Captain Kennedy to the Commissioners - July 5, 1848
THE numbers on the relief list in this Union have been steadily
increasing since last December, and have now arrived at an amount which I conceive renders
some explanation necessary, to guard myself and the Vice-Guardians, from a charge of
mal-administration and profuse expenditure of the Union funds.
Twenty thousand, or one-fourth of the population, are now in receipt of daily food, either in or out of the workhouse. Disease has unfortunately kept pace with destitution, and the high mortality at one period since last November, in and out of the workhouse, was most distressing.
I have frequently been astonished by the sudden and unexpected pressure from certain localities; this naturally induced an inquiry into the causes, and eventually into a general review of the whole Union. The result of this inquiry has convinced me, that destitution has been increased and its character fearfully aggravated by the system of wholesale evictions which has been adopted; that a fearful amount of disease and mortality has also resulted from the same causes, I cannot doubt. I have painful experience of it daily.
To make this understood, I may state in general terms, that about 900 houses, containing probably 4,000 occupants, have been levelled in this Union since last November. The wretchedness, ignorance, and helplessness of the poor on the western coast of this Union prevent them seeking a shelter elsewhere; and to use their own phrase, they "dont know where to face;" they linger about the localities for weeks or months, burrowing behind the ditches, under a few broken rafters of their former dwelling, refusing to enter the workhouse till the parents are broken down and the children half starved, when they come into the workhouse to swell the mortality, one by one.
Those who obtain a temporary shelter in adjoining cabins are not more fortunate. Fever and dysentery shortly make their appearance when those affected are put out by the road-side, as carelessly and ruthlessly as if they were animals; when frequently, after days and nights of exposure, they are sent in by relieving officers when in a hopeless state. These inhuman acts are induced by the popular terror of fever.
I have frequently reported cases of this sort. The misery attendant upon these wholesale and simultaneous evictions is frequently aggravated by hunting these ignorant, helpless creatures off the property, from which they may perhaps have never wandered five miles.
It is not an unusual occurrence to see 40 or 50 houses levelled in one day, and orders given that no remaining tenant or occupier should give them even a nights shelter.
I have known some ruthless acts committed by drivers and sub-agents, but no doubt according to law, however repulsive to humanity; wretched hovels pulled down, where the inmates were in a helpless state of fever and nakedness, and left by the road side for days.
As many as 300 souls, creatures of the most helpless class, have been left houseless in one day, and the suffering and misery resulting therefrom attributed to insufficient relief or mal-administration of the law: it would not be a matter of surprise that it failed altogether in such localities as those I allude to. When relieved, charges of profuse expenditure are readily preferred.
The evicted crowd into the back lanes and wretched hovels of the towns and villages, scattering disease and dismay in all directions. The character of some of these hovels defies description. I, not long since, found a widow whose three children were in fever, occupying the piggery of their former cabin, which lay beside them in ruins; however incredible it may appear, this place where they had lived for weeks, measured 5 feet by 4 feet, and of corresponding height. I offered her a free conveyance to the workhouse, which she steadily refused; her piggery was knocked down as soon as her children were able to crawl out on recovery: and she has now gone forth a wanderer. I could not induce any neighbour to take her in, even for payment; she had medical aid, and all necessary relief from the Union.
There are considerable numbers in this Union at present houseless, or still worse, living in places unfit for human habitation where disease will be constantly generated.
The workhouse has been frequently swamped by this class, and the hospital and infirmary must be so while such a state of things exists.
I would not presume to meddle with the rights of property, nor yet to argue the expediency or necessity of these "monster clearances," both one and the other no doubt frequently exist; this, however, renders the efficient and systematic administration of the Poor Law no less difficult and embarrassing. I think it incumbent on me to state these facts for the Commissioners' information, that they may be aware of some of the difficulties I have to deal with.
The difficulty of arriving at strictly accurate information on this head, is obvious; but the general accuracy of the returns I forward may be relied upon. They show the name of the lands and the numbers evicted, being 2,801 persons. I have returns of about 400 more in preparation, and I do not think I have yet got through two-thirds of the number of houses levelled or persons evicted in the Union. A great number of temporary huts which have been erected are altogether insufficient for shelter in the winter months. The listless and improvident owners lack the means and energy to better them.
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