Landsdowne's Estate Kenmare - assisted emigraton

Landsdowne's Estate in Kenmare
Assisted Emigration Plan

This account of assisted emigration from Lord Lansdowne's estate in Kenmare, County Kerry, comes from "Realities of Irish Life " by W. S. Trench; his agent.

"WS Trench has left an eye-witness account of conditions in one part of the country in 1849:

When I first reached Kenmare in the winter of 1849-50, the form of destituiton had changed in some degree; but it was still very great. It was true that people no longer died of starvtion; but they were dying nearly as fast of fever, dysentery, and scurvy within the walls of the workhouse. Food there was now in abundance; but to entitle the people to obtain it, they were compelled to go into the work house and 'auxiliary sheds', until these were crowded almost to suffocation. And although outdoor relief had also been resorted to in consequence of the impossibiltity of finding room for the paupers in the workhouses, yet the quantity of food given was so small, and the previous destitutuon through which they had passed was so severe, that nearly as many died now under the hands of Guardians, as had perished before by actual starvation.

I spent six weeks in Kerry; and having completed an elaborate report describing the past an preasent condition, and probably future of the estate, I forwarded it to Lord Lansdowne. The district of Kenmare at that period - January 1850 - was not a in a desirable condition. 'The famine', in the strict acceptation of the term, was then nearly over, but it had left atrain behind it, almost as formidable as its presence."

"On 5 Nov 1847 a crowd of destiture people marched on the workhouse at Tralee carrying a black flag marked 'flag of distress', declaring they would enter the workhouse by force. They had been deprived of outdooor relief of a 'halfpenny a day' by the Guardians, 'because the Board's finances could not bear even so small an allowance.' They succeeded in breaking down the main gate. Police and troops were called out and the people were forced, after a struggle, to depart."

"by autumn 1846, the full disaster of the failure of the potato crop became apparent. Having endured the partial failure of 1845 and the hungry summer months of 1846, people looked at their blackened and rotting crops and realised that starvation stared them in the face:

'The desolation which a sudden failure of the staple food of the people, in a remote valley like this (Kenmare) must necessarily bring along with it, may be imagined. As the potato melted away before the eyes of the people, they looked on in dismay and terror; but there was no one with energy enough to import corn to supply its place. Half Ireland was stunned by the suddenness of the calamity, and Kenmare was completely paralysed. Begging, as of old, was now out of the question, as all were equally poor; and many of the wretched people succumbed to their fate almost without a struggle.'

I therefore resolved to put into practice a scheme which I had mediated for a long time previously, namely to go myself to Lord Lansdowne at Bowood, to state to him the whole circumstance of the case, and to recommend him to adopt an extensive system of voluntary migration as the only practicable and effective means of relieving this frightful destitution. This plan I carried into effect. I went over to England (and) during my stay I had frequent and lengthened interviews with that most enlightened and liberal statesman.

The broad sketch of the plan I laid before him was as follows: I showed him by the poor-house returns, that the number of paupers off his estate and receiving relief in the workhouse amounted to about three thousand. That I was wholly unable to undertake the employment of these people in their present condition on reproductive works; and that if left in the workhouse, the smallest amount they could possibly cost would be £5 per head per annum, and thus that the poor rates must necessarily amount, for some years to come, to £15,000 per annum, unless these people died or left - and the latter was not probable. I stated also, that hitherto the people had been kept alive in the workhouse by grants from the rates-in-aid and other public money; but that this could not always go on. That the valuation of his estate in that district scarcely reached £10,000 per annum; and thus that the poor rates necessary to be raised in future off the estate to support this number of people, would amount to at least thirty shillings in the pound. I explained further to him, that under these circumstances, inasmuch as the poor rates were a charge prior to the rent, it would be impossible for his lordship to expect any rent whatever out of his estate for many years to come. The remedy I proposed was as follows: that he should forthwith offer free emigration to every man, woman and child now in the poor-house or receiving relief and chargeable to his estate. That I had been in communication with an Emigration Agent, who had offered to contract to take them to whatever port in America each pleased, at a reasonable rate per head. That even supposing they all accepted this offer, the total, together with a small sum per head for outfit and a few shillings on landing would not exceed from £13,000 to £14,000, a sum less than it would cost to support them in the workhouse for a single year. That ir the one case he would not only free his estate of this mass of pauperisn which had been allowed to accumulate upon it, but would put th people themselves in a far better way of earning their bread hereafter, whereas by feeding and retaining them where they were, they must remain as a millstone around the neck of his estate, and prevent its rise for many years to come; and I plainly proved that it would be cheaper tc him, and better for them, to pay for their emigration at once, than to continue to support them at home.

His lordship discussed the matter very fully, and with that kindness, good sense, and liberality which characterised all his acts; and on my leaving Bowood he gave me an order for £8,000 wherewith to commence the system of emigration, with a full understanding that more should be forthcoming if required.

I shall not readily forget the scenes that occurred in Kenmare when I returned, and announced that I was prepared at Lord Lansdowne's expense to send to America everyone now in the poor-house who was chargeable to his lordship's estate, and who desired to go; leaving each to select what port in America he pleased - whether Boston, New York, New Orleans, or Quebec.

The announcement at first was scarcely credited; it was considered by the paupers to be too good to be true. But when it began to be believed and appreciated, a rush was made to get away at once. The organisation of the system required, however, much care and thought.

The mode adopted was as follows: two hundred each week were selected of those apparently most suited for emigration; and having arranged their slender outfit, a steady man, on whom I could depend Mr. Jeremiah O'Shea, was employed to take charge of them on their journey to Cork, and not to leave them nor allow them to scatter, until he saw them safely on board the emigrant ship. This plan succeeded admirably; and week after week to the astonishment of the good people of Cork, and sometimes not a little to their dismay, a batch of two hundred paupers appeared on the quays of Cork, bound for the Far West.

A cry was now raised that I was exterminating the people. But the people knew well that those who now cried loudest had given them nc help when in the extremity of their distress, and they rushed from the country like a panic-stricken throng, each only fearing that the funds at my disposal might fail before he and his family could get their passage.

So great was the rush from the workhouse to emigrate, and so great was the influx into the workhouse to qualify (as I generally required the application of that sure test of abject poverty before I gave an order for emigration) that the Guardians became uneasy, and said the poor-house would be filled with those seeking emigration, even faster than it could be emptied. But I told them not to be alarmed - that all demands should be met. And thus, two hundred after two hundred, week after week, departed from Cork, until the poor-house was nearly emptied of paupers chargeable to the Lansdowne estate; and in little more than a year 3,500 paupers had left Kenmare for America, all free emigrants, without any ejectments having been brought against them to enforce it, or the slightest pressure put upon them to go.

Matters now began to right themselves; only some fifty or sixty paupers remained in the workhouse, chargeable to the property over which I had the care and Lord Lansdowne's estate at length breathed freely.

It must be admitted that the paupers despatched to America on such a sudden pressure as this were of a very motley type; and a strange figure these wild batches of two hundred each - most of them speaking only the Irish language - made in the streets of Cork as well as on the quays of Liverpool and America. There was great difficulty in keeping them from breaking loose from the ship, not only in Cork but in Liverpool, where the ships touched before they left for the West.'

The Trench plan aroused mixed feelings. One who did not approve was Father O'Sullivan, parish priest of Kenmare, who engaged in rather acrimonious Controversy with Mr Trench in the matter. Another was the patriot O'Donovan Rossa, who was at that time doing business in west Cork. He wrote some vigorous verses, which Trench (who never discovered the identity of the author) regarded as dangerous incitement against him. In his Recollections Rossa recalled: 'Stewart Trench, the land agent of Lord Lansdowne, was at that time in his glory evicting the tenantry. The stories I heard about him moved me to write this poem:

O Kerry! where now is the spirit
That ever distinguished thy race.
If you tolerate Trench you will merit
A stigma of shame and disgrace.

Persecution by law he can preach
He can nicely "consolidate" farms;
He can blarney and lie in his speech
And exterminate the Irish in swarms.

No hope for a comfort in life
While crouchingly quiet and obedient,
The weal of your child or you wife,
Is naught to Trench the tyrannical agent.

The Kenmare men asked me to get what I wrote about Trench printed for them in some slips of paper. I got them printed and sent them to the Kerry men. Trench got hold of one of them, and was mad to find out who was the writer; he said it was inciting people to mureder him. But the Kerry men did not five me away.'

One reason why Trench was viewed with some suspicion and distrust was because of his oppostition to the Ribbonmen (an anti-lanlord secret society, 1835-1855, so called because of its badge -  a green ribbon) and other secret agrarian socieies in the district. Another was his known contacts with the police.

From "Workhouses of Ireland" by John O'Connor

More on the Famine in Kerry

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