HC Deb 17 February 1863 vol 169 cc448-60

—I feel it my duty to call the attention of the President of the Poor Law Board and the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the removal of a pauper named Patrick Bourke from Leeds to Westport in the county of Mayo, because I believe that the death of this unfortunate old man was undoubtedly hastened, if not caused, by his removal, at the age of seventy-three, during the very worst season of the year, when very insufficiently clothed, and when in a very weak and very delicate state of health; and because I think it right that the Government and the House of Commons should, from time to time, be made aware of the cruel mode in which this most harsh law is frequently administered by the petty parish authorities of some districts in England. Patrick Bourke was a native of the Claremorris and not the Westport Union; but that is a matter of small importance, as he left Ireland forty-three years ago, during the whole of which time he stated that he resided in the town of Leeds, in the country districts surrounding it, or in other towns in that immediate neighbourhood. He was by trade a spectacle-maker; and when he was removed, there was brought over with him a box containing a complete set of the tools required for that trade, together with a large number of spectacles, about twenty of them completed and nine or ten of them in different stages of manufacture; the workmanship of the whole of which showed that he was undoubtedly a most excellent workman. As long as; he continued in good health, he said that he never asked for or received a single penny of parochial relief, being well able to support himself by his trade; but at last old age and infirmities began to prey on him, and during the last few years be said that he had on several occasions sought relief in the hospital of the Leeds poorhouse for about a week at a time. Last autumn, however, he had a more serious illness; for, for several months previous to his removal, he was a continuous inmate of the hospital of the Leeds poorhouse. Without any information as to what was to be done with him, Bourke stated that he was, on or about the 30th of December, taken from his sick bed in that hospital, medicine having been given to him on the very evening before his removal, and carried over to the extreme west of Ireland—as a deck passenger in the steamer from Holyhead to Dublin during a terrific storm (by night I believe); on an outside jaunting car for the last ten miles of his journey, also in very bad weather; all this time without any great coat or covering, exposed to the cold, the rain, and the storm, till he was delivered up at the Westport poorhouse, wet through, of course, and as miserable and wretched an object as it is possible to conceive. The porter, who received him, was shocked at his appearance, and asked the removing officer, "How any body of gentlemen (referring to the Leeds Board of Guardians) could send such a weak old man on such a journey in such weather." The removing officer replied, that "he was a paid officer; he had his orders, and he should obey them." Every care was taken of the unfortunate man; but the following morning he got diarrhoea, which his weak and exhausted constitution could not withstand; he got weaker day by day, till he died on the twelfth day, when the medical officer of the poorhouse made the following report to the guardians, to the truth of which report he subsequently swore:— I beg to report that Patrick Bourke, aged seventy-three, who was admitted to the hospital on the 1st inst., and labouring under chronic bronchitis, weak heart, and general debility, was removed from Leeds to Westport by the Leeds Board of Guardians in a very inclement season. Immediately after his admission he got severe diarrhoea, under which he sank, notwithstanding the greatest care and attention, and died on the 13th inst. I consider his removal, at such a time and in such a state, injudicious, and calculated to hasten his death. Now, Sir, I beg the attention of the House, while I show how the unfortunate man was clothed during this cold, winter journey. He had "a body coat, trousers, and waistcoat, of thin black cloth, well worn, two coloured shirts, but no flannel, no drawers, and no great coat." Is it to be wondered at that he was in his grave in a fortnight's time? It is, however, only fair for me to state that when he was crossing in the steamer, he, by "by giving something to one of the crew," as he said, "was allowed to get into the caboose:" that is the cookhouse on deck; and but for this, he said, he never would have reached Dublin alive. He was not, however, allowed to go below, though the removing officer said he never saw worse weather; that it was enough to kill any man; but he added "there was no place below for the likes of him; he could not be put among respectable people;" so the unfortunate old man was left on deck, to get what shelter he could for himself; or if he could get none, to perish from the cold and the wet. To the last, Bourke never ceased to say that his days had been shortened by his journey. If he had known, he said, what they were going to do with him, he would have left the Leeds poorhouse on the morning of his removal; and if they had left him there for another week, that he would have been again able to earn his bread; but, he said, "they hurled me out without mercy, and shortened my days." The Irish Poor Law Commissioners ordered their Inspector, Dr. Brodie, to hold an inquiry on oath into the circumstances of this case. That inquiry has been held, and the evidence taken down in writing by Dr. Brodie him- self, I beg to move, Sir, that Dr. Brodie's report, and the evidence on which it is founded, be printed and circulated amongst the Members of this House. I beg the particular attention of the President of the Poor Law Board to that document. If he finds that it bears out the statements which I have made, I trust he will agree with me that this is not a case which ought to be lightly passed over; but that he will order an inquiry to be held in England, similar to that in Ireland, on oath, with the evidence taken down in writing, and that he will select to conduct that inquiry, some man of high character and strict impartiality, who will understand that he is sent to make a bonâ fide inquiry, and not to obtain a mere legalized form of acquittal. I think it is of the utmost importance that the Irish Poor Law Commissioners should he represented at that inquiry. Unless that is done, I believe the inquiry will he a mockery; and it would be better to have none at all than one at which only one side, and that the accused, shall be represented. Recollect that this is not an isolated case; it is no doubt worse in its details than most of these Irish removals; but there is scarcely an Irish Member of this House, who has not at this moment in his possession some case of undoubted hardship, and of questionable legality; but it is impossible for us in Ireland to ascertain the truth of these cases. In almost every one, the statement of the pauper differs materially from the depositions sent over by the English parochial authorities. In nearly every manufacturing town in the North of England, and in many of the country districts, there are large numbers of labourers, tradesmen, or work-people in the factories, who, though no doubt Irish by birth, have left that country, with all their friends and families, thirty, forty, or fifty years ago, who during the whole of that time had been labouring to increase the wealth of England, have been helping to create those colossal fortunes which have given many an hon. Member his seat in this House, and in the other House too, but who, when they are at last overtaken by old age or infirmity, or disabled by accident, are, as Bourke described it, "hurled out without mercy." The English pride themselves on being a humane and just people, but I ask is this humanity or justice? Is it impossible to get the English Members, who form so large a majority of the votes in this House that we are absolutely at their mercy, to agree to some modification of this barbarous law? Is it unreasonable of us to ask that a man should not be sent back to Ireland after he has left it for over thirty years; that no person should be sent as a deck passenger in the winter season; that persons over the age of sixty (say) should not be removed during the three or six worst months of the winter season; and that all persons, no matter what their age or sex, shall be properly and sufficiently clothed for the journey, and not sent over as Bourke was? Sir, I must now leave this case in the hands of the President of the Poor Law Board for the present. I trust he will not consider it as an attack on him and his Department which he is bound to repel, but rather as a case which it concerns his honour and his credit to have thoroughly and impartially investigated, and I earnestly hope that it will induce him to consider whether it is not possible to procure some change in the Law of Irish Poor Removals, which will prevent the recurrence of such a melancholy case as that which I have felt it my duty to bring before the House of Commons on this occasion. The noble Lord concluded by moving for a Copy— Of the Report of Dr. Brodie on the removal of a pauper, named Patrick Bourke, from Leeds to Westport, in the county of Mayo, together with the evidence on which that Report is grounded.


said, he did not complain of the noble Lord bringing forward this case, though he had already told the noble Lord that he had had not received any official communication on the matter. He had had a communication, however, that morning from the guardians of the Leeds Union, simply because they had observed a statement made in The Times newspaper and the noble Lord's notice in the Parliamentary Votes. And if the noble Lord would give him a correct statement of the facts of the case, he would officially communicate with the guardians of the union; and if their explanation seemed to require it, a formal inquiry should be instituted with the view of eliciting the truth. He did not collect, from what the noble Lord had said, on what authority he made his statement. The noble Lord had referred to the evidence of the medical man, but had not stated that he held the depositions in his hands or had any authority for his statements.


said, that he stated that the medical officer's report was sworn to; and, with respect to bringing the matter forward, he had given eight days' notice of his intention to do so.


said, that with the communication on the subject from the Leeds Board of Guardians there were enclosed depositions of the removal officer who had acted in the case, who was himself an Irishman, from the master of the workhouse, and the medical officer. These communications, however, were not in consequence of any letter from the Poor Law Board, but had been forwarded to him in consequence of the noble Lord's notice. The guardians expressed their readiness to submit to further inquiry, and to meet by sworn testimony any further statements that might be made to support the charge against them. It appeared that, from a desire to act humanely, the Leeds guardians employed an Irishman, and a person who knew the Irish in Leeds, to remove any natives of Ireland whom they resolved to send to their own country, and the first of the depositions was made by that individual, whose name was John O'Rourke. It was as follows:— I am removal officer for Irish paupers for the township of Leeds. On the 30th of December, 1862, Patrick Bourke was taken in a cab at 9a.m., under a justice's order of removal, to the railway station, to meet the 10.30 a.m. train to Holyhend, en route to Ireland. He did not complain of diarrhoea or bronchitis, and appeared as well as any of his age could. I took his ticket and travelled with him third class. I paid 1s. for a berth, in addition to deck passage, in the cook's department, near a good fire, and he was under cover all night. He had during the voyage bread and butter, and tea, more than sufficient, and as frequently as he asked for it, and I paid for the same, and during the passage I visited him at least half a dozen times. On arriving at Dublin he was taken by rail to Westport, previous to which he had a good breakfast, for which I paid 9d. He had on the journey, from Dublin to Westport, twice bread and cheese and part of a shank of ham with me, which I took for that purpose. After the completion of the journey by rail to Castlebar we had to travel about eight miles by car to Westport, during which time he was covered with an oilskin coat, which I borrowed of the carman to cover him, and from this place he had only to walk about half a mile to the workhouse. During the journey be appeared to be in good health and spirits, and on his arrival at the workhouse he told the master that he had been well treated by the Leeds guardians while in their workhouse, and also by the removal officer while on the journey. The pauper had with him a box, containing about two or more dozen pairs of spectacles. One pair on the journey he sold for Is.; this and the remainder were left in his possession. The deposition of Mr. Henry Douglas, master of the workhouse, was as follows:— I am master of the Leeds workhouse. Patrick Bourke was admitted on the 5th of May, 1862, on the order of a relieving officer. He does not appear in the medical book, except to be supplied with tobacco. On the 9th of May his name appears in the 'prescription book' to be supplied with medicine of an aperient nature. For several months previous to his removal Patrick Bourke appeared to be in good health and spirits. During the time he was an inmate of the workhouse, I was not aware that he was subject to bronchitis or diarrhcea. He left the workhouse between nine and ten o'clock on the 30th of December, 1862, with the removal officer, previous to which he rose with the other inmates to partake of breakfast at half past seven, and thanked me for the treatment he had received while an inmate of the workhouse, and bade me good morning, and from his manner I thought he was pleased at the prospect of returning to his native country. Then came the deposition of the medical officer, Mr. Thomas Land— I, Thomas Land, medical officer to the Leeds workhouse, do hereby certify that I have carefully looked over the medical books, and find that Patrick Bourke was ordered aperient medicine on the 9th of May, 1862, and a cough mixture on the 10th of November, 1862, since which time I have not seen him professionally. Had he been taken ill at any other time, my attention would have been directed to him. He might observe, that under the existing law guardians removing a pauper to Ireland might act as the board at Leeds had done, or adopt the alternative of sending a person in charge of the pauper removed only as fur as the union of the port where he landed; but such was the desire of the Leeds Board of Guardians to carry out these removals in the most considerate manner possible that they uniformly sent the removal officer to the plate where the pauper had claimed to be taken. In this case it appeared that the man himself wanted to go back. He swore to the place of his proper destination, and the guardians sent him there. They said that they had never heard of his alleged illness until the case was brought under public notice by the noble Lord. With respect to what the noble Lord had said of the law being odious or inhuman, he begged distinctly to deny that it deserved that character. It was an amended law, proposed by himself as President of the Poor Law Board two years ago. Anything that could be alleged as savouring of inhumanity in the old law was removed by the existing Act. There were defects in the old law, and they were brought under public notice by the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Maguire) in such a manner as arrested the attention of Parliament, and was principally instrumental in bringing about a change. The law was now a humane one. A long residence in a particular parish was no longer required to protect a poor Irish man or woman from removal. Residence in one union for a space of three years relieved them from all liability to removal. But for that change in the law, not thousands but perhaps tens of thousands of Irish would have been removable from the distressed districts in Lancashire and Yorkshire during the present winter. Those people were now irremovable, owing to the law which the noble Lord called an inhuman one. Of course, those intrusted to administer the law may have erred, or neglected their duty. That was not his fault. It the noble Lord could bring forward a well-substantiated case of abuse, he should be glad to get the evil redressed. He promised him a full inquiry; but as far as the case yet had gone he did not think the statements made to the noble Lord were borne out by the weight of evidence.


said, it was not only the duty of Irish Members, but also of English Members, to insist that reasonable and humane care should be taken in the removal of Irish paupers, and of all paupers. In this case, from the evidence which had been furnished to him, and which had been read by his right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board, as well as from his own knowledge of the Poor Law Guardians of Leeds, he was convinced that there had been no known or intentional neglect, but, on the contrary, every care that could be reasonably required. There was certainly a remarkable conflict between the evidence furnished to the noble Lord (Lord John Browne) and that supplied to him; but he asked the House to look at the very complete case made out in refutation of the charge. The two points of importance in the case were—First, was the pauper removed when known to be in such a state of health as to make his removal dangerous or improper; and, secondly, was there anything in the mode of removal calculated to injure his health? On the first point, the master of the Leeds workhouse gave both positive and negative evidence: he said, "For several months previous to his removal Patrick Bourke appeared to be in good health and spirits: he was not aware that he was subject to bronchitis or diarrhoea." Now, this was in absolute contradiction to the statement made by the noble Lord, that the pauper had been for several months a continuous inmate of the hospital, and that he was taken from his bed in the hospital to be removed to Ireland. The removal officer stated, that "during the journey Bourke appeared to be in good health and spirits:" and the medical officer of the Leeds workhouse stated that the pauper had only had medicine twice, on the first occasion within four days after his admission in May last, and the second time, a cough mixture, nearly two months before he was removed; and he added—"since which time I have not seen him professionally: had he been taken ill at any other time, my attention would have been directed to him." Now, that was strong evidence that the man was not known to be in a state of health which made his removal improper. On the second point the evidence seemed completely to negative the imputation of want of care or undue exposure. The pauper was taken in a cab to the railway, and travelled in the same conveyance as the removal officer himself, and was under cover during the whole journey and voyage till he came to Castlebar. It had been said that he was exposed on the deck of the steamer in crossing the Channel; but so far was this from being true that he had a berth, paid for by the removal officer, in the cook's department, under cover all night, near a fire, and with plenty of food. As to food, it was deposed that he had on the steamer, "bread and butter and tea more than sufficient;" that he had breakfasted at Dublin, and that he shared with the removal officer twice of bread, cheese, and ham on the Irish railway. He (Mr. Baines) thought it might be questioned whether cheese and ham were very suitable food if the man was subject to diarrhoea. But it was not known that he had such a complaint, and the pauper had the same fare as the officer. Then for the last few miles the man was conveyed, from Castlebar to Westport, on an outside car; but this was, he supposed, the only mode of conveyance in that part of the country, and the officer borrowed an oilskin coat for the pauper from the driver of the car. He was conveyed to the workhouse at Westport, and the officer deposed that the pauper had "appeared in good health and spirits" during the journey, and that on his arrival he told the master he had been well treated both In the workhouse at Leeds and on the journey. This narrative seemed completely to negative the charge of inhumanity of any kind or at any stage. When the President of the Poor Law Board mentioned that the removal officer was an Irishman, there was an expression of something like derision; but he hoped no Irish Member joined in that derision. To him it seemed that the employment of an Irishman for that service was some guarantee of fellow feeling towards the pauper. It was alleged that the weather on the 30th of December was very inclement; but they would all remember that the weather at that time was singularly mild. He had thought it his duty to make these few remarks as Member for the borough of Leeds, and he declared his strong conviction that the treatment of paupers at Leeds was decidedly humane and liberal. He would only, in conclusion, invite and challenge the fullest investigation into the case.


said, the statements which had been so triumphantly referred to by his right hon. Friend might or might not be well founded, but they were worth just as much as the statements of any other persons that were charged with a breach of the law. He had no wish to controvert those statements; but what Irish Members had a right to complain of was, that when any of these acts of injustice were alleged, whether truly or untruly, and a primâ facie case was made out, Irish boards of guardians possessed no power of obtaining an inquiry or of getting anything like justice. When the 24 & 25 Vict., c. 75, 76, were passed, the Irish Poor Law Commissioners directed Irish boards of guardians to bring under their notice any cases of alleged breach of these Acts, and sent a form of questions to be put to the pauper. In a case which had come under his notice a long statement was accordingly sent to the Commissioners, with the sworn depositions of the pauper, and the Commissioners sent down their own inspector to inquire. But the end of that elaborate investigation was, that the Commissioners wrote back remarking that the depositions were entirely at variance with the statement of the clerk of the English union, and that their power of inquiry did not extend beyond Ireland. What was asked for now was, that somebody on the part of the Irish Poor Law Board should be present at the examination at Leeds in order to see fair play. That was not the only case of irregularity in the removal of paupers from England. In the report of the Poor Law Commissioners for 1862 there was a grave complaint of habitual breach of the law in this respect, and a large number of instances, with full details, were given. The Poor Law Board did not deny those allegations, but was obliged to own that in many of the cases adverted to irregularities had occurred. In referring to the subject the Secretary to the Board said that in the event of such misconduct being repeated it would be necessary to consider whether a penalty should not be imposed on offenders. He hoped, therefore, that some means would be taken to compel the removing authorities to observe the law.


said, he thought the noble Lord deserved the thanks of the country for bringing this case forward. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board was personally to blame in the matter, as he was of a humane and kindly disposition. He would not go into questions of ham, cheese, or oilskin coats; but could say, from his own experience, that paupers were frequently removed who were utterly unfit for a journey. Perhaps no Member of the House saw more of the Irish poor than he did, and cases were constantly occurring within his knowledge that satisfied him of the truth of what he was now saying. People came to him who had been discharged from hospitals, or who, if not discharged from hospitals, were in a state of disease, and who said they could not apply to the Poor Law authorities, as, if they did, they would be removed to Ireland. The question was one of humanity that addressed itself to the feelings of every man in that House, and he thought that something ought to be done, either by a change in the law or by the interference of the guardians to prevent a recurrence of such cases of cruelty and hardship. In his opinion what was required was a comprehensive regulation, prohibiting the removal of any one without the certificate of a competent officer that he or she was in such a state of health as to be fit for removal.


said, he was glad to see the manner in which the English Members of the House had received the statements that were made on this subject. He wished, however, to warn the President of the Poor Law Board not to place implicit credence in the statements of those who were accused of violations of the law. He hoped the present case would be inquired into; and, whatever the result of it might he, he was satisfied the English Members would never consent to such irregularities. The law in its amended form was, on the whole, humane, giving to the Irish poor in this country rights which they never possessed before. He was convinced, that if strictly and fairly carried out, it would to a certain extent mitigate the harshness of any removal to Ireland.


said, he doubled whether the law, even in its present form, deserved the eulogiums of the hon. Member for Dungarvan. In Ireland there was no power of removing English paupers to England, whereas there was here a power of transferring Irish paupers to Ireland.


Are there any English paupers in Ireland?


—Yes, and political paupers too. He wished to know whether the Irish Government had made any inquiry into the seventy-three cases of irregularity and breaches of the law mentioned by a previous speaker. The Irish Commissioners said that their jurisdiction did not extend beyond Ireland. What steps then had the Irish Government taken in this matter?


said, he trusted that the publicity given to the case would render it impossible but that on immediate and a searching inquiry should take place, with the view of remedying any evils that might exist, and preventing a repetition of such evils. He could not but express his astonishment at the warmth of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board, because the right hon. Gentleman was greatly mistaken if he supposed that any portion of the House underrated the importance of those alterations in the Pool Law which he was so instrumental in effecting. He (Lord Claud Hamilton), however, thought that in many instances the law was not carried out. He was of opinion that the House had heard enough to be convinced that there was wanted some system by which the Irish Poor Law Commissioners could make their complaints in such a way as to ensure an inquiry into them. At present it appeared they could only write letters on the sub- ject, having no jurisdiction beyond their own country.


stated, that when a complaint was made by a board of guardians in Ireland, an Inspector was instructed to inquire into the matter. He reported to the Poor Law Commissioners in Dublin, who, in turn, reported to the Chief Secretary's office. A communication was then made to the Home Secretary, by whom the case was transferred to the President of the Poor Law Board. Such was the course followed in the seventy-three cases referred to by the hon. and learned member for the King's County. These cases were now under the consideration of the English Board, and he had no doubt that justice would be done. He was glad that the case of Patrick Bourke had been brought before the House; because, if there had been any irregularity or violation of the law, it would, no doubt, he remedied by the full inquiry promised by the President of the Poor Law Board.

Motion agreed to.

Copy ordered, Of the Report of Dr. Brodie on the removal of a pauper, named Patrick Bourke, from Leeds to Westport, in the county of Mayo, together with the evidence on which that Report is grounded." [Parl. P. 75.]