HC Deb 30 July 1844 vol 76 cc1564-8
Mr. Mackinnon

rose to call the attention of the House to the Report of the Select Committee on the Improvement in the Health of Towns in 1842, which states: That the practice of interment within the precincts of large towns, is injurious to the health of the Inhabitants thereof, and frequently offensive to public decency. Also, to the Report of the Ecclesiastical Commission, as follows: The practice of burial in the Church or Chapel, appears to us in many respects injurious, in some instances by weakening or deteriorating the fabric of the Church, and in others by its tendency to affect the lives or health of the inhabitants; we are of opinion that this practice should in future be discontinued. The hon. Member said, it is not my desire to make any lengthened statement or to expatiate on a nuisance that is felt by every member of the community. It is a singular fact that the practice of mixing the dead with the living, has been for centuries exploded by all parts of the world where the slightest symptom of a civilized state of society was to be found, that two thousand years ago it was not tolerated any where, and yet, that in the nineteenth century such an abomination should not only be practised, but be general in all populous districts in Great Britain and Ireland; in this Island comprising a population the most civilized, the most wealthy, and the most enlightened of any portion of the globe. In this instance, the proverb that "extremes meet," is verified, we witness the greatest possible degree of luxury and refinement, and wealth in this metropolis, mixed up with the grossest barbarism, brutality, and indecency in those places, and in the manner in which the remains of the departed are deposited. Let any ordinary person, high or low, rich or pool, be asked, in the streets of this town, his sentiments as to the various burial places, and as to the manner in which the remains of the dead are desecrated? and he will answer you, that it is quite an abomination and a disgrace, both to the Legislature and to the nation, that it should so continue; let any one who is sceptical on the subject, go, at this moment, to the several grave-yards within the precincts of this metropolis, I will not name a single one—I will take any that first comes to mind: let any one, I say, go to such places, the noisome smell, the pernicious and deadly miasma that emanates from them will be quite disgusting, and, if the party values his health, his enjoyment, or his life, he will escape as soon as he possibly can from such pestilence. Sir, I have heard it asserted by medical men of the highest reputation—by men well known and justly estimated in this town, for their moral worth and their high medical information; I have, I say, heard it affirmed by them, that if the abomination, now so prevalent in London, of placing the remains of the dead in the midst of the habitations of the living, was not done away at some period or another, either at some short distance, or at any rate within a certain period, some dreadful epidemic would break out in this immense population that might be most destructive in its effects. Either this system of interment is good, or it is the reverse; if the latter, of which no reasonable person in this House, this town, or this country, entertains the least doubt, why not take steps to abolish the nuisance. Look at the Report of your Committee on the health of towns, of which I had the honour of being Chairman,—look at the Report of the Ecclesiastical Commission—look at the Report of the last Commission on the subject; here you have one Committee of this House, and two Commissions, all unanimous on the question, that all interments under churches or in large towns ought to be abolished. All these parties who have made the report are totally unconnected; each have examined witnesses and elicited facts from various quarters, and all agree as to the result. Of what use can it be to put the country to the expence of a Committee of this House, and two Commissions, if you do not act on their report and their recommendation. Whence can it arise that an acknowledged evil—one of great magnitude—one that ought to be suppressed—is still allowed to exist. Every one thinks it ought to be remedied, and yet no one attempts the remedy. There can be no doubt that the difficulty of legislation on the subject is great, there are a variety of conflicting interests to be taken into consideration, but great as the difficulty may be, sure it may be overcome. Now, Sir, I will, and I trust I may be allowed to do so, address a few words to the right hon. Gentleman, at the Home Department, his labours are soon to cease, he will shortly be at ease, enjoying all the dignity, all the emolument, all the glory of the Home Office, he will be released from being in his place from noon to midnight, he will gain twelve hours in the twenty-four, he will no longer be worried by questions from the hon. Members for Finsbury, or Montrose, no more Poor Law from the hon. Members for Lincoln, Evesham, and Biidport—in one word, he will pass from a bed of thorns to one of roses. In the fulness of his enjoyment, why should he not direct his energies and his time to the present subject—why not, early next Session, produce an elegant little Bill, prohibiting the shocking and disgusting practice of interments under churches, or in large towns. Sir, I am unwilling to detain the House on this subject, but really I cannot but repeat the opinion I have before given in this place, that a law to this effect ought to emanate from the Government. Such an alteration is desirable, not only for the health of the community, but even for the sake of religion. When the church is entered—when that sacred edifice is consecrated for the purposes of worship, no sentiments ought to be entertained by the individual entering it but those of awe and devotion and thoughts of a future state; no impure, or noisome smell, no shudder of horror or disgust, or of apprehension for health arising from putrid carcases underneath, ought to mix with the goodly sentiments before mentioned. The same may be said of the sentiments that ought to arise in the human breast, in entering a field of tombs consecrated to the deceased; no disgusting sights such as are to be seen in every grave-yard in this town—no desecration of coffins, or of mortal remains. Let any one enter into the cemetery of Pére la Chaise, at Paris, or in any other receptacle of the same description, and compare his feelings with those created in his breast, by Portugal-street grave-yard, or by various others, not necessary to enumerate, surrounding various churches in this great metropolis. I need not dwell on the great difference in feelings, both of mental abstraction and of religious feeling, in one case and in the other. Let us hope that these abominations will no longer be permitted to exist, and that the good feeling and good sense of the community will sooner or later force the Legislature to check this lamentable and increasing evil, which can only be done by sound and just, and at the same time, strong Legislative enactments. I beg, therefore, to suggest that the Government will take this subject under their consideration.

Sir J. Graham

would readily answer the question which the hon. Member had put to him. He must, however, in the first place complain, that the hon. Member had brought forward this question without giving proper notice of his Motion. He (Sir J. Graham) did not consider it expedient to discuss such a subject, without having before them something like a substantive Motion. He, therefore, should confine himself to simply replying to the question which the hon. Member had put to him. The subject had not escaped the attention of Her Majesty's Government. A more difficult and important question could not be brought under the notice of the Legislature. It was not his intention to bring forth any measure on the subject, unless his own judgment convinced him that it would lead to satisfactory results.