Naas Workhouse. Deportation of ‘Paupers’
In a recent search of the Naas Workhouse Minute Books I came across a letter from an untitled newspaper. The letter was inserted into the Minute Book for Saturday 6 February 1869 on a day in which there were 334 inmates in Naas Workhouse. (The number of inmates at the corresponding period a year previous was 388.) Forty-two inmates had been discharged or died during the previous week but another forty-seven, of which four were children, had been admitted taking their place. On the week ending 6 February 1869 there were eighty children under nine years of age, and thirty boys and girls above the age of nine and under fifteen. The remaining figure comprised sixty-eight males and 132 females. It was a time when political correctness was not to the fore and perhaps the saddest entry is for what was labelled ‘Return of Sick and Lunatics’ – sixty-seven inmates were in the Workhouse Hospital and a further four in the Fever Hospital – while sixteen unfortunate inmates were in wards termed ‘Lunatics and Idiots.’ It would be another sixty years before the Mental Treatment Act changed the legal term to ‘person of unsound mind’. The letter in question was dated: ‘Feb. 10th 1869’ and had been pasted in at the end of the above weekly minutes. It read:
‘Gentlemen. – I beg to inform you that on the 5th inst. A man named George Smyth and his wife were brought to this workhouse in charge of a removing officer, whose name Smyth says, is Hill, having been sent here by the Guardians of the Poor of the Parish, of St. Michael, within the town and county of Southampton. The warrant of removal is signed by a Mr. Edward Polk and Mr. J. B. Stebbing, Justices of the Peace for the town and county of the town of Southampton. In answer to questions I put to George Smyth, the following is the statement: – “I never remember to be in or living in Naas, but to the best of my opinion my father said I was born in Naas. I first remember when very young to be living with my father and mother in Dublin. My father was a pensioner belonging to the 5th Fusiliers, and was a native of Dublin; my mother was a native of the King’s County. I never heard of having any relatives or friends in Naas. When I was 22 years of age I enlisted in the 5th Fusiliers, and served six years and four months in the Isle of France, and better than three years in Chatham Depot, when I took my discharge. I then went to work at Falmouth, where I remained for twelve months. In 1858 I rejoined at Colchester in the 38th Foot, and immediately after went to India with the regiment; having served three years in India I was sent home as an invalid, and arrived at Southampton in 1862. I was then sent to Chatham where I remained for about six weeks when I was discharged with a pension of 8d per day for three years. I then went to Falmouth where I worked for about two years when I left and came to Portsmouth, where I worked for two years; I again came to Southampton where I have worked for three years. In October last I took sick; I applied for relief and was sent to work in the sheds, where I remained for two weeks. I was then put under the doctor’s care and was allowed provisions to the value of 4s 6d weekly, which was continued till up to last week, when I was ordered before the authorities in the Town Hall. After questioning me for some time I was told I would be sent over to Ireland. I said I would not go, that I had spent a long time where I was, that I was now nearly well, and would soon be able to work again. I was then told if I would not go I would get three months; I explained that I did not care, but go I would not. I then went home, and the relieving officer came to me on last Thursday morning, and said he had a policeman with him, and that if I did not go I would be forced. He said that “dead or alive I should go.” I was then forced to leave along with my wife and ten other poor people, and went escorted to the railway station; in fact, we went escorted as convicts. I would have run away, but my wife was not able, as she is near her confinement; my wife is a native of Cornwall. I have one child in Torquay. My wife was very much fretted for coming, and cried bitterly. We were then sent on to Fleetwood, and thence to Belfast in a steamer as steerage passengers; we were then sent on to Dublin. I asked to be allowed to stop in Dublin, as I did not know anyone in Naas, but would not be let. From the treatment I have received, and being exposed to the inclemency of the weather, I am now sick with heavy cold, lumps in my neck, and a feeling of weakness over me. I left behind me in Southampton household effects to the value of £2, also some clothing.”
After taking the statement down, I read it over to Smyth. He said it was all true and could verify it on oath. I may here state that this man was brought here about half-past-six p m on last Friday. The removing officer who came with him only came as far as the gate; and though requested by the porter to see me he only replied by pointing to the warrant, and saying there is your authority, let me out. When informed of the message, which was immediately, I went and saw them. The woman appeared to be in good health, though much wearied and apparently in an advanced stage of pregnancy. The man appeared to be in a weak and sickly state and emaciated appearance. I left orders for the medical officer to see him on the following day, which he did, and was immediately sent to hospital, where he is at present under the treatment of the medical officer.
I have endeavoured to lay the full particulars of this case before you; but I consider nothing more than its circumstances required. – I am, gentlemen, your obedient servant, W. Newsome, Master.
Ordered to be inserted on the minutes. Charles Mills, Chairman.’
On 25 February 1869 Jane Smyth, neé Crays, gave birth to a baby boy, named Richard Charles, in Naas Workhouse. The informant on the birth was William Newsome, ‘Chief Resident Officer, Naas Workhouse’ and the child was registered on 30 March 1869 in Naas.
The practice of sending poor people who fell on hard times to the area of their birth by Poor Law Unions (PLU) was quite common. Each PLU had its own workhouse and each union was named after the town in which the workhouse was located. They were financed by a poor rate extracted by local poor law valuations (ratings of rate payers). The idea was that the local PLU would look after the relief of their own paupers, but many Irish who had spent their whole working lives in Britain, were deported to Ireland as soon as they became chargeable on the rates. On 21 January 1871 The Leinster Express published a letter titled ‘Deportation of Paupers’
‘A letter was read from the Commissioners directing the clerk to make further inquiry into the circumstances of the case of a pauper named Dennis, who was sent over from St. Pancras union, after many years’ residence in England, and left chargeable to Naas union. The Clerk said he would seek the required information from the man himself, and forward the particulars of his inquiry to the Commissioners.’
Despite the added cost of deportation and the increased hardship it caused this anomaly would continue until the end of the workhouse system.