This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page. #IUCRevisited
“It is a curious fact which I learned to-day from the Registrar-General, that the deposits in the Post Office Savings Banks have never diminished in Ireland since these banks were established.”
–William Henry Hurlbert
Hurlbert made numerous references to how deposits at local Post Office Savings Banks grew from 1880, the start of the Land War, to 1887, the first full year of the Plan of Campaign. He included a table of the deposits at a dozen branches in places he visited. The aggregate increase was 20,329 pounds, or almost 60 percent, over the seven-year period.
“The Post Office Savings Banks represent the smaller depositors, and command special confidence among them even in the disturbed districts,” Hurlbert wrote. “Yet in all these places the Plan of Campaign has been evoked ‘because the people were penniless and could not pay their debts!’ ”
Ireland’s first Post Office Savings Banks opened in 1862. As with the forerunner Trustee Savings Banks, these institutions were “partners in a great national movement designed to encourage the people to save, the emphasis being to save for a rainy day–sickness, unemployment,old age, etc.,” Richard Barry wrote in his 1956 article, “Savings in Ireland.” The increased deposits noted by Hurlbert could have been driven by savers other than tenant farmers withholding their rents.
Hurlbert met the manager of the Portumna Branch of the Hibernian Bank, who told him “there was no doubt that the deposits in the bank had increased considerably since the adoption of the Plan of Campaign [on a nearby estate]. Money was paid into the bank continually by persons who wished the fact of their payments kept secret …”
The bank manager said in some cases tenants allowed their agent to seize their stock and sell it to pay the rent. This allowed them to remain on the landlord’s property, and also avoid having to paying into the Plan fund.
Other farmers were victims of usury. To borrow small sums of money, they were required to have two securities, “one of them a substantial man good for the debt,” Hurlbert reported. These lenders had to be “treated” by the borrower with “a weekly sum for the countenance they have given him, which not seldom amounts … to 100 percent on the original loan.”
Five years after Hurlbert left Ireland, a second Home Rule bill was introduced in Parliament. One of the provisions of the legislation, which eventually failed, called for all bank business to be transferred to the proposed Irish government controlled by a new Irish legislature.
“For the first time in the history of the Post Office Savings Bank a decrease took place in Irish deposits, instead of the unbroken record of increasing deposits,” Irish Unionist M.P. Authur Warren Samuels wrote in his 1912 book on Home Rule finance, published during the third attempt at Home Rule. He described the 1893 deposits decline as “a striking instance of the distrust of Home Rule entertained by the small shopkeepers, farmers, domestic servants and artisans in Ireland.”
Though the deposit flow was the opposite of what he observed in 1888, Hurlbert, the anti-Irish nationalist, probably would have been smugly used the outcome to make his point.
NOTES: From pages 203, 238, 274, 328, 382, and 462-463 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Page 45 of “Savings in Ireland” by Richard Barry, in University Review, Autumn 1956, via JSTOR. … Pages 170-171, Home Rule finance: an examination of the financial bearings of the Government of Ireland Bill, 1912, by Authur Warren Samuels, 1912, via Internet Archive.
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Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan