The Poor's Asylum in Halifax, Nova Scotia

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER I (9) start of chapter

A visit to two institutions of very different character impressed me with a still stronger conviction of the prosperity of Halifax. These institutions, its Poor's Asylum and its Schools.

The number in the Poor's Asylum, according to the record in the book, was 354. This was the gross number; but the number belonging to the city was only 120, which was small for a population of 34,000. The rest had been sent in from various places in the province—some from distances varying from 50 even to 200 miles. Strictly speaking, there was not an able-bodied male pauper in the establishment: those who were there were the aged, the infirm, the sick, the helpless, or those waifs and strays that are stranded on the shore of life, the victims of their folly and infatuation. Deducting the children, 64 in number, the insane or idiotic, about 50 in all, and the sick, infirm, and aged, who were the majority, the remaining were but few. As the Master said, there was not in the house a man who could perform a day's work.

What to do with our workhouse children—how to deal with those who are brought up in such institutions—is one of the most formidable difficulties with which the administrators of the Poor-law in Ireland have to deal. There is no difficulty in Halifax on that score; and if throughout America the children of the poor were treated in one essential respect in the same spirit of fairness, there would be fewer occasions for bitterness than unhappily exist in some of the Northern States. The children being carefully taught, the boys are apprenticed out as early as the age of twelve or thirteen, and are indentured till twenty-one, due precaution being had not only as to the means and character of the master, but for the protection of the religious faith of the child; the latter being secured by binding the Catholic child to a Catholic master, and the Protestant child to a Protestant master—a course which commends itself to every fair and impartial mind. The girls are apprenticed till the age of eighteen. By the conditions of the indenture, the child is to be suitably educated, and to be provided with a Sunday suit, at the expense of the master or mistress. But with very few exceptions, the children, boys and girls, become incorporated with the family, of which, almost from the first, they are looked upon and treated as members.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

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