HC Deb 26 March 1850 vol 109 cc1418-9

wished to ask a question of the right hon. the President of the Poor Law Board, with respect to a trial which took place on the Western Circuit before Mr. Justice Talfourd, a report of which had appeared in the public journals. Two persons were there charged with causing the death of a young girl whom they had obtained from the neighbouring workhouse at Bideford, in the capacity of a servant. The treatment this unfortunate girl had received, had excited feelings of indignation and horror in the breast of every person who had become acquainted with the affair; but through some informality or legal technicality in the proceedings, the perpetrators of these horrors had totally escaped punishment. In the course of the proceedings an allegation was made, or rather not denied, that the master of the workhouse at Bideford, Thomas Surnam, bad not only failed to discourage, but had actually excited and encouraged, these two monsters to further barbarities, if possible, towards this unfortunate girl. So much so, that upon one occasion, when the poor girl was unable to carry a pail in consequence of the barbarities which had been inflicted upon her, the workhouse master, when informed of her inability to do so, brutally said, that "that they ought have broken a stick about her back," This was denied by the master of the work- house; but he refused to state what were the expressions which he actually made use of. The question which he wished to put to the right hon. Gentleman was, whether any directions had been given, or, if not already given, whether any were intended to be given, for a more searching investigation into the conduct of the master of the workhouse with respect to these transactions?


said, that so long as the subject was before the ordinary criminal tribunals of the country, the Poor Law Board considered that it would have been unbecoming to have taken any steps in the matter. As soon, however, as they had received a report of the trial, they thought it right, in the exercise of the general authority possessed by the Board over the masters of workhouses, to direct the fullest and most searching inquiry into the conduct of the workhouse master of Bideford, as connected with the transaction. He would assure the hon. Member that that inquiry should be proceeded with without delay.

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