A 19th Century eviction scene
- National Library of Ireland
An eviction is one of the most pathetic scenes from the 19th century, not just because we can see a family losing their home. It is even more so because we can view the pitiably small amount of belongings ejected with the family from their cottage. Many tenants or labourers would have had hardly any furniture – perhaps a few stools, a turf basket and an iron pot in which to cook. Conditions were wretched, overcrowded, and many had to endure leaking roofs and dampness.
A Mr and Mrs Hall travelling in Ireland in the 1840s described labourer’s cottages:
‘Most of them consisted of only one room, in which the whole family eat and sleep; there is generally a truckle bed in the corner for the owner, or the grandparents but the other members of the family commonly rest upon straw or heather, laid on the floor, covered with a blanket, if they have one and the clothes of the sleepers..The Pig – the never absent guest – a cow if there be one – and occasionally a few foul, occupy the same room at night..The dung heap is invariably found close to the door – usually right across the entrance, so that a few stepping stones are placed to pass over it.’
Victorian Childhood, Janet Sacks, Shire Publications, 2010.
In 1839 Charles Cobbe of Newbridge House in Co Dublin was touring his estates in Wicklow and was deeply moved by the dreadful conditions endured by his tenants in their damp hovels. Shortly afterwards, he sold two of his most valuable paintings to raise money to pay for well constructed dwellings with slate roofs for these tenants. Many landlords and their wives did much to alleviate the suffering of those less fortunate than themselves.