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tenant's right to compensation. He says: "I begin with the subject of
tenure: uniform experience of human nature teaches that men will not
toil for the benefit of others as they toil for themselves. You are very
sensitive about the maintenance of the due rights of property.... The
same feelings influence your tenant; he will not expend his capital upon
your land unless the return of such capital be guaranteed to him." His
third letter is devoted to the question of drainage, and the reclamation
of waste lands. He undertook to show how advantageous a peasant
proprietary would be, changing, as it would, numbers of persons from the
catalogue of those who have little to gain by maintaining the rights of
property, to that of those who have everything to lose by their
violation. He, however, tells the landlords plainly that they will not
obtain from the Imperial treasury the money necessary for the
undertaking he recommends, unless they mortgage their estates, and
pledge the county rates first. "An Irish member," he writes, "who would
propose to apply ten millions of money to the reclamation of land in
Ireland, would be laughed to scorn in the British legislature. Yet
Parliament would consent almost without a question - perhaps amidst the
cheers of all parties - to the expenditure of this amount in piratical
incursions, such as those made upon the inhabitants of Affghanistan,
Scinde, Syria, and other nations, who have never injured us." The fourth
letter is a continuation of the same subjects. The fifth discusses the
railway question, then in its infancy. The sixth deals with public works
and public instruction. The public works which he specially discusses
and recommends are - internal navigation, and fishery piers and harbours;
he does not enter into systems of education, he only calls for more
liberal grants. The seventh and concluding letter of the series is
devoted to what the writer calls fiscal arrangements. These letters
showed much practical ability, and knowledge of the true wants of the
country. They were written in a calm moderate spirit, but, emanating
from a man of his political views, they do not seem to have received the
attention they deserved.

No doubt, the difficulty stated by Smith O'Brien, and approvingly quoted
by the Prime Minister, did exist in the townland boundary scheme; it
was, perhaps, as great a one as the boundary scheme in the Chief
Secretary's letter; but sacrifices should have been cheerfully submitted
to on such a terrible occasion; and the greatest and realest difficulty
of all was, that the landlords, as a body, had little or no sympathy
with the people, and were not prepared to make sacrifices to save their

[199] The following is Mr. D'Israeli's account of the waste land
reclamation proposal: it does not, by any means, seem to be in accord
with the spirit with which that proposal was received by
Parliament: - "In the course of the next ten days the Government measures
of relief distinctly transpired. One of these was a public undertaking
to reclaim a portion of the waste lands of Ireland: but it was finally
proposed by the first Minister, sneered at a few days after by his own
Chancellor of the Exchequer, and finally fell prostrate before a bland
admonition from Sir Robert Peel, who was skilful always in detecting
when the Cabinet was not confident in a measure, and by an adroit
interposition often obtained the credit with the country of directing
the Ministry, when really he had only discovered their foregone
conclusion." - _Lord George Bentinck: a political biography, p. 367, 5th

[200] In the _Utopia_.

[201] "The people are not indolent. Of that there has been abundant
proof. Give them a definite object, a fair chance of profit, and they
will work as well as the people of this or any other country. Of this I
have had ample opportunity of judging, on works where thousands have
been employed, both here [England] and in Ireland." - _A twelve months'
residence in Ireland, during the Famine and the Public Works in 1846-7,
by Wm. Henry Smith, C.E., late conducting Civil Engineer of Public
Works_. - London, 1848; p. 120.

"A foreign railway company, a few months ago, advertised in the English
papers for Irish labourers to work on their lines, where they would
receive one-third more wages than the French people themselves were
receiving. He [the Irishman] would do the same amount of work at home,
if properly fed; but the principle is much the same as keeping a horse
without his oats, and expecting him to get through his work the same as
if well fed. The Irishman at the English harvest, or as a railway
labourer, and the London heavy goods or coal porter, is not excelled in
his willingness or industry." - _Ib._ 196.

"It is a mistake to suppose the Irish people will not work. They are
both willing and desirous to work, and, when in regular employment, are
always peaceable and orderly." - _His Excellency Lord Clarendon's Letter
to the Lord Mayor of London, on the "Plantation Scheme," dated Viceregal
Lodge, June 26, 1849._

[202] _Freeman's Journal_, 23rd June, 1847.

[203] Armagh could be scarcely said to have had any manufactures at this
time, as machinery, erected in the large factories of Belfast and other
places, had abolished the hand-looms at which the people worked in their
cottages, and the linen trade had been greatly depressed for years
before; but no doubt there was a time when it was a material help to the
inhabitants of that and other Northern counties.

[204] Immediately after the above clause was added to the "Poor Relief
(Ireland) Bill," Lord George Bentinck made the following attack upon the
Irish-famine policy of the Government: "The noble Lord," says the
report, "proceeded to contend that, if the Government had had recourse
to the system he had recommended, it would have raised the condition of
the people, and the House would not have heard of the tens of thousands
and the hundreds of thousands of deaths; but they could not learn from
the Government how many, for there was one point upon which the Irish
Government were totally ignorant, or which they concealed, which was,
the mortality which had occurred during their administration of Irish
affairs (hear, hear). They shrink (continued the noble lord,
energetically) from telling us; they are ashamed to tell us. They know
the people have been dying by thousands, and I dare them to inquire what
has been the number of those who have died through their mismanagement,
their principles of free trade (oh, oh). Yes, free trade; free trade in
the lives of the Irish people (laughter, cries of 'oh, oh, oh,' and
great confusion); leaving the people to take care of themselves, when
Providence has swept away their food from the face of the earth. There
were no stores, nor mills, nor granaries. Then why (the noble Lord
continued, with much vehemence) don't he give us the information, if he
don't shrink from it? Never before was there an instance of a Christian
government allowing so many people to perish - (oh, oh) - without
interfering (great confusion and cries of 'oh, oh'). Yes, you will
groan; but you will hear this. The time will come when we shall know
what the amount of mortality has been; and though you may groan, and try
to keep the truth down, it shall be known, and the time will come when
the public and the world will be able to estimate, at its proper value,
your management of the affairs of Ireland (murmurs and confusion)."


Lord George Bentinck's Railway Scheme; he thought the finishing of
the railways would be useful; he was a practical man, and wished to
use the labour of the people on useful and profitable work - The
State of England in 1841-2 - The remedy that relieved England ought
to have the same effect in Ireland - Under certain arrangements,
there could have been no Irish Famine - Tons of Blue Books - No new
Acts necessary for Railways - 1,500 miles of Railway were
passed - Only 123 miles made - Lord George Bentinck's Speech - Waste of
power-traffic - Great Southern and Western Railway - Principles of the
Railway Bill - Shareholders - What employment would the Railway Bill
give? - Mode of raising the money - £20,000,000 paid to
slave-owners - Why not do the same thing for Ireland? - Foreign
Securities in which English money has been expended - Assurances of
support to Lord George - The Irish Members in a dilemma - The Irish
Party continue to meet - Meeting at the Premier's in Chesham
Place - Smith O'Brien waits on Lord George - The Government stake
their existence on postponing the second reading of Lord Bentinck's
Bill - Why? - No good reason - Desertion of the Irish Members - Sir John
Gray on the question - The Prime Minister's Speech - The Chancellor of
the Exchequer's Speech a mockery - Loans to Ireland (falsely)
asserted not to have been repaid - Mr. Hudson's Speech - The
Chancellor going on no authority - Mr. Hudson's Railway
Statistics - The Chancellor of the Exchequer hard on Irish
Landlords - His way of giving relief - Sir Robert Peel on the Railway
Bill - The Railway Bill a doomed measure - Peel's eulogium on industry
in general, and on Mr. Bianconi in particular - Lord G. Bentinck's
reply - His arguments skipped by his opponents - Appoint a Commission,
like Mr. Pitt in 1793 - Money spent on making Railways - The Irish
Vote on the Bill - Names.

No effort of statesmanship to overcome the Famine is remembered with
such gratitude in Ireland as Lord George Bentinck's generous proposal to
spend sixteen millions of money in the construction of railways, for the
employment of its people.

In the autumn of 1846, when the Potato Blight had become an accepted
fact by all except those who had some motive for discrediting it, he
began to think that to finish the railways, already projected in
Ireland, would be the best and promptest way of employing its people
upon reproductive works. He was a great enemy to unprofitable labour. To
the Labour-rate Act, which became law at the close of the session of
1846, Lord George was conscientiously opposed; because, whilst millions
of money were to be spent under it, the labour of the people was to be
thrown away upon profitless or pernicious undertakings. His was an
eminently practical mind, and, being so, he did not rest satisfied with
reflections and speculations upon the plan he had conceived. He took
counsel with men who were the most eminent, both for scientific and
practical knowledge, with regard to the construction of railways. Among
them, of course, was Robert Stephenson. The result of his conference
with those gentlemen was, that two engineers of acknowledged ability
were despatched by him to Ireland, to examine and report upon the whole
question of Irish railways.

Lord George, reflecting upon the perilous state of England in 1841-2,
came to the conclusion that it was the vast employment afforded by
railway enterprize which relieved the pauperism of those years; a
pauperism so great, that it was enough to create alarm, and almost
dismay, in the breasts of English statesmen. There were at that time a
million and a-half of people upon the rates: between eighty and ninety
thousand able-bodied men within the walls of the Workhouses, and four
hundred thousand able-bodied men receiving outdoor relief. It seemed to
him that this pauperism was not only relieved, but was actually changed
into affluence and prosperity by the vast employment which the railway
works, then rapidly springing into existence, afforded. "Suddenly, and
for several years," says Mr. D'Israeli, quoting Lord George, "an
additional sum of thirteen millions of pounds sterling a-year was spent
in the wages of our native industry; two hundred thousand able-bodied
labourers received each upon an average, twenty-two shillings a-week,
stimulating the revenue, both in excise and customs, by their enormous
consumption of malt and spirits, tobacco and tea."[205]

Lord George saw no reason why the same remedy, if applied to Ireland,
should not be attended with the like success. He was sustained, too, by
the reports of Parliamentary Commissioners, as well as by the natural
and common-sense view of the subject. Many years before, in 1836, a
commission had been issued to enquire into the expediency of promoting
the construction of railways in Ireland. The Commissioners, in their
report, recommended that a system of railway communication should be
established there by Government advances. Ten years had passed; but, of
course, nothing was done. Yes, another commission! The noted Devon one
was, I should have said, issued some years after the former by another
Government, which "confirmed all the recommendations of the Railway
Commissioners of '36, and pointed to those new methods of communication,
by the assistance of loans from the Government, as the best means of
providing employment for the people."[206] Had the recommendations of
those Commissioners been carried out, or even begun within a reasonable
time, there could have been no Irish famine in the sense in which we are
now obliged to chronicle it. There must have been extensive employment
at wages that would have afforded great numbers other and better food
than the potato. As it was, all that resulted from those commissions,
and countless others of the like kind, were the ponderous Blue Books,
which contained their reports, and the evidence upon which they were
founded. And, indeed, so many tons of those had been, from time to time,
produced and stowed away in Government vaults and rubbish stores, that,
had they contained some of the nutritive qualities which, go to sustain
human life, they would have been an appreciable contribution towards
feeding the starving Irish people during the Famine.

No new Acts were necessary to be passed through Parliament, to authorize
the construction of railways in Ireland, in order to justify the
Government in advancing the necessary funds. When Lord George Bentinck
brought his plan before the House of Commons, there were Acts in
existence authorizing the construction of more than 1,500 miles of
railway in this country, some of those Acts having been passed so far
back as eleven years before; yet, at the close of 1846, only 123 miles
had been completed. Here, then, was the field in which Lord George had
made up his mind that the superabounding but wasted labour of the
famishing people should find profitable employment. After taking the
advice of his political friends, and securing their approval and
support, he, on Thursday, the 4th of February, introduced his Bill to
the House of Commons, in, says Mr. D'Israeli, the best speech he ever
made. It was evidently prepared with great care, and was both lucid and

His exordium was solemn and earnest, and he seemed much impressed with
the importance and magnitude of the subject with which he was about to
deal. For the principle of the Bill, and for the faults that principle
might contain, he alone, he said, was responsible; but as to the
details, they had been wrought out by the ablest minds in England;
amongst whom he named Hudson, Stephenson, and Laing. "It is not my
intention," he said, "to make a very long preface, or to enter into any
general discussion as regards the state or condition of Ireland: suffice
it for me, that this great fact stares us in the face, that at this
moment there are 500,000 able-bodied persons in Ireland living upon the
funds of the State. That there are 500,000 able-bodied persons,
commanded by a staff of 11,587 persons, employed upon works which have
been variously described as 'works worse than idleness;' by the
yeomanry of Ulster as 'public follies;' and by the Inspector of the
Government himself, Colonel Douglas, as 'works which will answer no
other purpose than that of obstructing the public conveyances.'" The
calamity was great, but he did not, he said, despond. "We, who at one
period of the war were expending, upon an average, for three years,
£103,000,000 sterling a-year, will not be downhearted at having to
provide for a deficiency and for a disaster that may be estimated at
£10,000,000." He quoted the two Commissions above referred to, and said
that railway Acts had been passed for 1,523 miles of railway, whilst at
the moment he was speaking only 123 miles were completed, 164 miles
being in course of construction. There must, he thought, be some
weakness in Ireland up to this, as 2,600 miles of railway had been
constructed in England and Scotland, and Acts passed for 5,400 miles
more - 8,000 miles in all. The denseness of population, said his
lordship, is in favour of Ireland as against England and Scotland. "But,
Sir," he continued, "perhaps you will tell me this may be a very good
argument as far as population is concerned, but what is the use of
population if they have no means of paying for their conveyance by
railways? Sir, my friend, who sits beside me (Mr. Hudson) will tell you
that in all railway speculation population is held to be the first
element of success - property second,"

He then went on to show that the traffic upon the Irish railways already
opened, was greater than upon the English and Scotch lines. This
argument met the assertions of some persons, who said that if money were
advanced to make Irish railways they would never pay; and it would be
asked, if they are paying, why not have them done by private enterprise?
Lord George confessed that he could not answer this question
satisfactorily, but English capitalists would not come forward, partly,
he thought, through distrust, and partly through ignorance, whilst the
calamity of the Famine had, of course, a great effect in preventing the
small amount of Irish capital which did exist from coming forward. The
prejudice which English capitalists had against investing in Irish
undertakings, is strikingly illustrated by a fact stated by Lord George
in the course of his speech. It was this: the Great Southern and Western
Railway of Ireland was one of the many the completion of which was
arrested by want of funds, yet a portion of it was open for traffic. He
compared it with a well known English railway. The Irish one, he said,
had cost in its construction £15,000 per mile; the English, upwards of
£26,000 per mile; the weekly traffic on the two railways, allowing for
some difference in their extent, was about the same on both, varying in
amount from £1,000 to £1,300 per week; yet the unfinished British
railway was at £40 premium in the market, - the unfinished Irish one at
£2 discount.

1. Lord George's railway bill was simple and comprehensive. In order to
encourage the making of railways in Ireland, he proposed for every £100
properly expended on such railways, £200 should be lent by the
Government, at the very lowest interest at which, on the credit of the
Government, that amount could be raised. He undertook to prove "that the
State shall not lose one single farthing by the proposition." The
current interest was £3 6s. 8d. per cent., but he would assume it to be
3-1/2 per cent., and that the Government was to lend it at that rate,
and take the whole security of the railway for the loan; consequently, a
line paying £7 upon £300 expended would afford ample security for the
£200 lent by the State, at £3 10s. per cent., because, of such £300, one
hundred would be laid out by the company, and £200 by the Government,
who, taking the whole railway for their security, would have a legal
claim upon the produce of the money expended by the shareholders as well
as by themselves. He took the returns of traffic on the very lowest
line - that from Arbroath to Forfar, to show that even at the lowest
traffic yet known on any railway, the Government would be secured
against loss.

2. He next dealt with the position of shareholders under his Bill. He
said they need not be alarmed at Government taking the whole railway as
security, because, as matters stood, the shares of all lines stopped for
want of means were valueless, or all but so, in the market; the effect
of the Government loan would be to bring those dead shares to life
again; for where there was a certainty of any line being finished, there
was a fair prospect of a dividend from that line. The advantage,
therefore, of the loan to shareholders was self-evident. He read a
letter from Mr. Carr, then chairman of the Great Southern and Western
Railway of Ireland, in which the Peel Government were asked, in May,
1846, by that Company, for a loan of £500,000 to go on with their works,
they undertaking to employ 50,000 men over those works, provided their
request was complied with. The money was not given. No one, said Lord
George, can come to any other opinion but that this offer of the Great
Southern and Western Railway ought to have been accepted. If the money
now asked for be lent, he said, there need be no crowding of labourers
on any point, for they can be distributed over the whole country; as,
according to the railway bills passed for Ireland, lines will run
through every county but four. "Now, Sir," he continued, "in introducing
this measure to the House, it has not been my wish to bring forward any
proposition either of hostility or rivalry to the Government of my noble
friend. I have assured the House publicly and privately, I have pledged
my honour to my noble friend the First Minister, that I seek no
advantage from the carrying of this measure, and that it is my anxious
hope that we may come to the consideration of it as if it were a great
private Bill, and we were all selected members of the committee to
inquire into its worth."

3. In view of the amount of the loan sought for, and the mileage of the
railways to be constructed, how many men, said Lord George, can we
employ? Quoting Mr. Stephenson's authority, he answers that on the
London and Birmingham line there were employed one hundred men a mile
for four consecutive years; but Mr. Stephenson's opinion was that the
Irish lines would require no more than sixty men a mile for four
consecutive years. Fifteen hundred miles of railway would thus give
constant employment for four consecutive years to 90,000 men on the
earth works and line alone; but quarrymen, artificers, etc., would give
six men more a mile - 9,000 men; making fences for securing fields, etc.,
9,000 more - in all, 108,000; a number representing 550,000 persons.

4. The labourers were specially cared for in the bill. They were to be
paid weekly in cash, and decent, suitable dwellings were to be
constructed for them along each line.

5. As to the manner in which the money was to be raised, Lord George did
not call for a single penny out of the Imperial Exchequer; all he asked
was, that the Government of England would pledge its credit to borrow
for Ireland the required sum, for which Ireland had full and abundant
security to give. The £16,000,000 was not to be raised at once; the loan
was to be spread over four years, at the rate of £1,000,000 a quarter.
The objection was put forward that the raising of this sum would oppress
the money market, but Lord George pointed to the experience they had,
with regard to the loan of the £20,000,000, for the slave-owners, which
proved that such would not be the case. The illustration was a
suggestive one. It said - You have not refused to raise £20,000,000 to
free the coloured slaves in your colonies - can you venture to refuse a
less sum, not merely to promote the prosperity of Ireland, but to save
the Irish nation from dying of starvation? The Irish nation - the sister
kingdom, your fellow-subjects, living at your very threshold - as near to
you as York or Devon? And yet, I ask for them no such free grant as you
gave the slave-owners; I only ask you to lend, for a time, your credit
to your starving Irish brethren.

He then bursts into a passage full of heart and manliness: "Send money,"
he said, "out of the country as you did in 1825 - invest £7,000,000 and
upwards, as you did on that occasion, in Peruvian and Mexican silver
mines; sink your capital, as you did then, in Bolanos (silver), in
Bolivar (copper and scrip), in Cata Branca, in Conceicas, in Candonga
(gold), in Cobre (copper), in Colombian, in Copaiba, and in no less than
twenty-three different foreign mining companies, which the speculators
of this country took in hand, because they had no railways to make; and
then when your gold goes, never to come back to you, of course the funds
will go down, and trade and commerce be correspondingly paralysed. Send
£13,000,000 to Portugal, £22,000,000 to Spain, to be sealed up in

Online LibraryJohn O'RourkeThe History of the Great Irish Famine of 1847 (3rd ed.) (1902) With Notices of Earlier Irish Famines → online text (page 30 of 48)