Whitehaven News, September 15th 1870
DISGRACEFUL SCENE IN WHITEHAVEN
To the editor of the Whitehaven News
Sir,-As an interested townsman, I write to expose and protest against one of the most disgraceful and revolting scenes that it has been my misfortune to witness for many years; and I trust that such exposure will have the effect of arousing to immediate action all who may read it, and who may have any sympathy with the cause it advocates. I refer to the system of conveying to the infirmary the unfortunate victims of the fever epidemic, which is now assuming such alarming proportions in many parts of the town. Last Saturday evening, about half-past seven o'clock, while returning in company with two or three friends, from a visit to the wonderful ventilating fan at the top of Mount Pleasant, which may, perhaps not inaptly be termed the life-preserver of the Wellington Coal Pit, I was perfectly horrified to behold a poor unfortunate female, who had been seized with the dangerous malady, and who was placed in the so-called sick bed, for the purpose of being taken to the hospital, committed to the care of two men who were so drunk as scarcely to be able to walk themselves, much less to bear the unhappy invalid carefully and safely to her destination. The consequence was the men went reeling and staggering from one side to the other as they descended the hill; and had it not been for the timely assistance rendered by two women who saw the perilous position of the helpless sufferer, she must inevitably have rudely fallen from their hands to the ground, or have been capsized and thrown out of the bed altogether.
This is not all, however. To save themselves a journey, or to use the common adage, to "kill two birds with one stone," the men attempted to cram into the narrow portable bed another patient, who had been smitten with the disease; in doing which they dragged her into the open air, and after making several abortive, but shameful, efforts to squeeze her in beside her sister victim, relinquished their inhuman cruelty; and the girl, after having been thus exposed to the cold atmosphere for a considerable time, was conveyed back to her sick chamber, there to await the return of the besotted carriers.
Now, sir, I ask is not such an exhibition as the one I have described a disgrace to the authorities who permit it? However they may regard these remarks, the scene in question called forth a universal burst of indignation from the crowd who quickly collected together as they approached the principal thoroughfare, so that I am but expressing the feelings of all who witnessed the affair. I have been informed that the above is only one out of many similar sights. Only a few days ago, indeed, the men set their patient down on the street, while they coolly stepped into a public house close by for the purpose of regaling themselves once more with the "invigorating draught!"
Now, sir, with these facts before you, I ask, why allow men, in this drunken state to perform such important duties? Is it because the authorities cannot get anybody else? I think not. I am quite sure that the friends of the patients would a thousand times over prefer to take them to the hospital themselves, than give them in charge of men who are more like pitching them into the street than anything else. Or is it because the men need to be rendered stupid by intoxicating stimulants to avoid catching the contagion? Surely our medical advisers can administer some safer and equally non-infecting prescription, or the query will arise, how do they themselves escape the various maladies with which they are brought in contact? Evidently these are the chief difficulties in the way, and both seem capable of easy solution; then, sir, for what other reason can such a state of things be tolerated in our midst? Can it be attributable to the fact that the subjects of the fever belong mainly to the poorest and lowest classes, and therefore unworthy of any better treatment? I would fain hope that such an imputation may be groundless, but it must certainly be obvious to every thoughtful and candid person that there is something seriously defective in this department of so useful an institution as the Whitehaven infirmary; and I feel assured that the attention of the governors is only required to be called to the matter to ensure an effectual remedy.
- I am, &c., AN EYE WITNESS.