1800-1859 | Famine | Media propaganda

The Times warns famine struck Ireland to expect less relief

The Famine Monument - Dublin - Urko Dorronsoro CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.
The Famine Monument – Dublin – Urko Dorronsoro CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

30 August 1848

Lord Clarendon, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, writing about the political debate over how Britain should respond to the Irish famine of the 1840s, observed that ‘an extraordinary and universal importance attaches to the views of The Times.’1  The political elite would therefore have taken due note when, on 30 August 1848,  the newspaper published an editorial condemning Irish ‘treachery’, in the wake of a failed anti-British insurrection, and declaring that as a consequence, and despite the unprecedented famine that had already killed hundreds of thousands, Britain would be justified in cutting back on its limited relief efforts. It seems that the author of this anonymous editorial may have been either Charles Trevelyan, Chief Secretary of the Treasury or Sir Charles Wood, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  This was possible because, as historian Tim Pat Coogan revealed in The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy, Clarendon and Wood managed to broker the leakage of news to the newspaper in return for the government being allowed influence over its content.2

The Times thundered that ‘in no other country have men talked treason until they are forced, and then gone about begging for sympathy from their oppressors. In no other country have the people been so liberally and more unthriftily helped by the nation they denounced and defiled, and in none have they repeated more humble and piteous supplications to those whom they have previously repaid with monstrous ingratitude. As a matter of state economy, some relief will be given to Ireland, in case she needs it, but we warn that such relief will not be carried to the extent, or dealt forth, after the measure of former years.’ The newspaper also scolded past governments, for not spending more money, when tax revenues were stronger, on encouraging the destitute in Ireland to emigrate ‘to the distant possessions of the English crown.’3


  1. Lord Clarendon cited in Tim Pat Coogan, The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy, Palgrave Macmillan, London, p. 225.
  2. Tim Pat Coogan, Op. cit., p. 175 and 225.
  3. Untitled Editorial, The Times, 30 August 1848, Issue 19955, p. 4.

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