§ Sir J. Newport
rose to call the attention of the House to the state of disease in Ireland, and to move for the revival of the committee of last session, with a view to make farther inquiries upon the subject. It would be recollected that in consequence of the report of the committee of last session, a legislative measure was adopted, and one of the objects of the proposed committee would be to inquire into the effect and operation of that measure. That the measure had done good he was happy to admit. But unfortunately the ravages of disease still continued. Its rage was indeed such in the district with which he was more particularly connected, that within the last twelve months no less than 3,500 patients had been admitted into the fever hospitals of that district. But the want and misery which prevailed among the poor, and which prompted the violence of the fever, was really such that the unfortunate sufferers were better off even in the hospitals than elsewhere; for, out of doors, they were condemned to endure the aggravated distress, which too often drove them back again to seek relief in the hospitals from that disease, which distress mainly engendered. Of the spread and violence of that disease, the House might judge from this fact that in the counties of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford, no less than 43,000 patients had been admitted into the fever hospitals within a period of 15 months. After stating this melancholy fact, he hoped the House would not think he asked too much in calling for the appointment of a committee to consider of the means of providing some remedy or mitigation for such an alarming evil. If the House should agree with him in thinking that this committee should be appointed, it was his intention to move an instruction, for the committee to inquire not only as 1428 to the state of disease in Ireland, and the means best calculated for its removal or mitigation, but as to the state of the labouring poor, and the means of enabling individuals to provide employment for them. Upon this last point, he hoped the committee would exercise the most diligent investigation. It was not his object to propose that the people should look for the means of employment from the public purse, but that private individuals, or associations of individuals, should not have any obstacles thrown in their way towards providing employment for the labouring class. He trusted the House would feel that where such obstacles existed they should be immediately removed, and that whatever could be effected by general regulations towards facilitating the employment of the poor ought to be promptly adopted. It was known, that, according to the opinion of the commissioners for surveying the bogs and marshes of Ireland, there were no less than 2,830,000 acres, which might be converted to purposes of agriculture and pasture. One million of these acres had, indeed, been already surveyed, levelled, and reported upon by the commissioners. What scope, then, did such an extent of land afford for the employment of the labouring poor! But the fact was, that this property was so intermixed, and belonged to such a number of persons, that it was found impracticable to render it so available as could be wished. To provide a remedy then for this deficiency, and to enable individuals, or associations of individuals, to furnish employment to the poor, was one of the great objects to which it was proposed to direct the attention of the committee, who would naturally be led in the progress of their inquiry, into a consideration of the means by which the labour of the commissioners to whom he had alluded might be rendered most productive to the country. As far as the census now in progress had proceeded, it was found, that out of a population of 3,840,000 in certain districts in Ireland, the proportion employed in agriculture, compared to that engaged in manufactures and the mechanical professions, was as 488,000 to 164,000. Such a comparison then clearly demonstrated the necessity of providing every possible employment for the labourers in agriculture, especially as it was found, that without such employment the labouring poor must be destitute of the common 1429 means of support. Without additional employment, indeed, a great mass of the labouring poor must be reduced to absolute beggary. There was no district in Ireland in which the population employed in agriculture were not considerably more than those engaged as manufacturers and handicraftsmen. This was the case even in the principal manufacturing counties of Antrim, Down, Armagh and Derry, where the proportion of agriculturists, to manufacturers and handicraftsmen was as 28S to 83. Hence, then, it was obvious, that nothing should be left undone which promissed in any degree to augment the means of employment for the labourers in agriculture; and hence he was induced to think the point to which he had adverted as of vital importance to the interests of Ireland. The right hon. baronet then moved, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the State of Ireland as to Disease, and how far the measures, remedial and preventive, adopted by the Legislature or otherwise during the last year, have been effective for its removal or mitigation; and also, into the condition of the Labouring Poor of that part of the united kingdom, with a view to facilitate the application of the funds of private individuals and associations for their employment in useful productive labour; and that they do report their observations, together with their opinion upon these subjects, from time to time, to the House."
Mr. C. Grant
rose to second the motion of the right hon. baronet, which he considered to be one of the utmost importance. It was of the utmost importance, because it would show the Irish public, that their interests were carefully watched in the British parliament, and because it would show the British public the distress and misery under which their fellow countrymen had been labouring in Ireland. He should commence the observations which he had to offer to the House, by observing, that till the winter set in, the epidemic prevailed very generally. Since that time, a considerable abatement had taken place in Waterford, in Limerick, in Cork, in Clonmel, and in Dublin. The periodical returns, which had been received up to February last, showed a striking improvement; and if he had not had those documents to refer to, a strong proof of his assertions would be found in the average rate of patients which had been admitted into the public hospital at Dublin during 1430 the last three months. In December they had been 90, in January 77, in February 60. Hopes were also entertained, that the Richmond penitentiary would soon be restored to its original intention, and would no longer be wanted as an hospital; so that he thought himself justified in saying, that even in those quarters where the fever had once raged with the utmost violence, a most considerable abatement had lately become visible. This was also proved by a diminution of the pecuniary claims which were made on the government for assistance to the sufferers; and if all these facts should not appear satisfactory, he had yet another. The government had commissioned certain medical gentlemen to make a tour round the whole island, and to inquire into the state of disease within it. They had commenced their tour six weeks ago; and though the total result of their inquiries was unknown, he was happy to say, that as far as it was known, it presented a most gratifying prospect to the country. The fever was, however, so capricious, in its nature, that even if its ravages were much less than they were at present, he should gladly second the proposal of applying for a committee. The hon. member then went into a history of the origin and progress of the fever. In the years 1816 and 1817, the state of the weather was so moist and wet, that the lower orders in Ireland were almost deprived of fuel wherewith to dry themselves, and of food whereon to subsist. They were obliged to feed on esculent plants, such as mustard-seed, nettles, potato tops, and potatoe-stalks—a diet which brought on a debility of body, and. increased the disease more than any thing else could have done. The ravages of the fever were also increased by the amiable peculiarities of the Irish character; their hospitality, which would not allow them to turn the stranger from their home, though they might be themselves involved in the deepest distress, their affection to the dead, and all those finer susceptibilities with which they were endowed, had opened the door wide to contagion. He trusted that, dreadful as the calamity had been, by which the nation had been visited, some advantage would be derived from it. He trusted that some means would be taken to prevent its future progress; and hoped that it would show the lower Irish the necessity of fumigating their houses, or separating the sick from the healthy, and of continuing such other 1431 wholesome regulations as had been enforced upon them by their existing distress, The patience with which they had borne that distress was truly admirable, and was not to be paralleled by any thing in history. They had been placed in that dreadful situation, which an ancient historian had so well described in the history of Athens; they had seen that indiscriminate destruction of the good and the bad by one common calamity, which was so calculated to destroy all moral principle, and had seen it without being corrupted by it; they had been collected in large numbers to receive alms, and, what was surprising in a country which had such an indifferent police as Ireland possessed, had not, though suffering under the most acute misery that man could suffer, been guilty of the slightest tumult. Indeed, they had exhibited a patience whilst suffering, and a gratitude when recovered from suffering, that he could never contemplate but with the warmest admiration. The manner, too, in which assistance had been dispensed to the suffering poor, was equally deserving of attention. There had been only one impulse of general benevolence. The clergy of the established church had distinguished themselves by the most exemplary exertions, and the Catholic priesthood had not been found inferior to their Protestant brethren. Their religion, indeed, called them into the closest contact with the dead and dying, and not a single instance occurred wherein they shrunk from their duty. One instance of excelling virtue had fallen within his own knowledge. A Roman Catholic priest was called upon to visit a small cabin, in which six individuals were lying, all violently affected with the typhus fever. The priest had no other means of receiving the dying man's communications, and of administering to him the consolations of religion, than by throwing himself on the wretched pallet upon which the sick man lay, and thus inhaling contagion from its source. The conduct of the medical profession was also beyond all praise. Many instances had Occurred wherein men of rising talent and celebrity had devoted themselves to an exclusive and gratuitous attention to the poor. Nor was this philanthropy and benevolence confined to them alone. A gentleman, of the name of Mahony, at Cork, had watched nights and days by the bed-sides of the wretched sufferers, who were either too poor to pay for nurses themselves, or whose nurses, from fatigue 1432 or other causes, had desisted from their watchfulness. Many landed proprietors had done the same, and had received a noble return in the gratitude of their tenantry. Those who had been absent from their estates, had lost an opportunity, which he hoped would not soon occur again under similar circumstances, of infixing themselves in the affections of their dependents; and were as deserving of pity, for the love which they had lost, as the resident proprietors were of envy for the gratitude which they had obtained.—The hon. member expressed the gratification which he felt at the method in which the right hon. baronet intended to employ the poor; and maintained, that though there might be some occasions in which the government might interpose to find employment for them, any permanent legislative enactment on such a subject would be nothing more than a delusion, and could not be long attended with beneficial consequences. The hon. gentleman sat down, amidst considerable cheering from both sides of the House.
§ Mr. W. Parnell
thought the right hon. gentleman entitled to great praise for his conduct in Ireland, as well as for the generous and just sentiments which he had just delivered. He said, he imputed no blame to the Irish government, although he thought they had carried the principle of non-interference too far. They had also, perhaps, been too economical; but he hoped now to see fresh exertions made, which would eradicate the fever, and remove a disgrace from the country.
§ Lord Jocelyn, as an Irishman, begged to return his sincere thanks to the right hon. secretary, for the speech he had made, and the promises it held out. He trusted that the origin of the fever would not escape the scrutiny of the committee. For two years the lower orders had been in a most deplorable state.
said, that the sentiments expressed by the right hon. secretary, did equal honour to his head and heart. There was one point to which he wished the right hon. gentleman particularly to direct his attention, namely, that which related to absentees. That was a great and crying evil, and could not be too soon remedied. He paid a tribute to the memory of Mr. Mahony, of Cork, who had lost his life in consequence of his attendance upon those who were afflicted with the fever.
§ Mr. Callaghan
rejoiced that the interests 1433 of Ireland were committed to an individual at once so able and so well informed. He was of opinion, that the fever originated in general impoverishment, from want of food, raiment, and fuel, in the hard winters. Though bogs might be inclosed, a great deal yet remained to be done to ameliorate the condition of the lower classes in Ireland; the great evil was, in his view, a superabundant population.
§ Mr. V. Blake
approved of the course the Irish government had pursued, and recommended that certain sums should be advanced out of the consolidated fund, to be expended in labour.
Mr. Alderman Wood
said, [he found in his visit to Ireland, that the great cause of its distresses consisted in want of capital. He had himself, in the course of last session, introduced a bill, the object of which was to encourage the introduction of English capital into that country. It was intended to enable capitalists to embark a portion of their property in trade, making them answerable only to the extent of the sums so advanced. The bill had passed the Commons, but was rejected in the Lords. Had it been passed into a law, he was quite sure its effect would have been most beneficial.
§ The motion was agreed to, and a committee appointed.