Charges of neglect against workhouse officials 1870

March 4th 1870

Groundless charges against workhouse officials

Extraordinary letter and complaint by a pauper.

Mr Clarke ASPINALL and a Jury were employed for two hours yesterday afternoon in an extraordinary inquiry into the cause of death if a man names John RUSSELL. About 50 years of age an inmate of the Liverpool Workhouse, who had been admitted on the 13th of April, 1868, when he was suffering from a cough and difficulty in breathing. It appeared that when he was admitted he was sent at once to the medical division, where he was kept altogether at difficult times for 471 days and at other parts of the workhouse 205 days. On Saturday last he complained of being unwell, when he was told to see the doctor but he said he “did not mind seeing the doctor if he might stay in bed all day where he was.”

Mr Henry TEASDALE, wardmaster of the healthy division, told him he could not remain in that part of the building, as it was against the rules. Deceased then got up and Mr TEASDALE left him.

On Sunday the deceased asked could he have his meals in the hair-picking cellar, but he was told he must dine with the others. He did not then complain of being ill, nor did he look worse than usual. He became worse however during the day, and died that evening in the workhouse,

After his death the governor sent notice to the coroner, who after receiving the doctor’s certificate, passed the case as one not requiring an inquest, On Wednesday morning however, the following extraordinary letter was sent to Mr ASPINALL by post :-

To Mr APINALL the Coroner

Liverpool Workhouse, Feb, 28th, 1870

Sir, - I beg to bring before your notice a case which I have seen in the above respecting an old man named John RUSSAL on the 28th of the same the man was not able to get out of bed so Mr TEESDALE an officer went to him and said, come, come RUSSAL, get up none of your shaming here and pulled him out of bed the man never got a bit to ear that day next morning he went to his breakfast and asked Mr PORTER the master tailor if he would ask Mr TEESDALE to give him his dinner in the seller Mr PORTER did and the man followed him and said O do Mr TEESDALE Im dying but Mr TEESDALE said no go on so the man got no more to eat. That day at half past six at night I was standing at the fier when the man got up and fell down again had I not of caught him he would have fellon against the fier place I said the man is dying so me and two more carried him to the hospital and in les than ten minuts he was dead and no doctor could be found. I carried two more up the same night and when I went up the third time Dr KIRKPATRICK was thir he said go and bring all the atic up and Mr TEESDALE said go and find some more and began to grin the same night there was another took to hospital out of bed. And the best of my beleaf is that it was neglect and starvation that caused deth and there will be a great many more dying if some one dose not look after it so me and all the people in the house begs that you will look into it and have an inquest on him and let it be known to the publick for the tyranny of this house is shamefull and the men will be dying like rotten sheep through starvation and sufocation so we trust you and hope you will grant that clean I remane your humble and obedient servant.

HENRY SMITH Tailor Shop Liverpool Workhouse.

After the receipt of this letter, the coroner at once despatched Mr BLAKE, the beadle of the court to the workhouse to prevent the interment of the deceased and to inform the governor that an inquest under the circumstances be necessary.

Before going on with the inquiry, the coroner explained to the jury the reasons for the inquest being held as detailed, and then proceeded to call witnesses.

In the course of his evidence Mr TEESDALE stated he never treated the deceased roughly, put him out of bed, or refused to give him food. He had nothing to do with the food beyond seeing the inmates get their meal. Deceased had never been made to work when he complained of being unable. No one called witness attention to deceased on Sunday except when William PORTER spoke about him. Deceased never told him he was dying.

Mr William PORTER master tailor of the workhouse, stated that on Sunday deceased asked him to allow him to take his dinner in the hair-picking cellar, as he was not able to go to the dining hall. Witness asked TEESDALE to do that, but he said it was against the rules.

Mr William WILKINSON, wardmaster said that he was present in the dining hall during the dinner on Sunday, when the deceased dined. He saw him eating it. It was rice and boiled beef. He could not say whether he ate much. About 600 dined. And it was no unusual thing for some to leave their meat.

Mr George ADDISON, wardmaster, said that the deceased was not compelled to do any work, but when he did work it was hair-picking, peeling potatoes or any other light occupation. Deceased was considered an invalid, and therefore work was optional. It was only when he was out of the hospital, which was seldom, that he did any work.

Henry SMITH was then called, and in the course of his evidence, he stated he had been in and out of the workhouse for ten years, and mostly in the house. His father and mother were also inmates. He had nothing to complain about except on two occasions. A month ago he signed a paper amongst 150 others, complaining that he did not get enough to eat. On another occasion he complained to Mr CAINE, the Poor-law Inspector that he was not allowed to see his friends when they called Mr CAINE gave him no answer. Witness was told he was refused because he was an able bodied man. He could have gone out if he liked but he did not do so, because he could not get employment.  He wrote to Mr CAINE but did not see him. The letter [produced and read and quoted as above] was in his handwriting. Its contents were true, except when he spoke as to Mr TEASDALE pulling deceased out of bed.. He [witness] was not present, and did not see what he did or heard what he said. He did not hear what PORTER said to TEASDALE. He heard deceased say to TEASDALE “Oh do Mr TEASDALE, I’m dying” Mr TEASDALE, “No go on.” A man soft in the head ate the deceased dinner on Sunday- at least so he [witness] was told by a man named Timothy VEROW. Peter DALEY finished the list of names [produced] as witnesses, but VEROW’s name is not on either list. He [witness] was with the deceased all Sunday afternoon, and he did not complain of being ill or getting no dinner. He was present when the deceased suddenly fell down in the cellar on Sunday night, and assisted to carry him into the hospital, where he died in about 10 minutes. He saw np doctor, he could not be found in time to see him alive.

He carried two other men to hospital that night, but he knew nothing of their cases. He was told a third man was taken to hospital, making four in all. His reason for saying the deceased death was from neglect was because Mr TEESDALE refused to give him his dinner in the cellar. His reason for speaking of “starvation” was because he was told deceased had eaten nothing for two or three days. When he [witness] spoke of more being likely to die, he meant that when a man gets ill with the bad air of the hair-room, and cannot get to his dinner in the dining hall, and not allowed to have it in the cellar and not sent to hospital, he must die. He had no other reasons to give for the expressions, “Starvation and suffocation.” Which were used in his letter

The cellar had a bad smell to it, owing to being occupied all day. Deceased would use that room usually or the yard adjoining. There were two cellars and they got hot. The young men’s was boarded and therefore the old men used it. The rooms [witness said] were overcrowded. He had known the deceased for two years in the house and during that time he had, had, a bad cough. Witness had nothing to complain of in the food, except he could eat a little more. The suppers were always sufficient. For breakfast they got one and a half pints of porridge and three noggins of milk. They got meat twice a week.

In the course of his examination SMITH slid down on the floor of the court in an as easy a manner as possible, apparently in a fainting fit, but a vigorous dash of cold water, well aimed by Dr KIRKPATRICK, brought him to in a surprisingly short time.

Seven paupers were called to give evidence, John THOMSON, John McDONALD,

Matthew DONOHOE, William ELLIS, Peter McNALLY, Peter DALEY, and Elizabeth JEVONS [who cleaned the rooms], all of whom were named in the papers referred to. They proved nothing with respect to the deceased, but all concurred in saying they saw no ill-treatment. They all stated however that the food they received was insufficient, one of them stating that he sometimes left the dining hall as hungry as he went in.

Dr W. H. KIRKPATRICK, house-surgeon, said the deceased had been under his care for a year suffering from chronic bronchitis. He [witness] last saw the deceased professionally on Saturday, when he said his mixture was not finished. He thought the deceased was fit to be out of hospital. He had seen the deceased since death and was of the opinion that he had died from natural causes. He had received careful medical attention, and his food had been sufficient in quality and quantity. The dietary scale for the inmates he thought sufficient for them and he thought liberal. The dust from the hair-picking room would be irritating to persons suffering from chest infections. The rooms were low, and would be unhealthy if overcrowded, which they sometimes were. The vestry were now building additional accommodation.

In summing up the Coroner referred to the circumstances under which the inquest was held, spoke in high terms of the government and arrangements of the workhouse, and stated that the dietary scale was more liberal than that which was used at several of the London unions. After commenting upon the nature of SMITH’s evidence, he said the sanitary arrangements of the workhouse might at least be as good as those of the gaol, where they were as perfect as they possibly could be, and he did not think the jury would concur in any system of economy of the former which was carried out at the expense of the health and lives of the pauper inmates.

The jury in returning a verdict of “Died from natural causes” presented that they were of the opinion that the workhouse officials had only done their duty in this case, and they would further express their opinion that there ought to be better apartments for the inmates to sit in after work is over than the cellars now occupied for that purpose, which appear to be used throughout each day and evening both for working and re-creative purposes, whilst being insufficient in size for the number of persons to occupying them during long hours.

The Coroner, addressing SMITH, spoke to him in severe terms regarding the exaggerated manner in which he had written the letter, and in which he especially after being an inmate of the workhouse for nearly ten years, made use of expressions and brought charges for which he had not good ground. He [SMITH] could leave the workhouse when he likes, but he [the Coroner] did not think he should have spoken of the authorities as allowing the people “To die off like rotten sheep.” It was not becoming of him to make complaints in such an extravagant form as he had done, and in the disgraceful language he had employed.


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