10 SEPTEMBER 1859, Page 14


Ws adverted some time ago to an important statement entered on the Visitors' Book of the Cork Workhouse by the Mayor of that city, Mr. John Arnett, M.P., relative to the condition of the children in the house. M. Arnett described that condition as "disastrous and terrible," and alleged that from the inferiority of the food allowed to them "four out of every five of the chil- dren die before they are adults"; i.e., before fifteen years of age, "and the survivor is, in the majority of instances, destroyed in constitution." So remarkable a statement as this, following up as it did the persistent efforts made by many Irish journals to draw attention to the same subject, led at once to an official in- vestigation, and the Poor Law Commissioners sent down their In- spector, Dr. Brodie, to take evidence on the spot and report to them on the condition of the pauper children. The evidence thus collected was of great value, and seemed to the public at large to corroborate every tittle of Mr. Arnott's allegations. The report, however, which Dr. Brodie transmitted along with this evidence to the Commissioners caused very general surprise ; for while re- commending a radical improvement in the children's dietary, it broadly implied that the complaints which had been made of the previous dietary were entirely without foundation ! Our busi- ness, however, on the present occasion is not with Dr. Brodie, who has already received his deserts from the Irish press, but with the Commissioners, who followed up their Inspector's report with a circular, addressed to the Boards of Guardians in Ireland, and intended as a withering rebuke to Mr. Arnett for having presumed to find fault in a system which enjoyed the benefits of the Commis- sioners' supervision. This circular, which is a pamphlet of six- teen pages, has elicited a pamphlet of more considerable dimen- sions in reply, and a careful perusal of both documents will suf- fice, we think, to convince any unprejudiced person both of the importance of the service which Mr. Arnett has rendered to the public, and of the necessity that exists for speedily bringing the whole subject of the Irish Poor Law, and its administration, under the notice of Parliament. It is not easy to conceive, indeed, how a public department could have lent its authority to a document so unfair in spirit, so transparently absurd in argument, and so inaccurate in mere statistics as the circular of the Commis- sioners.

A favourite device of the Commissioners when they desire to convict Mr. Arnett oftnaking unfounded charges is to attribute to that gentleman a charge which he never made and then tri- umphantly to disprove it. For example, Mr. Arnott's statement that "there is no separate register of the deaths of the children kept in the house," is converted by the Commissioners into the very different statement "that no separate register is kept of the children dying in the workhouse." The reader will admire the dexterity with which the sound of Mr. Arnott's phrase is pre- served, while its sense is altered. There is a register preserved, but it is preserved in Dublin, not in Cork. Nor can the Commis- sioners defend their misquotation by the pretence that the change of sense is of no importance to the question in hand. It is of every importance. Mr. Arnett was giving his opinion as to the mortality of the children in the Cork Workhouse. Why he gave an opinion on the question, instead of the precise statistical fact, he explains by the observation that he had not found in the work- house any register which would enable him to check his conclu- sions. The Commissioners affect to consider this observation, not as an explanation but as a charge against the Guardians, and then alter its phraseology so as to enable themselves to make an irrelevant reply. It was nothing to the purpose that a register was kept in Dublin. The Visitors' Book is intended to contain the results of observation on the spot, not results of a cor- respondence with head-quarters. The Commissioners attempt, however, to convict Mr. Arnett of something worse than mere carelessness in his charges. "The Mayor, in fact," say they, "bas availed himself of a tabular statement of the deaths under fifteen years of age in the Cork Workhouse, in order to sustain the statement that four out of every five children die before the adult age." So that, of course, at the very time that Mr. Aniott was accusing the Guardians of keeping no separate register, he was availing himself of such a register in order to prove his other charges. Now what was the fact ? Mr. Arnott's entry in the Visitors' Book contained no re- ference whatever to any tabular statement. Subsequently, in- deed, at the Cork investigation, he did support his original charges by statistics derived from the Commissioners' office. But what are we to think of a great administrative department which will thus juggle with dates and misquote phrases in order to fix unfounded imputations on those who incur its displeasure?

Mr. Whiteside, some time ago, explained what was meant by an Irish fact. We presume we may regard the Commissioners' mode of estimating the mortality in a workhouse as specimens of Irish science. According to these gentlemen, the annual mor- tality ought to be estimated by taking the percentage of the deaths per annum, not on the average number of paupers residing in the house, but on the total number of paupers who enter in the

year. Thus if 100 children enter the house on any Monday, and 95 of them leave it the following Saturday, the remaining five having died in the interval, we are to conclude that the mortality of this group, strange to say, is only five per cent per annum! Again, they say that even granting Mr. Arnott's, i. e., the common mode of calculation, to be the correct one, and that 18 per cent of the children die per annum, it would not follow from this that four out of every five die before the age of fifteen. It is wonderful how any body of educated men can hazard an assertion of this kind, which any schoolboy who is not a dunce could set them right in. Verily the Civil Service Examiners are wanted in the Irish Poor Law Office. But still more amusing than the Com- missioners' arithmetic is the logic with which they support it. " If the same exhaustive process," say they, alluding to the repeated subtraction of 18 per cent every year from a given number of paupers, "were applied to the population of England and Wales with its known annual mortality of 2.26 per cent, the whole of that population would be computed to be extinct in a limited number of years." . . . "The effect of leaving these admissions and discharges" of paupers "out of account, is precisely analogous to what would be the effect of leaving out the births and deaths in the general population." There is no occasion, and we have no space, to criticize this rubbish. Mr. Arnett never complained that pauper children die like other folk. He only complained of the rate at which they die. A given population of England and Wales does die out in a limited number of years ; but the number is not so very limited as in the Cork Workhouse. But if railway speculators required a lesson in the art of cooking accounts, we should recommend them to study the process by which the Commissioners reduce the mortality of the children from 20 per cent (Mr. Arnott's estimate of 18 per cent turned out to be below the mark) to little more than 4. In the first place, the Commissioners throw overboard the ease of the infants, under two years of age, on the fictitious grounds that no one ascribed the remarkable mortality among them to the want of proper food.. This reduces the 20 per cent to 12. In the next place finding that the last of the series of eight years for which Dr. Brodie had produced the statistics, was an eminently favourable one;to them- selves, they coolly dropped all the others and presented the mor- tality of this year as the average mortality of the house. By this means the 12 per cent becomes 51. But the master stroke of policy remains: 5,4 can be reduced to 4.2 by two happy devices. The date at which each year terminates in Dr. Brodie's statistics is March 25. By shifting this to April 16th, the twenty-nine deaths among the children are reduced to twenty-seven ; while the average number of children in the house, given by Dr. Brodie as 518, is loosely stated by the Commissioners as about 610." Now 20 deaths out of 518 children is 51 per cent ; but 27 deaths out of "about 640" is only 4.2! "About" is a useful word. We commend it to the attention of Dr. Brodie should he ever again have occasion to whitewash his employers.