WORKING OF THE POOR-LAW BILL : BLUNDER OF THE TIMES.
Diemen the discussion of the Poor-law Bill, the Times was furious in its denunciations of the measure, and rabid in abusing
all who defended it. Day after day we were told that it was quite impossible that so brutal, so unchristian a bill, should pass the Legislature. But pass it did, notwithstanding, by immense majorities, and with the full approbation of the principal men of
all parties—of Sir Renews Pepe. as svell as Lord ALTHORP, of the Duke of AV ELLI NGTON as of Lord MELBOURNE ; while Messrs. GROTE, W ARBURTON, Colonel TORRE NS, and the Messrs. GROTE, W ARBURTON, Colonel TORRE NS, and the
Liberals of their section, supported it with zeal. All the fulmina- tion of the Thunderer was laughed at, or unnoticed; all the
eloquence of Mr. Weeemt in the Commons and Bishop Phut- POTS in the Lords was estimated at its real value, and never gamed a sate. Fearful were It e predictions of mischief which, after the bill became law, were muttered by the Times. Garbled and incorrect police accounts were in requieitioe, to persuade the public that these prophecies were in the course of fulfilment. But it happened in almost every instance, that the facts, when inquired into, (lid nut justify the M1'4:11:flees drawn from them. The dreaded 'medial insurrection, which the bill was to occasion, seems as far off' as ever; and while the rates are diminished, the people arc peaceable. The penny-a-line gentlemen have recently forborne to work up piteous stories of the cruel effects of the " system of centralization:" and we thought that perhaps the Times had resolved, out of compliment to the Tories who patronized and who will certainly do any thing but repeal the bill, to let the subject drop. Unluckily, however, some eases oc- curred a few days ago in the neighbourhood of Bath, the account of which has rekindled the furs et' the Thunderer ; which has been vented this week in the old is le. The measure, it is said, leaves " a deep and damning stain both upon the Minister that proposed and the Parliament that passed it ;" its authors are " cold-blooded quacks ;" it is a law " more horrible than the romantic obligation of Shylock's bond," and requires that " resident gentry and magistracy should stand by and see their fellow creatures suffer or perish—restraining these natural guardians of the poor from alleviating their pains, or saving them from death." They who are met aware of the terms in which the Times has accustomed itself to speak of the Poor-law Bill, will be surprised, after reading the above, to leant the real facts of the case which provoked such fury and abuse. The Overseer of the parish of Freshfurd, near Bath, has for more than a year and a half past been in the habit of treating the paupers in the parish workhouse with great inhumanity. The fact being made known to Colonel NAPIER, Admiral TROL LO PE, and other gentlemen residing in the neighbourhood, they applied to the Clerk of the Magistrates to interfere; but be was of opiniou that the Magistrates could not interfere effectually : so Colonel NA- PIER addressed the Central Board on the subject, and prayed imme- diate attention. The Board replied, that no Assistant Commissioner could be spared to go hnmediately to Freshford ; but sent a copy of the charges of misconduct to the Parish Officers. The answers re- turned were not satisfactory; and yesterday fortnight, Mr. MOTT, one of the Assistant Commissioners, arrived at Freshford to inves- tigate the case. A delay of rather more than a fortnight took place between the receipt of the application by the Central Board and the arrival of Mr. Monet Fresh ford ; and in the meanwhile, preliminary inquiries had been made by the Board. The result of Mr. Moris investigation was the dismissal of the Overseer, the reprimand of the Churchwarden, and a recommendation that Freshford should be incorporated with some neighbouring parishes, in order that its poor might be better taken care of. So far, so good : but, previous to Mr. MOTT'S arrival, two of the paupers died; and Coroners' Juries found, that they might have existed longer bad they been supplied with proper nutriment, and otherwise well taken care of.
The way in which these poor creatures were treated, is indeed most horrible. Colonel NAPIER deposed at the inquest on the body of one of them; Meaner Alieles, that on visiting her room, which she occupied with ANN FREEMAN, another old woman, there was only one rag of a coverlet or quilt between them ; no fire in the room, and the window patched up with rags and paper. ANN FREEMAN said, " They do wish to kill us outright ; but we cannot go before we be called, and so we do bide and suffer." Of course the gallant and humane officer relieved them with food and money. It appeared that neither the Overseers, nor the Clergy- But the Whigs have no power to keep therKing alive beyond man, who is a non-resident, ever visited the workhouse. Dim, his appointed lime; neither will they be able to postpone the the Overseer, declared to Mr. JOYCE, also a witness at the inquest, repeal of the Septennial Act. Another general election must that be invariably made the fare of the paupers worse fie any therefore come ,soon; and we eels any man of common prudence, to any nothing of patriotism, whether he will not stand a much better chalice of reelection by supporting the Liberals, and acting up to his avowed principles, than by going over to the Duke and pro- claiming himself a renegade and a rat ? complaints to the Magistrates, otherwise he should be summoned three or four times a week. On another occasion, he refused the entreaty of a sick girl, who implored him to send a person to clean her mother, both mother and daughter being ill in the same work- house,—saying, " She will soon be dead, and then we will clean out all the dirt together," We need not disgust our readers with more specimens of this wretch's brutality. Now what do the facts preve? That under the old system the Freshford Overseer could treai the poor with gross enesny for more than a yearend a half, without any notice being taken of his conduct by the resident Magistracy or others; that under the new system, the state of the workhouse was inquired into, the guilty parties punished, and a better mode of managing the poor sugg es tut', within less than three weeks from the time when the first com- plaint was made. Such is one instance of the working 61. this " nostrum of cold-blooded quacks "—this " But the Magistrates did not interfere immediately, becatiss. they were restrained by the Act; and in consequence of their non-ieteie ference, two paupers died. This is the argument of the Macs; and it rests upon the assumption that the Act does prevent the interference of Magistrates in extreme cases. But the assumption is false. The Act expressly directs Magistrates to interfere. It directs them to visit and examine workhouses, and to order neces- sary relief, without consulting the Guardians of the Poor or the Select Vestry, in cases of urgency. This the Fresliford Magis- trates refused to do; and the blame must rest upon them fer the neglect. Is it not monstrous that the new law should beheld liable in this instance for the death of the paupers while, had the law been in operation some months earlier, no such deaths would Intro occurred from the sametauses ?
The fair inference to be drawn from the circumstances of the Freshford case is, the necessity of appointing better-instructed men to the Magistracy. Had the Magistrates of Freshford made them- selves acquainted with the law, which it was their duty to put in force, they would have at once proceeded to the workhouse. Had they exercised the powers the old law gave them, as in duty bound, they would never have permitted cruelty and mismanagement to exist for a year and a half within their immediate jurisdiction. Fee our own parts, we rejoice at the passing of a measure ss Welk will put the care of the poor into better bands than those of the Local Magistracy. Colonel NAPIER, though, it would appear, himeelf unfriendly to the Poor-law of last session, (for reasons not folly explained in the correspondence), admits, in a letter to Mr. ROEBUCK, that Siuce the death of the two paupers, the interference of the Commis.iiiners Iris hem up to this period prompt and vigorous ; and if their proceeding. :ire in all eases characterized by the same humanity and ju:itice, those pe1.01,, who, lilac myself; arc inimical to the new Poor-law, without denying the ope..wst abuses engro.fted on the old law, oust cmtfine Ii ir oh/actions to the 'oral principle, and admit that, in the hands of the present Conniissionow, the new law is practically very much better for the poor than the old law." We are not surprised that the Times has blundered upon the Freshford case, in order to vent its spite upon the late Minietry ; for, maladroit as that journal generally is when its bad passions are at work, it seems to labour under an especial fatality when the Poor-law Act is discussed in its columns. But we are serry to see the Courier fall into the same egregious mistake; though i has, to be sure, the same excuse for soreness as the Times—having opposed the bill with equal zeal and ill success. It was to be ex- pected, however, that the Courier would not have laid hold .1' cir- cumstances which prove the necessity and useful working of the bill, to demonstrate its cruelty or inefficiency.