Managing the Union

In addition to the records generated by the Boards of Guardians to meet the demands of financial control or the Dublin administration, there was also a range of records produced to ensure the smooth management of the day-to-day activities of the Union, both within and outside the workhouse. Since these were working records they tend to be less well preserved than formal minutes and financial accounts which had a legal standing. In particular these day-to-day records contained personal details that may have left them particularly vulnerable to deliberate destruction.

Pdf Records of Death
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The Master's Records

The duties of the Master included a requirement that he keep a journal. The Master's journal is the most important of the records produced by the workhouse itself. It contained weekly hand written reports from the Master to the Board of Guardians and the Guardians would respond to the issues raised in the reports with notes in the margin. Most of the reports were concerned with mundane matters, such a requisitions of materials for the employment of inmates or for repair of the building. However they sometimes include other matters such as offences and disciplinary action by the Master or, in his absence, the matron.

Other matters dealt with included religious disputes and conversions. This journal is by far the most important document in revealing how the workhouse functioned and the problems that could arise. The Master was also required to keep a range of other records necessary to discharge the functions of his office. Inventories of clothing and provisions were normal as were salary books recording payments to the workhouse employees. Where schools, farms or laundries were attached to workhouses records relating to these had also to be kept.

Pdf Dunshaughlin Poor Law Union 06.11.1847, School Inspection
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The Inmates' Records

Probably the least accessible figures in the whole workhouse system were the inmates. One could enter the workhouse in one of three ways: by written order of the Guardians, by written order of the relieving officer or, in emergency, by the Master. Those who entered the workhouse had their details recorded in the Indoor relief registers. These registers record the admission number, the name and surname, sex, age, marital status (if an adult), the status of any children (orphans, deserted or illegitimate), the name of the wife or husband, the number of children, observations on the condition of the pauper when admitted, the electoral district of the Union in which the pauper was resident, the date admitted to the workhouse and the date when the pauper died or left the workhouse. Such evidence of the social condition of poor is particularly valuable, since it survives in no other form.

Unfortunately only a handful of such registers exist for the nineteenth century. Most are indexed by the surname those being admitted to the workhouse. This makes it possible to follow the patterns of admission, discharge and readmission of individuals into the workhouse. In the case of the South Dublin Union, where the registers have been subjected to detailed study, the pattern of admission was mainly of single adults. Of those admitted, a quarter stayed less than a week and 40 per cent less than two weeks. For only a tiny minority did the workhouse become a long stay home. Most used it a short stay place in time of difficulties. The result was that, the same individuals were admitted the workhouse frequently but for short periods of time.

Pdf Dunshaughlin Poor Law Union 12.12.1846, Overcrowding
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Outdoor Relief

Outdoor relief was given by Guardians on application by the Relieving officers. Much of the administration of outdoor relief, which was always a small part of the Poor Law system, was in the hands of these relieving officers who were responsible for recommending candidates for relief. They were required to keep diaries and weekly accounts of their income and expenditure, as well as compile lists of those who were eligible for relief at any one time. Parallel to the indoor relief registers, there were a set of registers for those relieved outside the workhouse. These included the name of the person relieved, the date when support was first given, their sex, their age, their employment, whether they were married or single, the name of their wife or husband, the number of children, the date of application for relief and the electoral district and townland of residence.

A second type of outdoor relief was the boarding out of orphan and deserted children under the age of five which was allowed by the 1862 Poor Law Amendment Act, as a way of providing substitute families. Initially these children were entered in the normal outdoor relief registers, but under Acts of 1897 and 1908, separate registers had to be kept of nurses and children.

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Medical Records

From the beginning the workhouse had a medical function as there was usually an infirmary or fever hospital attached to it. This infirmary generated the sort of records which any nineteenth-century hospital produced. There were requisition books for supplies, records of special diets and medical report books compiled by both doctors and nurses. However over time the workhouse system became increasingly involved in medicine.

The establishment of the dispensary system under the Medical Charities (Ireland) Act of 1851, brought an older dispensary system under the control of the Guardians and this generated a range of records. Some are straightforward, such as the files of correspondence from the Local Government Board, as well as accounts for the dispensary and inventories of stock. Others relate to the provision of midwives which were sanctioned in 53 dispensary districts by the Poor Law Commissioners in 1862. By the 1870's, 178 had been appointed and a register was maintained of midwives by the local dispensary. One area in which the dispensary system did get involved was vaccination, which was extended to Ireland in 1841, by the Vaccination Extension Act (3&4 Vict., c. 29). The Medical Charities Act made this a free service provided by Poor Law dispensaries and as a result they maintained vaccination registers.


Dunshaughlin Poor Law Union - 02.08.1842 - Ball Disciplined

The Master, Mr Ball, did not always give satisfactory service. At the meeting of the 2nd of August, 1842 the Guardians express their annoyance with the master who was inept at keeping his provisions accounts in order. He had also recently left 57 children without buttermilk for their evening meal, which had happened before. The Board condemns Mr Ball's "gross neglect and inattention."

Dunshaughlin Poor Law Union - 02.08.1842 - Ball Disciplined -

Dunshaughlin Poor Law Union - 16.10.1847 - Inmate Pay for Cleaning

The inmates of the house refused to clean the privies and were not obliged to do so. The Master was authorised to employ some persons and pay them 10 shillings or 63 cent for this cleaning task. This is an infrequent illustration of the inmates wielding some control on their day to day routine.

Dunshaughlin Poor Law Union - 16.10.1847 - Inmate Pay for Cleaning -

Dunshaughlin Poor Law Union - 02.01.1847 - Annual Medical Report

The doctor reports a high number of ill patients in December 1846, 62 in all, including several children with measles. He states that the tropical heat of the Summer of 1846 led to a remarkable increase in cases of dysentery, many of which were fatal to those already infirm.

Copyright managed by the Library Council�

Dunshaughlin Poor Law Union - 02.01.1847 - Annual Medical Report - Copyright managed by the Library Council�

Dunshaughlin Poor Law Union - 27.06.1846 - Discipline Measures

The Guardians responded somewhat harshly to two discipline issues reported by the Master in June 1846.One father was to be apprehended for deserting his children in the workhouse. A warrant was to be put out for a mother who did not return from burying her child. Possibly she was wearing clothes owned by the Guardians and was liable to a charge of theft is she did not return.

Dunshaughlin Poor Law Union - 27.06.1846 - Discipline Measures -

Indoor Relief Register (1a)

Extract from the register of persons admitted to and discharged from Milford Workhouse. Includes details such as name, sex, age, marital status, birth status, employment, religion and illness.

Copyright of Donegal County Archives Service. No reproduction without permission�

Indoor Relief Register (1a) - Copyright of Donegal County Archives Service. No reproduction without permission�
Pdf Dunshaughlin Poor Law Union 02.08.1842, Ball Disciplined
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Pdf Dunshaughlin Poor Law Union 02.01.1847, Annual Medical Report
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Pdf Indoor Relief
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