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Star of the Sea : A Postcolonial/Postmodern Voyage into the Irish Famine

Robert Peel's Generous Relief Policies

In 1846, the famine was progressively getting worse which caused Queen Victoria to address the Parliament about the situation of Ireland: “It will be our duty to consider whether any measure can be devised, calculated to give peace and protection for life there” (MacManus 603). She understood that something needed to be done with Ireland, even if it was just to calm down the chaos that was evolving. Robert Peel was the Prime Minister of the time, and attempted to take the Queen’s words into action by putting into effect several relief policies. However, they were slow in this process, which caused a group in Dublin to establish the Mansion House Committee that appealed to the British government for famine relief on the Irish's behalf. One of the Irish writers of the time stated that his “heart trembled when he thought of the future that might lie before them” (Litton 21). All of the Irish became progressively more scared as their future became quite uncertain. They were trying to force Peel to issue some sort of relief, even though it might be short-term.

Peel’s first course of action was to send a Scientific Commission, consisting of Sir Robert Kane, John Lindley, and Lyon Playfair, to Ireland with the task of completing an investigation. They reported that “one-half of the crop was now destroyed, or unfit for use” (Litton 24). With this information, Peel considered stopping the export of Irish crops to England and importing more grain, but that would mean repealing the Corn Laws that laid down taxes on any import of foreign crops to Britain. Therefore he made “a secret purchase of £100,000 worth of Indian corn and meal in the United States through the agency of Baring Bros & Co., one of the greatest London international trading houses” (Donnelly 49). This was a very generous gesture from Peel, and was so secret he even kept the transaction secret from his own cabinet.

After this purchase, it was evident that there was a great need for import of more grain to Ireland. Between February and June 1846, additional amounts of maize and oatmeal were shipped to Ireland, and the British treasury discovered that “it had spent £185,000 by August 1846” (Donnelly 49). The Peel administration was known for adopting quite a generous relief policy in the beginning of the famine, and even hired an agent called Mr. Erichsen. Erichsen had by end of October 1846 purchased 16,420 tons of food on behalf of the government (Kinealy, This Great Calamity 76). This huge amount of food contributed to helping the Irish population through the first part of the famine. Due to of this large influx of Indian maize and corn, it was important to know how to properly prepare it. Therefore, Peel had Sir Randolph Routh issue pamphlets instructing officers in charge of distributing the corn.

Since the relief scheme started to become more and more complex, a Relief Commission was established with Harry Jones, representative of the Board of Works; Sir Randolph Routh, the commissariat; Duncan McGregor, the constabulary; Edward Twistleton, from the Poor Law Commission; Sir John Fox Burgoyne, Inspector-General of fortifications; and Thomas Redington, Under-Secretary of Dublin Castle. All of these were in charge of implementing the policies and making sure they were properly maintained. Charles Trevelyan was also appointed by Prime Minister Peel to oversee all relief operations in Ireland. Throughout the famine years, he became one of the most important administrators despite his strict views on the treatment of the Irish.

Since the Relief Commission was implementing the relief policies, there needed to be someone who could oversee them in Ireland. Therefore, there was established about 650 local relief committees across Ireland who “were expected to supply the poor with affordable food and receive state donations equal to the charitable subscriptions they raised” (Gray, The Irish Famine, 40). Some of these local relief committees managed to fulfill these expectations, while others failed in attempting to implement the famine relief. First and foremost, the most important aspect of the local relief committees was to raise more funds through voluntary subscriptions through public appeals, ads in newspapers, and individual contributions. The local committee in Castlebar, County Mayo not only greatly succeeded but was more effective than the British government. According to Michael O’Malley, they raised “thousands of pounds from various Protestant and Catholic charities, [and provided] warm soup to thousands of famine victims throughout the winter of 1846-47” (120). They were known for this amazing accomplishment and contributed greatly to the survival of their area.

Unfortunately, Robert Peel's time at the Prime Minister’s office ended in June 1846, right before the second potato failure occurred. There is no sure way of knowing if Peel would have been equally generous if he would've remained in office as the famine worsened. However, it is important to understand that his policies contributed to a system that helped many Irishmen in their time of need. These policies were obviously not enough, since the local relief committees did more for their inhabitants than the British government. But at least it shows that the British government attempted to be proactive through the potato blight of 1845-1846.  
Works Cited
Donnelly, James S. The Great Irish Potato Famine. Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing, 2001. Print.

Gray, Peter. The Irish Famine. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers, 1995. Web.

Kinealy, Christine. This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-1852. Ireland: Gill & MacMillian, 2011. Print.

Litton, Helen. The Irish Famine: An Illustrated History. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1994. Print.

MacManus, Seamus. “The Great Famine.” The Story of the Irish Race: A Popular History of Ireland, Revised Edition. New York: The Devin-Adair Company, 1972. Print.

O’Malley, Michael. “Local Relief During the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1849: The Case of Castlebar, County Mayo, 1846-1847." Eire-Ireland 32.1 (1997): 109-120. Print.
Researcher/Writer: Ellen-Marie Pedersen
‚ÄčTechnical Designers: Derek Rachel and Amanda Lundeen

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