Page images

parish so much indifference prevailed that out of 17,000 voting papers issued but a few over 5,000 were returned, or, in other words, instead of the maximum number of 463,000 votes which might have been given, only 143,000 were actually polled. That there is great neglect in the issuing and collecting of voting papers is not denied, and there is besides another reason, which has been noticed elsewhere, deterring large numbers of the upper classes from recording their votes, viz. the almost invariable coincidence of the elections with the season of Easter, when many are absent from home, no interval of time being allowed for sending papers into the country for signature.?

When the educated classes come to see that it is not only their duty to vote, but to fill the office of guardian also, we may look for the disappearance of those few remaining evils of which we still complain. We will now only dwell upon two departments of Poor Law management which seem to us to call for reforms, some requiring legislative interference, others the action of public opinion alone, to bring them about.

First in interest we may name the sick, now, within the Metropolitan District, contained within twenty-three separate, and chiefly new, buildings, in all respects like hospitals, under a management apart from the workhouse, with resident medical superintendents, matrons, stewards, and for the most part a staff of nurses who have had some training to fit them for their duties.3 Outside the Metropolitan District, we may add, there are but three of our large towns which have as yet provided separate infirmaries (Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds), but Birmingham is preparing to do so, and we believe it is a step which is desired by the Local Government Board, as well as all who have the welfare of our sick poor at heart, and know the blessing which these our “State Hospitals ' have been to them. It may be said, then, what more remains to be done in this direction ? We reply that public opinion, or legislative control, must require ; 1st, that the matrons of these important hospitals should be educated women who have received a special training in the care of the sick to fit them for their work, and not, as too often at present, former workhouse officers, with little or no knowledge of sickness; 2nd, that pauper nurses should be excluded from all power and authority over the sick. And on this point we cannot refrain from adding how little is known or cared about the sad revelations which reach us from time to time through the pages of country newspapers of the cruelties still committed by such so-called nurses of the sick, rivalling in horror those stories which are supposed to belong only to past history. Five such instances are now before us, resulting in death, and investigations before magistrates or the Central Board.

2 A petition has been sent to the Local Government Board to ask for a further extension of time.

3 The Work house Nursing Association' has done good service in this cause ing the last seven years, and has now sixty trained nurses employed in the metroan infirmaries and country workhouses. Office, 44 Berners Street, W.

It will be impossible to give all the details of these events, they are too revolting in all their deliberate cruelty, but some facts must be stated, in order that we may not be accused of exaggeration. In March an inquiry was held in Lincoln as to the alleged manslaughter of an imbecile inmate of the workhouse by an attendant, the man being seventy-five years old, and suffering from senile dementia, as well as acute bronchitis. The following evidence was given by the master at the inquest :- There were no paid attendants in the imbecile wards, but two pauper attendants, and one to make the beds. There was a nurse who only looked after the imbeciles if they were ill. The medical officer stated that he had only inmate help for the imbeciles; there were only two nurses for over sixty patients, and there were twenty-eight imbeciles; he considered that it was impossible for two nurses to discharge the duties properly. The man who died had been beaten with a strap, and a verdict of manslaughter against one attendant was returned, the coroner adding, in summing up, that it was a sad state of affairs, and very lamentable, that there should be no supervision, that is, no paid nurses to look after the imbeciles.'

From Falmouth we have a report of the terrible death of a man subject to epileptic fits: he was left seated before a fire, on which he fell, and when he was found, the flesh was burnt to a cinder. At the inquest it transpired that although there were several epileptic patients in the house, there was no one specially appointed to look after them, and that the grates were all open and without fire-guards. . From Ireland we have two sad tales : at Limerick an old blind woman was found dead in bed with her hands tied. It was stated that the paid pauper nurses, to save themselves trouble with the sick woman, tied her to the bed with a sheet, the patient released herself and fell out of bed, and then the nurses tied her hands, the woman being soon afterwards found dead. The doctor was of opinion that death was bastened by this treatment; and the guardians gave instructions for the body to be exhumed for the purpose of holding an inquest, at which the cruelty was proved, one of the culprits being committed for trial. The magistrate commented on the wholly insufficient nursing arrangements in the hospital. Our tale of horrors is not, however, yet complete. There was recently an inquiry held at Dungarvan Workhouse into the death of a patient, when a male and female nurse were committed for trial. The man had been in the workhouse many years, and in hospital three months, from paralysis and softening of the brain. Being called in the night to assist this poor helpless creature, the nurse revenged himself by assaulting him, inflicting severe injuries, and death was accelerated, though not caused by them. The doctor stated he had frequently reported on the want of hospital accommodation, and the

advisability of appointing a paid night nurse, but no order was made on his report.

When we consider the startling fact that of all deaths occurring in London, one in fifteen takes place in a workhouse, and one in nine in a workhouse or hospital, we are able to form some idea of the awful amount of misery and suffering that is going on in our midst, when revelations such as these are occasionally brought before us. So much is heard now of the improvements carried out during the last few years, that we had begun to hope such tales were only of the past. In looking back upon scenes and events of thirty years ago, we have often wished that photography had then lent its valuable aid in perpetuating the aspect of some of the pauper helps who were then the sole attendants upon the sick. One is at least before our mind's eye, who had more than once been within prison walls, and had emerged from thence to take charge by day and night-for she slept, lived, and ate in the ward-of numerous sick and dying patients; coarse, bloated, repulsive in look and manner, clothed in the pauper dress, drinking whenever the opportunity occurred, such was the sister of mercy in a large London workhouse, in which the sole paid woman was the matron! Often have we wished we could place the portrait of such a one beside that of our modern infirmary nurses, in order to point the moral of our tale. But the days of such tyrants are not yet over, and it is well that we should be reminded of this fact, and aroused from a pleasant dream to the terrible reality.

Closely connected with this subject is the urgent need (which was named, we may remark, thirty years ago) of a higher class of workhouse officials, especially as masters and matrons, the sick being still, in country unions, entirely under their control. Here again, definite reports are before us, of drunkenness, peculation, and other evil practices, which are far more common than the outside public believe. Surely the post of caring for hundreds of our fellow-creatures, consisting of many various classes, is one worthy of the intelligence and love and zeal of the many educated men and women who are now seeking remunerative work, and who would find in the administration of these large institutions (including district schools) an occupation worthy of their best energies.

And perhaps as important a reform as any is now being called for from many of high standing in the medical profession, viz. the admission of students into Poor Law infirmaries. There is more than one reason for this demand, the chief being that these institutions afford opportunities for studying a variety of chronic diseases which hospitals do not give, because such long-standing cases of months or years are not, and cannot be, retained there; many cases of rare interest are to be found in these wards, which can at present be studied only by the one medical superintendent and his assistant; another reason is that as 600, or even a larger number of patients, are often under the care of two such medical officers, it would be obviously a help to them and a gain to the poor sufferers if such persons were admitted into the wards. An application has already been made from one large parish for permission thus to introduce a limited number of students under the eye of the medical superintendent, but the reply of the central board was (as might be expected) that such a practice was not contemplated by their rules. As infirmaries did not exist when those rules for the treatment of the sick were framed, it could hardly be supposed that the admission of students would then be provided for ; but at the present time and under present circumstances, can there be any conceivable reason why such an advantageous use should not be made of our state and rate-supported institutions, or that greater difficulties would be presented than in the case of hospitals?

As no general consolidated orders have as yet been issued by the Local Government Board for the guidance of the new infirmaries, which have been increasing in number ever since 1870, it may be hoped that some of these recommendations may be shortly considered and ordered by the authorities.

We now come to a less interesting, but not less important, part of the subject of Poor Law management which loudly calls for revision and alterations, viz. that which relates to the able-bodied, or, in other words, the class of men and women which makes use of the workhouse as a convenient hotel, to which they are at liberty to come and

go at their own convenience and for their own pleasure. This class is known to all conversant with pauper life as ‘Ins and Outs,' and so trying are their habits to all officials that there is an almost unanimous consent that some alteration of the law with regard to them has become absolutely necessary. Guardians of different parishes, as well as masters and relieving officers, have represented the present state of things to be well-nigh intolerable, both men and women being able to take their discharge with twenty-four hours' notice, and to claim re-admission whenever it suits them, whether sober or drunk. The occasions for which such persons desire a temporary absence from the workhouse are various; business or pleasure may be the object; of the latter, may be named the day of the annual boat-race, which always causes a large exodus, with a return at night, as may be supposed, not in the most satisfactory condition ; from one able-bodied workhouse in London there is a departure on Saturdays in order to partake of a 'free breakfast,' with its accompanying religious devotions, on Sunday morning, in a distant part of London. From another, an old woman, although past eighty, goes out to stand at a crossing on Sunday mornings, to pick up pence from a generous and confiding public, to spend at the neighbouring public-house, before her return to her home. In the country, girls go out on Fair days, dressed in their finery, as well as on other occasions, often, as is known, for immoral purposes. Women from the lying-in wards take their discharge, often at the end of a fortnight, in order to baffle the inquiries that may be made as to any redress from the partners of their sin, such proceedings requiring a far longer time to carry them out. These and many other abuses, far too numerous to be detailed here, have brought about a conviction that greater powers of detention should be demanded, extending at the least to a week's notice of discharge. One pauper was discharged and re-admitted twenty-three times in ten weeks, and an experienced relieving officer urges that there should be power to detain such persons, even for a month, he having noted in his district 1,482 paupers who went out and returned the same day in the course of three months. The Master of St. Marylebone Workhouse says, as the conviction of many years : “ The frequency with which a large number of able-bodied men still continue to leave the house for their weekly holiday shows, as I have pointed out on former occasions, the necessity for increased powers of detention for dealing with this class; 157 returned drunk and disorderly, in most cases on the evening of the day on which they left the house.'

Not less urgent, in the estimation of all who have to do with pauper children, is the need of increased power over them when their life in school is ended, and when, at present, the worst of parents have the right to claim them and employ them for their own purposes. The State, which has educated them, should surely, as in other countries, have control over them, at least till the age of eighteen.

Can the workhouse test’ be considered of such great value in the face of facts like these ? and is not the abuse of legal relief very great and real, when such facilities of admission and discharge exist as to render the workhouse a free and convenient abode to all the idle and depraved of every age who choose to resort to it, and who claim the right to do so ? Persons with pensions amounting to 268. a week are inmates because they choose to spend them on drink and vice out of doors, and then return as paupers to this refuge for the destitute, the authorities claiming the cost of their maintenance from the remainder. We cannot refrain from asking, is there any other country where similar practices are carried on, and are we not thus creating many of the evils we are seeking to remedy?

We earnestly hope that the attention of all guardians of the poor may be directed to these results of the system which we have endeavoured to point out, and that thus pressure may be put upon the central authority of the Local Government Board, to introduce reforms which are so earnestly desired by those who have to carry out the existing law, and are able to judge of its results.


4 This officer adds the remark, that the permission to smoke is a great encouragement to this class, and should be refused.

« PreviousContinue »