First Hospital in Dublin - Poor Relief in former days - The Foundling Hospital and its Founders - Dublin's First Workhouse - House of Industry Hospitals - James's Street Work-house-John's Lane Chapel - The Augustinians and their Church in Thomas Street.
In the preceding chapter I alluded to the House of Industry and its Hospitals. As we are passing away from this interesting portion of the city, we will take another snap-shot of this historic building. To assist us in our rambles we have a look through Archdale's "Monasticon," published in 1787, - which, in the present day, is most interesting reading. In the preface (said to be written by Ledwidge) to this valuable work, there are a few paragraphs which are worth republishing.
Writing of the Hospitals in Ireland in connection with Monastic Institutions, he says:- "The first houses were formed for the relief of the impotent and indigent; there were, for the most part, two or three religious placed in them, who acted as chaplains and physicians."
Further on in the preface he adds:- "So rivetted is the affection of the natives, from long habit, to the monastic life, that, besides supplying our interior monasteries with brethren, enough are found to fill the National Seminaries of Rome, Spain, Portugal, France, and the Low Countries. The number of Regulars, at the time of the Revolution, in this country was above 2,000; at this day (1785) they are not threefourths, and still they continue to diminish, the sure consequence of civilisation and industry."
"The first hospital founded in Dublin, about the end of the 12th century, was known as the Priory of St. John the Baptist, and was situated in St. Thomas Street, without the west or new gate of the city. In 1316, on the approach of Edward Bruce, the citizens set fire to Thomas Street, so as to prevent the city from falling into his hands. The Church and Priory of St. John, with the Chapel of St. Magdalen, were consumed in the conflagration. Two years afterwards King Edward II. made a grant of lands in Ireland for a space of four years in order to assist in repairing the Hospital.
"This Hospital continued its useful and charitable existence till 22nd January, 1537, in the 35th year of King Henry VIII., when that monarch suppressed it and confiscated all its property, granting same to the Earl of Thomond, at a fine of � 18s. 8d. At that time there was attached to the Priory an Hospital containing 50 beds for the sick. In this Hospital there were both Friars and Nuns. The vestments for the Friars of Thomas Court, for the Franciscans in Francis Street, and for the University of St. Patrick were wrought here. For their labour they had a tenth of the wool or flax which they spun assigned to them when the work was finished. The different Orders for whom they wrought did visit this house on St. John's Day, when they presented their offerings before the image of the saint, which stood in the great hall; and on the Saint's Eve the Mayor and Commons were also wont to visit them, on which a great bonfire was made before the Hospital, and many others throughout the city."
We also learn from the "Monasticon" "that a Roman Catholic chapel was erected on the site of this priory; the ancient steeple still remains." These meagre particulars are supplemented by the following from the Egerton MS., 1772:- "John's Lane Chapel, in Thomas Street, was repaired and adapted to the use of the Augustine hermits by Father Byrne, Superior of that Order in Ireland. It fell down a few years ago, but hath been rebuilt by subscription, and is one of the most regular built chapels in Dublin. The altar is wainscotted and embellished with pillars, cornices, and other decorations. The altar-piece is a painting of the Crucifixion, and on the altar stands a gilt tabernacle, twelve gilded candlesticks with large wax tapers, and with artificial nosegays.
"The sacristy is large and commodiously fitted up. Here are two paintings, one of St. Augustine and the other of his mother Monica. The pulpit is very neat and the confessionals in good taste, and placed under the gallery, which serves for a choir. Over the sacristy are the lodging chambers of the friars."
In connection with this old chapel the following appears in "Falkiner's Dublin Journal," 2nd May, 1778 - "On Monday night last some sacrilegious villains broke into 'the Chapel of John's Lane' in order to rob it of its most valuable utensils. They first began with rifling the altar, but the clerk, who lay in the vestry, hearing the noise, immediately got up and put his head out of the window and cried out 'Robbers!' on which the villains made off with two pixes, which happily proved to be one of pewter and the other of brass. From this and a similar robbery committed in Ashe Street Chapel a few nights ago, gentlemen who have the care of churches and chapels would do well to remove their valuable utensils, especially plate, to safer places than where they are generally lodged."
The present magnificent Church of St. Augustine, one of the glories of Catholic Dublin, is erected on a portion of the site of the old Priory of St. John the Baptist. The first stone of the new church was laid in 1862. It was solemnly dedicated in 1893.
In 1601 an attempt was made to deal with the distress, when a Poor Law Act was passed, but being framed on the same principle as some of our laws affecting Irish land of to-day, not being compulsory, it was a failure. Various plans were suggested for amelioration, but distress still continued. The vagrancy and want, mendicancy and demoralisation of the people, - the result in a great measure of mistaken policy and mischievous legislation, - continued to exist.
It was not till the reign of Queen Anne in 1702 that any legal provision was made for the relief of the poor. In that year was established the earliest workhouse in Dublin. It was established pursuant to "an Act for erecting a workhouse in the City of Dublin for the employment and maintaining the poor thereof." A donation and grant was made for its support by the Lord Mayor and Corporation as follows:-
"And, whereas, the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs, and Commons and citizens of Dublin, for the encouragement of so necessary and charitable a work, are willing, not only to appropriate a piece of ground for a workhouse within the said city, but also to endow it with lands of inheritance to the value of �0 per annum."
The lands so given were in the walled-in ground at the south-west end 9f James's Street, and 14 acres of land adjoining thereto, whereon several houses were built, and are now occupied by the South Dublin Union. This place was converted afterwards into a Foundling Hospital (of which more anon). The Act in question constituted a Corporation for the maintaining and carrying on the work, but it was found necessary in 1727 to pass a new Act for the better regulating of the workhouse and its poor; a new Corporation was formed under the name of the Governors of the Poor of the City of Dublin. Statutes dealing with Foundling Children were passed in the years 1729, 1731, and 1749.
The last Act was somewhat drastic. It gave the Governors power to commit beggars and vagrants labouring under disease, and exposing their infirmities, to the workhouse, and upon the certificate of the physicians or surgeons that the disorder was dangerous or incurable, to confine them in some house in the city, or send them to the Hospital for Incurables. This Act continued in operation till 1772, when the whole system was re-cast, as in that year there were passed three Acts:-
(1) The Dublin Foundling Hospital and Workhouse;
Under the last Act was established the Dublin House of Industry, which was to be divided into four parts-
(1) One to be allotted to such poor helpless men as should be judged
worthy of admission;
Provision was made in this Act for the erection of the Dublin Houses of Industry, but the allowance of ground (two roods) not being sufficient for the Corporation of the Poor of Dublin in 1787, they were empowered to take a greater area, which they did by purchasing 11 acres of ground, from North Brunswick Street on to Glasmanogue. Thus was founded the Dublin House of Industry, which consisted of the following:-
(1) An Asylum for aged and infirm poor;
In 1840 when the present Poor Law system came into operation, the principal building was converted into what we now know as the North Dublin Union Workhouse. The pauper inmates in same when the transition took place were transferred to other buildings. The poor lunatics, close upon 200, were transferred to a house near Island Bridge. No other lunatics were taken into this place, its inmates being solely those transferred from the House of Industry, the last of whom died in 1861, when the house was given back to the Royal Hospital authorities, and afterwards converted into a stable in connection wiih Island Bridge Cavalry Barracks. (Pictured below is the Dining Hall of the Foundling Hospital, later the South Dublin Union).
In 1876 Mr. W. D. Wadsworth, Assistant Secretary to the Local Government Board, published a most interesting booklet, which gave a brief history of the ancient Foundling Hospital of the City of Dublin from the year 1702, in the preface of which he says:-
"I have endeavoured to put together the skeleton of the institution and reanimate its remains and it may not, perhaps, be found uninteresting to the student of Irish history and not without some claim to the attention of the antiquary and the general reader." As the statements contained in the volume just alluded to are of such an extraordinary character, I refrain from making any remarks of my own, using Mr. Wadsworth's own words:-
"The Foundling Hospital, Dublin, 1702.-In the report of the Local Government Board for Ireland presented to Parliament in 1875 there is a statement by the present Inspector of Foundlings to the effect that a brief sketch of the rather remarkable history of the Dublin Foundling Hospital. might not be an uninteresting or an uninstructive record, and it seems not to be inappropriate at the present time, before the remaining members of the once famous institution expire and the whole becomes one of the things that have passed away in these countries."
In a curious History of Ireland, published by one John Angel in 1781, and which claimed to be the "Compleatest History of the Present State of Ireland yet Extant," it is stated as follows in reference to the public Institutions in Dublin (page 233):-
"The Workhouse situated in James's Street is a very large building for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children, who when of age are put apprentice to trades. The Governors are incorporated by charter, consisting of persons of the highest station. It is supported by Parliamentary grants, etc., and there are at present 3,000 children in the house, and at nurse, maintained at the expense of the workhouse."
John Angel simply stated the bald fact as he found it; but the rise and progress and final demolition of the establishment in question, after an existence of upwards of a century and during a remarkable period - a time of great transition in the history of Ireland - appears to demand some further record.
The hospital gradually became one of the most gigantic baby-finding, "baby-farming," "nurse boarding out," and apprenticing institutions these countries ever saw. The objects of the institution were avowedly twofold - namely, first, to prevent "the exposure, death, and actual murder of illegitimate children," and, secondly, "to educate and rear children taken in charge by the institution in the Reformed or Protestant Faith, and thereby to strengthen and promote the Protestant interest in Ireland." Both of these objects were, however, more or less frustrated by the operations of natural causes and effects.
"Death during the carriage of infants to the hospital, during the time they were retained there, and during the time that they were out at nurse, became so prominent a feature that it was again and again the subject of anxious inquiries and investigations.
"A sufficient number of Protestant nurses for the infants could not be found. The children were therefore located with nurses of the Catholic faith, and, gradually imbibing the religious predilections of their foster-mothers, refused when returned to the hospital to adopt the Protestant form of worship, or, if adopting it for a time, speedily relapsed into what the Governors deemed to be religious error, and they were struck off the books. Thus life was not saved in any degree commensurate with the intentions of the Legislature, nor were there so many accessions to the Protestant interests of the country as had been expected."
The records in connection with the Hospital are most voluminous. The entries in the Minute Books from 1728 to 1829 are verified by the autographs of many men who are connected with the history of the county - viz., Abercorn and Altamont; Lanesborough and Bandon, Moira, Mornington, Newton, and "Tullamoor" are there. Notably also "Hu" Armach; John Dublin; Jonathan Swift (the Dean); J. Blaquire, M.P.; Sir G. Ribton, Bart., Lord Mayor, 1747-8; the Right Hon. P. Crampton, Lord Mayor, 1758-9; H. Grattan; Guinness; "Tabuchau;" and La Touche.
Noble ladies were there too. There is one in particular, Lady Arabella Denny. This noble, energetic and good woman for many years devoted herself to the service of the establishment. Amongst other things she enlarged and improved the buildings out of her own money and what she obtained from her friends, spending �190 19s. 2絛. on the institution - a very considerable sum in those days.
In 1730 the buildings were used exclusively for the reception of foundlings, and "a cradle or turning wheel" and a bell for taking in infants were provided at the gate for use by "day or night," as may be seen from the following entry in the Minute Book:-
"3rd October, 1730.
"Hu (Boulter) Armach, Primate of All-Ireland, being in the chair, ordered that a turning-wheel, or conveniency for taking in children, be provided near the gate of the workhouse; that at any time, by day or by night, a child may be layd in it, to be taken in by the officers of the said house."
From this date the reception of foundlings at the gate may be said to have been in full swing, and this "cradle" was but too often the preliminary coffin of thousands of wretched little beings who were consigned to its cold clasp. There is no complete enumeration of the foundlings and other children who were admitted into the hospital from first to last in the 130 years during which it continued its operation; but from the returns of Parliament it may be computed that, independent of the hundreds of infants who died on the road during transit, and who were exposed on the banks of the adjoining canal, and died there, or were drowned, not less than 200,000 infants passed that dread portal, the "cradle at the gate."
The growth of the institution is thus recorded
1702 - 260 children admitted, and the number annually increased,
especially after 1740.
The very large proportion of the children admitted who shortly after admission died attracted attention on several occasions.
For five years - 1791 to 1796 - no less than 5,216 infants were sent to the Infirmary. A solitary one recovered. In the March quarter of 1795, of the 540 children received into the Foundling Hospital, no less a number than 440 died. In 1797 a Committee of the Irish House of Commons was appointed to inquire into the Management of the Establishment. The Report was a most damning document. The Report of the Sub-Committee gives a graphic account of what they saw when they went to inspect, and presents a picture which needs no further painting.
It appears the children were "stripped" when sent up to the Infirmary (to die), and had the old clothing that they came into the House in put on them. That they were then laid, five and six huddled and crushed together, in the receptacles called cradles, "swarming with vermin," and they were then covered over with filthy and dirty blankets, which had been "cast" as unfit for use.
Poor little, helpless, unresisting innocents; death and reception into that place, which is declared to be the haven of peace for ever and joy "for such" as these, must have been indeed a merciful release from mundane sorrow and suffering. .
The particular feature in the working of this institution, it appears, was "The Bottle."
The Hospital Nurse deposed when examined on oath by the Committee that a medicine called significantly "The Bottle" was handed round to them all at intervals indiscriminately. She did not know what was in it, but supposed it was a "composing draught," for "the children were easy for an hour or two after taking it." The surgeon, when he did come, always asked if she had given them "The Bottle," but asked no other questions.
Discreet Surgeon! - He knew well enough what the bottle was made up of, and that the children derived assistance from its contents. They were being assisted to die.
The infants, or many of them, when put into the hospital were anything but moribund. Sir John Trail, one of the sub-committee, states that whilst the committee was sitting " he had seen some of the children who were brought in at the moment, and that they were as fine children as ever he saw."
Consigned to the den above described, and fed on bread and water and "The Bottle," they soon died.
The Irish House of Commons adopted the recommendations of the Committee to reform the government of the Foundling Hospital. The new Corporation of Governors came into office in 1798, under a special Act of Parliament, and the Foundling Hospital was "reformed."
The English House of Commons 33 years afterwards, in the year 1829, received information of similar malpractices to those already disclosed. The following figures, tell their own story:- Of 52,150 children admitted during 30 years ending January, 1826, 14,613 died in hospital while infants, 25,859 were returned as dead at nurse in the country, 730 died in the infirmary, 322 more who had been sent into the country for their health:- in all 41,524 died.
The House unhesitatingly recommended the closing of the hospital; and it was closed. Mr. Wadsworth truly says:- "It took 130 years to convince people of the error of founding such an institution, and the failure to attain the two ostensible objects proposed, namely, saving infant life and making good Protestants; and further to prove how mischievous its effects were in a moral point of view."