Workhouse Doctor Accused

Lurgan Workhouse

Lurgan Poor Law Union was formed on the 16th January 1839, and covered an area of 125 square miles. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 25 in number, representing its 19 electoral divisions. The Board of Guardians consisted of: Lord Lurgan, K.P., Stewart Blacker, John Hancock, Charles Douglass, James L. Douie, Robert Waddell, Francis Watson, George Ruddell, Woolsey Atkinson, John M'Cann, John Cinnamon, Hill Smith, Francis Moore, Lewis Hamilton, and John M'Carten and others. The workhouse in Lurgan could accommodate 800 inmates. The cost of the building was 8,581 plus 1,319 for fixtures and fittings etc. It was declared fit for the admission of paupers on 1st January 1841, and admitted its first inmates seven weeks later on the 22nd February 1841. It covered an area which had a population of around 70,000, it was a collection of huts and tents with one permanent building.

By 1865 the Workhouse consisted of three main areas: The workhouse proper which housed the adult paupers of the area and was run by James Donaldson, A school house for the children of paupers run by James Byron and an Infirmary with three full time nurses and three women from the main workhouse who were called 'Pauper Nurses', this under the control of Dr. William Shaw. On the 10th May the schoolmaster, John Byron, wrote to the Board of Guardians charging Dr. Shaw with drunkenness, and assuring them that he was "ready to prove that (Dr. Shaw) has been drunk and incapable of attending to the sick and dying inmates" and that he could bring others forward to corroborate his evidence. This culminated in a public inquiry, held at the Lurgan Workhouse on 23 May, 1865 overseen by Dr. Knox, the Poor Law Medical Inspector, where a further nine charges of negligence were submitted by Mr. Byron.

What follows is an account of the inquiry, written at the time.

The inquiry was called to order and the nine further charges against the doctor were read out:

  • The first was to the effect that the death of an inmate named John Connor was due to inattention on the part of the doctor;
  • The second had reference to the discharge boys from the infirmary;
  • The third involved charges of cruelty, followed by death;
  • The fourth accused Dr. Shaw of neglect regarding a child now dead;
  • The fifth was substantially that a pauper inmate was allowed occasionally to compound medicine in the surgery;
  • The sixth, that the surgery door was left open, with a pass-key in it, every morning;
  • The seventh, that the infirmary nurse could administer the strongest laudanum in the surgery;
  • The eighth, that for five days a fever patient named Irwin had not been spoken to by the doctor;
  • And the ninth, that, on the preceding Sunday evening, the latter went into the fever hospital wards, and left without looking at any the patients.

The schoolmaster also handed in a statement, containing charges which, he said, Mrs. Hill, the fever hospital nurse, could prove. In this statement Dr. Shaw was charged with having given two women in the hospital bribes, and with having, in an empty ward, offered one to another woman. Lastly, it was alleged that this officer had allowed an inmate to use a silver instrument for three weeks, which instrument, the writer believed, should be used by the doctor alone.

There were several Guardians present, amongst whom were Lord Lurgan, K.P., Stewart Blacker, Esq, and John Hancock, Esq , J.P. Mr. Carleton, solicitor, attended on behalf of the Schoolmaster, who made the charge ; and Messrs. Morris and Haalett, jun , watched the proceedings on behalf of Dr. Shaw. John Byrne, Mary Hill, Sarah Balance, Anne Hamill, and Eliza Campbell, were examined in support of the charge of drunkenness, which was the first part of the case taken up. Dr. Shaw was then examined, and said never was he drunk in the workhouse on any occasion whatever. He sometimes took opium for illness.

John Hancock, Esq., J.P., deposed that, on the day referred to in the charge, he met Dr. Shaw at a meeting of the Town Commissioners, and that he was perfectly sober all the time. Never saw the slightest symptom of drink on him.

Then Dorah Lindsay, Charles Magee, James Donaldson (master of the workhouse), Mrs. Mulholland (the matron), George Telford (the porter), and some other witnesses were examined for the defence, and contradicted several of the statements made in the evidence of the first witnesses. The evidence on the first charge then closed. It was intimated that Dr. Shaw was very unwell, and unable to continue his examination.

Mr. Carleton said he must cross examine him.
Dr. Knox - This unexpected illness puts us in an awkward position.
Dr. Hannay, in reply to Dr. Knox, said that he had been attending Dr. Shaw, and he was not in a fit state either to attend the investigation or be crossexamined in his own house. After some conversation, it was agreed that the investigation should be postponed.

The next day Dr. Knox asked if I that gentleman (Dr. Shaw) had recovered. Dr. Hannay was then sent for, and made the following statement:

I have seen Dr. Shaw since, and I do not consider him in a fit state to appear to-day. He could not attend without great danger, nor can I say when he may be able to be present. He is greatly vexed that he cannot come. I am sure if he were sent for, and told his attendance was indispensable, he would rise out of his bed and appear, ill as he is. He says he might be cross-examined at his own house; but I do not think it would be provident to do so. He is suffering from extreme debility, and is in a very nervous state, from having got scarcely any sleep for several nights past. As a medical man, I do not think him capable of undergoing a cross-examination in his present state of bodily exhaustion and mental excitement.

On 8th June, the investigation continued Mr. Carleton, solicitor, appeared for John Byron, the schoolmaster, who preferred the charges and Messrs. Morris and Haslett, solicitors, watched the proceedings on behalf of Dr. Shaw. Dr. Shaw was sworn, and cross-examined by Mr. Carlton in reference to the charge of drunkenness. He said:
I remember Sunday, the 7th of May. I was very ill on that day. I took some tincture of opium between two and three o'clock. The dose did not exceed three grains. I did not take any other stimulant on Sunday, not even a glass of ale. I do not think three grains are too much. I have been in the habit of using opium. In some constitutions the effect remains for twenty-four hours. I think that opium invigorates both mind and body. If used in large quantities it would intoxicate. On the following Monday, after being at a meeting of the Town Commissioners, I took a pill containing three or four grains. I took three glasses of ale on Monday between my second and third visit to the workhouse. I was coming from the fever hospital when I was first charged with being drunk. I asked the porter if I was drunk, and he said he could not say. On Monday or Tuesday I had a conversation with Mrs. Hill, an official of the house. Mrs. Hill and I were always on very good terms.
Dr. Knox: Had you ever any dispute with Mrs. Hill?
No. I spoke sharply to her on one occasion when some work which she should have done was left to one of the paupers. I never had any words with Miss Hill.
Mr. Carlton: Did you ever make any complaint?
Had you ever any dispute or quarrel with the the schoolmaster?
Never a word.
Mr. Carlton said that there was no more evidence in reference to the charge of drunkenness.

Dr. Knox said that he would next take up the charge of neglect. Dr. Shaw was charged with neglecting his duty towards three patients, named John Connor, William Irwin, and a child named Magill.

John Byron, examined by Dr. Knox: I put my name to certain charges that I made against Dr. Shaw for neglect. John Connor went to the fever hospital on the 25th January, and left it on the 7th of February. I thought he had fever. He remained in the school from the time he was discharged from me the hospital until the 13th February, when I sent him to the infirmary, because he complained of being sick. He was again sent to the fever hospital on the 14th February. He died on the 16th April. By his not being properly attended to, I mean that he was discharged too soon the first time.
Cross-examined by Mr. Morris: I keep no diary of the occurrences each day in the school. I keep a roll-book, on which Conner was admitted to hospital. I found the date from the master's transfer book.
To Dr. Knox: I made the complaint about this boy's death on the 10th May. I never made any previous complaint about it. I saw the doctor occasionally. I did not make any representation to him about the case.
To Mr. Morris: Connor was in the workhouse several months last year. He was last admitted into the house on the 12th Jan., and he appeared to be in perfect health then. He was not in the school, from the 13th Feb. until his death. My grounds for making the charge are that he had to he sent back to the hospital seven days after he came back to school. I don't remember seeing him during that time.

Mrs. Elizabeth Hill, examined by Dr. Knox: When Connor left the hospital the first time, I said I thought he was not fit to leave, as he was delicate looking. The doctor said he was fit to go to school. He said the boy had fever on both occasions. He died in hospital.
Cross-examined by Mr. Haslett: I had a conversation with Dr. Shaw after the boy's death. I told him that a niece of Conner's, then in the hospital, had said that she thought the boy had been neglected outside. She said he had a stepmother, who did not treat him well.

Patrick Hughes, examined by Dr. Knox: I am a caretaker of the boys. I know a boy called Connor. After he came out of hospital the first time he was very ill. He fell off a form in the school, and I helped him up. I called the attention of the doctor to him who was passing. I said, "There was a a little boy who was very ill.", He turned round quite short, and told me that it was none of my business.
Cross-examined by Mr. Morris: I told the occurrence to Mr. Byron on that day. I had no conversation with him about this case. He did not tell me I was to be summoned as a witness.
To Dr. Knox: I cannot tell how long this was after he came out of the fever hospital. The master sent him up to the fever hospital that evening.

Dr. Shaw, examined by Dr. Knox: Conner remained in the fever hospital until the 7th February. It appears by the record that he was discharged cured. I considered him quite fit to leave. I had no object in discharging him otherwise. I gave him proper treatment to the best of my knowledge. He was sent to the infirmary on the 14th February, ill of bronchitis. He was twice in the fever hospital and once in the infirmary. He was discharged cured from the infirmary on the 24th February. He was admitted to the fever hospital on the 8th March, suffering from typhoid fever. It was a mild fever that he had at first.
It is alleged that his death was caused by his being discharged too soon, is that your opinion?
It is not Sir; I do not believe that.
What caused his death then?
I believe his death was caused by the severity of the fever and ulceration of the bowels. He was always a delicate boy. I have no recollection of the circumstances stated by Hughes. If he had spoken to me I am sure I would have attended to the case. I visit every part of the house once a day to see if there be anything wrong, and to have the sick persons removed to the infirmary. The schoolmaster has general directions to send any sick to the infirmary, which he regularly does.
Cross-examined by Mr. Haslett: When he was ill of bronchitis he was under the care of Miss M'Neice.
To Dr. Knox: To the best of my opinion Mrs. Hill said to me she thought the boy was not fit to be dischargod so soon. Dr. Knox The next case is that of a person named Magill. Charles Magee

John Byron, examined by Dr. Knox: The charge that I preferred is, that Mrs. Magill called Dr. Shaw's attention to her child after about a week it had been in hospital and he said he saw nothing wrong. He neglected to look at it then, and the child died in about twenty minutes afterwards. I was not present. It was on Mrs. Hill's information that I made the charge. It occurred on the 23rd of April, and I was informed about a fortnight afterwards. The information was given voluntarily at that time; but I asked about the circumstances before I brought the charge. I do not know Mrs. Magill, nor had I ever any conversation with her.
Cross-examined by Mr. Morris: Mrs. Hill was the first person who told me of this. I think it was in her own kitchen. I could not say what I was doing there. I had no thought of getting up those charges at the time Mrs. Hill spoke to me.
To Dr. Knox: I don't remember mentioning it to any person until I brought the charges. To Mr. Morris: The second conversation that I had with Mrs. Hill took place in her kitchen also. I don't remember that anyone was present on the first occasion. I think Miss Hill was present on the be second occasion.

Mrs. Hill examined by Dr. Knox: I told the schoolmaster that the doctor had said he did not see anything the matter with the child, and asked me if I saw anything the matter with it. I said I thought the child was sick. It was measles it had. The child was in the hospital a week. When the doctor came in the evening, I was upstairs attending to the child. When I came down he was away. I thought all day the child was going to die. I did I not think it necessary to send for the doctor, as he had seen the child in the morning. Mr. Byron asked me about it before I told him. I reported the case to the master on the night the child died, and I told him the mother was not pleased at the doctor. I think Mr. Byron asked me about the child more than once, I don't recollect ever telling him about it until he asked me.
To Mr. Haslett: I think the conversation took place in the kitchen of the hospital.
Dr. Knox: Did Mr. Byron tell you he was going to make any charge when he asked you about the child?
Witness: He said he was going to report the doctor.
To Mr. Haslett: I had a conversation with Dr. Shaw after the child died. He asked me not to come forward to speak against him. I said I would not unless I was sent for. I don't remember stating to Dr. Shaw, on the following Monday, that he could not have heard me saying the child was dying, as he was engaged in another ward. On the Sunday the child died I did not see Dr. Shaw.
To Dr. Knox: I told Mr. Byron not to bury the child until the mother would see it.

Mary Magill examined by Dr. Knox: My child died in the hospital. It was ill of measles. The doctor saw it on the morning of the day it died. He examined it. I supposed he knew it was near death, and he did not care to tell me that. He told me he thought it would get better, The doctor saw it every day, and gave it bottles and powders. I did not complain to anyone of the doctor. I have no complaint to make against him. Two or more mornings before it died he said there was not much wrong with it. He did not see it on the evening it died. I asked Mrs. Hill not to bury the child until I would see it, because the coffin was too shallow. It was altered to answer, I am certain it was not on the morning it died that the doctor elated that there was nothing wrong with it.
Mr. Morris: The woman herself does not make any charge against the doctor.
Dr. Knox: No; but we will take all the evidence.

Dr. Shaw examined: I prescribed for the child on the 23rd April. I don't remember telling the mother that the child was going to die. As a general rule I never do so. I did not neglect the child on the 23rd April. I knew for several days before that that it would not recover. I cannot state whether I saw it on the evening it died or not. The chief object of my going to the hospital in the evening is to ascertain whether anything has occurred since the morning. The child died of diarrhoea and general debility It had twice recovered under my care from bronchitis and diarrhoea.

James Donaldson (Master) examined by Dr. Knox: Mrs. Hill never made any report to me regarding the death of Magill's child. Her evidence on that point is not true.
Mrs. Hill: Did I not tell you on the same day?
Witness: You did not.

Compiled by Ken Austin


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