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1847]
REPORT OF THE DEVON COMMISSION

409 witnessed of late years. Many who during the long war had amassed much wealth had become proprietors in fee; others who had not been so successful struggled in aster years to maintain a position in society which their failing resources would not support. The sub-tenants were unable to pay war-rents. The middleman himself, who had come under rent during the same period, became equally unable to meet his engagements. All became impoverished. The middleman parted with his interest, or underlet the little land he had hitherto retained in his own hands; himself and his family were rapidly involved in ruin. The landlord in many cases was obliged to look to the occupiers for his rent, or, at the expiration of the lease, found the farms covered with a pauper, and it may be a superabundant, population. Subsequently the Act of 1829 destroyed the political value of the 40s. freeholders, and, to relieve his property from the burden which this chain of circumstances brought upon it, the landlord in too many instances adopted what has been called 'the clearance system.”” i

It was the renewal at this crisis, in several instances, of this system of clearing estates which now came to add to the difficulties of the hour. “Disease and want,” said Dr. Doyle, "soon carry off the greater number. They die in a little time. Thirty families came into the town in which he lived, from some ejectment. In one twelvemonth twenty out of the thirty families—i.e, two-thirds of them—have died.” 2 Alluding to some evictions which had taken place in the Kilrush union, Sir Robert Peel declared, in the House of Commons, that he did not think that the records of any country, civil or barbarous, presented materials for such a picture as was set forth in the statement of Captain Kennedy, one of the poor law subcommissioners, which had been laid before Parliament, and he indignantly scouted the notion—which it had been rather weakly sought to put forward—that the law itself, and the Parliament which had passed it, could be held respon

“ Report of the Devon Commission," vol. ii. pp. 1109, 1110. 9 Bishop Doyle quoted by Mr. Poulett Scrope, June 12, 1846, in the House of Commons (Hansard, vol. Ixxxvii. p. 393).

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sible for the terrible acts recorded in it, and the burden of blame be thereby conveniently shifted from the shoulders of the perpetrators to those of the House of Commons and the Government. Such pleas had to be ruled out of court. On the other hand, the attempt made in some quarters to place the sole responsibility for the disasters of the period, and for the loss of so many lives, on the shoulders of the landlords, and to represent every cottier who fled from his blighted and barren potato-plot, and every peasant who emigrated from districts which, under no conceivable circumstances, could maintain their population in anything beyond a condition bordering on intermittent starvation, as the direct victims of the deliberate oppression of the landed and governing classes, was equally exaggerated and misleading. Many of the landlords evinced conspicuous self-sacrifice and individual heroism; one-third of their number were absolutely ruined by the famine. The owner and the occupier too often sank together in a common ruin. It was stated in Parliament that there were persons of position who, at the outset of the famine, were members of the relief committee, and before it was over were reduced to begging for a dole of Indian meal wherewith to support life. The period was indeed one of those "which revealed the mingled baseness and heroism of human nature." 2 Το put a check upon these clearances an Act was passed in 1848, compelling landlords to give eight-and-forty hours' notice to the poor law guardians of their intention to carry out an eviction, so as to allow provision to be made in the workhouse for the reception of the persons who had been deprived of home and shelter.

By the end of 1847 cheap supplies of food began to be brought into the country by the ordinary operation of the laws of supply and demand, at far cheaper rates, owing to an abundant harvest abroad, than if the Government had tried to constitute itself the sole distributor. The potato harvest of 1847, if not bountiful, was at least comparatively

| Hansard, 3rd series, vol. cv. pp. 1287–1317, where extracts from Captain Kennedy's report are given.

2 “ Irish Emigration and the Tenure of Land,” by Lord Dufferin, p.52.

1847]
END OF THE FAMINE

411 good; and the refusal of the Government to employ men on their own farms caused the ordinary market for labour to be again opened at the earliest moment, and the work of the relief committees to be slowly but surely brought to a conclusion. By March 1848 the third and last period of the famine may be said to have terminated. But, though the direct period of distress was over, the economic problems, which remained for solution were of overwhelming magnitude. The actual cost of the famine, measured by the sums spent out of the taxes, the poor rates, or collected by private charity, had been enormous. No exact calculation of the amount has been or perhaps ever will be made. But the mischief of the situation lay, not in the large expenditure of the past, but in the future outlook. The introduction of out-relief had filled the Irish landowners with alarm. The gross rental of Ireland was estimated at seventeen millions, of which nine, it was said, had to be paid over to mortgagees, and the remaining eight, it was calculated, would be more than swallowed up by the measures proposed. The famine, as already pointed out, had indeed ruined a large portion of the Irish landowners as well as their tenants. The poor law, it was epigrammatically said, had “beggared the proprietor, had ruined the farmer, and did not support the poor." Complaints were loud of "the benevolent intentions and mischievous legislation ” of the government. A million and a half of the people had disappeared. The land was devastated with fever and the diseases which dog the steps of famine, and a bitter cry arose from all classes of the community, when, the worst period of distress being now over, men began to look around them, and to take stock of the situation. The waters of the great deep were indeed going down, but the land was seen to be without form and void.

On May 16, 1847, the day following that on which O'Connell had breathed his last at Genoa, Lord Bessborough expired. It was generally recognised that he had done all that was possible to surmount the difficulties of an almost impossible situation, and had laboured with unsur

Hlansard, 3rd series, vol. cv. pp. 1289–1291.

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passed energy amid circumstances which would have overcome any but a statesman of the most robust fibre. After some renewed discussion as to the possibility of abolishing the office of Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Clarendon, the president of the Board of Trade, was appointed to succeed him; and Mr. Labouchere, having succeeded to the office vacated by the new Lord-Lieutenant, was replaced as chief secretary by Sir W. Somerville.

But a change, far greater than any changes of men, or even of measures, had passed over Ireland in the last two years. The population, which had hitherto been constantly increasing, was now rapidly decreasing. Fever came in the wake of famine, and continued to decimate the population long after the potato disease had ceased. Under these combined disasters the great movement of emigration from Ireland to the United States of America began, which has continued ever since. Its full effect may be seen in the following tables of the rise and fall of the population during the last century:

ASCENDING YEARS. 1801. 5,395,456

1851

6,552,385
1811
5,937,856 1861

5,798,564
6,801,827
1871

5,412,377
1831
7,767,401 1881

5,174,836
1841

8,175,124 In the early years of the famine emigration on a large scale was a novelty, and in too many instances the arrangements were hopelessly inadequate for the comfort of the emigrants. Except where a few wealthy and benevolent landlords, whose efforts in this respect were referred to in Parliament with approbation by Sir Robert Peel, were able to see that the proper conditions were fulfilled, the horrors of the journey to America recalled those of the middle passage.

Mr. de Vere took his passage in the steerage of an emigrant ship, and he remained on board two months. His letter, describing what he saw, was adopted as a public document by the Colonial Office. He related how he had seen “hundreds of poor people—men, women, and children, of all ages, from the drivelling idiot of ninety to the babe just born-huddled together without light, without air,

DESCENDING YEARS.

1821

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1848]

THE EMIGRATION

413

wallowing in filth, and breathing a fetid atmosphere, sick in body, dispirited in heart; the fevered patients lying between the sound, in sleeping-places so narrow as almost to deny them the power of indulging by a change of position the natural restlessness of the disease; by their agonised ravings disturbing those around, and predisposing them through the effects of the imagination to imbibe the contagion; living without food or medicine, except as administered by the hand of casual charity; dying without the voice of spiritual consolation, and buried in the deep without the rites of the Church. The food,” he went on to say, "is generally ill-selected, and seldom sufficiently cooked in consequence of the insufficiency and bad construction of the cooking-places. The supply of water, hardly enough for cooking and drinking, does not allow washing. In many ships, the filthy beds, teeming with all abominations, are never required to be brought on deck and aired; the narrow space between the sleeping-berths and the piles of boxes is never washed or scraped, but breathes up a damp and fetid stench, until the day before arrival at quarantine, when all hands are required to scrub

scrub up and put on a fair face for the Government inspector and the doctor. No moral restraint is attempted; the voice of prayer is never heard; and drunkenness, with its consequent train of ruffianly debasement, is not discouraged, because it is profitable to the captain, who traffics in the grog.” 1

By the end of 1849 it was said the Irish tenants looked as if they had just come out of their graves, and the landlords as if they were going into theirs. Seventy-one unions in Munster and Connaught were bankrupt; the outstanding debt and the annual expenditure together amounting to £592,000. The population of the Castlebar union was 61,000; the persons who in 1847 had received relief were 46,000. The rateable value of the Clifden union was £19,986, but three-fifths of the whole had been thrown up in consequence of the inability of the owners and occupiers to meet the demands for poor rates, and of un

1 See the passage as quoted in Sir Robert Peel's speech, March 30, 1849, “Speeches,” vol. iv. p. 797.

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