REPORT from Dr. Stephens to the Board of Health on the Bantry

Bantry, 20 February, 1847


I have the honour to state for the information of the Central Board of Health, that pursuant to their orders I visited the Bantry Workhouse yesterday, and made enquiry into the character of the sickness prevalent in it, also as to the ages of the patients who died in the week ended the 6th instant, the duration of their stay in the workhouse previous to death, the state of the house as to ventilation and the diet and drink for the sick, together with the number of cubic feet allowed to each inmate in the sick and healthy wards.

With reference to the workhouse, I find it clean and orderly;  the wards are spacious, and not having the number of beds they are capable of accommodating without inconvenience, the air of the house generally good, with the exception of the male infirm ward, in which the air was most impure from want of ventilation, as also the male dormitories for boys from six to ten years of age, whose habits are filthy;  the same to be said of the female day-room, which is also a nursery for children

and their mothers;  the air of this room was most impure, the women being very inattentive to the habits of decency, which the matron, who is herself most orderly, finds it very difficult to make them observe.                   ‘

The enclosed paper contains the ages of patients, their stay in the house, and the number of cubic feet allowed to each lunatic.

Language would fail to give an adequate idea of the state of the Fever Hospital; such an appalling, awful, and heart-sickening condition as it presented I never witnessed, or could think possible to exist in a civilized or Christian community.   As I entered the house, the stench that proceeded from it, and prevailed through it, was most dreadful and noisome; but oh, what scenes presented themselves to patients lying on straw, naked, and in their excrements, as light covering thrown over them; in two beds, living beings beside the dead, in the same bed with them, and dead since the night before.   I saw a woman who had been delivered but four days, almost expiring, with her wretched infant nearly suffocated;  I administered at once wine, and had warmth applied, as there had been no medical attendant appointed during the illness of Dr. Tisdall, one of the medical men of the town, I was told had been there two days before;  no medicine, no drink, in dirt, no fire, the unhappy beings who were able to express their wants crying out for drink, water, water, asked for, but no one to give it to them; others crying out for something to eat, as they said they were starved;  many imploring to be taken out of it as they were not sick, but weak; thirty soon were found fit to be removed.   The prevailing disease is dysentery, rendered highly contagious from the fetid state of the several wards.

The wards are saturated with wet and ordure, the walls -marked with the same.   No nurses in the house except one of the paupers, totally unfit for the duties, every person being afraid to enter what was considered a pest-house; it is useless to enlarge or dwell further upon this revolting subject.I directed the clerk
of the union to bring to the board room any guardian or guardians he could find; three came, and in the presence of the chaplains of the house, and the master and matron, I laid before them the state of things I had just witnessed, with feelings I will not attempt to describe, and stated to them what should be done to arrest the frightful evil so widely spreading.   In the yard, filthy beds and bedding were heaped up and allowed to remain there; the same state of things in the infirmary, where dysentery was almost universal.

The supply of water for the workhouse being carried by women: the want of it at present was great, from the great increase of washing.  It is said to be not good; it is impregnated with iron, and much disliked

Having done all that was possible for me to do here I purpose to proceed to Cork, to attend the meeting of the Board of Guardians there on Monday, after which I shall proceed to Mitchelstown, where I hope to be on Tuesday to comply with the wishes of the Central Board of Health.                    –

I have, &c.
(Signed) R. Stephens

A sworn enquiry was held and the physician was called on to resign.