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THE DESTITUTION OF IRELAND
My dear Sir, - Having, in the course of my late duty (of discharging a cargo of meal, &c) at Schull [County Cork], being brought into direct contact with the distress that prevails their and in the neighbourhood, I venture to lay before you (feeling assured it would interest you in their behalf) that which I had ocular demonstration of.
In another cabin we went into were a mother and her daughter; the daughter emaciated and lying against the wall; the mother naked, upon some straw on the ground, with a rug over her, a most distressing object of misery; she writhed about and bared her limbs in order to show us her state of exhaustion. She had wasted away until nothing but the skin covered the bones; she cannot have survived till this time.
Another that I entered had, indeed, the appearance of wretchedness without, but its inside was misery. Dr Traill, on putting his head inside the hole which answered for a door, said 'Well, Phillis, how is your mother today?' he having been with her the day before. She replied, 'Oh, Sir, is it you? Mother is dead!' And there, fearful reality, was the daughter, a skeleton herself, crouched and crying over the lifeless body of her mother, which was on the floor, cramped up as she had died, with her rags and her cloak about her, by the side of a few embers of peat.
In the next cabin were three young children belonging to the daughter, whose husband had run away from her, all pictures of death. The poor creature said she did not know what to do with the corpse, she had no means of getting it removed, and she was too exhausted to remove it herself. This cabin was about three miles from the rectory.
In another cabin, the door of which was stopped with dung, was a poor woman, whom we had taken by surprise, as she roused up evidently much astonished. She burst into tears upon seeing the doctor, and said she had not been able to sleep since the corpse of the woman had laid in her bed. This was poor creature who was passing this miserable cabin, and asked the old woman to allow her to rest herself for a few moments. She had lain down, but never rose up again. She died in an hour or so from sheer exhaustion. The body had remained in this hovel of six feet square, with the poor woman for four days; she could not get anybody to remove it. She said she trusted her sins were pardoned. She had prayed earnestly for forgiveness. She had been a wicked sinner, but God was merciful, and her Saviour was all-sufficient. She thought she could die, and longed to depart and be at peace, and she had blocked up the door that she might not be disturbed. She had some money - a trifle - by her; but living four or five miles from the village, she could not get any food. She had asked her neighbours' children to buy her some, but they were too much taken up with themselves. She could not rise up, and could just manage to kneel. She had nothing to eat in her miserable hole, and I fear must be dead ere this.
I could, in this manner, take you through the 30 or more cottages that we visited; but they, without exception, were all alike - the dead and the dying in each; and I could tell you more of the truth of the heart-rending scene, were I to mention the lamentations and bitter cries of each of these poor creatures on the threshold of death. Never in my life have I seen such wholesale misery, nor could I have thought it so complete. I am convinced in that district it is not in human power to stay the evil; it may be to alleviate it: but this must be by a good organized system, and the supply chiefly gratuitous. I am of opinion a number of naval surgeons should be employed, having under their orders a number of men - who might be selected from the lists of pensioners (if they could be highly recommended) - to have charge of certain districts, not only dispensing medicine where it may be required, but also food, on an order of the relief committee, to any person in their district. The pensioner or two who might be under each surgeon would not only assist in visiting, but in conveying the food and medicines, &c., to the poor; and by being strangers to the localities, having no friends, would do this duty without partiality. The surgeons should act with the relief committees, but independent of them. A board of health is also new wanted, as it cannot be expected but a pestilence will rage when the mass of these bodies decomposes. They have ceased to put them into coffins, or to have the funeral service performed, and they merely lay them a few inches under the soil.
Believe me, my dear Sir, very faithfully yours,
P.S. There have been two or three post mortem examinations of those who have died, and they find that the inner membrane of the stomach turns into a white mucus, as if nature had supported herself upon herself, until exhaustion of all the humours of the system has taken place.
The signatory is James Crawford Caffin.