HC Deb 01 June 1849 vol 105 cc1032-4

said: I am anxious to take this opportunity of answering a question which was put to me some short time before the holidays by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kerry, in regard to an occurrence of a shocking and revolting nature, said to have taken place in Ireland, and which had been mentioned in a letter addressed to me. I stated, when the question was put to me, that I had received no official account of the circumstance, but I would make inquiry, and in- form the hon. Gentleman of the result. Now, the statement as contained in a letter which has been published by the gentleman who wrote to me, and who signs himself "J. Anderson, Rector and Vicar of Ballinrobe, and Protestant chaplain of Ballinrobe workhouse"—this gentleman, I observe, prefaces his statement by remarking, "that he knows how serious a thing it is to be instrumental in exciting the public mind; therefore it is with great reluctance that I make these statements." Well, after thus stating his extreme reluctance to say anything calculated to excite the public mind, he proceeds to state the following facts amongst others. He says— But, my Lord, I have yet other woes to mention, the recital of which may in future put an extinguisher on that niggardly policy which has produced such results. The tale I have now to toll is so horrifying as to render all that has yet occurred nothing in comparison. Then he goes on to say— In a neighbouring union a shipwrecked human body was cast on shore; a starving man extracted the heart and liver, and that was the maddening feast on which he regaled himself and perishing family. On referring to the authorities in Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Ireland obtained the depositions made at the time, and reported to the Poor Law Commissioners. The circumstance to which reference is thus made, I should state, occurred in November last, the date of the letter being May 19, 1849; and the House will observe what the circumstance really was, and that it was of a character totally different from what was represented by this person who is so fearful of unnecessarily exciting the public mind. It appears that it occurred in the Clifden union, and that a labourer who was at the time in constant employment, being employed by a farmer in the neighbourhood, found the dead body of what he considered to be an animal cast upon the shore. This person, I should say, is represented to have been a man of singularly voracious appetite, but not at the time suffering from distress himself, being, as I have said, in the receipt of regular wages. It is true that two of his sisters were receiving relief, but he was not, but was regularly employed at regular wages. When he found the body, he did not appear to know that it was a human body, and he proceeded to cut out a part of it, and was about to eat it, when some of the neighbours remarked that it was the trunk of a human being. He said he was not aware of that, and it does not appear that he ate any portion of the flesh, whatever his original intention might have been. The inspector, Mr. Briscoe, made inquiry into the circumstance, and the result has been reported as I have stated. But it does not appear that the man was in distress at all, and it was not at the time considered a case that demanded further inquiry. Such being the circumstance, and the nature of it being so totally different from that which Mr. Anderson represented it, and which naturally induced inquiries on the part of the hon. Member for Kerry, I felt it my duty to give this explanation as soon as I possibly could after the meeting of the House; and I only wish further to observe, that statements of this nature made not only with much exaggeration, but with a total distortion of the facts, are calculated to produce a most unfortunate effect, and to make persons disbelieve stories accurately founded on what has really occurred, many of which, I am sorry to say, are but too true, and to weaken public sympathy for the very severe privations to which a great part of the population of Ireland are unhappily subjected.