|Organisation :||Waterford County Museum|
|Article Title :||Desperate Haven - The Famine in Dungarvan|
|Page Title :||The Fever Hospital Abbeyside|
|Page Number :||10|
|Publication Date :||08 February 2011|
|Expiry Date :||Never Expires|
|Category :||Irish Famine 1845 - 1852|
In the eighteenth century and second half of the nineteenth century, Ireland experienced many epidemics of fever.  There was a particularly severe epidemic in 1817-1818. As a result of this, efforts were made to establish fever hospitals in various places throughout the country. A group of people subscribed an amount of money, and then the Grand Jury (equivalent to modern-day Co. Councils) was applied to for a grant, which could be anything up to double the amount originally subscribed. By 1833 there were 70 such fever hospitals in the country. The fever hospital in Dungarvan was built in 1819, on land owned by the Duke of Devonshire. He also paid a subscription of £25 to Robert Longan, for the Dungarvan dispensary and fever hospital.  The hospital could accommodate 42 patients. It was situated on the bank of the tidal estuary of the river Colligan. The Parliamentary Gazetteer of 1844 reported as follows:
The fever hospital stands nearby on the strand, at a part where the latter is wet and broken; it is at all times difficult of access, and can be approached by patients only at low water; it is capable of affording a far more extensive accommodation than can be maintained by the existing funds; and, in 1839, it expended £240, and admitted 75 patients.
On 18 December 1845 the Guardians of the Union decided to take charge of the Dungarvan fever hospital, to be held in future as the Union fever hospital. However this decision was not implemented until the Temporary Fever Act 1846 expired, on 9 August 1846. In February 1847 a second Temporary Fever Act was passed. This provided for the extension of accommodation in the fever hospitals, by means of the erection of temporary dwellings. These could be in the form of wooden sheds, large army tents, or rented houses. In March the Medical Officer converted the stable into fever wards. On 22 April 1847, there was a memorial from the Lord Lieutenant to the Board of Ordnance, requesting the temporary supply of tents for the use of the fever patients. This option however was not recommended to the Dungarvan Board of Guardians by the Central Board of Health. On 29 April the Board decided to build two temporary sheds, 100 ft. long by 16 ft. wide, on the fever hospital grounds at a total cost of £150. These were used for the relief of fever patients from Dungarvan, Abbeyside, and Ballinacourty. The sheds were composed of timber walls and canvas covering, according to the principle that Lord Stuart de Decies had used at Aglish. These sheds could accommodate 100 people, in addition to the 42 in the fever hospital itself. Tenders for the erection of temporary fever sheds, 200 feet in length, on the Workhouse grounds, were also sought.
The Work Of The Medical Officers
It was resolved by the Board, in co-operation with the Waterford Union, to set up and support a fever hospital in Kilmacthomas, costs to be borne in proportion to the number of patients from each. Dr. John P. Coughlan was appointed Medical Officer for the Kilmacthomas hospital. On 3 February 1848 it was resolved that the Dungarvan Board enter into an arrangement with the hospital committee of the temporary fever hospital at Kilmacthomas for the reception of fever patients from the neighbouring electoral divisions. On 12 April 1849 the Medical Officer, Dr. Quinn, stated that the Dungarvan fever hospital was full, due to the cholera epidemic sweeping the country. There was not sufficient hospital accommodation to meet the existing emergency. This led to the establishment of the Shandon Cholera Hospital. Fever existed in each of the auxiliary workhouses. He also required an additional nurse. He stated that on 7 April the numbers in the fever hospital were 210; however the total accommodation number was only 142. Dr. Christian was appointed as second Medical Officer to the fever hospital, at 5/-s. a day, to administer to the extra number of patients. On 17 May Mr. M. Troy was paid £72.16s for erecting a third shed at the fever hospital grounds in Abbeyside. This shed was 52 ft. long and the canvass roofing was obtained from the Malcomson Brothers, Portlaw.
Revised figures for the accommodation in the fever hospital were as follows:
Rain water was collected in barrels. This water was used for washing. In August a washer-woman was employed for the fever hospital. Up to this all the washing was done at the main house. It was also resolved, that thenceforth, any person who died in the fever hospital would be conveyed to the dead-house at the rear of the Workhouse. On 1 November 1849 it was reported that the numbers in the fever hospital did not exceed 110. The Central Board of Health was then requested to suspend the services of the second doctor, Dr. Christian, until the numbers would again warrant the resumption of his services. It was also decided, on 8 November, that as the numbers in the Clashmore fever hospital were very low, all patients in future were to be sent to Dungarvan fever hospital.
Between June and September 1849, the total fever hospital expenses amounted to £392.8.0. These expenses were deemed to be very high. Cut-backs in spending were ordered by the Board. To establish where these cut-backs could be made the Medical Officer was requested to lay a weekly estimate of expenses of the institution together with the admission and discharge book, before the visiting committee. On 31 January 1850 the Dungarvan fever hospital was provided with a provision check-account suited to the three classes, under the heading of low, middle, and full diets. There was also a diet class-book and report-book for the Medical Officer. As a result of the cut-backs the fever hospital accounts totalled £137.11.9 for the months ranging between December 1849 and March 1850. Thus a saving was reported by the Board, even taking into account the lesser number of people inhabiting the fever hospital at this time. These cut-backs caused more hardship to the inmates. There were complaints about these cut-backs. In July of that year the Medical Officer complained about the lack of straw and water for the inmates.
On 1 October 1850 the lease of the fever hospital building and site, was transferred to the Poor Law Commissioners from the Duke of Devonshire.
Dr. Quinn, Medical Superintendent of the Dungarvan dispensary, resigned after 35 years of service. He was replaced by Arthur Quinn, as Medical Officer to the fever hospital, on 3 January 1852, at the rate of £80 per annum. June Keane was appointed Matron, at £12 per annum.
By August 1852 the number of patients had decreased to 29, thereby resulting in the dismissal of one of the nurses. In December the numbers had further reduced to 7. Two more nurse tenders were discharged at this stage, leaving only one nurse tender at the hospital. By August 1852 the roofs of the fever hospital sheds were in need of repair. Three options were placed before the Board;
(1). Temporary repair of all three sheds, costing £14.9.10. (2). Permanent repair of all three, amounting to £59.10s. (3). Slating one shed and repairing the other two with the canvass taken off the one, for the sum of £17.6s.
These estimates were prepared by the Clerk of Works, Mr. Reany. The last option was accepted by the Board of Guardians, on 22 September 1853, by which stage the sheds were in a very dilapidated condition although the fever hospital itself was reported to be very clean and airy. The tender of Michael Troy to repair the fever hospital sheds, i.e. slating, additional roofing, piers together with repairing other sheds, for the sum of £60.5s was accepted on 17 November 1853. However, due to a clerical error only 56 feet of shed was slated, leaving 21 feet unfinished. In February 1854 Michael Troy's tender to complete the slating was accepted at a cost of £34.6s.
Dr. Patrick Travers, medical attendant to the Workhouse infirmary and fever hospital, died unexpectedly, on 12 December 1852. Dr. Henry Anthony was appointed Medical Officer to the Dungarvan dispensary on 30 December 1852. Two months later, on 14 February 1853 Dr. Christian died as a result of illness. An advertisement for a Medical Officer for the Workhouse was placed in the General Advertiser, Waterford, and also in the Cork papers. Dr. Battersby was subsequently appointed Medical Officer.
1. John Sheehan, aged 15 years was admitted from the Workhouse on 29 December 1852 with a cough and his chest slightly engaged. So much better, he dressed on 3 January 1853 and was discharged on 28 January, being up 25 days. John Sheehan was admitted again on 2 February 1853 with bronchitis, and died of consumption on 20 March, being 46 days in the fever hospital.
Dr. John Coman replied to these charges on 21 April :
He denied that John Sheehan had bronchitis or consumption.
The Hospital 1853-1860
On 4 May 1854 the Master removed all of the female infirm from the main house to the fever sheds, as the female ward in the main house was full and opthalmia was increasing. Eighteen new cases were admitted during that week. On 15 July 1854 the numbers recorded in the fever hospital and fever sheds were as follows:
In fever hospital 18
There were complaints from the townspeople that the infirm women at the pro-cholera hospital were wandering the streets on their return from the Workhouse after Sunday prayers. The Clerk was cautioned to be more careful in his supervision of them.
The Board of Guardians decided, on 24 August 1854 to place the Workhouse hospital and fever hospital under one Medical Officer, due to a decline in the number of patients in both. There were 67 patients in the Workhouse hospital, 15 in the fever hospital, and, 36 in the fever sheds. As a result of this, Dr. Quinn, Medical Officer of the fever hospital, was asked to resign, which he did. This meant that Dr. Battersby was then in charge of both establishments. His salary was increased to £120 a year. On 24 May 1855 the Revd. Thomas O'Mara, P.P. Abbeyside, was appointed chaplain to the fever hospital at a salary of £20 per year.
On 13 October 1854 Mr. Hamilton, Poor Law Inspector, visited the fever hospital. He found, 'the Matron absent, the porter smoking his pipe at the door and the wards smelling of tobacco. The infirm women (numbering 30) had free access to the fever hospital yard while the porter was looking on and doing nothing.' He suggested that instead of a porter, a competent female assistant should be employed to superintend the order, cleanliness, and discipline of the infirm women.
The numbers in hospital on this date were 11 in the fever hospital, 30 in the fever hospital sheds, and 77 in the Workhouse hospital. Mr. Hamilton again visited the hospital on 30 November 1854 and reported: 'The patients in general were not clean, four male convalescent patients had their hands and feet as black as chimney sweeps.' The Board informed the Matron that she would be dismissed should there be a repetition of that complaint of uncleanliness, and it also gave orders to have the windows repaired. On 28 June 1855 a committee was appointed to enquire into the general management and conduct of the fever hospital staff for the previous twelve months. The committee members comprised, Mr. Odell (chairman), Andrew Carbery (vice-chairman), Lord Stuart de Decies, Mr. Hudson, Mr. Patrick Ronayne, Mr. O'Brien, Mr. Quinlan, Mr. Byrne, and Mr. Wall. They asked that the Poor Law Inspector be present at this enquiry. It was called as a result of a laundry worker, Anne Hayes, giving birth to an illegitimate daughter. She had been a widow for a number of years. The father was John Sheehan, porter to the fever hospital. The outcome of the meeting was the dismissal of both of the parties involved. Mary Hayes and John Fitzgerald were appointed in their place.
In January 1856, John Fitzgerald, porter and clerk to the fever hospital, resigned, having acquired the position of assistant master in Lismore Workhouse. Edmond O'Brien was elected in his place. Mary Hayes and Mary McGrath, nurse, were dismissed on 7 August 1856 for negligence and general misconduct. Ellen Cashill was appointed nurse, and Margaret Boland was appointed laundress.
Salaries of the staff of the fever hospital were as follows;
Tea and sugar were allowed to the nurse and laundress instead of milk, on 28 October 1858.
On 12 July 1855 it was decided that as opthalmia was again on the increase, the infirm ward at Abbeyside should be used as an opthalmia ward, and the infirm women were removed to the main house. At this point in time there were 18 patients in the fever hospital, 40 in the sheds (infirm patients), and 116 in the Workhouse hospital. The Medical Officer, Dr. Battersby, reported that the shed at Abbeyside was very well adapted for the female opthalmia patients. The only alteration ordered by him was that the walls be coloured green to help alleviate the symptoms. On 16 August he reported a decline in opthalmia, with 12 fewer cases that week. Corresponding figures for the week were, 12 in the fever hospital, 32 in the fever sheds, and 118 in the Workhouse hospital. In November 1855 it was ordered that the female infirm patients, at that time in the dissolute ward (see below), be returned to one of the wards at the pro-cholera hospital. The Medical Officer requested an order for 12 stones of potatoes for the use of the opthalmia patients. The numbers in hospital at this stage were 7 in the fever hospital, 17 (including 6 female infirm and 11 opthalmia patients) in the fever hospital sheds. At the request of the Medical Officer, the privies at the fever hospital were changed to the same plan as those at the pro-cholera shed, thus improving the sanitary condition of the place.
Throughout 1856, 1857, and 1858, the number in the fever hospital never exceeded 20 patients, with an average of 6 patients a week. The number of patients in the pro-cholera hospital (infirm women, as opthalmia had declined) never exceeded 23 in number, with an average of 13 patients a week. On 12 August 1858 the Medical Officer reported that the two dormitories over the female infirm ward and women's day room could be made available for the infirm women then confined to the pro-cholera hospital in Abbeyside. A stove was erected in each costing £8, and supplied by Mr. Flynn of Dungarvan. The stone stair leading to them was covered with boards, by Thomas Drohan, for £2.8s. The Master removed the infirm women from the sheds to the Workhouse, on 9 October 1858. Capacity of the fever hospital was then 80 patients, due to the removal of one of the old timber sheds, by order of the Board.
On 1 March 1860 the Board of Guardians bought the fee of the site of the fever hospital, from the Duke of Devonshire, for £6. They also bought the fee of the site of Mrs. McGrath's field of 5 acres, lately enclosed by them, for the sum of £500, but not the Workhouse site that was offered to them for £616, as they already had a 999 year lease on it.
On 28 May 1860 a committee was appointed to consider the suggestions of Mr. O'Brien, Poor Law Inspector, to reduce the number of staff at the fever hospital. They recommended that a saving of about £140 per annum could be made by adopting the suggestion of Mr. O'Brien to close the fever hospital at Abbeyside, and that the portion of the Workhouse infirmary then unoccupied be fitted up as a fever hospital, as had been done in Cork, Youghal, and other Unions. The fever hospital had only 5 or 6 patients a year. This recommendation was unanimously adopted by the Board. However, in July it was agreed that Mrs. Keane, Matron, should remain as caretaker. The hospital was not to close at that time. All others were dismissed. However, the doctor was of the opinion that closing the fever hospital would be the means of spreading contagion 'as in Summer the number of strangers who come for the benefit of the water overcrowd the lodging houses. The hospital which is situated at a considerable distance from any dwelling commands the purest sea and mountain air, and each tide washes out the privies so that no noxious gases can remain.' He further stated, 'that this is the most eligible institution he has ever seen both for the treatment of fever and the prevention of the spread of disease. The Workhouse is in a low bad situation, and the wards ill-ventilated; besides contagion would be sure to spread amongst the healthy inmates. There is also a great repugnance to the Workhouse hospital and many such as police, domestic servants, and others who are not absolute paupers would rather die than go into it, though they have not the slightest objection to the fever hospital at Abbeyside.' He suggested that the staff be reduced to one paid qualified person to act as nurse and Matron, with the assistance of paupers from the Workhouse, as necessity required. However, the Board of Guardians considered the Workhouse site second to none and that every accommodation could be made in the infirmary for the purposes of a fever hospital. The Commissioners sanctioned the closure of the fever hospital even though they would have preferred to keep it open. They did require that separate yards and wards in the Workhouse be assigned for the treatment of fever, and that the fever hospital be kept in a state of readiness.
The fever hospital remained closed until 1869. It was examined and kept in repair and readiness throughout this period. For example, in 1863, the wall was being eroded by the tide. Denis McGrath's tender to repair this wall on 22 October 1863 for the sum of £6 was accepted. In March 1869 the Board ordered that all necessary repairs be carried out on the fever hospital, to have it ready for immediate occupation. It was reopened on the following week to fever patients. All convalescent fever patients were sent to Abbeyside. All new cases of fever were also relieved there. Dr. Hunt took charge of the Abbeyside hospital, and the Parish Priest of Abbeyside, Rev. Michael Mackesy, was requested to attend there, at the same rate of remuneration as was formerly paid, namely £20 per annum. The infirmary nurse acted as head nurse in the fever hospital.
Eighteen cases were admitted in the first week of opening. Michael Barrett was retained as porter, and his wife as laundress and cook, at the weekly wages of 12/- for both. On 14 April the main house was reported full. Therefore, it was decided to use the largest shed for the convalescents, and the doctor directed the second shed to be prepared for the use of new cases should the numbers increase. Capacity of the main fever hospital at Abbeyside at this stage was 53, and that of the sheds was 47. Hannah O' Sullivan was appointed fever hospital nurse, at the rate of £2 per month and second class rations.
On 2 June 1869 the Medical Officer reported on the fever hospital. He stated that, 'Not only the site but also the peculiar nature of the building was most unsuitable for the treatment of the sick.' He further stated that the recovery in all cases was tedious, with relapses occurring in many instances. He advised the Guardians to reopen the fever wards at the Workhouse. When the Guardians visited the fever hospital the following week they reported that, 'it was highly creditable to the head nurse', and also were, 'delighted that one of the assistant nurses had been discharged for drink offences.' However, at the end of June, Dr. King, Poor Law Medical Officer, recommended that the Guardians build a proper hospital on the Workhouse grounds, and that the wards in the main house should not be used as a fever hospital again. On 16 September the Board ordered that the two pauper assistant nurses be withdrawn, leaving only the head nurse and Mrs. Barrett, there being only four patients present. In December 1871 the sheds were ordered to be divided across the centre by a timber partition, thus making them warmer. Throughout this period the numbers in hospital continued to be low, averaging around 3 persons per week. On 18 June 1873 Dr. King again reported on the bad state of repair of the Abbeyside fever hospital and sheds. He also stated that it could be dispensed with, to advantage, to the railway. This suggestion was never implemented. He further complained about the loss of time and inconvenience in the conveyance of food and other goods daily from the main house to hospital, a distance of between one and two miles. It imposed additional labour on the Medical Officer, and he observed that it was also very difficult to maintain proper supervision over the officials connected with it. He stated that the expense incurred in maintaining this hospital could be saved by erecting a fever hospital on the grounds of the Workhouse, which could be separately enclosed. In August 1873 the Board of Guardians decided to build this hospital. The building was still in progress in December 1875, owing to a dispute with the contractor Mr. Scanlan. The Master reported on 9 December that fever was prevalent in the Union, and that the Abbeyside hospital was not in a fit state to be used for the coming Winter, even though there were 9 cases in hospital on that date. He stated that there were fever cases in the general hospital of the house who could not be removed to Abbeyside, but could be removed to the new fever hospital. The new fever hospital was opened during the first week of January 1876, total accommodation being 60 patients.
The porter was served with his dismissal on 6 January, giving him a month's notice. On 10 February 1876 the chaplain to the Abbeyside fever hospital was written to, dispensing with his services. Pat Flaherty was appointed caretaker at 2/6s. per week and ½ cwt. coal. On 17 August 1876 the caretaker was given a week's notice to quit the house, which was intended to be let as a weekly tenement. The grounds were to be let by the season for cropping purposes. However it was not until August of the following year that this resolution was adopted. The Local Government Board recommended that a clause be included in the agreement with a monthly tenant, compelling the tenant to vacate the premises within a week, in the event of an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic. On 13 September 1877 the Board agreed to rent the building to Michael Boyle at 10/-. per month, with a written agreement not to allow any dilapidation to the property. However, he did not take up occupation until February 1878, due to legal setbacks. In August 1881 Mr. Lennon, Superintendent of Works, reported on the condition of the premises, stating that 'the main building is in fair order, with the exception of about 3 square feet of ceiling that had fallen down in the men's ward.' He reported that 'the sheds are only fit for their present use, i.e. stabling.' The boundary wall was breached in two places, due to erosion by the sea water. The first breach was to the extent of 330 cubic feet, while the second breach was 80 cubic feet. In addition, 30 cubic feet also needed to be under-pinned. Tenders were invited for this work.
On 3 November 1881 the Medical Officer reported that as smallpox had recently appeared in Waterford, it would be well if a room in Abbeyside fever hospital were held prepared, should a case appear in Dungarvan. The Master reported on the following week on the condition of the building. He stated that the entire building needed to be cleaned out and lime-washed. The rooms were reported to be damp, as no fires had been lit in them for years. The only chimney in use smoked to such an extent that the whole house was sooty as a result. The Board sought the opinion of the Medical Officer, Dr. Hartland. He reported on 1 December 1881, stating that, 'the hospital is in a filthy state, one room rotten from the excreta of fowl, other parts seem to be used as a dog kennel, the remaining rooms being used as hay and straw lofts and oats room. Rain is coming in through all parts of roofs, in fact the whole place is in a state of ruin. The sheds are used as stables, coach house etc., and are in a like state of ruin.' He stated that he would not recommend any patient to this establishment in its present condition. Michael Boyle was given notice to vacate the premises within the stipulated period of one week from that date. Patrick Flaherty was appointed caretaker on 8 June 1882. Mr. Lennon, Superintendent of Works, was asked to inspect the premises and report on the state of the main building, and the probable expenses of repairs. He reported on 8 December 1881 that the cost of repair was £40.5.6. The work was completed on receipt of this report.
From this time onwards the condition of the Abbeyside buildings deteriorated with each passing year. On 26 June 1883 the Clerk of Works reported on the dilapidated state of the sheds, and recommended they be sold in three lots. They were sold at auction on 5 July 1883, for the sum of £59.2.6. In July 1885 the Medical Officer stated that the roof was leaking in several places in the main building. He also reported that water from the sea was coming up through the flooring at high tides, and that the whole place required overhauling. However, the visiting committee stated that very little outlay was needed to make these repairs. From then on the building was maintained as inexpensively as possible. It was never again occupied by fever patients. Finally, on 13 December 1913, a preliminary notice was placed in The Dungarvan Observer, offering the premises for sale by public auction. The auctioneers were Messrs. Fleming and Hayes, of Dungarvan. The solicitors involved for the Local Government Board were Messrs. T.T. Mecredy and Son, 91 Merrion Square, Dublin. On 3 March 1914 the solicitors informed the Board of Guardians that the premises had been sold to Mrs. Margaret Norris, for the sum of £235. The caretaker, Julia Flaherty, was granted a superannuation allowance for her years of service.