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“ object can be accomplished. 1st. Gratuitous re“ lief to the families of able-bodied labourers, “ which, if extensively adopted, must produce ruin " to all classes in Ireland, and great loss to the “ nation at large. 2nd. A broad principle of “ permanent improvement of the lands, which are “ capable of affording ample employment for some “ years to all the labouring classes."*
* Part I. page 476.
First appearance of disease in the Potato in 1845–Alarm then excited
Destruction of the crop in 1846_Estimate of the loss Peasantry reduced to destitution-Distress of the manufacturing and civic population–Subsequent famine and disease--All classes affected by this calamity.
In the autumn of 1845 the potato crop first appeared diseased. Some were discoloured or partially rotten when dug out; others rotted in the pits where they were stored. They were dug out apparently healthy, and in a few weeks a large proportion were unsound. The sudden decay of an important article of food, in a manner so unexpected, surprised and alarmed us. Various were the reports. The whole crop was believed to be decaying, and many feared that before spring there would not be a potato left even for seed. It was said that the disease was extending to other vegetables, that the turnips were infected, that there were alarming appearances in the wheat. The minds of men were unsettled by a calamity for which none could account. A government commission was appointed to investigate the sub
ject, to inquire into the nature and extent of the injury, and if possible ascertain its cause, and discover a remedy which might preserve those still uninjured. Their labours produced no result. Various suggestions were made, and several experiments were tried, but they only served to show the extent of human ignorance. The cause and the remedy remained alike unknown.
Meanwhile the disease appeared stayed, no one could say how. Potatoes were scarce and dear, and many were decayed, but still there were potatoes during the spring and summer, and even the poorest cottiers managed to get enough for seed. The partial failure in many places, and the increased price, caused considerable distress. Liberal subscriptions were raised to employ the poor, and thus support them until the new crop came in.
The summer of 1845 had been cold. It was said that there had been frosts at night, and to this cause some attributed the injury to the potato crop. The summer of 1846, on the contrary, was unusually warm. The wheat appeared particularly fine. The appearance of the potatoes was most favorable, when suddenly they seemed blasted, as if by lightning. The leaves withered, the stalks became bare and black, the whole plant was dead, while the tubers were in many places scarcely formed, and in no part of the country were the late potatoes fully grown. The crop was destroyed. The food of a whole people was cut off. It now appears extraordinary that the alarm was not more immediate and more general. The calamity had proved less serious the previous year than had been anticipated at first, therefore many hoped that the present accounts were exaggerated. Even those who saw that the crop was lost, could not believe that the consequences would be so serious. Perhaps none were able fully to anticipate the awful reality.
We are now able to appreciate the loss ; we have estimated its value in money; we have experienced its remote effects, in deranging the commercial and monetary arrangements of the kingdom ; and looking back on it, we see that the consequences were inevitable. Ireland had lost in the potatoes and in oats to the value of at least £16,000,000.*
* Extract from the Marquis of Lansdowne's speech, (Times, 16th of January, 1847):
" He would commence his statement--and they would be among the “ very few figures with which he would trouble them-with an account “ which was as accurate as the best calculation could make it, of the loss “ in money value that had been occasioned by the late failure of the crops “ in Ireland. Taking a valuation of £10 per acre for potatoes, and * £3 10s. for oats, the deficiency on the potato crop alone amounted to “ £11,350,000, while on the crop of oats it amounted to £4,660,000, " or to a total value of £16,000,000, for the whole of a country “ which, if it could not be said to be the poorest, was certainly not one of “ the richest in the world. In weight, the loss was between 9,000,000 and “ 10,000,000 tons of potatoes. The whole loss had been equivalent to “ the absolute destruction of 1,500,000 arable acres."
It would cost a much larger sum to supply the deficiency of food resulting from this loss. The difficulty was greatly increased by the peculiar circumstances of the crop which had failed. It constituted the food of the great mass of the population. It was essentially the property of the poor. Cultivated by their own hands, in their own gardens, it was their capital, their stock in trade, their store of food, for themselves, their pigs, their poultry, and in many cases for their sheep and cattle. When it was gone, they had no other resource. They had believed themselves comfortable, and felt secure of having enough of food ; and now, by a sudden and unexpected dispensation of Providence, they were at once reduced to poverty.
For a few weeks the poor cottiers and labourers managed to eke out a subsistence, by the sale of their pig and other disposable property, or by pawning their clothes ; but pig, fowl, furniture, and clothing were soon gone ; their very dogs were drowned. Before the end of the year they were utterly destitute. Many of the small farmers were scarcely better off than the cottiers ; others had stacks of oats which they lived on while they lasted. Many in the western parts had some cattle or sheep. The larger farmers in the wheat districts were more fortunate. The wheat brought a high price, often sufficient to compensate them for the