All over Europe the harvest of 1846 was wholly or partially a failure. The wheat crop was scanty, oats and barley 'decidedly deficient', rye and potatoes a total loss, and 'general famine' followed. European countries outbid Britain for supplies. Ships bringing cargoes were diverted from British to European ports, and Trevelyan complained that France and Belgium, by paying high prices, secured 'more than their share in the Mediterranean market, besides placing large orders in the United States'.


The British Government could not have foreseen the general failure of the harvest in Europe, but it might have led them to modify their Irish relief plans. No modification was attempted, the scheme stood as drafted. No orders for food were to be placed abroad; no Government food depots were to be established, except in the west; all importing was to be left to private enterprise.

Routh was uneasy and apprehensive. He did not agree that private enterprise would bring in sufficient imports of food, and towards the end of August he came over to London and saw Trevelyan and Charles Wood at the Treasury. He failed to obtain permission to place any large orders. All he could get was a promise that Barings should be asked to purchase the moderate amount of 2,000 tons of Indian corn, and in the United Kingdom only. Trevelyan was insistent that purchases made in foreign markets would raise prices against British buyers, and pointed out that the British people were also suffering from the European shortage. An exception to the rule of buying only in the United Kingdom was made in favour of 'floating cargoes', that is, cargoes already at sea and on their way to European ports. Trevelyan frequently referred to 'floating cargoes' as if they constituted a substantial resource.

This year, however, Barings declined to act. The request, officially made on August 25, 1846, in a highly complimentary Treasury minute, was declined by Mr. Thomas Baring, who wrote that in view of the new policy, which 'excludes from its operations all purchases in foreign countries . . . Government does not need the co-operation of a mercantile house of general business, but of a reliable corn-factor', and he recommended Mr. Erichsen, of 100 Fenchurch Street, in the City of London.

Mr. Erichsen's appointment was announced on August 28, and on the same day he broke the news to Trevelyan that to buy 2,000 tons of Indian corn in the United Kingdom was all but impossible: supplies of Indian corn on the Liverpool and London markets were already short, he wrote, and as for floating cargoes, 'there are two or three buyers for every seller'. On September 2 prices were still rising, and on September 7 there was yet another 'considerable rise' on the Liverpool market.


Private enterprise was operating briskly. 'Everything that offers is being bought up with the greatest eagerness for Ireland,' wrote Erichsen, but by a very different class of trader from the respectable corn-merchants and provision dealers of Trevelyan's imagination— it was the Irish meal-dealer and petty money-lender who was active, the dreaded 'gombeen man', the merciless and rapacious ogre of the Irish village. By September 15 meal, except at enormous cost, was unobtainable by relief committees and philanthropic private persons. Dealers 'hungry for money', wrote Captain Pole, Commissariat officer at Banagher, 'buy up whatever comes to market and offer it again in small quantities at a great price which a poor man cannot pay and live.'

Sales of a pound or two at a time, at exorbitant prices, produced large profits, and Irish dealers in the west paid high figures for meal; 50s. a quarter was being paid in Sligo when Trevelyan was instructsing Erichsen to buy for Government at 40s. Even so, price was not the real difficulty, as Erichsen warned Trevelyan, on September 14; the real difficulty was to find anything to buy at all. When purchasing for his own account, Erichsen had been 'obliged to give 46s. for the only good lot of Indian corn in London, and then it was only 500-600 quarters I could get'. Trevelyan, however, ignoring Erichsen's warnings, instructed him, on September 17, to purchase '5,000 quarters of Indian corn to be delivered on the West coast of Ireland in November and December at 40s to 41s'. That day Erichsen wrote an alarming letter. Any supply wanted before the end of November would be extremely difficult to obtain, at any price, and as for talking in figures of thousands of quarters, 'what I have actually secured amounts only to 900-1,000 quarters'.


A quantity of 1,000 quarters to feed the starving millions of the west of Ireland was so evidently inadequate that Trevelyan agreed to allow Erichsen some latitude in price. It was too late; the season for importing Indian corn was coming to an end, famine conditions in Europe had produced a demand previously unknown, and it had vanished from British markets. On September 23 Erichsen wrote from London, that 'not one single cargo offers here'; on the Liverpool market on October 13, Indian corn reached 54s., and even at that price was virtually unobtainable.

Trevelyan was forced to give up his plan of buying only in the United Kingdom. British markets, he wrote, were 'so bare that we have had to have recourse to the plan of purchasing supplies of Indian corn already exported to Continental ports'. Nevertheless, prices were still too high, and in a typical instance Erichsen reported being 'outbid for 3,000-4,000 quarters at Antwerp after venturing as high as 47s. before retiring'.


Trevelyan for his part was able to consider the rise in prices a 'great blessing'. He pointed out to Routh that high prices, by limiting consumption, exercised a 'regulating influence' in time of shortage; they were also 'indispensably necessary to attract from abroad the supplies necessary to fill up the void occasioned by the destruction of the potato crop'. 'Nothing,' he wrote, 'was more calculated to attract supplies, and especially from America,' than high prices, and he drew a picture of what would happen in the United States when high prices made themselves felt—'then down from Cincinnati and Ohio would come quantities of Indian corn, formerly used to keep pigs.'


He appeared to be unaware of the conditions governing the export of Indian corn from the United States. It was not fit for export until several months after it was harvested, and the Indian corn sold for export in the summer of 1846 was the harvest of 1845. True, the harvest of 1846 had been particularly abundant, but the produce would not be exportable until 1847. Moreover, the period during which Indian corn was shipped to Europe was limited; at that time crossing the Atlantic in late autumn and winter was a dangerous proceeding—ships were sailing-ships, and few left for Europe after September. The clearance of the 1845 harvest of Indian corn had been early and complete; the hungry nations of Europe had acted promptly and paid high prices, the crop was shipped and gone. Those large supplies which Trevelyan imagined could be diverted from the pigs of Cincinnati and Ohio to the starving Irish were non-existent.


In Ireland, Routh was in a state of 'painful anxiety'. Nothing whatever, he wrote, on September 19, had arrived at either Westport or Sligo, the two centres of supply for the most remote and poverty-stricken western districts. He had seen Erichsen's bills of lading, and the quantities secured were much too small; when they did eventually come in they would be 'eaten up within 24 hours or less of arrival'. He needed 'at least' 1,000 tons each for Westport, Sligo, Killibegs, Limerick and Galway, and this would make only a 'temporary impression'.


The quantity Erichsen had managed to buy by the end of September amounted only to 35,500 quarters of Indian corn and 500 quarters of Indian corn-meal; about 7,200 tons in all. He had attempted to purchase barley, but owing to the European demand had secured only 1,085 quarters. On September 21 Routh wrote again, this time almost in distraction, privately to Trevelyan and officially to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. He feared that the Government, by purchasing solely in the United Kingdom and European ports, would not be able to secure the quantity of Indian corn required to fulfil their pledge to feed the west; and he begged the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury to authorise 'importation from the U.S.A.'—sixty to eighty thousand quarters should be ordered immediately. And he told Trevelyan that in his judgment a further contract should be made for 125,000 quarters at least.

Trevelyan now renounced a basic principle of his scheme: orders for Indian corn were sent to the United States by the September packets. It was too late. The next arrivals of Indian corn from the United States could not reach the United Kingdom until the spring of 1847. 'We have relied too much on the resources of the American market,' Trevelyan wrote privately to Routh. 'The produce of the present harvest will only begin to be fit for exportation in December or January... and then it will be subject to serious obstruction from the closing of the rivers by ice.'


On the same day, however, in a Treasury minute, Routh was officially rebuked: he was asking too much for Ireland. Scarcity of food, he was reminded, extended over the whole of western Europe and the United Kingdom, and nothing ought to be done for the west of Ireland which might send prices, already high, still higher for people 'who, unlike the inhabitants of the west coast of Ireland, have to depend on their own exertions'.


The views of the Treasury were shared by The Times. In a 'Sermon for Ireland', on September 8, The Times leader-writer declared that this year 'the Irishman is destitute, so is the Scotchman, and so is the Englishman ... It appears to us to be of the very first importance to all classes of Irish society to impress on them that there is nothing so peculiar, so exceptional, in the condition which they look on as the pit of utter despair ... Why is that so terrible in Ireland which in England does not create perplexity and hardly moves compassion ?'


Commissariat officers serving in Irish relief declared that the English knew as little of Ireland as of West Africa; in fact, they knew less. The distant parts of the Empire which Britain then ruled, in Africa, India, China, were more carefully studied than Ireland and their economic structure better understood.


For instance, Routh wrote from Sligo, on September 14, that harvest was in progress, and he could not understand why distress in Sligo was so acute that 200 tons of meal had to be issued weekly at a time when 'the fields were teeming with crops', or why frantic appeals for food were coming in from Bantry, Valencia, Cahirciveen and Gweedore in the last twenty-four hours. 'It is impossible there can be this total want, this extinction of every supply in the midst of harvest.'

British high officials, in spite of the previous season's experience, failed to grasp the place of the grain harvest in Irish life. Grain and oats were not grown to eat but to pay the rent. 'If the people are forced to consume their oats and other grain, where is the rent to come from?' wrote the Commissariat officer at Westport.

Trevelyan, in Whitehall, however, doubted if any real want yet existed. In his opinion 'the scramble for our supplies is indicative, not so much of a general destitution, as of a perfectly natural desire to get food where it can be had at the cheapest rate'. Rejecting an appeal from Roscommon he wrote, 'I cannot believe there is no store of food in Roscommon from the oat harvest.'


It was notorious that, for the Irish peasant, failure to pay his rent meant eviction. Yet even in the present emergency no protection, no period of grace, was given the small tenant; he was left to the mercy of his landlord, and as a Commissariat officer wrote to Trevelyan from Sligo, 'The first object of landlords will be to collect rents.'

A letter survives written on September 20, 1846, by Simon Dun-ane, a small farmer at Gurtnahaller, County Limerick. He tells his landlord that he can pay his rent only by thrashing and selling his oats, and since all his potatoes are lost this means death by starvation for himself, his wife and his six children. Nevertheless, since fear of eviction was in the very blood of the Irish peasant, grain was sold, rents were paid, and Simon Dunane, with his fellows, flocked, starving, to the depots.


A number of landlords did reduce their rents, or agreed to forgo them altogether, among them Lord Rossmore, the Earl Erne and the Marquess of Ormonde; Sir George Staunton, owner of Clydagh, County Galway, though an absentee, renounced his rents entirely, as did Mr. Henry O'Neill of Derrymacloughlin Castle, whose tenants lighted bonfires and danced in his honour; and near Tuam, Mr. Charles Cromie, of Annefield House, instructed his steward to arrange for all oats and grain grown on his property to be ground and made into meal and flour for distribution to tenants. In October the Duke of Devonshire gave rent reductions varying from 33 per cent, to 50 per cent.; Lord Fortescue followed, and by the middle of November, 1846, the Nation was publishing lists of landlords who were reducing or forgoing rents.


Feelings of humanity were not, however, universal. 'Every day there has been some notice of sale for rent,' wrote the Dublin Evening Mail on September 18. Troops and bodies of police were called in to enforce the law; and in a notorious case at Ahascragh, County Galway, forty-seven persons were evicted by being thrown bodily out of their houses by a numerous force of constabulary.


The Irish peasant was told to replace the potato by eating his grain, but Trevelyan once again refused to take any steps to curb the export of food from Ireland. 'Do not encourage the idea of prohibiting exports,' he wrote, on September 3, perfect Free Trade is the right course.'

Routh disagreed, a rare occurrence. He considered exports to be a 'serious evil' and estimated, on September 29, that by the end of the harvest, of oats alone, apart from other produce, '60,000 tons' would have left the country. Trevelyan would not be moved; according to Free Trade doctrines the sale, by export outside Ireland, of grain and other produce which commanded a high price should provide Irish merchants with money to purchase and import low-priced foods, to replace the loss of the potato. However, the undeveloped commercial system of Ireland made any such operations highly improbable. Merchants engaged in the import business, of the type common in England, were very few—a handful of firms only, operating in ports such as Cork and Belfast. The dealers in the backward west knew nothing whatever of importing. 'Their operations,' wrote the Commissariat officer at Shgo, 'are restricted to exportation.' The dealers bought produce and sent it out of the country, but they never imported anything. Even had they wished to do so, wrote the officer, they were quite unable to reverse their businesses at short notice and, he added, there had been 'no importation whatever since my arrival in the district of any Indian corn or cheap food on private account'.

So the enormous void left by the loss of the potato remained unfilled, and the grip of hunger tightened on Ireland.


On market-day, September 12,1846, in Skibbereen, County Cork, an agricultural centre, there was not a single loaf of bread or pound of meal to be had in the town. The Relief Committee applied to Mr. Hughes, the Commissariat officer, asking him to sell or lend some meal from the Government depot. He refused, saying 'his instructions prevented him', and an angry scene followed. Two days later, members of the Committee again came to see him, followed by a starving crowd, imploring food. The sight was too much for Mr. Hughes. The misery in Skibbereen, he assured Routh on September 20, had not been exaggerated, and he issued two and a half tons of meal, instantly distributed in small lots. Upon this, the Catholic curate of Trellagh, a neighbouring village, came and asked for two tons, telling Mr. Hughes his people were starving and he dared not return empty-handed. Again Mr. Hughes gave way. The curate of Trellagh was followed by the Relief Committee of the village of Leap, who asked for ten tons; Mr. Hughes refused, and a most painful scene took place. In the presence of Captain Dyer, the Board of Works' inspecting officer, and Mr. Pinchen, sub-inspector of Police, the spokesman for the Relief Committee of Leap said, 'Mr. Deputy Commissary, do you refuse to give out food to starving people who are ready to pay for it? If so, in the event of an outbreak tonight the responsibility will be yours.' What, Mr. Hughes asked Routh, was the right course for him to pursue? Routh, in reply, instructed Mr. Hughes to 'represent to applicants for Government supplies of food the necessity for private enterprise and importation

... Towns should combine and import from Cork or Liverpool ... Now is the time to use home produce'. By September 25 the people at Clashmore, County Waterford, were living on blackberries, and at Rathcormack, County Cork, on cabbage leaves. In Leitrim, where there were few shops, the parish of Cloone, with 22,000 inhabitants, had no provision dealer or baker of any kind, and people were starving 'by hundreds'. Even in prosperous Leinster food became unobtainable. In Maryborough (Port Laoighise), on September 30, there had not been a grain of oatmeal in the town for three weeks, and the bakers had no flour to make bread.


To people desperate with hunger the sight of food streaming out of the country was once more unbearable, and serious riots took place—more serious than any riots of the previous years. At Youghal, near Cork, a small port much used for export, an outbreak took place on September 25. A large crowd of country people, described by the police as 'enraged', attempted to hold up a boat laden with export oats—the police sent for troops, and the crowd was checked, with difficulty, at Youghal bridge. The disturbance was sufficiently important for Mr. T. N. Redington, the Under-Secretary at Dublin Castle, to be sent over to London by the next boat to explain to the Government.

A riot, with loss of life, occurred at Dungarvan, County Water-ford, on September 29. A crowd of starving unemployed entered the town, threatened merchants and shopkeepers, ordering them not to export grain, and plundered shops. The Resident Magistrate had the ringleaders arrested and put in the lock-up, upon which the crowd declared they would not go home until the prisoners were released.

After the police had tried, in vain, to clear the streets, the 1st Royal Dragoons were called out; the crowd began to pelt them with stones and the Riot Act was read. But as stone-throwing continued the officer commanding the Dragoons, Captain Sibthorp, gave the order to fire, and twenty-six shots were fired into the crowd, which then retreated. Several men were wounded and two were left lying on the ground, dead.

Four companies of the 47th Foot were then sent to keep order in Dungarvan; nevertheless, on October 1 vessels in Dungarvan harbour could not be loaded with grain for export because the labourers, hired to load, were afraid of the crowds.


The British Government now took strong steps to defeat anti-export disturbances, and Trevelyan arranged for the provisioning, with beef, pork and biscuit, of  2,000 troops, formed into mobile columns 'to be directed on particular points at very short notice'. Provisions for six weeks were sufficient, wrote Trevelyan, because 'food riots are quite different from organized rebellion and are not likely to be of long duration'.

In addition, all vessels loaded with grain or meal passing up the river Fergus were to have a naval escort, and the Admiral at Cork, Sir H. Pigot, suggested that a 'vessel of war', with a detachment of marines on board, should be sent to lie off Bantry and Berehaven. Government food depots and sub-depots were guarded by police and troops; and Mr. Hewetson reported from Limerick, on October 10, that troops were sent out daily into the harvest fields to 'protect' the corn, because the people were cutting the traces of the horses which drew carts and wagons to prevent grain being taken away.


Yet had all food been kept in the country, and home-grown grain and provisions been on sale, had private enterprise succeeded in functioning and supplies of cheap food been freely available, the Irish people would have been little better off. They were penniless; even if food had been abundant, they could not have bought it. The Government scheme was relief through employment—wages were to be paid on the public works so that food could be bought. But, once again, public works failed to get started.


The deluge of applications for works, sent forward, wholesale, by the Presentment Sessions, combined with the strictness of Treasury control, created interminable delays. Every application forwarded to the Treasury was personally examined and pronounced upon by Trevelyan, entailing so much work that he left his wife and family and went to live by himself in lodgings, in order, as he wrote, on September 28, and underlined, 'to give up the whole of my time to the public'."


Districts which had sent forward proposals for works at the beginning of September expected employment to begin almost at once. In disturbed districts, angry mobs dispersed on hearing that proposals had been submitted, expecting speedy employment. Weeks passed, nothing happened, and desperate appeals began to pour in. The inhabitants of Athy, County Kildare, had 'pawned everything and cannot bear it much longer'; in Waterford, 'the privation had reached its utmost limit and the promised works must be started at once'; at Castleisland, County Kerry, on October 18, a notice was posted that work must be started or there would be plunder—the men of Castleisland could not 'bear the cries of hungry children any longer'. Lord Devon, chairman of the celebrated Devon Commission, estimated, on October 2, 1846, that four thousand men in his neighbourhood required employment and 'could not be pacified by words'; his house was daily surrounded by men whom he knew to be starving. Delays, however, dragged on, in some places until the end of November; in Rosbercon Ross, County Kilkenny, the starving were still waiting for works to begin on November 25 and being driven 'frantic by repeated delays'.


When works did begin immense difficulties arose. In consequence of the idling of last season, all works were 'to be executed by task', that is, payment was to be by results, in proportion to the amount of work done; and as had been demonstrated in the previous year Irish labourers detested task-work; they alleged that stewards showed favouritism and that the Board of Works was so short of staff that it was impossible to get work measured promptly for payment.

In Limerick opposition was so strong that, rather than introduce task-work, the County Surveyor 'thought it wiser to retire', and his successor warned the constabulary on October 21 that task-work was so 'furiously disliked' that he 'dreaded an outbreak'. An outbreak did take place, at Ballingarry, on October 27, when a mob of two thousand unemployed compelled men working by task to down tools; a riot followed, and troops were called out.


In a number of places the introduction of task-work was held up because the Board of Works had no staff available to plan and measure, and when wages were paid by the day the rate was universally declared to be too low. The Commissariat officer at Banagher, Captain Pole, warned Trevelyan that, with rising prices, the wages proposed by the Board of Works 'will not prove enough to buy food' ; and Father Mathew wrote, from Cork, that 'a shilling a day or even one and sixpence is nothing to a poor man with a large family if he has to pay 2d. a lb. for Indian meal'. Rates of pay were, nevertheless, fixed at 6d., 7d. and, at the most, 8d. a day. Hostile demonstrations followed. At Mallow, County Cork, for instance, when 7d. was fixed a body of 218 labourers marched to the Poor House and forced their way in, demanding to be admitted as paupers rather than be abandoned to die slowly from hunger on 7d. a day. When the rate was raised to 8d. the Mallow Relief Committee described it, in a memorial to the Lord-Lieutenant, as 'arbitrary cruelty' and declared that 'the men on the works are starving'.


Moreover, the payment of wages was irregular. The shortage of silver coin, which had been felt last season, became acute, and on September 5 the Board of Works complained to the Treasury that difficulty in collecting coin was causing serious delay in the payment of wages. The Government steamship Comet was then sent round the coast of Ireland by the Treasury with about '£80,000 of small silver', and Trevelyan arranged with the Deputy Master of the Mint and the Governor of the Bank of England for 'all silver coin any part of Ireland may require being immediately furnished through the Bank of England'.

Even so, wages continued to be irregularly paid because of the crippling dearth of staff, the cause of almost all the confusions and difficulties in which the Board of Works became daily more entangled.


Men were not paid because there were no pay clerks to pay them; works were not started because there were no engineers to lay them out; task-work was not measured up because there were no stewards who could be entrusted with the calculation. The impossibility of securing suitable staff in Ireland had been demonstrated last season, yet Trevelyan and the British Government expected difficulties which had proved fatal on a small scale to solve themselves when the scale was enormously enlarged.

On October 29 Lord Monteagle described to Lord Bessborough his difficulties with the Board of Works' staff. On his estate at Shanagolden, County Limerick, a Captain Kennedy had first been appointed; he resigned and was succeeded by a Mr. Owens, 'who walked out in the midst of our troubles, with works to be laid out on which human lives depended'. Mr. Owens had 'gone off without telling anyone and not even leaving the documents which were needed to enable the labourers to be paid'—Monteagle had 'paid the men out of his own pocket'. 'Today,' he went on, 'two sets of labourers holding Government tickets have been turned away by the Board of Works' officer and sent home.' The people were distracted, and Monteagle did not know what to say to them. The County Surveyor was 'utterly incompetent to undertake executive duties', and 'a mass of discontent [is being] created . . . the refusal to pay men working under your Engineers tickets for work' and 'the disappearance of Mr. Owens were enough to throw the most tranquil country into confusion'.

'You must have mercy and pity us,' wrote Richard Griffith, the new Commissioner for Relief Works, to Lord Monteagle. 'We are perfectly unable to meet the requirements for . . . engineers.' Only fifteen men capable of acting as engineers in charge had been found by the end of September. 'The Inspecting Officers,' continued Mr. Griffith, 'are all failing us. Two in Clare have resigned, one in Cork, one in Waterford, and we are threatened with resignations in Fermanagh and Leitrim.'

Board of Works' employment was not attractive. Officials were hard-worked— 'up until 2 and 3 a.m. and up again at 7 a.m.', wrote Colonel Jones. At Presentment Sessions the officials, 'day after day' met with 'opposition, difficulties and insults' from a 'yelling mob' and had to travel long distances from one work to another, in all weathers, and were frequently subjected to 'severe wettings'. 'Some,' wrote the Commissioners of the Board of Works to the Lords of the Treasury, 'resign from inability to support the strain, some from intimidation, some have resigned the moment they joined and found the prospect that lay before them.'

As under the 1845 scheme, no works were to be undertaken from which one person in the district would profit more than another. The drainage works, of which Ireland stood so greatly in need, could not be undertaken, since owners of lands bordering on a drainage scheme would have their property improved and increased in value, while owners whose property was further away would receive little or no benefit. The same objection was found to apply to every kind of undertaking proposed, with the exception of road-making, and once again the public works executed under the Labour Rate Act were, almost without exception, new roads. But as a legacy from previous famines Ireland already had an unusually large number of roads. From Limerick, for instance, Stephen Spring Rice wrote 'our roads were nearly perfect. We had already the roads we wanted and they were as good as we wanted', and in a graphic phrase an inspecting officer of the Board of Works reported that Limerick was 'regularly riddled with roads'.

Lord Monteagle protested vehemently against useless works undertaken under 'this wretched Act of Parliament', and supported by Lord Devon he succeeded in convincing Lord Bessborough that the present policy must be modified. Works termed 'reproductive' or 'profitable', that is, which might confer some benefit on some individual, above all drainage works, must be allowed, or millions of pounds, which property owners would ultimately have to find, would be wasted: 'Expending a sum which ... may exceed three millions on unprofitable labour is a fatal mistake.'

Lord Bessborough then told Monteagle to write personally to Trevelyan—nothing could be done with the Chancellor of the Exchequer without Trevelyan's support. Monteagle's representations succeeded, and on October 5, 1846, an official letter, written by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Mr. Labouchere, announced that 'reproductive' works, including drainage, might be carried out under the Labour Rate Act provided certain conditions were complied with.

Lord Monteagle was delighted: he believed that the 'Labouchere letter', as it was called, would in effect replace the Labour Rate Act: it was, he wrote on October 16, 'not merely an amendment ... but a new and greatly preferable law'. Unhappily, the benefits anticipated did not follow, because the terms of the Labouchere letter were 'so guarded as to be not clearly intelligible'. One stipulation required that all landed proprietors without exception, in the district where works were to be executed, must sign an undertaking making themselves personally responsible for repaying the whole expense; and to get such an undertaking proved all but impossible. Further, districts which had already submitted proposals for roads, at a time when they could submit nothing else, were not allowed to send in revised schemes; and though it had been hoped that large-scale drainage schemes would be undertaken, in fact the expenditure on them under the letter represented only about five per cent, of the total expended under the Labour Rate Act. On November 14 Trevelyan told Mr. Labouchere: 'The scheme laid down in your letter is practically inefficient, both as a measure of relief and as a measure of improvement.'


During a bad year in Ireland the condition of the people invariably took a sharp turn for the worse after October 1; vegetables and gleanings were finished, and in normal years this was the moment at which the people became dependent on the potato—and if the crop was poor this was when they began to starve. And now there were no potatoes at all.


October came, and food prices rose to such heights that on the 6th the magistrates of the City and Borough of Cork asked for the Government food store to be opened: the people, even those with wages, were starving because they could not pay the exorbitant prices. The Cork magistrates were refused. Government supplies were only for the west, and even in the west there was no intention of opening the depots while any produce remained from the harvest —and it was considered produce did remain. Requests from all over Ireland were refused in the same terms.

The Government's attitude appeared unreasonable, tempers began to rise, and Irish landowners wrote angry letters to Routh in Dublin.


Viscount Bernard 'firmly protested against the course pursued by Government': Bandon was refused a depot because it was not in the west, but he wished to know how Sir Randolph Routh expected a relief committee, in a district which was already destitute, to raise enough money to supply a large population with food? Sir Richard Musgrave, one of the best landlords in Ireland, went further and wrote, on October 19 that 'many magistrates will resign, and probably lieutenants of counties also, if ministers adhere to the line they have chalked out'. The people, he pointed out, were 'only asking for necessities', and in his opinion the Government ought to purchase Indian corn and sell it cheaply.

On October 10 the Board of Works wrote an official letter informing the Lords of the Treasury that their officers were 'pressing' for depots to be opened immediately in remote districts: some places— Inniskeel, in County Donegal, for instance—were forty-five miles away from the nearest market. The Board of Works was refused. Nothing would be issued, even in the west, while produce was considered to remain from the harvest.


Routh could hardly tell the truth—the depots could not be opened because they did not contain sufficient supplies; they were, in fact, not very far from empty.

As Lord Monteagle wrote, he 'doubted very much if the magnitude of the existing calamity and its dangers are appreciated in Downing Street'. However, by an Order in Council the Dearth and Scarcity Prayer was directed to be used in Protestant churches throughout the United Kingdom, on Sunday, October11, and following Sundays, immediately after the third collect at both morning and evening service.


Applications now began to flood in by the hundreds; relief committees, alleging that their districts were starving, begged and implored Government to establish and open depots where the people might buy food at a low price. Contrary to expectation, the great majority of these, fifty-one in the three days October 5-7, came from the eastern division of Ireland, from such counties as Meath, Water-ford and Kilkenny, which, according to the Government plan, should have been supplied by private enterprise.


To deal with these applications Trevelyan, on October 7, drew up 'Heads of Answer', which Routh was instructed to use. Applicants were to be informed, first, that it was not the intention of Government to open depots, except in the west, and that, even there, they would be opened only when food was not provided in sufficient quantities by private traders; second, that from the deficiency of foreign grain, supplies would not be available in sufficient quantities before December or January; and, third, that it was therefore 'advisable for gentlemen of local influence to unite in exertions for having the Home harvest produce brought extensively into use'.


Even applications from the west, where the Government was pledged to provide food, were refused. Mr. Garvey, of Murrisk Abbey, for instance, chairman of the Kilgeever Relief Committee, asked for the establishment of a depot at Louisburgh, County Mayo, one of the few towns in that wild and poverty-stricken district. Mr. Garvey was told, bluntly, 'there will be no depot in Louisburgh'. No offer of assistance was made, but the relief committee of Kilgeever was instructed to raise a fund 'to be employed in the purchase of supplies of food', which might then be sold by the committee. On no account, however, were supplies to be given away or sold cheaply; sales must always be 'at prices sufficient to repay the first cost with all charges, and a commission allowance of £5 per cent.'


In the official view, the famine in Ireland offered traders an opportunity to make profits, of which it would be unjust to deprive them; and on October 18, 1846, Routh circularized relief committees in the west, telling them not to expect that Government food would be sold cheaply. In no circumstances, he wrote, were traders to be undersold, and therefore no prices were to be fixed which 'would not enable traders selling at the same rates to realize their profits'. Captain Nugent, of the Royal Navy, for instance, who appealed on behalf of the starving inhabitants of Newport, County Mayo, was told, 'even if it were practicable at the moment to open our depots ... it would obviously be extremely prejudicial to owners of grain, inasmuch as at present extraordinary prices can be realized'.

Trevelyan gave his blessing on economic grounds to profits being made by traders out of the scarcity of food. 'If dealers,' he wrote, 'were to confine themselves to what in ordinary circumstances might be considered fair profits, the scarcity would be aggravated in a fearful degree.' When the Marquess of Sligo complained, on October 12, that the Commissariat officer at Westport was 'creating fury' by refusing to open the depot for sales of food, though the people were starving, because they could not pay the exorbitant prices asked by dealers, Routh told him, 'We must bear in mind that if an article is scarce ... a smaller quantity must be made to last for a longer time, and that high price is the only criterion by which consumption can be economized.'


Routh did not, however, go on to explain to Lord Sligo that there was a practical and conclusive reason why the depots could not be opened—they were all but empty. On October 17 the official return of 'provisions at Commissariat depots in Ireland', which included not only Indian corn, in grain and meal, but also oatmeal and biscuit, in sacks and bags, amounted, approximately, to 3,102 tons only. Routh's estimate, on August 3, had been for 16,000 tons immediately, and on September 21 he had asked for a further 25,000 tons to be ordered from the United States of America. At Westport, when angry demands were being made for instant opening, the depot contained only 150 tons of Indian corn, and this was un-ground. Limerick, a central store depot, had received no new supplies whatsoever, and the stock 'consisted entirely of the remains of last season'; at Cork, the most important reserve depot, Hewetson declared himself 'helpless without supplies from abroad'. 'I tremble,' wrote Routh to Trevelyan, 'when I think of the number of empty depots we have to fill;' and not only were the Government depots unfilled, they were likely to remain unfilled for a considerable time; the promises of the Government that 'ample supplies' would arrive in December or January had no foundation in fact.


On October 14 the American packet had brought a discouraging report to Liverpool. Orders for the new crop of Indian corn, to be exported in the spring, were ten times the quantity obtainable; the French Government, in particular, was buying very largely. As for rye, the Prussian Government had bought up all available supplies in August and September. Nevertheless, the British Government continued to take refuge behind the promise that ample supplies would arrive in December or January, and Routh repeated it—once again, to Lord Monteagle, on October 22.46 Behind the scenes, however, Routh was painfully anxious and urging Trevelyan to buy something, anything. 'I care not what Erichsen sends,' he wrote, on October 28, 'whether barley, wheat or Indian corn, so we obtain the article.'


Barley had already proved unobtainable, wheat had risen to an immoderate price, and Prussia had all the rye; why not, Routh suggested, try importing yams, the root called the sweet potato, which was a staple food in the Caribbean and the southern states of America? Trevelyan doubted whether yams would be 'a practical import in quantity', and tropical yams would, unquestionably, have proved a difficult crop to cultivate in the west of Ireland. Trevelyan did not dismiss the idea, and he consulted a Commissariat officer with West Indian experience. 'What do you think of the yam as an article of import?' he inquired; and yams continued to be considered, from time to time, as a possible food for Ireland.


If, however, by a miracle, the promised 'ample supplies' of Indian corn had arrived in Ireland, the Commissariat would have been quite unable to deal with them.

Milling continued an insoluble difficulty; either there were no mills or, as in Westport and other places, the mills were occupied by merchants milling grain for their own account and for export, protected by the Government's tenderness for private enterprise, while the Indian corn for the starving remained unground. In September an additional misfortune occurred; during a spell of exceptionally hot weather, streams all over Ireland went dry, and small country mills were unable to grind. 'How is grain to be ground for a population that has existed on the potato?' Trevelyan wrote to Routh.


Eventually, the Government Indian corn was milled in the Admiralty mills at Deptford, Portsmouth and Plymouth, the naval mills at Malta, and in hired mills at Rotherhithe and Maldon, Essex, and taken by Admiralty steamer to Ireland. A scheme for using mills in Jersey had to be discarded, because the difficulty of milling the iron-hard grain was too great.


Trevelyan was then struck by the idea of handmills—why should not the people grind the Indian corn themselves, he asked? True, the grain of Indian corn was so hard that, in the southern states of America, it was milled more than once; but Trevelyan borrowed a hand-mill from the museum at India House, a quern, a Celtic hand-mill, from the west of Ireland, and another from Wick, in the Shetlands, and 'by putting all three into the hands of skilful workmen' hoped 'to produce something'. A 'manufactory of handmills' was actually established by Captain Mann at Kilkee, County Clare, early in November; each hand-mill cost the impossibly large sum, for the Irish destitute, of 15s., but a number were bought out of charitable funds and distributed free.


Yet there was a simpler solution; why should not the people eat Indian corn, unground? On October 9 a memorandum was sent out to relief committees, informing them that 'Indian corn in its unground state affords an equally wholesome and nutritious food' as when ground into meal. It could be used in two ways: the grain could be crushed between two good-sized stones and then boiled in water, with a little grease or fat, 'if at hand'. Or it could be used without crushing, simply by soaking all night in warm water, changing this, in the morning, for clear, cold water, bringing to the boil, and boiling the corn for an hour and a half—it could then be eaten with milk, with salt, or plain. Boiling without crushing was the method particularly recommended. 'Ten pounds of the corn so prepared is ample food for a labouring man for seven days ... Corn so used,' continued the memorandum, blandly, 'will be considerably cheaper to the Committee and the people than meal, and will be well adapted to meet the deficiency of mill power....'


Unground Indian corn is not only hard but sharp and irritating— it even pierces the intestines—and is all but impossible to digest. Boiling for an hour and a half did not soften the flint-hard grain, and Indian corn in this state, eaten by half-starving people, produced agonizing pains, especially in children.


Another difficulty lay in getting it to the people. The harbours of the west of Ireland had not improved in twelve months, and it was as difficult for ships to get over the bar, into harbour, at Sligo and Westport in 1846 as it had been in 1845. A promising plan, outlined in a Treasury minute at the end of August, provided for two store-ships to be stationed in Clew Bay, County Mayo, and two off the bar of Sligo harbour, each with three powerful steamers attached, to convey supplies promptly round the coast to distressed areas. It had, however, been overlooked that neither in Clew Bay nor off the bar of Sligo harbour was there sufficient water, either for a store-ship or a powerful steamer. The weather in the autumn of 1846 was stormy, and when Routh obtained, with difficulty, the loan of the excise steamer Warrior to take fifteen tons of meal to destitute districts in Donegal, she took more than a month to make the delivery, spending most of that time taking refuge from the weather in Mulroy Lough. And ships ran aground; in less than a month Princess Royal at Killibegs, Dolphin at Gurney Island, and Andromeda in Valentia harbour.


When cargoes were successfully landed, distribution was difficult. Towns in the west were few, immense tracts of country were wild, and small settlements isolated. Though Government authorities considered that 'thirty miles is no bar to traffic in food', the inhabitants of remote hamlets starved. Petty difficulties held up supplies. In North Mayo, for instance, piracy was not infrequent: thirty-four men, in eleven curraghs (Irish canoes), from Blacksod Bay, plundered a ship ten miles out at sea. Boats sent with meal to islands off the coast were then ordered to be accompanied by naval escorts, but the escorts failed to appear punctually or did not appear at all. Trevelyan arranged for stores and depots to be guarded by troops, but adequate guards could not always be spared, and the commanding officer at Limerick complained that his troops were 'harassed off their legs by daily calls for the military'.


The major difficulty, however, as always, was that responsible persons who would have undertaken relief work in England were not to be found. However excellent the schemes, they came to grief in execution. 'The machinery for the new state of things,' wrote Mr. Nicholas Cummins, a magistrate in Cork, to Trevelyan, does not exist.' The general feeling, he added, was 'gloomy foreboding at the rapid increase of distress'.


At the end of October relief committees sent in fresh and piteous appeals—the people were living on nettles and weeds. In two days, October 24 and 25, three such reports came in from the more prosperous north, from Fermanagh, Blacklyon and Enniskillen. In Roscommon, the constabulary report of October 12, 1846, stated that 7,500 people were existing on boiled cabbage leaves once in forty-eight hours. In Kilmoe and Crookhaven, County Cork, on November 9, 7,000 persons were completely without food; here, everything directed by the Government had been done—a relief committee formed and a subscription raised. But the money was now spent; the people were penniless, and no mill or bakery existed within thirty miles. The Tralee Rehef Committee sent a piteous memorial: the district was starving, private enterprise had failed to provide food, and they implored the Government to act.


The Government responded by sending additional troops to distressed districts. 'Would to God the Government would send us food instead of soldiers,' a starving inhabitant of Ballinrobe, County Mayo, was heard to lament as the 7th Hussars entered the town.


Official statements now took a new line. No more was heard of ample supplies arriving shortly: it was alleged that to send food to Ireland would be unjust to the rest of the United Kingdom—it was useless, wrote Trevelyan, 'to transfer famine from one country to another'. If food was bought for Ireland in the present scarcity, prices must be sent up, and the English and Scots working-classes would pay more for their food. Large sums of public money had already been spent on Irish relief, and 'you cannot expect the English and Scotch labourers to support Ireland and pay famine prices as well'. Everything that could be done had been done: 'My purchases are carried to the utmost point short of transferring the famine from Ireland to England.'


The utmost point, however, still stopped short of filling the depots. In the west, although the depots had not officially been declared open, issues were being made in badly distressed districts— most depots, though they had received no fresh supplies, had some 'remains' from last season. Orders were now sent to Commissariat officers that all issues, whatever the circumstances, must cease, and high officials in Whitehall and at Dublin Castle managed to persuade themselves that the Irish people could live on the produce of their own country if they chose. It was some perversity, some dishonesty, which caused the Irish to turn their backs on their own home-grown wheat, barley, bacon, eggs, butter and meat, and besiege the depots for Indian corn. Routh, sending to Mr. Lister, the Commissariat officer in charge at Westport, the order to cease sales, told him, 'You will find there is no spot so bad that there is not some supply and we must force the people to consume that.' The time had come, continued Routh, 'to subject the people to a little pressure'. Mr. Lister passed on the order to Mr. Parker, the Commissariat clerk in charge of the sub-depot at Clifden, and Mr. Parker was extremely angry. Clifden, on the coast of Galway, served wild and poverty-stricken districts, including Connemara, where frightful misery was being endured, and he wrote a furious personal letter to Mr. Lister: far from closing down, more supplies must be sent at once.


It was a pity, Mr. Lister replied, that Mr. Parker had not written 'officially', and he hoped that the 'representations were too strongly worded'. If things were really as bad at Clifden as Mr. Parker alleged a few sales, of the smallest quantities only, might be made, say twice a week; but Mr. Lister could do very little to help. Some biscuit had just arrived, and he would send seven or eight tons by boat, but that was all. He had no Indian corn-meal at all in store at Westport, and did not know when he would be able to send a further supply of biscuit; and, once again, he repeated the standard instructions, to 'arouse the rich, respectable and influential, form a Relief Committee and raise a fund'.


Three weeks later, at the end of October, Mr. Parker wrote another angry letter. The people living in the Killeries were in frightful distress—this was the district which had been reported as starving by Sir James Dombrain as long ago as the beginning of August. And Mr. Parker now urged that he should be allowed to send four to five tons of Indian corn from Clifden. Mr. Lister found this request unpractical and irritating: let Mr. Parker examine the contents of his depot—was it 'prudent' to part with four to five tons of Indian corn? Where did Mr. Parker propose to obtain further supplies? Mr. Lister could not hold out any hope whatsoever from Westport. 'Should we not countenance a little pressure to induce, or even to compel them to avail themselves of their own supplies?' he wrote. Sir Randolph Routh 'had information' that the people in the Killeries had potatoes enough to last until Christmas. 'We are not prepared to open our depots and this you must state in strong and unequivocal language,' Mr. Lister concluded.


Hunger in the west, however, had now reached a pitch which made withdrawing all supplies impossible. On October 30 Mr. Dobree, a seasoned and unsentimental Commissariat officer, wrote from Sligo that, in spite of the order, it had been 'quite out of his power ... to shut his stores altogether against a little relief for the poor people', and he did not intend to do so 'without a positive order to that effect'. Told that he must reduce his sales further, he wrote, on November 3, that, 'in spite of the most harassing applications', he had 'screwed them down' to twenty-three tons for his whole enormous district last week. He had exacted a 'solemn pledge' from relief committees to distribute only to those who had absolutely no food of any kind. Sligo was not a grain-growing country, and it was useless to tell the people to consume their own supplies.

Again a peremptory order was sent to Achill Island, off the coast of Mayo, 'Cease sales, it can be done'; and the result, wrote Mr. Wood, Commissariat Qerk at Dugort, in an indignant letter was that people were actually dying of starvation. Mr. Wood then received permission to make a few sales, 'but only to the point which is absolutely necessary for the preservation of human life'.


On the whole, Commissariat officers, working in distressed districts, took the part of the people.

The sufferings of the people had become so great that Routh was alarmed. Starvation was producing desperation; there was 'a spirit of revolution abroad, and the only way to check it', he told Trevelyan on November 3, 'is to have a supply of food'. Two hundred tons each of some kinds of food should be sent immediately to two danger spots, Belmullet, in Erris, and Mr. Parker's depot, Clifden, in Galway. Trevelyan refused, and a promise of 3,000 barrels of barley-meal, sometime in the future, was all Routh could obtain.


Trevelyan wrote a long explanatory letter to Routh on November 12. It appeared that the Government had reconsidered their past undertakings, and the pledge to feed the west had faded away. True, Trevelyan wrote, 'our object ought to be to take care ... that no part of the districts in the west of Ireland for which we are responsible shall be destitute of the means of subsistence', but he now added a qualification, 'as far as we are able', which effectually released the Government from responsibility. Further, he denied that the Government's duty was to bring in cheap food to replace the potato and prevent famine prices: 'all we can safely aim at is to accomplish such a just distribution and equalization of the existing stock of food that the people in every part of Ireland may have the opportunity of purchasing food at current prices'; he added, however, 'if they have the means to do so'. Those who had not the means to buy 'must be placed on a footing of charity', but how this was to be accomplished, for several million people, he did not specify.


Famine in Ireland had now reached a point where general disorganization was setting in. Bands of starving men roamed the country, begging for food, 'more like famishing wolves than men'; on being given bread they 'went away quietly'; and the employment lists for the public works, which should have been carefully prepared by the local relief committees, became a farce, through fear of the starving mobs. From Nenagh, the Board of Works' Inspecting Officer reported on October 31, 'Gentlemen from Relief Committees are constantly pouring into this office with lists of names in such numbers that if half of them were put on the Public Works they would not have room to work ... Some of the gentlemen assure me that neither their lives nor their properties are secure if they return to their houses without promises of employment.' The relief committee at Carlingford, 'very much afraid of the people, put on the name of every person old enough to walk'.


Those who failed to get employment tickets forced themselves on; at Tulla, in Clare, 'men and boys crowd in upon the works that are in progress and insist upon working'; and in one among several similar episodes, a Mayo priest marched 'a large body of destitute' from his parish and put them on the works, without any reference to the Board of Works' officer. At Castlebar men were driven off the works by a band, who asserted that they had a better right and that the poorest had not been given tickets.

In County Clare the distress was so overwhelming that engineers began the works the instant they were laid out and employed all who came, without waiting for the issue of tickets. Destitution was so universal, however, wrote Captain O'Brien, the Board of Works' Inspecting Officer, on November 8, that only a very small number of men were unjustifiably employed. In many places the masses of starving and discontented labourers began to gain the upper hand— 'No Engineer or Gangsman can or dare do his duty,' a Limerick magistrate told the Lord-Lieutenant on October 29. The men 'defied all regulations and attempts to restrain them ... these armed masses of hungry people with spades and pickaxes in their hands are perfectly unmanageable'.


As a result, delays in paying wages increased; on November 2 the pay clerks for the district of East Carberry, County Cork, threw up their posts rather than venture among the turbulent inhabitants; at Clonakilty the pay clerk was attacked and beaten. The recruiting of pay clerks became more difficult than ever, and Captain Kennedy, the Board of Works' officer for County Meath, reported that the pay department was so understaffed that one clerk was expected to pay 5,000 men in three different baronies, which was clearly impossible. At Kells the men had not been paid for more than two weeks, and only the action of the Savings Bank manager, who advanced £150, prevented an outbreak. In several places it was not even known how many men were employed.


When a man named Denis McKennedy died on October 24 while working on road No. 1, in the western division of West Carberry, County Cork, it was alleged he had not been paid since October 10. A post-mortem examination was carried out by Dr. Daniel Donovan and Dr. Patrick Due, and death was pronounced to be the result of starvation. There was no food in the stomach or in the small intestines, but in the large intestine was 'a portion of undigested raw cabbage, mixed with excrement'. At the coroner's inquest a verdict was returned that the deceased 'died of starvation caused by the gross neglect of the Board of Works'.

At Bandon, where three weeks' wages were owing on October 31, deaths were alleged to have occurred; and on November 3 the Lord-Lieutenant called for a report of the number of persons who had died from starvation on the works, because their wages were delayed.


Autumn was now passing into winter. The nettles and blackberries., the edible roots and cabbage leaves on which hundreds of people had been eking out an existence disappeared; flocks of wretched beings, resembling human scarecrows, had combed the blighted potato fields over and over again until not a fragment of a potato that was conceivably edible remained.


Children began to die. In Skibbereen workhouse more than fifty per cent, of the children admitted after October 1, 1846, died; the deaths, said the workhouse physician, were due to 'diarrhoea acting on an exhausted constitution'.


Lord Monteagle now made a personal appeal to Routh, begging him, in view of the sufferings of the people, to open the depots. Routh refused. 'We can obtain no effort until the parties are subjected to a little pressure,' he wrote, on November 21. He did, however, suggest to Trevelyan that the Government might 'begin to consider the question in December', and possibly some of the depots in the far west, Clifden, Belmullet, Achill, might be opened one or two days a week. Trevelyan wrote back in alarm. Once the depots were opened they could not be closed, and since the depots did not contain a sufficient quantity to meet the demands of the people 'the greatest discontent will be caused and danger of outrage'. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote Trevelyan, had said that the longer the opening of the depots could be put off, the better, 'provided there is no real danger of starvation'. Trevelyan was writing on November 24; and so the deaths which had already occurred, and were occurring, were apparently not considered to indicate any 'real danger' of starvation.


At this moment of suffering unprecedented weather added greatly to the misery of the people. The climate of Ireland is famous for its mildness; years pass without a fall of snow; in the gardens of the south and west semi-tropical plants flourish, and tubers of the genus Dahlia can be left to winter in the ground without damage from frost. In 1846, at the end of October, it became cold, and in November snow began to fall. Six inches of snow and drifts were reported at the early date of November 12 from Tyrone.

It seemed that Nature herself was now enrolled among the enemies of unhappy Ireland.