Reply to a previous letter regarding treatment of the poor.
Burying Ground._ Some discussion took place relative to the continuance of the practice of burying great numbers of bodies in "pits", as they are called, in the New Burying Ground ; and Mr Dron was called upon for an explanation. Mr Dron said, that all the arrangements as to the Burying Ground had been deliberately considered and approved of by the Council. The present discussion had originated from a communication in a newspaper ; and he should be sorry that the Council should be induced, from statements made by an anonymous writer, to depart rashly from what had previously been assented to. He intended to reply to the communication referred to through the newspapers ; and this being the case, probably the council might delay till such time as they had seen his views on the subject. If they considered his reasons unsatisfactory, they could alter their course accordingly. The discussion then dropped ; Mr Duncan giving notice that at next meeting he would make a motion on the subject, if Mr Dron's explanation was not satisfactory.
Present- Provost Kay ; Baillies Keay, Lawson, and Small ; Dean of Guild Adamson ; Councillors Gardner, Duncan, Ritchie, Kinmond, Keith, Dron, Scott, MacKay, Bruce, and Thoms. Absent- Baillie Anderson ; Councillors Carmichael, Brown, Taws, Boyack, and Fairweather.
Sir,- In the Dundee Chronicle of last week there was a communication, addressed to the Magistrates and Town Council, headed "Indecent interment of the poor." Upon this letter I beg leave to make some remarks ; and I feel myself the more called upon to do this, as, from my holding office of Hospitalmaster for some years past, and there-by having a general superintendence of the Burying Ground, and having advised the Council as to any alterations in their management or regulations, I may in some measure be deemed responsible for them. I think I can appeal to my townsmen, that I have at all times been a friend to fair and free discussion upon all public matters, and very much inclined to make allowances even when these discussions were carried to extremes ; but I cannot refrain from saying, that it appears to me that the effect and apparently the intention of the writer, has been to excite popular feelings against the Council upon this subject by vague declamations, and assertions and statements not founded in truth ; and in this he is the more inescapable, as the facts could of been got with very little inquiry.
The writer charges the Council with sacrificing the interests and outraging the feelings of the poor, by the present system of management and the dues exacted upon interments. To this I would reply, that, neither as a Town Council nor as patrons of the Hospital fund, were they any more obligated to provide new or additional burying-ground then the writer himself, and this transaction upon the part of the Council was entirely voluntary, and into solely as a public accommodation and not as a profitable speculation.
The dues of interment, notwithstanding the positive and repeated assertions of the writer, have never been advanced a single farthing by the reformed Town Council (but, on the contrary, upon two items, and those affecting the poor, have been reduced)- neither to cover the outlay of improving the old Burying Ground ; for that was more than defrayed by the ground that was gained by placing the headstones in regular liars- nor to pay the superintendent, for even under the close? Dynasty, as A.E. to show his acquaintance with classical slang, names the former Magistrates; for under those there was a superintendent, said the only alterations made by the present Council was to pay him a fixed salary instead of collecting his income by sixpences and shillings upon interments : As to making the Houff a "good paying concern," it never entered into the head of any member of the Council further than by better securing the revenue derived from it, by adopting a more correct and efficient mode of collecting the dues of interments, and by placing the sextons upon weekly wages.
The principal complaint, and that upon which he seems to expect to raise feelings of the public against the Council, is upon the mode of general or promiscuous interments. Now, this, so far from being peculiar to Dundee, is practiced in almost all large towns where the population has rapidly increased, and consequently grown beyond the extent of their places of interment, such as Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, &c. In the old ground this method was recommended by myself, from a conviction of its propriety and necessity, and I am prepared honestly to defund its modified adoption in the New Burying Ground, for the following reasons,-vis.
1. Because by this method the interments of the poor can be afforded at much less expense, and more regularly attended to.
2. Because by this mode the ground can be kept in a much more cleanly and proper order.
3. Because by it the feeling of the public are not so much excited by observing only one grave open, then they would be by seeing twelve or eighteen at once, as would be frequently be the case, from our crowded and increasing population.
I may, however, state that what A.E. says about "the pit being kept open till twenty or thirty poor are packed into it," is entirely false. The regulation, as regards the New Burying Ground (for there are now no spaces for common graves in the Houff), and which was openly discussed in the Council, is, "that, in those places allotted for the interments of those that are unable or unwilling to purchase family burying-places, the graves shall be excavated to the depth of eight feet, and that the bodies interred should be five feet below the surface." Now, as the three graves in breadth in those spaces are excavated at once, if the interments are all those of adult persons, this will only admit of nine, or at most of twelve, instead of twenty or thirty, as stated by A.E. So much for his regard to accuracy. It ought also to be kept in mind, that in the Old Burying Ground it is quite common for three bodies to be interred above each other in family burying-places.A.E. in his letter, puts the following question_ "Did you consult their interest when you sold the ground which belonged to the common gude to the hospital, at doubtless its full value, to be made to pay as well as possible to that fund as a speculation?" This insinuation is singularly erroneous. The facts are these : About two years ago, or rather more, the attention of the Council was directed to the necessity, as far as public convenience was concerned, of having a New Burying Ground, and the field in question was thought to be the most suitable and convenient : but, as the expense of enclosing and laying it out would be very considerable, there was some delay in commencing operations, and it was ultimately thought advisable to sell the ground to the Hospital, as there would be an advantage, as well as a saving, by having both grounds under one management, as to superintendent, sextons, registration, &c. The ground was then valued by the Town`s architect, at a very moderate price, upon the express understanding that the dues of interment should also be kept low ; and this has been the case, as the dues of interment are the same in both grounds ; indeed, the only advance made in any shape is a small charge for watching, after the Voluntary Association fell to pieces ( which charge was calculated merely to pay the watchman) ; and surely A.E. himself will not accuse the Magistrates of having oppressed the poor in this charge, since they make a rich man pay four times what they exact for the same service to the poor. A.E. Also blames the Magistrates for squandering the public money by their raising knows or hillocks in the New Burying Ground. If his candour had been equal to his desire of finding fault, he would of found, upon enquiry, that the amount of squandering was not as great as he thought, or wished others to think. In forming the walks it was necessary to take out the soft soil, to make room for the gravel, &c. ; and it was much less expense to lay this soil upon adjoining sections than to remove it out of the ground altogether, to the harbour for instance. What ever quantity of soil was required beyond this was brought into the Ground and deposited upon the places pointed out, carriage free ; so that the only expense was the wages of a labourer or two to spread and level it. Whether a level of varied surface was the best appearance, is a matter of taste ; and, in adopting either, the surface available for interments is the same ; but there is one very sufficient reason that will justify the bringing in all the soil that has been deposited ; and it is this, that scarcely in any part of the field could graves be excavated to the depth of nine or ten feet without meeting rock, large stones, or water. These difficulties were therefore overcome in the most economical way, by laying on new soil.
I shall only further observe, that the prices at present charged for the various classes of family burying-places have been calculated so as merely to cover the purchase of the ground, interest of money, enclosing, planting, and keeping it in order, without any view of making it a "good paying speculation;" but, if A. E., or any other individuals, are dissatisfied with these charges, the trade is an open one ; neither the Council nor the Hospital have any exclusive charter or monopoly ; and it is quite in their power to open a private or joint-stock cemetery at whatever dues they think proper, -a much more effectual way of assisting the poor than by the threatened public meeting ; from which, as the whole affair is a mere matter of calculation, the Council have no reason to shrink.
©Lamb collection. Reproduced courtesy of Dundee Central Library