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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 39

The Benevolent Asylum Inquiry

page 14

The Benevolent Asylum Inquiry.

In commencing the inquiry which we were requested to undertake, we encountered an initiatory difficulty in the absence of precise and specific charges concerning which the investigation should be held. Correspondence was placed in our hands containing sweeping and general assertions of mismanagement, tyranny, cruelty, and such like; but there was a want of necessary precision in details, while at the same time there was a jumble of irrelevant matter, which rendered it almost impossible for us, in the exercise of the ordinary rules for guidance in matters of complaint, to arrive at a proper comprehension of the charges made. We did not feel warranted in entering into a roving inquiry of a vague and general character. We hold it to be the duty of a complainer to state accurately the exact nature of his complaint in a specific manner, giving the time when, the place where, and the other facts on which he founds. It is only in this way that an accused person can understand and properly answer charges made, or that evidence adduced can be kept within proper limits. We accordingly selected a few special points for a beginning, and resolved to limit the inquiry in the first instance to the following:—1. The case of James Knight Neal. 2. Two sudden deaths—Tom Floyd and Henry Hill—on which no inquests were held. And 3. The case of John Rollins.

Mr. C. D. Hitchcock appeared as complainer, and was permitted to conduct the inquiry and to adduce such witnesses as he desired to examine. We found that he had a very strong bias against the members of the Committee of the Benevolent Institution, Mr. Hocken, and Mr. and Mrs. Quin personally, which warped his judgment in the proper management of the inquiry and led him into indiscretions. He apparently had no experience in judging of the value of testimony; nor did he seem to be acquainted with the ordinary procedure for expiscating the truth. In his eyes the testimony of a brothel-keeper was of the same weight as that of a respectable citizen. Every help was given to keep him right, but it finally appeared that unless we were page 15 prepared to sacrifice our own judgment and look at everything from his point of view, he considered us as actuated by partial and hostile motives. He was at last carried away by his indiscretion, and used language which we could not with self-respect submit to. For this he was requested to apologise, and he having declined to do so, we refused to hear him further in the matter. Anxious, however, that the investigation should not be checked, we agreed to examine any witnesses Mr. Hitchcock might tender, and even to allow him to suggest questions. He declined to proceed on the terms offered. J he inquiry was then brought to a premature termination; but before closing, an opportunity was given to Mr. Quin to answer the evidence which had been led, and to any other party to appear who had information to give. From the circumstances mentioned, the inquiry has not been so full and exhaustive as we could have wished; but in so far as regards the specific cases previously stated, we have no hesitation in affirming that there is no reason for believing that any blame is attributable to Mr. and Mrs. Quin connected therewith. Attempts were made by inuendo to insinuate that money had passed into Mr. Quin's hands and had not been accounted for. We are completely satisfied that such insinuations are entirely groundless. Every payment referred to was duly entered in the books and accounted for in the printed annual report, and we cannot condemn too strongly the suggestion made that there was any malversation, as on all the items mentioned the complainer might have satisfied himself by previous inquiry; there was no room even for suspicion. In the examination of one or two witnesses there was in the questions put a false suggestion thrown out that Floyd had committed suicide. A very little care would have enabled the complainer to ascertain the real fact—that Floyd had not committed suicide, but had died from the incurable malady under which he was labouring when he left the Hospital and was admitted to the Institution. In this point, as in others, the complainer was carried away by an undue bias which made him anxious that the facts should square with his preconceived but unwarrantable conclusion that there had been misconduct on the part of everyone connected with the Institution. We page 16 are of opinion that Mr. Hocken exercised a wise discretion in not holding inquests in the cases mentioned. There was no necessity for subjecting the country to the expense of inquests in these cases, and Mr. Hocken is to be commended for declining to hold them, although he might otherwise have pocketed the statutory allowance. The only matter with which we could fault is one for which neither the Committee nor the officers are to blame. A number of helpless incurables from various parts of the Provincial District have been placed in the Institution without there being any suitable structural arrangements or proper means for their due care. Such inmates would require one or more wards for themselves, and a nursing staff. There are other inmates whose failing energies ought not to be too much taxed with giving attention night and day to their helpless companions. Their rest at night must often be disturbed, and the want of proper ventilation must have an injurious effect on their health. We are of opinion that, in justice to the ordinary inmates of the Institution, as well as to the master and matron, who have quite enough to occupy their time in the management of the ordinary departments under their charge the incurables should be, as soon as provision can be made, removed to a proper hospital, where their sufferings might be alleviated under constant medical attendance and the care of trained nurses.

In conclusion, we cannot help pointing out that we think the inquiry a mistake in itself. We had no power to put witnesses on oath, and any of those examined might say what they chose without incurring the pains of perjury. We had no control over the complainer, except that we could decline hearing him further. As an instance of our being hampered and placed in a false position, the case of William Martin may be referred to. This witness made a strong statement in regard to the quality of the food. After his examination in chief it was only just that we should allow the Committee an opportunity to cross-examine; but the witness at once said he would not remain, and although specially called on to do so, he unceremoniously walked off. Mr. Tyree, who had been assisting Mr. Hitchcock, then said the witness had been instructed not to remain. Misconduct so gross, if it had taken place in a court of law, would have page 17 involved both the refractory witness and his instructors in well-deserved punishment. We had only the alternative of setting aside the testimony of Martin, contradicted as it was by other witnesses as wholly unworthy of credit. The fact stated, that the witness had been instructed, is sufficient to discredit the complainer's case. Tutoring or instructing a witness is considered to be a serious offence, and has the invariable result of destroying all faith in a case which is bolstered up by such partial evidence and gross irregularity. Moreover, the Benevolent Asylum is a voluntary institution, presided over by a Committee elected annually by the subscribers. The annual meeting is the proper place for making charges against the functionaries. The subscribers have it in their power to elect a special committee of investigation at any time. But we suggest that no inquiry should be allowed unless the charges are made in a formal and precise manner, so as to be fairly investigated and answered by the accused, according to the practice followed in the courts of justice.

We have finally to add that in the imperfect inquiry we have led nothing has come under our observation to lead to the faintest suspicion there is any defect or irregularity in the management, or to abate the confidence the public have placed in it. Limited to its proper uses, the Benevolent Institution is an invaluable charity, doing a large work in relieving the helpless and destitute, with comparatively small means. We think the Committee entitled to the warmest thanks of the public for their gratuitous and philanthropic labours, and we cordially recommend that their hands be strengthened by a greater interest being talen generally in support of the Institution.

John Bathgate

John Logan.