Picturesque Dunedin: or Dunedin and its neighbourhood in 1890
Otago Benevolent Institution
Otago Benevolent Institution.
The old familiar averment, "The poor ye have always with you," has formed the basis of many appeals on behalf of the poor and needy, and the stern fact of which it takes cognizance—a fact that has asserted itself in every community throughout the civilized world—has led to the formation of those charitable institutions whose name is legion. In the very early days of the Province of Otago poverty in the strict acceptation of the term was unknown. The first immigrants were by no means in affluent circumstances; they were simply a body of respectable and industrious Scotch working people who had the hardihood to launch out from the crowded home of their fathers to make for themselves a home in the Britain of the South. After the first period of inconvenience arising from the complete change from the crowded cities and cultivated districts of Scotland to an uncultivated country still lying in its primitive wildness, the pioneers had at least a sufficiency of the necessaries of life. Their wants were few, their mode of life simple, and delicacies and "appearances," such as prevail in older communities, were not thought of by them. It is true that as time passed by, and the number of immigrants increased, the young settlement once or twice passed through a painful experience. The early settlers had no foe in the shape of a warlike savage to contend with, but they had their sorrows and difficulties and dangers nevertheless. On two or three occasions, owing to the non-arrival of vessels with supplies, the worst of all foes—starvation—cast its dark shadow over the place, some of the necessaries of life being absolutely unattainable. Salt could be, and was, extracted from page 184the waters of the bay by the homely and slow process of boiling in an ordinary pot over an ordinary fire, but flour and oatmeal could not be so easily manufactured. One colonial, writing to a friend in the Home Country, made the doleful statement, "There is but one barrel of meal in the place, and it is sold to people in trouble or for children at fourpence per pound. "We would expect to find that man breaking out into loud and harsh grumbling, or expressing himself in tones of abject despair. But no, for with glorious contentment he immediately adds, "But we are all very happy!" Things, however, assumed a serious aspect, and not a few were allowing the conviction to take hold of their minds that a terrible mistake had been made. Even then the voices of the unemployed, crying for work or for bread, were heard, and the Provincial Government were repeatedly under the necessity of placing men on relief works. One gentleman, who was a resident of Dunedin at that time, avers that more than once the office of the Superintendent, Captain Cargill, was besieged by numbers of the wage-earning portion of the population; and a copy of the little newspaper of the day contains a paragraph calling for a meeting of the labouring classes to take into consideration a proposal that had been made to charter a schooner to convey them to some other settlement, where they might have a better prospect of obtaining an honest livelihood. But these occasions were exceptional, and are not indicative of the then normal state of affairs. Of course, cases of need arising from sickness or accident or death now and then occurred, but these were readily met by the kind of tacit brotherhood and the neighbour liness that then characterised the community.
Anomalous as the statement sounds, grim want, in the true meaning of the word, did not appear in Otago until the discovery of the goldfields. By that discovery in 1861 life in the province, and especially in its capital city, Dunedin, was entirely changed. Ship-loads of immigrants of all sorts arrived in rapid succession from the Home Country and from the Australasian colonies. Within the space of one year the population of the province leapt from 12,000 to 30,000; and as a large proportion of the new-comers settled in Dunedin, instances of poverty soon became so marked as to attract attention. As might be expected, some of the new page 185arrivals—individuals and families—were penniless, and at once required assistance to save them from starvation; others were physically and otherwise unfitted for colonial life, especially digger life, with all its risks and hardships and exposure, and numbers of these required help; others, again, leaving their wives and children in Dunedin, set out for the goldfields, and some of these families were left destitute by the desertion or death of the bread-winners, and they also had to be cared for. These and other contingencies in connection with families and individuals, speedily arose, and simultaneous with the opening of the goldfields, and consequent tremendous influx of population, there were calls for the kindly assistance of those to whom the instances of distress became known.
The first public reference to the necessity for some general organization to meet the too rapidly growing poverty took the form of a letter in the Daily Times of January 6th, 1862, and signed "An Old Otago Colonist." As that letter was the first step towards the establishment of the Otago Benevolent Institution—as it was the little seed that developed into that philanthropic organisation—we think it deserves in extenso a place in this narrative. It is as follows:—
"Sir,—With the large accession to our population it will be evident to every one who considers the subject that there must be amongst us those who have arrived in the Province within the past few months a great many persons in distress from various causes—sickness being the principal. Now, Sir, I think the time has arrived when we, in prosperity, should do something to relieve the necessities of those in adversity, who in time of sickness 'cannot dig, and to beg they are ashamed.' It may be said that the hospital is available for such cases, but it is well known that that institution is of limited capacity, is always full to over-flowing, and a great many cases consequently are refused admittance. To come to the point, we want a Benevolent Society formed in Dunedin, having for its object the relief, after proper inquiry, of cases of distress. At present, supposing a rich merchant or fortunate digger desires to make an offering for charitable purposes, there is no authorised person to receive it or organized body to apply it. This, I think, is a matter in which the ladies of Dunedin and its neighbourhood could do really essential service; and, moreover, I am sure that if the case were properly put to them they would join heart and hand in the good cause. To make a practical suggestion, would it not be a good plan to have a fancy bazaar to start the proposed society ? I will venture to say that it would be well supported. I enclose my name, and beg to tender my humble services as a working hand to any who are willing to assist in the formation of a page 186'Dunedin Benevolent Society' Trusting that these few words will cause a move in the right direction, I am," &c.
(It may here be parenthetically remarked that several years after the publication of that letter, and when the committee and supporters of the Otago Benevolent Institution had a course of" usefulness to look back upon, Mr. A. 0. Strode, speaking from the chair at the annual meeting, and while giving a resume of the history and work of the institution from its inception, incidentally alluded to a letter he had written urging the formation of such a society. As the letter of "An Old Otago Colonist" seems to be the only one that ever appeared, it is only reasonable to ascribe its authorship to that gentleman, and to award to him the merit of having been primarily instrumental in bringing into existence that organisation which during the past 25 years has ministered to the wants of thousands of men, women, and children in adverse circumstances, and provided for many homeless orphans.)
That letter quickly bore fruit, and within a month of its appearance a number of Dunedin gentlemen met with the view of giving effect to "An Old Otago Colonist's" suggestion. The movement was warmly supported by the Daily Times, which, in its issue of February 8th, 1862, said:— "With a population hastily attracted to the spot to follow an uncertain pursuit rather than a steady occupation, many must be severe sufferers by non-success. At one time, when every one knew every one, it was felt to be a privilege, rather than otherwise, to offer assistance in time of misfortune. But now, when men are mostly strangers to their nearest neighbours—when each one endeavours to jostle the others in the race after fortune's favours—the game of life has lost its unexciting "live and let live" character; it is played with absorbing interest—the wrapped earnestness of those who stake their all on the hazard of the die. We can speak from absolute knowledge of much actual individual distress existing, which such an institution as a Benevolent Asylum would assist, in alleviating. Persons suffering from chronic diseases, not admissible patients to an hospital, convalescents recovering from lengthened illnesses, unfortunates deprived for a time of work and subjected to temporary distress, women deserted by their husbands and children by their parents—these are the cases. page 187which do occur, and without the aid of a Benevolent Asylum they must remain unattended to."
Two months later the movement started by "An Old Otago Colonist" took practical shape, and at a meeting held at the office of Mr. A. C. Strode on April 24th, 1862, the Otago Benevolent Institution was formed, and the interim committee then appointed at once issued an appeal to the people of the Province, and took the necessary steps to secure subscriptions and to obtain a measure of government support. The Times of the following day announced the fact, and stated that the new society was established on the most cosmopolitan principle, its objects being "to relieve the aged, infirm, disabled, or destitute of all creeds and nations, and to minister to them the comforts of religion:—
- "1. By relieving and maintaining in a suitable building such as may be most benefited by being inmates of the Asylum.
- "2. By giving out-door relief in kind to families and individuals in temporary distress.
- "3. By affording medical assistance and medicine through the establishment of a dispensary. [The necessity for this provision was obviated by the opening of the out-door consulting department of the Hospital.)
- "4. By affording facilities for religious instruction and consolation to the inmates of the Asylum."
The Times again warmly supported the movement, and expressing the opinion that "the most effective form of relief would be an institution subsidised by government, with an independent management, and with private subscriptions," and the belief that "the people of Otago are not hardened by prosperity into indifference to the sharp cry of misery and to the weak wail of helpless want," and would not "rest under the reproach that in a community of undoubted richness there was neglect shown to the claims of charity," the editorial conveying the foregoing information went on to say:— "The principle is a sound one of taxing the whole community for the benefit of the unfortunate amongst its number. Hence, in England, the Poor Law Rate. Here, with a revenue in excess of the requirements of the country, it would be folly to have recourse to special page 188taxation; but no one could grumble that out of the revenue derived from, and the property of the whole country, a portion should be set aside for the relief of the unfortunate…. The institution provides for the relief of the widest divided forms of want and distress. The wife and children unable to procure fuel will not be allowed to perish with cold; the immigrant arriving penniless will be enabled to get a meal and a bed until employment is available to him; the workman temporarily disabled will be able to get temporary relief; the convalescent will not be suffered to remain adrift on the world, unable, from the effects of illness, to cope with its stern necessities; and, lastly, the sufferers from chronic incurable diseases will be enabled to pass their few remaining days on earth, their pains alleviated, as far as can be, instead of being increased by want and exposure, and their religious wants attended to." The writer then leaves the issue of the movement "to the dictation of the nobler instincts."
Other meetings followed in rapid succession, and at a meeting of subscribers, held on May 22nd, at the Athenaeum—(then in Manse street), St. John Branigan, Commissioner of Police, in the chair, it was resolved that the Institution be governed by a President, Vice-President, Treasurer, and Committee of eight, to be elected annually. At this date the financial condition of the Institution stood thus:—
|Collected by Rev. E. G. Edwards and Messrs Strode, Douglas, Oswin, and Hardcaptle||£172||19||6|
|Proceeds of Entertainment by the Garrick Club, per B. L. Farjeon||64||7||6|
|Government Grant in Aid of Building||1000||0||0|
|Government Grant in Aid of Maintenance||250||0||0|
As yet such subscriptions as had been received were entirely from the citizens of Dunedin, but 66 lists had been issued to gentlemen in various parts of the Province.
In addition to the grants-in-aid of the building and for maintenance, the Government signified their willingness to grant a site, but ere that question was finally settled, there was vexatious delay and a considerable amount of parleying and of "hope deferred." The first offer of the Government comprised page 1891 3/4 acres of the Old Cemetery Reserve at the top of Rattray street, but the Committee decided that, while a piece of land 10 acres in extent was desirable, not less than 5 acres would suffice. On the strength of a promise from Mr. J. H. Harris, Deputy Superintendent, that he would recommend to his Executive "the placing of an amount on the estimates to enable the Committee to purchase an eligible site," the Committee called for tenders for 5 or 10 acres, not exceeding a mile and a half from the Octagon, but there was no response. The second government offer was the right of purchase of 100 acres of the Pine Hill Reserve at £l per acre, in lieu of the 1 3/4 acres of the Old Cemetery Reserve. The Pine Hill Reserve, however, was, after careful examination, rejected as a site, owing to its distance from the city and the difficulty of access to it, but it was ultimately secured as an endowment. Owing to the seeming impossibility of securing a more suitable site, the Committee then signified their willingness to accept the 1 3/4 acres at the Old Cemetery Reserve, but only again to abandon it.
While the erection of a permanent Asylum was thus delayed, urgent cases of distress forced themselves on the attention of the Committee, and they therefore determined to lease some suitable place for a time. In this also they were disappointed, for no proprietors could be found willing to let their buildings for such a purpose. Out-door relief, however, was administered to a steadily-increasing number of applicants, whose cases were carefully inquired into by a sub-committee. At the first general meeting of the subscribers, held in the rooms of the Institution in Parley's Hall, Princes street, the weekly average number of recipients of aid was stated to be 50, no fewer than 10 children being boarded out, and the amount expended weekly in relief was about £25. The report submitted at that meeting stated that "since the formation of this Society relief has been widely distributed, and in several cases your Committee has the satisfaction of reflecting that the existence of this Institution has been the means of rescuing many unfortunate persons from the misery and temptation to which their circumstances exposed them, of turning deserted and orphan children from the paths of vice, and assisting helpless women to maintain themselves in honesty."page 190
After further efforts to secure a suitable site, the uncertainty as to the location of the Asylum, and the inconvenience caused by the non-existence of something of the nature of a home, were at length brought to an end by the purchase, from Mr. J. H. Clapcott, of 8 3/4 acres on the Caversham Eoad for the sum of £600; and in the third year of the Institution, a wing of the Asylum building, designed by Mr. A. R. Lawson, was completed at a cost (including purchase of ground) of £3,114 7s. 2d. Of this sum £1,500 was furnished by the Provincial Government. As the years went by that wing was added to, piece by piece, as funds were provided by the Government and by public subscriptions, and now the Province possesses a Refuge for its aged, infirm, and disabled homeless ones, and also for a large number of orphan children, of which it may well be proud. The main building, a magnificent edifice, is built of bricks, consists of three stories, and when the western wing, now near completion, is finished, it will comprise 17 dormitories, capable of accommodating about 60 women; 5 dormitories containing about 60 beds for children; large sitting and sewing rooms for the women; dining-rooms for all the inmates, inclusive of the male adults (separate rooms for the sexes); hospital ward and two maternity wards; Kitchen, &c.; and master and matron's and servants' apartments. The Old Men's Home is separate from the main building, and it comprises 6 wards, with 71 beds; 2 large sick wards, with 34 beds; cottage of 4 rooms, with 12 beds; cottage of 2 rooms, with 6 beds; and cottage containing smoking and reading rooms and small separate apartments for 5 men. There are, besides, the necessary outhouses, including large school-room (also used as chapel and lecture-hall), playshed, &c. Altogether, the Asylum can give accommodation to 250 inmates.
It was not contemplated by the promoters of the Institution that it should combine a home for the aged and infirm and an Orphan Asylum as well, and far less that it should take charge of criminal children. But force of circumstances compelled the Committee to receive orphans, and by the "Neglected and Criminal Children's Act, 1867, they were for a time made the legal guardians of such children as were committed under the Act. In consequence of this, and because of the lack of the necessary accommodation, and much to the regret of the Com-page 191mittee, a good many destitute children had to be maintained outside. This inconvenience, however, was remedied by the opening of the Industrial School at Look-out Point, whereby the Benevolent Institution was freed from the onus of caring for young people committed by magistrates. In 1873 it was proposed by a number of ladies that a Foundling Department (presumably for illegitimates) should be formed in connection with the Institution, but the overture met with no favour, and was wisely rejected. Although the poor destitute and orphan children who found a home in the Institution were not embraced in the benevolent aims of its originators, the benefits conferred upon them were, and are, incalculable, and cannot be fully known. All needful provision was made for their proper training for lives of usefulness. In a thoroughly equipped school, with duly qualified teachers, under the supervision of, in the first instance, Mr. (now Dr.) Hislop, and latterly of the-Otago Education Board's Inspectors, good secular instruction was imparted; and as the children advanced in years, they were hired out to service, and until they reached manhood and womanhood a kindly control and care for their well-being in all respects were, as far as possible, maintained over them. In the fourteenth year of the Institution there were 25 lads and 13 girls out at service, while in addition, 9 boys and 12 girls had, in the same year, been adopted by respectable families. These numbers respectively have since then been largely added to.
At first, comparatively few persons required assistance from the Institution, but with marked variations their number rapidly grew, by far the largest proportion being children. The preponderance of children is, of course, explained by the fact that as a rule families left destitute, through the illness or death or desertion of the breadwinnners, were ministered to. In the third year the total number of individuals was 592 (27 men, 133 women, and 432 children), but in the sixth year it fell to 456, inclusive of inmates of the Asylum. In the following year the number (out-door and in-door) rose to 728, and increased to 1,171 in the ninth year. Two years later there was a fall to 788, but in the next year the number swelled enormously, to 1,730—more than double. In the fifteenth year there was another fall—to 1422—but in the year following the total rose to 1,551, and from page 192that time there was a steady rise year by year until the year 1888, when the total stood at 4,002. The variations in these figures are indicative of the varying conditions of the Province from prosperity to depression, and vice versa, in common with the other parts of the Colony. Times of depression are always marked by dearth of employment, when there is a necessity for charitable assistance, more or less, to those in enforced idleness. But the extraordinary increase in the number of recipients of aid from the Institution indicated in the foregoing statement was, no doubt, in the first instance chiefly due to the importation from the Home Country of many unsuitable and undesirable immigrants during the operation of the Public Works and Immigration Scheme. Drunkenness and the desertion of wives and children were also prolific causes of family distress; and during the whole history of the Institution scarcely a report was submitted to the subscribers without strong reference being made to the shameful conduct of dissolute husbands and fathers. Disabling and fatal accidents to labourers, while the railways were in course of formation, were also fruitful in adding to the number of the destitute. It is surprising to find that in the fifteenth year of the Institution there were no fewer than 80 widows and 266 fatherless children receiving relief, and that these numbers rose in the year 1883 to 167 and 448 respectively. In the second instance, however, the alarming increase in the number of recipients was the very natural consequence of the passing of the "Hospital and Charitable Institutions Act, 1885."
All things considered, the Institution has, from the first, well fulfilled its functions, and now, besides affording out-door relief (as per report for 1888, the latest published) to 4,050 persons, all told, it gives an Asylum to about 180 men and women disabled by age, disease, or accident, and some 60 homeless children, and, in addition, it provides all the benefits of a maternity hospital to women too poor to pay for medical attendance and nursing in their own homes.
Financially, the Institution from its inception had a somewhat hard struggle, and more than once, by reason of the bleak look out, owing to the many calls for assistance and the lack of funds, its conductors seriously entertained the thought of closing the door, but they nevertheless succeeded wonderfully, and far page 193beyond their expectations. Speaking at the tenth annual meeting of the Institution, the Rev. Dr. Stuart cheerily referred to its straitened circumstances and said:— "However dark the prospect seemed, it had always happened that funds were ultimately forthcoming. In the future the Committee would, no doubt, have similar experiences, and meet with similar difficulties, but they would also, without doubt, achieve similar victories." And they did.
As already stated, the Provincial Government, in the first instance, granted £250 towards the maintenance of the Institution. In the third year the Council voted £1000 for the like purpose, with a further sum of £500 towards the support of orphan and destitute children; the Government grant, thereafter, to be £2 for every £1 subscribed. In the sixth year, however, the subsidy was increased to £3 for every £1 subscribed, but the amount was afterwards reduced to £ for £. The public subscriptions (shillings and pence omitted) varied from £172 in the first year to £1,058 in the ninth year, and from £996 in the tenth year to £3,411 in the twenty-second year. In the twenty-third year they fell to £2,462, and in the year following, when the "Hospital and Charitable Institutions Act" came into operation, and did away with the absolute necessity for voluntary subscriptions, to £512, and two years later to £448. But as the yearly cost (all expenses told) far exceeded the subscriptions and Government subsidies, recourse to other ways of raising funds was necessary. These took the form of entertainments, bazaars, and carnivals. The first movement of the kind, in anticipation of, and to further, the formation of the Institution, and which yielded the sum of £64 9s. 6d, was the Garrick Club entertainment in 1862, under the direction of Mr. B. L. Farjeon. In 1864 a Committee of ladies successfully conducted a bazaar, which, with a concert and ball by Mr. Lyster, placed the sum of £1,717 in the hands of the Committee; and in the following year a bazaar, held in the Universal Bond, realised £1,026. In 1876 the opening of Guthrie and Larnach's large buildings (since destroyed by fire) was celebrated by a Carnival in aid of the Institution, £3,000 (with Government subsidy) being the result. In 1878 a second Carnival, held in A. and T. Inglis' premises, yielded £3,448, inclusive of subsidy. By a third page 194Carnival, held in the Garrison Hall in 1880, the Institution secured £4,594, including subsidy. Two years later another Carnival, held in Mr. Donald Reid's "Wool and Grain Store, resulted in the addition of £1,826 to the Institution's funds; and in 1884, the twenty-second year of the Institution, a Committee-in-Aid, directed by Mr. Vincent Pyke, carried to a successful issue a scheme, comprising concerts, lectures, dramatic entertainments, gift auction, &c. By that effort the Institution gained £1,661.
Though the letter of "An Old Otago Colonist" was fruitful in leading to the formation of the Institution, the suggestion thrown out by the writer to "rich merchants and successful diggers," who might desire "to make an offering for charitable purposes," has, as yet, been almost resultless. The only offering on a large scale was the anonymous but generous gift of £300 in the year 1881 from a citizen of Dunedin for the support of orphan children. Three years previously, however, the Institution received the large sum of £7,515 for investment, being a portion of the accumulated profits on deposits in the Dunedin Savings Bank. For this handsome donation the Committee were indebted to the Trustees of the Bank, and to the Honourables W. H. Eeynolds and Mr. (now Sir) Robert Stout, who carried the measure through Parliament. That the gentlemen in whose hands in the course of the years the affairs of the Institution were placed have wisely fulfilled their trust is evidenced by the fact that, after affording relief to many thousands of persons, and a home to many hundreds, the value of the Institution's endowments, as at March 31st, 1889, was £20,515. These comprise the Caversham property (on which stands the Asylum, Old Men's Home, &c), the Pine Hill and Saddle Hill properties, and investments to the amount of £11,910.
While a goodly number of the colonists gave fair support to the Institution as the years went by—some, indeed, more liberally than could justly be expected of them—many well-to-do settlers persistently manifested a disposition to ignore its claims. On this point severe reflections were repeatedly made in the annual reports. Such sentences as the following have a painful sound:—" There are some very wealthy people in this Province, in town and country, who have vast quantities of land, who do not contribute towards the funds of the Institution to the same extent page 195as people of far less means." "While many have subscribed, and do subscribe liberally, there is a large class of the community who contribute nothing towards the help of the destitute, the sick, the afflicted, and the widows and orphans." "It is to be regretted that a large proportion of the wealthy classes of the Provincial District do not subscribe, as reference to the subscription list will at once show." These are samples of the complaints made. This discreditable apathy on the part of men who ranked as successful colonists, and their unwillingness voluntarily to share the general burden, no doubt had something to do with the passing of the "Hospital and Charitable Institutions Act, 1885," under which authority was given to counties, boroughs, and road boards, to levy rates for the support of such institutions. By that Act, while, as was predicted, it increased the number of applicants, the scope of the Benevolene Institution's operations was largely extended, and it now gives relief to the poor of eight counties, twenty-eight boroughs, and two road board districts, besides providing an hospital for incurables, a maternity hospital, and an Asylum for orphan and homeless children. In this connection a proposition, made at the twenty-second annual meeting of the Society by Mr. John Bathgate (now deceased), may be noted. Deploring the large increase in the number of applicants for relief, and consequent increased expenditure (as in the previous ten years), in the course of which the outlay, all expenses told, rose from £3,030 to £7,868), he moved:— "That a memorial be framed andforwarded to the Government by the Committee, on behalf of this meeting, strongly recommending that an Empowering Act be passed, under which Elective Boards for the administration of charitable aid may be formed and incorporated in districts of convenient size, as regards area and population; that funds be provided by requisition on the local governing bodies within the area, who may be authorised to meet the same from the ordinary rates, or from special assessments; that unpaid overseers and assistants be appointed by the Boards, by whom all investigations shall be made, and relief, where necessary, distributed, as has been successfully carried out in Elberfeld (in Germany), New York, and other cities which have adopted the plan." Speaking to the motion, Mr. Bathgate said that the result of the scheme, as page 196regarded Elberfeld, was that in five years the number of paupers-was reduced from 4,000 to 1,500, and the expenditure from £7,000 to £2,600. Sketching the system, he stated that—" The town (equal in size to that of Dunedin) was divided into districts, and each had a certain number of visitors, and each visitor had four paupers to look after. The best families were called upon to serve, and they did it with the happiest results. In Elberfeld everything was scrutinised to the utmost degree, while, at the same time, a feeling of kindness and sympathy prevailed betwixt those who received relief and those who gave it. Parties-receiving relief found out in abuses were sent to gaol. The system had been tried in New York, Boston, and various other towns, with excellent effect." The motion was carried unanimously, and remitted to the Committee for consideration, but nothing further came of it.