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The Famine page 2

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The relief committees were also authorised to adopt measures to avert or mitigate the famine fever, which had prevailed to an awful extent. They were to provide temporary hospitals, to ventilate and cleanse cabins, to remove nuisances, and procure the proper burial of the dead, the funds necessary for these objects being ad- vanced by the Government in the same way as for furnishing food. Upwards of 300 hospitals and dispensaries were provided under the act, with accommodation for at least 23,000 patients, and the sanitary powers which it conferred were extensively acted upon. The expense incurred for these objects amounted to 119,000, the whole of which was made a free gift to the unions in aid of the rates. The entire amount advanced by the Government in 1846 and 1847 towards the relief of the Irish people under the fearful calamity to which they were exposed was 7,132,286, of which one half was to be repaid within ten years, and the rest was a free grant.

The consumption of Indian corn during the famine caused a great deal of wild speculation in the corn trade. Splendid fortunes were rapidly made, and as rapidly lost. The price of Indian corn in the middle of February, 1847, is 19 per ton; at the end of March it was 13; and by the end of August it had fallen to 7 10s. The quantity of corn imported into Ireland the first six months was 2,849,508 tons.

The action of private benevolence was on a scale proportioned to the vast exertions of the Government. It is quite impossible to estimate the amount off money contributed by the public for the relief of Irish distress. We know what sums were received by associations and committees; but great numbers sent their money directly, in answer to appeals from clergymen and others, to meet demands for relief in their own respective localities. In this way we may easily suppose that abuses were committed, and that much of the money received was misappropriated, although a greater portion of it was honestly dispensed. Among the organisations established for raising contributions, the greatest was the "British Association" which had for its chairman and vice-chairman two of our merchant princes - Mr. Jones Loyd, afterwards Lord Overstone; and Mr. Thomas Baring. The amount of subscriptions collected by this association, "for the relief of extreme distress in Ireland and Scotland," was 269,302. The Queens letters were issued for collections in the churches throughout England and "Wales, and these produced 200,738, which was also entrusted to the British Association. These sums made together no less than 470,040, which was dispensed in relief by one central committee. One-sixth of the amount was apportioned to the Highlands of Scotland, where there was extensive destitution, and the rest to Ireland. In fact, the amount applied to these objects by the Association exceeded half a million sterling, for upwards of 130,000 had been obtained for the sale of provisions and seed corn in Ireland, and interest accruing on the money contributed. t In administering the funds placed at their disposal, the committee acted concurrently with the Government and the Poor Law authorities. It wisely determined at the outset that all grants should be in food, and not in money; and that no grant should be placed at the disposal of any individual for private distribution. The committee concluded their report to the subscribers by declaring that although, evils of greater or less degree must attend every system of gratuitous relief, they were confident that any evils that might have accompanied the application of the funds would have been far more than counterbalanced by the benefits that had been conferred upon their starving fellow-countrymen, and that if ill-desert had sometimes participated in their bounty, a vast amount of human misery and suffering had been relieved.

But the chief source whence the means at their disposal were derived was the magnificent bounty of the citizens of the United States of America. The supplies sent from America to Ireland were bn a scale unparalleled in history. Meetings were held in Philadelphia, Washington, New York, and other cities in quick succession, presided over by the first men in the country. All through the States the citizens evinced an intense interest, and a noble generosity, worthy of the great Republic. The railway companies carried free of charge all packages marked "Ireland." Public carriers undertook the gratuitous delivery of packages intended for the relief of Irish distress. Storage to any extent was offered on the same terms. Ships of war, without their guns, came to the Irish shores on a mission of peace and mercy, freighted with food for British subjects. Cargo after cargo followed in rapid succession, until nearly 100 separate shipments had arrived, our Government having consented to pay the freight of all donations of food forwarded from America, which amounted in the whole to 33,000. The quantity of American food consigned to the care of the Society of Friends was nearly ten thousand tons, the value of which was about 100,000. In addition to all this, the Americans remitted to the Friends' Committee 16,000 in money. They also sent 642 packages of clothing, the precise value of which could not be ascertained. There was a very large amount of remittances sent to Ireland during the famine, by the Irish in the United States. Unfortunately, there are no records of those remittances prior to 1848; but since that time we are enabled to ascertain a large portion of them, though not the whole, and their amount is something astonishing. The following statement of sums remitted by emigrants in America to their families in Ireland, was printed by order of Parliament: - During the years 1848, 460,180; 1849, 540,619; 1850, 957,087; 1851, 990,811.

The arrival of the American ships naturally excited great interest at the various ports. "On Monday, the 13th of April," writes Mr. Maguire, "a noble sight might be witnessed in Cork Harbour - the sun shining its welcome on the entrance of the unarmed war ship Jamieson, sailing in under a cloud of snowy canvas, her great hold laden with bread-stuffs for the starving people of Ireland. It was a sight that brought tears to many an eye, and prayers of gratitude to many a heart. It was one of those things which one nation remembers of another long after the day of sorrow has passed. Upon the warm and generous people to whom America literally broke bread and sent life, this act of fraternal charity, so gracefully and impressively offered, naturally produced a profound and lasting impression, the influence of which is felt at this moment, "t The captain, who had volunteered his services, was introduced to Father Mathew, by a letter from Mr. John Tappan, of Boston, who said: - "It affords me great pleasure to make this philanthropic countryman of ours known to one who is personally known to me, and to millions in both hemispheres, as one of the greatest benefactors of Iris race. In Mr. Forbes you will find one of Nature's nobles, who, leaving the endearments of home at this boisterous season, crosses the ocean, to imitate his and our Saviour - to feed the hungry, and raise the desponding."

The exertions of private individuals in relieving the distressed were beyond all praise. Many persons, both lay and clerical, devoted their whole time for months to this work of mercy. One clergyman, in the county of Mayo, kept a soup-kitchen at work, which supplied 2,500 persons daily. One of the inspectors of the Society of Friends saw, in Erris, the owner of a small estate feeding his whole tenantry, many of whom were once in comfortable circumstances. He had seen his soup-kitchen in operation, and admired the zeal and activity of his very large family in labouring for the relief of the poor. " What I wonder at," said the writer, " since I have seen with my own eyes, is, that he should have done so much, and that his family are so cheerfully devoted it the same work of mercy, without the slightest pecuniary recompense. With the exception of that family and two others - one a coast-guard officer - there were no persons whatever to look after the poor within a circuit of upwards of thirty miles, in a district filled with a swarming and wretched population. From strict inquiry and close observation, I am satisfied that the lives of hundreds have been saved by the efforts of these three men and their families. It is a great deal easier to put one's hand into a long purse, than to labour 'from morn till dewy eve,' filling out stir-about to crowds of half-clad hungry wretches, sinking with weakness and fever. I saw thousands to-day of the most miserable people I have ever seen." Another proprietor, whose wife and young daughter conducted two soup-kitchens, though he had lost his rents, kept eighty persons at work daily during the famine, and did not allow one of his tenants to be put on the relief lists. These are only specimens of hundreds of families, including those of many clergymen of the Established Church, who thus nobly exerted themselves during that terrible crisis. In one very destitute district in the county of Mayo, the indefatigable exertions of a lady had organised a Ladies' Association, to which she acted as secretary. It consisted of eight members, residing several miles apart. All had large boilers except one. They distributed cooked food daily, and had a weekly gratuitous distribution of rice and meal, besides sales at reduced rates. They employed 135 spinners and weavers. Their monthly expenditure exceeded 7000, and supported upwards of 15,000 families, and also several hundred occasional applicants; and all this labour was undertaken in addition to their household duties, as mistresses of families. Many persons in a lower station of life also distinguished themselves in this work of benevolence. The chief boatman of a water-guard station, in Mayo, with a very small salary, and four motherless children, very well brought up, kept a soup-kitchen, at which he worked daily, from four o'clock in the morning, without fee or reward."

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