Garlands 1906

Garlands 1906

Monday, 30 March 2015

The 'alien' patients - not such a new problem

The term 'alien' in the nineteenth century was used to refer to persons settling in Britain who had not been born here. Today we would call such people immigrants.

Specifically, in the records of the Garlands Hospital, 'alien' was used to refer to Irish and Scottish patients who had been born in their respective countries but had settled in Cumberland and Westmorland and were receiving treatment in these counties. The problem with these 'alien' patients, was that the rate payers of the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland had to bear the cost of these patients and they saw their treatment as being an unnecessary expense. Many called for the removal of the 'alien' patients to their home countries, but this would cost more and could not guarantee that they would not return to England. Therefore, the 'alien' patients in Garlands - and in many other English county asylums - were ostracised and extremely resented in the asylum.

I came across the 'problem' of the 'alien' patients in the annual reports of the Garlands Hospital. I had only come across this term from previous research at university when it was used to refer to Jewish immigrants flooding across Europe during Hitler's reign. Therefore, in this context, the term cropping up in the 1880s I immediately assumed it meant jewish patients. However, on further research I was soon proved wrong. From 1884 onwards, in the annual reports of the Garlands Hospital, there was a table detailing the amount of 'alien' patients present in the asylum at the end of that year. It divided the patients up with respect to their different nationalities. Therefore, after the number of patients from Cumberland and Westmorland were stated, the number of Irish and Scotch were also detailed. It is important for me to note that in addition to Irish and Scotch, German and American patients are also detailed, but never exceeding 2 patients for either.

On first glance it seems that this is slightly racist, singling patients out according to nationality. But on further exploration, it seems to make sense considering the extra expense that they incurred to the asylum ratepayers and that there was no way of claiming it back from their home countries - as explained above.

It was not just the added expense which caused the medical men to have an adverse reaction to the 'alien' patients. The view of 'aliens', or immigrants, in this period was not a favourable one. Following the Irish famine of the 1840s, a huge wave of Irish immigrants flooded the ports of Western England. These included the Cumbrian coastal towns of Maryport and Whitehaven. By the 1860s, when the Garlands Hospital was opened, thousands of Irish immigrants had settled in Cumbria. These were mainly low-skilled workers and their families. They were targets of abuse by the locals as they were blamed for taking their jobs by accepting a lower wage. As stated by D. MacRaild (Irish Migration, Networks and Ethnic Identities since 1750) the immigrants tended to stick together in the face of adverse reaction from the locals and created 'little Irelands' around Britain, often living on the same street or neighbourhood. This pack mentality did nothing to alleviate the hate felt towards them. Often the most destitute individuals of society, due to the upheaval and devastating nature of the famine, the Irish were labelled as dirty, drunkards, violent, and as having loose morals, to name a few.

These attitudes are reflected in the annual reports of the Garlands Hospital. The first time the 'alien' patients were referred to in the annual reports was 1874. In his report, Dr Campbell, the medical superintendent at that time, stated how 'the Irish patients were the most unruly, destructive and difficult to manage'. It is important to note that at this date patients of Irish birth numbered 34 out of a total of 406 patients, a mere 8%. He goes on to complain how 'it seems a pity that power is not given by the Lunacy Act for the transfer of lunatics into the sister countries in the cases where settlement is known and acknowledged'. (THOS 8/3/12)
In the 1889 annual report, clearly hampered by the problem of the excess cost of the 'alien' patients, Dr Campbell details, 'up to the end of 1889...£15 761 [almost one million pounds in today's money] has been expended here on Irish and Scotch patients'. (THOS 8/3/27)

On further research into the 'problem' of 'alien' patients, I discovered that it was not an issue unique to cumbria, or to lunatic paupers. In 1846 the Poor Law Removal Act was introduced. This stipulated that any foreign national who had remained in the same English parish for 5 years, with or without permanent settlement, they could not be removed back to their home country. Thus, removal of 'aliens' back to their homelands was frequent. However, I have come across stories in my research which detail how many 'alien' paupers were simply driven to the nearest port and left there with enough money to get them home. Once the poor law guardian had gone they simply used the money to transport them elsewhere in England. In the face of increasing instances such as these, further acts in 1861 and 1865 reduced the term before irremovability took place to just 1 year, and extended the area of settlement from a single parish to a larger unit of the poor law union. Removal, therefore, became much less frequent as it became much harder to enforce. The result was that pauper lunatics now became a burden on the English poor law system.

It is surprising really, in the face of the upcoming 2015 general election and with immigration being one of the main issues, that little has changed in the divisive nature of people's attitudes to immigrants in Britain. Clearly, we are a much more accepting and liberal society nowadays, and do not have racist generalistic attitudes toward the Irish and Scotch. But for a small minority, this has shifted to other nationalities and religions that have come to live in Britain. It is interesting to think that this shift has occured in just over 100 years, and it makes one wonder just how our attitudes will have changed in 100 years time.

This blog is a small part of my ongoing PhD research into the Garlands Hospital. I am attempting to write the asylum's history as it is one currently unwritten.

Any stories you may have about the history of the Garlands Hospital, Carlisle, please use the comment box to share them. I would love to learn as much as possible about this undiscovered institution.

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