The Register of Poor Admitted on the Roll of the United Parish of
Liff and Benvie
Nora Shapton gave the July 1997 talk on the wealth of information revealed during the work of indexing the one remaining register of the poor of Liff and Benvie
Nora Shapton, Friends of Dundee City Archives
The period which this register covers is just over ii years, from 29 July 1853 to 6 December 1864 with the first entry being numbered 756 and the last 2026. This means that at least 1270 people were recorded, but more were in fact affected since some people had families of young children dependent on them. Originally the records spanned the period from 1845, when a small lodging house was purchased in Lochee for the care of the poor, through 1864, when a poor-house was built where the Harris Academy annexe now stands, to 1914, when the Western Poorhouse (as it had become) served as a barracks, and sometime after the Great War was replaced by Logie school.
One of the reasons that this register is such a valuable record for the Archives to possess is that a lot of information is given about each person included. The headings in the register are as follows:
Place of residence
Reason for asking for help
Date of receiving help
Place of birth
Date when help ceased
Able bodied or disabled
Reason that help ceased
What help was available? For the period covered in this register it was either a payment, or living in the lodging house. Whether this was still the case when the larger purpose-built poor house was opened in 1864 is not clear. Since it could accommodate 200 people, perhaps money payments were no longer available.
Most of the people in this register lived locally - Scouring Burn, West Hendersons Wynd, Hawkhill, Lower Pleasance, Cherryfield are street names which occur very frequently-but the places where people were born give a different picture. Of all the entries in the register, those born in the parishes of Liff & Benvie or Dundee comprise 32%, those born in Scotland comprise 21%, those born in Ireland comprise 45% and those bom elsewhere comprise only 1%. It is interesting though that one of this 1% was born in Montreal and one in the East Indies and only eleven were born in England. Of those born in Ireland 90% came from the following counties (which are listed in order of diminishing numbers): Cavan, King's (now part of Leinster), Armagh, Monaghan, Londonderry, Leitrim, Sligo, Antrim, Fermanagh, Donegal, Tyrone.
A recent survey of similar records in Wigtownshire has been published, called Irish Paupers in Wigtownshire after 1845 (RH Campbell Irish Paupers in Wigtownshire after 1845 in Journal of Scottish Records Association Volume2 p 47) which shows that between 1845 and 1870 41% of paupers were born in their parish, 30% were born in Ireland, 18% in other parts of Wigtownshire, and 10% elsewhere. Despite Wigtownshire being nearer to Ireland the percentage of paupers born in Ireland was considerably lower than was the case in Dundee, no doubt because there was a better prospect of earning a living in the mills of Dundee than on the farms of Wigtownshire.
This is borne out by the trade which was given by the people in the register. The great majority worked in flax/jute related jobs-weavers (both hand loom and power loom weavers), winders, or the 'cover all' description of mill-worker. A lot of people were sack sewers, which may have been done at home rather than in a mill. Other trades represented are dealer in herbs, gardener, rope teaser, dyer, washerwoman, housekeeper, carter, mason, shoemaker, and farm-servant although each of these occurs only once or twice.
The most usual reason listed for applying for help is 'Inability to support self and family1. Among the specific reasons are asthma, insanity, and injury (especially among men). Among women there appears the occasional 'Husband in prison'. For children entered in their own right 'Mother in infirmary', 'Deserted by parents', or 'Orphaned' occur most often.
The time that people remained on the register varied from a few days to one or two years. The reason for leaving is not always entered. Inevitably a number died, as they were either ill or old when they applied for help. With others , the 'Husband returned' or 'Husband released from prison'. For some the phrase 'Struck off is used or in the case of one woman 'Struck off. Found to have money in bank'! For some, they just 'Withdrew' or 'Destitution ceased'.
The age of people in the register is of interest , and the table shows the distribution for both men and women. There are two age bands in which the difference between men and women is marked: 0 to 9 years and 20 to 29 years. Boys outnumber girls between 0 and 9 years, whereas women outnumber men between 20 and 29 years. For both men and women roughly 2% are over 80 years of age, an age considerably above the average life expectancy for the mid-19th century.
Altogether, then, this register gives an insight into one of the two parishes which comprised Dundee during the years 1853 to 1864. It shows what an influx of people there was from both Ireland and the rest of Scotland, but not the date when they arrived. If only this register was not the sole one to survive from the original records made what a picture we would have of Lift and Benvie from 1845 to 1914, a total of 69 years compared with the 11 years that we have.