those grim passages to be met with in DE FOE's History of the Plague?
A knock is heard at a hall-door! Who is it? is it some poor wretch seeking for a morsel of bread? Open it. What!-- a starving mother thrusting her dead child before her, and begging-- not for a morsel of bread, though she is gaunt and fleshless with famine, and her eye-balls roll fearfully-- but for a coffin to hide that hideous spectacle from the sight of day! This is no fiction; it is appalling reality.
A whole village is but the theatre of famine, disease, and death. One, two, three, four victims in one hovel! Old women turned into maniacs by hunger, and, in their new-born ferocity, turning savagely on their own flesh and blood!
Mark that public road!-- see, a few men feebly affecting labour-- one wretch drops his weary head, with a convulsive shiver, on his hollow chest; he sinks lower, lower-- the hammer drops from his hand-- he falls prostrate on the unbroken pile of stones before him-- Raise him, and bear him gently home!-- his fate is certain-- he is the victim of a new but terrible disease "the Road-sickness."
How can the labourer work? He has a wife, perhaps an old father or bed-ridden mother, and three or four children in his cabin; he strains and toils for them-- for the sickly wife, and the youngest darling, whose once round cheeks are now pale and shrivelled, resting on the mother's fleshless breast; he thinks of them, and toils on-- but every blow he gives is at his heart-strings-- he is sounding his funeral knell-- every effort of that starving man, who hides the hunger that is gnawing at his entrails, that he might spare a morsel for those he loves, is hurrying him to the coffinless grave and the shroud of rags. And this in a Christian country!-- this under the proud banner of British sway!-- this in a land united to England by a union, considered as sacred as a holy covenant, so much so that the thought of severing it is regarded as a profanation, a sacrilege!
Will no sound of woe penetrate the Cabinet, or reach the heart of the Minister! Is he determined to look on until Presentments are not for coffins-- but churchyards? or until the Rev. Mr. FITZPATRICK's calculation be realised-- when one-third of the population shall be swept away?
We shall not pursue this revolting subject farther, but merely call attention to the reports from Skibbereen, the letter of our REPORTER, that of JEREMIAH O'CALLAGHAN, and the document signed by Messrs. M'CARTHY DOWNING and DANIEL WELPLEY, and the Rev. Mr. MOLONY.
The meeting was convened for the purpose of taking into consideration the present state of the house, which contains 300 more than the number for which it was originally built.
The Doctor reported that it would not be safe to admit any more paupers, and attributed the mortality, in a great measure, to the want of due attention to cleanliness, &c., the paupers having been permitted to wear their own filthy clothing.
The Master and Matron resigned, and the shcoolmaster got charge of the house pro tem.
The Guardians ought not permit the people to die of starvation, and should, at once, hire stores, &c. and convert them into temporary Workhouses.
The Coffin trade is the most flourishing one at present here.
Mary Drew, the principal witness, deposed that she is the step-daughter of Jer. Fitzgerald, now deceased; her step-father died on Monday last; he complained of a cutting; had no employment or means of support; used sometimes pull heath off the mountain to make brooms; was not able to do so latterly; was recommended to work by Dean Hudson, but her step-father would not get work, as he was outside the barony of Barrymore, and there was no work in this part of the barony of East Muskerry. Jer. Fitzgerald got no work since harvest; had nothing to eat latterly but turnips; and no drink but turnip water; had not enough of turnips; would be glad to have them, because they had nothing to eat half their time. Deceased often complained of hunger, and was always a healthy man, till those hungry times.
They had only one old blanket and a sop of straw to lie on; deceased often complained of the cold: witness and her child slept in their clothes. A few days before Jer. Fitzgerald died, witness had to give one of their chairs for a basin of meal. On Friday and Saturday Jer. Fitzgerald had nothing to eat; on Sunday he had a little porridge, and on Monday he died. Witness says she is hardly able to stand, and will soon follow her father with hunger.
Other witnesses corroborated the above, and Doctor Wrixon, the physician of the district, swore he never saw so emaciated a body.
In accordance with the evidence, the jury returned a verdict of Death by Starvation.
A resolution was then entered into, that as distress and disease were fearfully progressing among the poor, all the farmers who did not attend should be called upon to subscribe, and that circulars should be addressed to the landed proprietors of the parish, resident and non-resident, for their contributions to the charity.
On yesterday, Joseph Driscoll, of Skull, Poor Rate Collector, went to the lands of Rissbrine, in the parish of East Skull, to collect rates, and on coming to the house of a man named Regan, the door was shut, when he repeatedly knocked at it to no effect, he then pushed in the door, and what was his astonishment to find three men dead in the house, and no other person in it but the three lifeless corpses?
He also told me that at a place called Drishane, in the same parish, there is a woman named Neill, dead since the 6th inst., and not buried as yet; and on Tuesday three children of her's died, one boy and two girls, and that he thought the father was a corpse before this, as he was lying sick at the time.
On Sunday last a man was found dead at Gubbeen, who dropped on the road-side on the previous night, returning from one of the roads where he was employed under the Board of Works. This I have from the Poor Rate Collector.
In the parish of Kilmoe a man was found dead in a field, and a great part of his body eaten by the dogs; he remained so long there before he was seen, that he was not identified by any person, and was buried without a coffin, which is the common practice in that parish.
Disease and starvation are rapidly on the increase in this quarter.
A man dropped on Tuesday last at the west end of the town, returning from one of those roads; he was taken into the back house of the Police Barrack, to afford him some relief, but life was extinct.
Another death occurred at Union Hall from starvation on the same day.
So you see what a state this once plentiful country is now reduced to; and the general opinion is, that matters are not at the worst.
We have only time, this post, to call attention to our report of ten inquests more in Bantry, and allow the following extract, hastily selected from a private letter, to speak the rest:--
"Each day brings with it its own horrors. The mind recoils from the contemplation of the scenes we are compelled to witness every hour. Ten inquests in Bantry-- there should have been at least two hundred inquests. Each day-- each hour produces its own victims-- Holocausts offered at the shrine of political economy. Famine and pestilence are sweeping away hundreds-- but they have now no terrors for the poor people. Their only regret seems to be that they are not relieved from their suffering and misery, by some process more speedy and less painful. Since the inquests were held here on Monday, there have been not less than 24 DEATHS from starvation:: and, if we can judge from appearances, before the termination of another week the number will be incredible.
As to holding any more inquests, it is mere nonsense. The number of deaths is beyond counting. Nineteen out of every twenty deaths that have occurred in this parish for the last two months were caused by starvation. I have known children in the remote districts of the parish, and inthe neighborhood of the town too-- live some of them for two-- some for three-- and some of them even for four days on water. On the sea shore, or convenient to it, the people are more fortunate, as they can get sea weed, which, when boiled and mixed with a little Indian or Wheaten meal, they eat, and thank Providence for providing them with even that to allay the cravings of hunger."
"Deaths here are daily increasing. Doctor DONOVAN and I are just this moment after returning from the village of South Reen, where we had to bury a body ourselves, that was eleven days dead-- and where, do you think? --in a Kitchen-garden! We had to dig the ground, or rather the hole, ourselves-- no one would come near us, the smell was so intolerable. We are half-dead from the work lately imposed on us. It is now as I write eleven o'clock at night, and I have not as yet dined."Comment here would indeed be superfluous.
SIR-- permit me to call your attention to the awful condition of the poor of this town. I shall confine myself to a few facts in order to show that famine, distress, and death are rapidly increasing in this town and neighbourhood.
On Wednesday the Poor House was virtually closed, there being 1,205 inmates in the House only intended to contain 900 persons. Out of the above number, 187 were in Hospital, 57 of whom are in fever; besides 5 of the paid officers-- namely the Roman Catholic Chaplain, Clerk, matron, school master, and mistress. Add to this the crowded state of the Bandon Fever Hospital only intended for 28 persons but now holding 40 fever patients.
The want of accommodation in the Poor House will in a great measure tend to increase this frightful state of misery here.
I this day visited one district of our town with Dr. Ormston, Physician to the Bandon fever Hospital and Dispensary, and the catalogue of disease and want baffles description. One woman of the name of Dalton died of want and dysentery and has been lying unburied for four days, her family not having the means to procure a coffin. A man also is lying dead and unburied from the same cause.
I see several others suffering from dysentery without straw for a bed, or Blankets to cover them, being in an utter state of destitution. In fact every second house presented a scene of misery and want.
Watergate also furnishes heart rending cases of distress. Dysentery is setting in, and I fear its victims will be numerous. It is only a very small portion of the town which my statement refers to. An effort commensurate with the magnitude of the evil ought to be made-- I would suggest that application be made by the Soup Committee to the Government for assistance. --Also, that an application be made to the Central Committees of London and Dublin for contribution to our funds, so that more extensive relief may be afforded and thereby be the means of saving the lives of many of our suffering fellow creatures.
I have the honor to remain, Sir, your obedient servant,
WILLIAM C. SULLIVAN