Front Page Titles (by Subject) 352.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 4 JAN., 1847, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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352.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 4 JAN., 1847, P. 4 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE CONDITION OF IRELAND 
Charles Edward Trevelyan (1807-86), Assistant Secretary to the Treasury since 1840, was one of the principal administrators of relief in Ireland. On 15 Dec., 1846, he had written a letter to the Board of Public Works explaining and amplifying a Treasury Minute of 1 Dec. that allowed relief money to be borrowed by individual landowners for reclaiming waste lands (see PP, 1847, LVI, 365). Both the Minute and the letter were published in the Irish news of the Morning Chronicle on 21 Dec., 1846, pp. 2-3, from which Mill quotes. For the context of the series, see No. 306. This unheaded first leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A forty first leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 4 Jany 1847”
(MacMinn, p. 66).
while the government are understood to be preparing, among other measures of Irish improvement, a general plan for the reclamation of waste lands, in which the claims of the peasantry to receive some share in the common inheritance of the whole nation are not overlooked;1 this purpose, if really entertained, is in danger of being defeated, and the whole question conclusively prejudged, through the operation—we hope, the unintended operation—of the Treasury minute communicated to the Board of Works in Mr. Trevelyan’s letter of the 15th of last month.
There have been three stages in the arrangements of Government for suppying food and employment to the destitute Irish people. In the first stage all the employment was on public works. The extent of the calamity was not then known. It was expected, doubtless, that the public would have only to feed a small fraction of the poor population, not (as in some counties it has proved) nearly the whole. Still less was it anticipated that Government pay and Government employment would draw off the people from productive occupations, and that there would be little other work done this year, in the west of Ireland, than what the public might provide. The public believed itself to be supplying an addition to the ordinary labours of the season, not a substitute for them; and was startled on finding that while wages were to be got for breaking stones and cutting down hills, ploughing and sowing were forgotten, and that a year hence, if there were no change of measures, Ireland would have roads, but no bread.
As soon as the number of destitute applicants for employment was seen to be what it was, the folly and danger of wasting all this labour on things of very secondary usefulness, or none at all, was promptly recognized; and Mr. Labouchere’s letter permitted the landlords, in “presentment sessions,” to apply for public money to be expended in drainage and other agricultural improvements, provided they were willing to assess themselves as a body for the ultimate repayment of the advance.2 This was the second stage of the Government measures; and from this revised version of their original policy much was at first expected. Little followed, however, except complaint and remonstrance. The landlords would not consent to a collective assessment. They felt it unjust that they, residing in the country, and contributing, as many of them did, to the mitigation of the distress by employing much labour, should be taxed as highly for the improvement of lands not their own, as the absentee or the niggard who relieved and employed nobody. They clamoured, therefore, for the adoption of some rule or principle by which, as nearly as possible, the repayment of each advance should be charged upon the person benefited by it; which, they said, would be the case if the assessment was made by townlands, instead of baronies or electoral districts, each of the small divisions called townlands being generally the property of a single proprietor. While this demand was urged from all parts of Ireland, hardly any use was made of the provisions of Mr. Labouchere’s letter; few or no reproductive works were presented, and the wasteful road expenditure continued and continues as before.
It is apparently to meet these difficulties that the Government, by the Treasury minute of the 1st of December, gave another revised and corrected edition of their policy, constituting the third stage. By this resolution the Government undertake, among other things, to lend money to individual landlords for improvements recommended by the Board of Works. The words to which we now allude in the Treasury minute are these:
Proceeding to the consideration of the second class of enactments—i.e., 1 and 2 Wm. IV, c. 33, s. 32, and 9 & 10 Vic., c. 1, s. 6—under which loans may be made to individuals, to enable them to effect the improvement of their estates for themselves, by drainage, reclaiming waste lands, or other works of substantial improvement, my lords are prepared to make advances to proprietors who comply with the conditions of the 1st and 2d Wm. IV, c. 33, amended by 9 & 10 Vic., c. 1, s. 6, as to the nature of the works, and who can obtain from a competent person, approved by the Board of Works, the certificate of increased value to be given to the land improved, as prescribed by that act. . . . Their lordships, however, desire that it may be understood that parties applying for loans under any of the enactments above adverted to, must undertake to submit to such terms, in respect to the period of repayment, and such other provisions, as Parliament may hereafter enact.
Since this resolution was promulgated, the landlords have been quite tranquil, as was very natural, having obtained all they desired; and the public have rather approved than blamed the measure. It was regarded as a help to the landlords for increasing the produce of the country, employing labourers, and ultimately improving the value of their own estates; and though every one felt that the landlords had not deserved, and could not claim public aid in thus enriching themselves, it was acquiesced in, because the public welfare demanded that the cultivated surface of Ireland should be rendered more productive, and there seemed no means by which lands already occupied and tilled could be reached for the purpose of improvement, unless through the instrumentality, and to a certain extent for the profit, of their owners.
But while attention was fixed upon this, the leading and only ostensible feature of the plan, it at first escaped most people (including, we confess, ourselves) that the Treasury minute contained three words, “reclaiming waste lands,” which, if acted up to, surrendered gratuitously to the landlords, not only all the increased value which is to be given by State money to what are properly their own lands, the lands which they have in cultivation, but also the whole value (after payment of expenses) which may be given by similar means to the entire waste lands of Ireland. This was overlooked here; but it has not been overlooked by those who were to profit by it. At the Frenchpark presentment sessions, in the county of Roscommon, on the 26th of last month, Mr. Fitzstephen French announced that his brother, Lord de Freyne, “on Monday, would apply, under the minute, for a sum of £24,000, to commence the drainage and reclaiming of his extensive wastes in this barony, the total cost of which could not be less than about £150,000.”3 The following memorial from Lord de Freyne to the Board of Works has since been made public:
The Memorial of the Right Hon. Lord de Freyne
That he, with other estates, is tenant for life of extensive waste lands specified in the schedule annexed hereto, situated in the barony Frenchpark, and county Roscommon: that he is desirous of affording employment to the people resident on his estate, by draining, gravelling, and improving the said waste lands; and that he desires, under the powers vested in the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, advances of money may be made to him for that purpose; that 4,275 acres are fit for immediate drainage, gravelling, and reclaiming—and that the estimated expense would amount to £14,716; that memorialist has also 6,669 acres of deep and wet bog adjoining the aforesaid wastes, which the construction of roads and opening of drains would consolidate and make fit for reclamation; that the expense of doing this would amount to £7,671, showing a total expenditure of £24,164; that the estimated increase of value in these lands, when so improved, is £3,000 per annum; that the calculations of the persons employed by memorialist are supported, both in the cost of execution of works, and the return therefrom, by the reports made by the Bog Commissioners, and printed by order of the House of Commons, in 1814; that the said advance of £24,164 is intended to cover the whole expense of the proposed works; that memorialist undertakes to submit to such terms in respect to the period of repayment, and such other provisions, as Parliament may hereafter enact.
We cannot believe that this result was foreseen, or that any measure leading to it has been deliberately adopted, or will be persevered in by Government. Of all modes ever suggested for dealing with the waste lands, this is the most unjustifiable. What have the Irish landlords done, that the State should double or quadruple their rental for them? Is it not enough that they are to reap the whole benefit of the expenditure which the State, not for their sake, but for that of the starving people, is willing to incur in increasing the value of their old lands? Must it also reclaim the unoccupied soil of Ireland from the worthlessness and barrenness in which they have left it, merely to present it to them? Far better were it that the land should remain as it is, and wait for more propitious times and wiser counsels, than that this rare and unequalled opportunity of rooting out the pestilent tenure which is the chief social cause of Ireland’s degradation should be thrown away irrevocably, and that five years hence, instead of a peasantry composed of a fourth or a fifth landed proprietors, and the remainder labourers at good wages, nothing should have issued for Ireland’s benefit from this great crisis of her destiny, except merely a larger surface covered with miserable cottiers!
[1 ]See Nos. 359 and 361.
[2 ]Labouchere’s letter was in The Times, 8 Oct., 1846, p. 5; see No. 313.
[3 ]Fitzstephen French (1801-73) was M.P. for Roscommon County 1832-73; Arthur French De Freyne (1795-1856), who preceded his brother as M.P. for Roscommon County 1821-32, had been created Baron De Freyne of Artagh in 1839. French’s comment of 26 Dec. is given in “Ireland. State of Roscommon,” The Times, 30 Dec., p. 3.