William Loney R.N. - Irish famine
William Loney R.N. - Irish famine

William Loney R.N.DocumentsLetterbook

General instructions of the British Association for the relief of the extreme Distress in Ireland & Scotland to its Agents in Ireland.

South Sea House
April 14, 1847

The main object of the Committee in appointing Agents is to administer relief, subject to certain general rules, with more rapidity than can be done by a body acting from a distance. It is desirable therefore that having to decide in extreme and peculiar cases without waiting for specific instructions, the Agents should be apprized of the principles on which the Committee proceed.

The distress in Ireland is, unfortunately as certain to last for several months. The Funds which are, or will be at the disposal of the Committee must prove inadequate to effect more than a mitigation of the suffering which is unavoidable. The means being thus insufficient to secure the result which would be wished, it is most desirable to economize them as far as practicable - urgent cases, of necessity must, it is true, be provided for at all hazards; but it must be always remembered that caution to economy at the present time will be the best security against the general spread of famine throughout the Country. The object of your mission being the early relief of ...


... distress, the above observation will point out to you that a careful economy of the funds of the Association is the most important rule of administration to be observed.

The economy can be exercised in two ways; first, by inducing the resident Proprietors & others locally interested to purchase provisions at prime cost, instead of looking for Grants; secondly by promoting the establishment of Soup Kitchens and other systems for making available all means of providing food which may actually be found in the Country. The Committee consider the first of these methods the essential duty of an agent; the second as incidental.

The most effectual relief which can be afforded is an increase of the supply of provisions. Now if it were possible at this moment to invest al the subscriptions received by the Association in provisions and distribute the same in the most distressed Districts the relief afforded would be but temporary, and insufficient. But if on the contrary, such a portion of the provisions can be sold on the spot as may enable the Association to effect further purchases a continuous stream of food may be poured in. Every effort must therefore be made to induce ...


... parties on the spot to purchase, as far as their means will allow or to raise (where it has not already been done) a subscription for purchasing; which, being of the nature of a reproduction fund, will subject the Contributors to a loss infinitely disproportional to the good which will be effected.

In cases where you may think fit you are at liberty to make absolute grants op provisions to the amount in values of 1/10thth of the local private subscriptions, these grants being placed at the disposal of the Relief-Committees. Should any further Grant appear to you advisable under peculiar circumstances, you are to report your opinion to the Committee specially, and in a letter separate from all other matters, stating your reasons to the amount of the extraordinary Grant which you recommend.

The Committee are aware that famine has already establish itself in many Districts so undeniably, that it would be a vain attempt on the part of their Agent to define with any accuracy the classes of persons to be relieved out of a free Grant. But they wish you to bear in mind for application, whenever practicable, the principle that few ...


... Grants ought to be limited to those who are unable to labour. After the observations which have been made above, it is almost unnecessary to state that you are at liberty to make sales of the provisions under your charge to relief-Committees, or to any Individuals who you are satisfied will retail them for charitable purposes not for profit. With respect to the latter it will be desirable that you should make it a condition that the food should be retailed at a maximum price fixed by you, and acknowledged in writing by the Purchaser.

On the subject of the price at which you are at liberty to make these sales, you will take the prime cost, except in cases where the nearest Commissariat Store may be selling below that price, when you will sell at their value.

You will also bear in mind the necessities of those parts of your District which you may not yet have visited; and not exhaust your Stores before you see an immediate prospect of their being replenished.

Considering the question of Grants and of sales jointly, it is likely that you may often be able to induce the latter, by ...


... a conditional promise of the former. A relief Committee may be willing to make an effort to purchase, when they are assured that a Grant will accompany a sale.

Your independent position, both as regards the Government, and as regards local influences, may enable you to enforce with effect on the Relief-Committees the importance of encouraging the retail local trade. It would be very undesirable that you should attempt to interfere in the details of any such arrangements; but it may be very useful that you should take opportunities of pointing out the importance of the principle.

It is the practice of the Committee to issue blank query sheets to parties applying for assistance with instructions then when filled up, they should be handed to their Agents on the spot. It will be your duty to consider to inform yourself carefully as to such of these statements as may reach you, and to forward the same to the Committee with your observations: using your best discretion as to the necessity of taking any steps for affording relief before an answer can be received from hence.

In order to the accurate formation of an opinion upon these documents, the Committee will only observe that as the most necessitous Districts are those which require their first notice, it is desirable to pay ...


... especial attention first to the subject of the Poor law Valuation, both in its proportion to the population and to the acreable extent of the District, as indicative of the local means which exist for meeting the distress; and secondly to the proportion of the population which has been employed on Public Works. For though the amount of distress is not measured by the latter, yet the absence of distress is pretty generally shown by there having been but a small number employed in that manner.

The Committee are desirous that their Agents should be in as frequent communication as possible with the Relief Officers employed under the authority of Government, and you will be at liberty to communicate directly with M. genl. Sir John Burgoyne, the Chief of the relief department on any points which may appear to be deserving of his attention. But you will take care to make it fully understood by the relief Committees and other local bodies with whom you communicate, that you are assisting in the administration of a voluntary Relief Subscription arising from English Charity necessarily limited in extent, and therefore not only justifying, but requiring economy in its distribution, but yet so large to deserve the warmest thanks of the Irish people to the Contributors.

Though it is not within your province or that of the Committee to interfere directly with the subject of the non-cultivation of the land, ...


... yet your position will give you opportunities of adverting to it incidentally with great effect.

It is desirable that you should as far as practicable employ the agency of the relief Committees organised by Government and even in cases where it may be necessary to make a Grant to a specific portion of a Relief District, it is expedient to entrust the administration thereof to the Committee which includes that locality within its sphere of influence. Some instances unhappily exist where from local jealousies or other causes, the relief Committee is inefficient or unworthy of trust and in such cases it will be your duty to form a Committee of not less than three Individuals who may be found fit Administrators of the Charity.

In conclusion I have to request that you will keep this Committee as fully acquainted with your proceedings as such times of urgency will permit.

I have the honor to be, Sir,
Yr. obedt. Servt.
S. Spring Rice
Hony. Secy


Dr. Loney.

The signatory is the Hon. Stephen Spring Rice, one of the three Honorary Secretaries of the Association (the others were Francis Carleton and E. Cane)

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