May 1874 – What the papers said 150 years ago

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Young Lady in Cemetery
Young Lady in Cemetery

Local News May 1874


The Belfast Morning News on 22nd May 1874 reported on the opening of the new Ulster Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital in Clifton Street, Belfast the previous day. The new hospital, described as ‘a beautiful brick building, with ornamental dressings of freestone’ was designed by William Hastings, Esq., architect.

The report noted that the hospital will offer incalculable benefits to the working classes in the most densely populated district of the town. The entire cost associated with the building (in excess of £3,000) was paid by Mr. Edward Benn as a replacement for his temporary hospital in Great Patrick Street which was no longer adequate for the number of patients. The report concluded that:

“nothing has been omitted which can contribute to the comfort and recovery of patients. The building may now be utilised to the fullest extent for the benefit of the suffering poor, no matter whence they may come.

Belfast Morning News 22nd May 1874
Edward Benn
Edward Benn

Court News – May 1874

Drunk in Charge of a Milk Cart

The courts throughout May reported may cases of public drunkenness, disorderly behaviour, assault, theft and rioting/ stone-throwing. The Belfast Morning News on the 6th may notes a case in the Belfast Petty Sessions Custody Court of a man accused of being drunk in charge of a milk cart.

John Wiley was charged by Sub-Constable Spiers with furious driving on the previous evening in North Queen Street. From the evidence it appeared that the prisoner, who was driving a milk-cart at a furious rate, was quite drunk at the time. Fined 10s and costs.

Wm. John Clarke was fined in a similar stim for a like offence.!

Belfast Morning News 6th may 1874

Illegal Possession of Silver Spoons – Belfast Morning News 10th May 1874

A young lady appeared in court charged with the theft of two silver spoons.

Called to give evidence, Mr James Jamieson stated that he was an assistant in Mr Todd’s pawn-office and that the accused, Anne Scott, attempted to pawn 2 silver spoons. Checking the spoons, he observed a crest on them and sent for the police. When questioned Anne Scott was unable to say where she had obtained the spoons.

Sub-Constable Murphy reported that he had taken the spoons to Mr Campbell’s in Smithfield to see if the owner could be identified. Mr Campbell sent a man with Sub-Constable Murphy to a crest engraver in Fountain Street, where it was found that the crest was common to several families and that ownership could not be determined with certainty.

The constable reported that he had then visited Mr M’Cleave’s premises in Donegall Street hoping for further information but Mr McCleave said that “he would have nothing to do with the matter“. (This sentiment was roundly criticised in court).

It was suggested that Mr. Neill or Mr. Gibson of Donegall Place would probably be more obliging in terms of assistance and that the spoons should be taken there.

The prisoner was held on remand pending completion of the investigation.

Correspondence May 1874

Fruit-Growing in Sheds

On 26th May 1874, the Belfast Morning News carried a letter from “The Garden” on the remarkable case of a “glazed shed” built by Mr. Foster, of Beeston some 5 years previously. Planted with apricots, the shed had produced a fine crop of fruit every year…

In my experience I have seen nothing in fruit culture so remarkable as the uniform success of this fruit shed. Who would have thought that a shed open to the north-east would have produced crops five years in succession as this has done, in spite of unfavourable seasons?

Last year, when no one here had apricots, Mr. Foster gathered twenty-five dozen beautiful fruit from two trees which had been loaded every year since they were planted. One plum produced, when it was cleared, thirty-five pounds, and it was estimated that ten pounds had been previously gathered. An orange nectarine bore twelve dozen beautiful fruits, and now every tree in the shed is as full of fruit as it is possible for it to be.

When it is added that these trees have never been watered since they were first planted, that they have never been syringed at all, and that the only trouble taken with them has been to train them to the wires, thin, and gather the fruit, I think few will deny that the success of this plan of growing fruit is very remarkable.

The Garden, Belfast Morning News 26th may 1874

The letter concluded with the observation that people are now building similar glazed sheds all over the country and that “Nobody, after seeing this shed, would for a moment think of building a shed for pots and soil, and covering it with slates or tiles instead of glass”.

Advertisements/ Classifieds

Emigration Advert - Belfast Newsletter 13-May-1874
Emigration Advert – Belfast Newsletter 13-May-1874

The advertisement above, and others like it, promoted much debate on the continuing emigration numbers particularly to the United states and Canada.

Background – The Famine

A BBC report (September 2015) set the context for the famine and summarised its impact. The key points are summarised below

  • The population of Ireland was estimated as 8.5 million in 1845
  • Most of land was owned by the great Plantation landlords with vast numbers of dispossessed land owners depending on ‘potato gardens’ (generall poor land often sub-divided among their sons).
  • By the 1840s, close on two-fifths of the population were totally dependant on the potato and it was the major food-source of the rest.
  • Between 1845 and 1849, the potato crop failed in three seasons out of four.
  • The result was starvation and the spread of disease – dysentery, typhus and cholera.
  • Government efforts to mitigate the crisis via ‘Outdoor Relief’ – the provision of soup kitchens in distressed areas were woefully inadequate.
  • Over one million people died of hunger and disease during the famine and more than one million others emigrated, mainly to the United States
  • Assertions that the famine did not harshly impact Ulster have been debunked by recent historical research – Fermanagh lost almost 30% of its inhabitants, Tyrone, Antrim and Armagh were close to the national average with rates of around 15% and the famine’s impact was also felt in the normally prosperous parts of the north-east, including Belfast, north Down and particularly the linen triangle of north Armagh. Between 1845-51 Ulster’s population fell by 340,000, a drop of 15.7% compared with 19.9% for the whole of lreland.

(It should be noted that the population, death and emigration numbers vary substantially from source to source. Many books have been published on this).

Famine Coffin Ships
Famine ‘Coffin Ships’

Emigration Debate – Newsletter May 1874

By 1874, concerns were being raised about the continuing number of emigrants heading to America with one company (see advert above) offering places in steerage to New York for £3 per head.

An article in the Newsletter, 15 May 1874, suggested that “It is pretty certain, as a rule, if they (emigrants) had toiled as much in the land of their birth the majority of them would have fared as well in the end” was challenged on the 18th May in correspondence by Charles Foy, acting on behalf of the Canadian government. He reported that Canadian land was plentiful and that farm labourers in Canada are paid £10 a year with board and asked if the farmers of Ireland could afford to pay these wages.

He concluded that, while Irish emigrants “may never see hills as green as those they leave behind“, they will be assured of 3 meals a day. He added that he has distributed many letters from emigrants “who know very well how they could have done in Ireland, and who thank God that they went to Canada.”

On the same day the Newsletter challenged Mr Foy’s letter. Noting that Mr Foy is paid to encourage emigration to Canada and that they do not deny the “advantages” claimed, they add:

“We have not denied the “advantages” which Canada and our other colonies, and the United States derive from immigration; but it is a decided disadvantage to this country to be stripped of its robust population, leaving us the aged and helpless.

During the last thirty years we have lost 2,275,174 persons, and it is a serious loss indeed. If we had this number added to our population at present we should have a population of 5,000,000 at least to feed and clothe, and to help in feeding and clothing themselves, adding largely to our producing and consuming powers, and to the general wealth of the country.

It is all very well for those whose health will not permit them to live here to seek elsewhere a more suitable climate, and for those others who cannot get on here to try other lands. We do not object to such emigration as this; but what we do object to is a wholesale draining away of the population, until our very existence as a people is threatened.

With even the diminution in emigration to which we referred on Saturday, we shall lose this year nearly 70,000 persons, and if things go on after this fashion we shall soon have no rural population at all – no one to till the land, no one to provide raw material for our manufactures, and no one to defend the country.

The emigration question, therefore, concerns landlords, manufacturers, merchants, traders, butchers, bakers, tailors, shoemakers, everyone of us living by landed property or by our industry.”

Newsletter 18 May 1874

A further commentary in the same newspaper on 19th May revisited the emigration debate with the opinions of the “respected Dr. Henry MacCormac”.

According to Dr. MacCormac’s estimate, and he is not alone, our island might be made capable of maintaining twenty millions of people, while we have little more than five millions, and of these one-half are paupers.

Newsletter 19th May 1874

Dr. MacCormac contended that “We have in Ireland, for those emigrants, profitable scope for long years to come‘ and it is disgraceful that something is not done to keep our people at home.

Dr. MacCormac argued that extended wastes could be “reclaimed” i.e. land now idly occupied by “the waters of vast lakes – Lough Larne, Lough Neagh, Lough Erne, Lough Strangford, the Shannon borders and others“.

These, he argues, could be drained and the existing arable surfaces made “most readily to yield double or treble what they now produce by better tillage, and the “adoption of sanitary humus.” Dr. MacCormac also warned of the “terrible mortality among Irish emigrants whose graves in long rows border the canals and the railways which their labour has served to construct.”

The Newsletter comment then questions why greater efforts are not made to accomplish some of the changes which Dr. MacCormac suggests, adding that “There are about forty millions sterling Irish money in English stocks; why is not some of it released, and companies formed to reclaim wastes, or something of that sort, which would serve our countrymen and give them inducements to remain at home? They are wanted in Ireland as much as they are wanted in Canada, or the United States, or anywhere else; and we sincerely hope some plan will be devised to keep them in Ireland.”

The emigration debate was not to end anytime soon…

Other News – May 1874

Eighteen Corpses – A Yankee Tale (Belfast Morning News 4th May 1874)

The Belfast Morning News carried this story, originally printed in the “Brooklyn Argus”, telling the story of how Dr Uling and the beautiful Louise Germs came to a sad end.

Last June, these two persons obtained a joint life insurance policy with a value of $10,000 dollars.

Nothing more was heard of them until a week or two ago, when Dr. Uling called at the insurance company’s office requesting payment of that amount following the death Louise Germs. He reported that he was her physician and had attended her during her terminal illness at his house. He named a Dr. Kurtz as a physician who was there and could confirm the facts of the case.

When contacted for confirmation of the event, Dr Kurtz stated that he had been called out two days before her death but did not examine her and gave her no medicine. He noted that she was speechless and in convulsions.

The only female attendant of the dying girl was an old woman – Marie Erben. She swore in an affidavit that she was Dr. Uling’s sister. Confusingly, Dr Uling, in his affidavit, stated that she was a distant relative.

Charles Finch, an undertaker of No. 59 First Avenue, reported that he and Dr. Uling had prepared the deceased for burial. They buried the body on the 31st of March in Union Cemetery – no one else attended. The grave-diggers however testified that there was a young lady in black present “whose description answered to that of Louise Germs.”

The conflicting accounts of the death and subsequent burial raised the suspicions of the president of the insurance company and he sought to have the body disinterred. Having obtained the appropriate approval, the grave was re-opened and the coffin opened.

When the coffin lid removed, the attending crowd were astonished by seeing one of the employeés leap about three feet into the air, exclaiming in the wildest frenzy, “The likes of this corpse was niver before seen in any counthry.”

As reported in The Brooklyn Argus

Instead of the corpse of the lovely Louise, there were eighteen cold and motionless bricks.

Dr Uling, failed to appear at the disinterment. The company now sought the arrest of Dr Uling and “the ghost of Louise Germs” in addition to the others supporting the story of her death and burial.

Further investigations brought the police to a property in Eldridge Street. Rapping the door, a great commotion was heard inside. The officers proceeded to enter the building and found Louise and Uling inside “prepared for a journey.” They were at once taken most appropriately to the prison known as the Tombs, and this for the present is their sad end.

The story seems to furnish a strong argument in favour of cremation, at least from the point of view of insurance

The Brooklyn Argus
Young Lady in Cemetery
Young Lady in Cemetery

For the love of Emma – Love and Madness

The Belfast Morning News reported on the sad case of William Allen, junior. Mr Allen, a black-smith, from Heanor, Derbyshire, had suffered the loss of his wife some time ago.

The reported that “since then, he has been endeavouring to get another, and at last fixed his affections on a clergyman’s daughter (Emma), to whom he wrote a letter proposing marriage”.

When he received, by post, a reply from her refusing his offer Mr Allen apparently lost his mind “to such an extent as to deprive him of reason“.

Exiting his house, Mr Allen ran through the streets for about a quarter of a mile roaring all the way with “a crowd of persons following him to the number of about 200“.

He opened the door of the Post Office and entered, gesticulating wildly and making a great noise. Seeing that no-one was on the premises he exited through the back door and rushed into the nearest house. A young boy, Hastell, living there was attacked by Mr Allen who beat the boy and attempted to strangle him. Two people following Mr Allen into the house found the boy on the floor with Mr Allen on top of him, scratching his face and crying, “I’ll tear your eyes out.

With much difficulty they secured Allen.

Dr. Woolley subsequently visited and examined Allen, and pronounced him to be insane. A magisterial order was obtained to have him sent to Mickleover Asylum. Throughout his journey there he continued to call out “Emma, Emma, Emma.

Buried Alive (Belfast Morning News 11th May 1874)

Note: A tale best avoided by the squeamish…

On the 11th May 1874 the Belfast Morning News carried a story from the French journal, “Messager du Midi” of a harrowing incident in Salon in the department of the Bouches-du-Rhone.

A young married lady (unidentified), it reports died the previous August after a period of confinement.

A doctor called to treat her in the final hours of her illness and witnessing her subsequent demise certified her death. He recommended immediate burial in view of the intense heat at the time. The burial took place just 6 hours later.

However when her husband subsequently decided to re-marry, the young lady’s mother decided to have her daughter’s remains removed to her native town, Marseilles.

“When the vault was opened a horrible sight presented itself. The corpse lay in the middle of the vault, with dishevelled hair and the linen torn to pieces. It evidently had been gnawed in her agony by the unfortunate victim. The shock which the dreadful spectacle caused to the mother has been so great that fears are entertained for her reason, if not for her life.

The Messager du Midi (reported in the Belfast Morning News 11th May 1874

Foreign News May 1874

Stories covered in the foreign news included

  • THE FAMINE IN INDIA – A letter from a missionary at Chuprah, in the Sarun district, reports that, despite distress slightly increasing, no deaths from starvation have occurred. It is assumed that the relief works are adequate to the demands made upon them. The Times’ Calcutta correspondent confirmed by telegraph that the rates for task-work have been raised, and the people are returning to the relief works.
  • BERLIN, THURSDAY.-A committee has been formed under the chairmanship of the President of the Supreme Tribunal to collect subscriptions for the relief of the distressed in Bengal.
  • VIENNA, THURSDAY.-A telegram from Aden announced the death of Richard Brenner, the celebrated African traveller, at Zanzibar.
  • WASHINGTON, THURSDAY.-The United States has tendered its mediation with the object of re-establishing diplomatic relations between Mexico and France. The Mexican Government has replied that it would be ready to accept such mediation if France and other States directly manifested their desire to re-open relations with Mexico.
  • TELEGRAPHIC CABLE REPAIRED – The cable between Singapore and Hong-Kong was repaired 1st May 1874
Newspaper boy 1873 (© Copyright Microsoft Bing Image Creator)
Newspaper boy 1873 (© Copyright Microsoft Bing Image Creator)

Previous Monthly News

What was being reported in the Belfast newspapers 150 years ago? Read some of the news & stories here…

April 1874 News

March 1874 News

February 1874 News

January 1874 News

December 1873 News

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