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The Superannuation of Catherine Caldwell, Nurse at the Omagh Workhouse, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland 1881

Transcribed, Compiled and Submitted by
Juliette Buchanan
Formatted by
Len Swindley, Melbourne, Australia


Catherine Caldwell was employed as nurse of the Omagh Workhouse for a period of 34½ years (commencing her employment during the Great Famine 1845-50) and both the following articles from the Tyrone Constitution reveal how much time and discussion was undertaken by the Workhouse Guardians in assessing her small annuity.

The Omagh Workhouse was completed in August 1841 at a cost of almost £8,000 with accommodation for 800 inmates



Extracted from the Tyrone Constitution (Omagh, Tyrone, Northern Ireland), September 23, 1881


The weekly meeting of the Omagh Board of Guardians was held at the Board-room of the Workhouse on Saturday last. There were present –

George Hall Stack, Esq., J. P. (in the chair), A.C. Buchanan, Esq., J. P., James Moore, Esq., J. P., Robert Sproule, Esq., J. P., Captain C. M. Alexander, J. P., Captain R. H. Ellis, J. P., Messrs. Robert Harvey, James Kirkpatrick, Matthew Guy, Charles Pollock, Patrick Ramsay, Francis Owens, Henry Owens, Robert Gibson, Owen McGinn, Claudius Martin, Matthew Rodgers, James Lyons, Thomas Kyle, Robert S. Clements, Moses Baskin, Matthew Patton, Samuel Young and Charles McFarland


In pursuance of notice Mr. James Moore proposed to grant from the rates of the union a superannuation to CATHERINE CALDWELL, late infirmary nurse of the workhouse. In proposing the motion Mr. Moore said he regretted the duty had not fallen into better hands. Their vice-chairman, Mr. Greer was to have done it, but his absence from home prevented him, and he (Mr Moore) had been asked to do it by Colonel Ellis whose absence, and the cause of it, were matters of great regret to the board (hear, hear). For the benefit of some young guardians who were present, he would refer to three cases of superannuation which had come before the Board. Two of these were doctors who were granted large superannuation allowances although well to do, affluent, having practice both public and private, and in good health. The other case was that of their late agriculturalist where salary had been £25 and he retired on an annuity of £34.

Now the case on this occasion he introduced was as different as any of the cases he had mentioned as night was from day. The poor old woman, whose cause he endeavoured to plead, if turned out had no husband, no children, no friends and she had been their servant for the long space of 34½ years. He did not know what were the circumstances of her coming into the house, it appeared to have been in the famine year, but no matter what brought her in, he believed she must have been an honest and upright girl for in preference to being a pauper, she sought and obtained the post of nurse. And if she did not do her duty she was then in a place where any shortcoming would soon have been discovered. There had been more than one doctor placed over her, and several clergy, besides the master and matron and the inspector. Never had there been a complaint lodged against her for non-fulfillment of duty. Her character must have been excellent or she never would have done the duties to the satisfaction of all. Nor was this all. For many years she had worked for £4 a year, when the guardians might have been paying £30 or £35 as in other unions. The guardians were empowered to give her two thirds of her present salary and perquisites which would amount to £26 a year. He would ask the board to give every penny of that sum. She had been employed at a very low salary, and it had only been in the past eleven years that her remuneration had come up to anything like what it should be. Not a guardian present recollected her appointment except, perhaps, his old friend Samuel Young, and even now she did not ask to be superannuated, her request was for an assistant which if granted would have enabled her to continue in the office. She had however been told that if she herself could not do the duties she should resign and the guardians would grant her a suitable retiring allowance. That certainly was an inducement for her to retire, and now after 34½ years’ service, spent amongst the sick and dying, were the guardians going to give her the superannuation that would keep her decently to the end of her life – which might not be a year distant, or tell her to go back to the infirmary, take one of the paupers’ beds, and there breathe her last. The guardians could never again, perhaps, get her equal, and none to surpass her. The Board then should act the part of the good Samaritan; the poor woman had no friend to look after her, she was going among strangers, quite helpless, and if she did not get a reasonable allowance, she would only be obliged to turn to the House and die there.

He moved that she be allowed £35 Superannuation allowance.

Mr. A.C. Buchanan seconded the motion, and said he could not add anything to what Mr. Moore had said.

Mr. Samuel Young supported the motion.

Mr Henry Owens moved an amendment that the Superannuation be £1 per month. He said that Mr. Moore had referred to previous Superannuations. Those Superannuations he (Mr. Moore) had opposed at the time in the strongest manner, yet on this occasion he was very liberal. He (Mr. Owens) had never heard of any man being so liberal to his own servant, but it was easy to be liberal with the public money. If the nurse had been a careful and good woman as was stated, and as he certainly believed, she should have saved some money. During her service she could not have received less than £300 from the Board. She had little or no outlay, and he would like to know what she had done with it all.

Mr. Patrick Ramsey seconded Mr. Owens’ amendment. No doubt the nurse had behaved honestly and well, but according to Mr. Moore’s idea she ought to live better than the majority of the ratepayers who help to support the Institution. He thought £12 a year quite enough.

Mr. Sproule proposed £30 a year as the sum. That would be little more than 1 shilling a day. He took into consideration her advanced age, her long service, and the fact of her salary being very small at the beginning.

Mr. Kirkpatrick seconded Mr. Sproule’s amendment. He would have voted for the motion had Mr. Sproule not spoken. Mr. Moore had brought the matter forward in a feeling and straight forward way, and he hoped no guardian would be so ungallant as to vote for £1 per month. For 34 years this woman had worked for less than half wages, and it was not fair to compare her to a servant who was taken from the market at the highest price.

Mr. Moore referred to an observation of Mr. Owens. He did not deny having opposed the Superannuations he had referred to, but he opposed them because they were given to those who were in no want, who had public and private resources and whom the act never contemplated benefitting. Here, however, was a poor desolate old woman of sixty-four without house, home or means of any description.

Mr. Clements enquired as to the Superannuation of a former nurse, who had retired some ten or twelve years ago. He asked what her annuity had been.

Mr. McKnight said it had been £6.

Mr. F. Owens asked if any guardians in the room had had a servant for 34 years would he give her an annuity?

Mr. Moore said none of them would surely let her go into the Workhouse?

Mr. Owens was inclined to think they would.

On the suggestion of Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Moore agreed to withdraw his motion of £35 and support Mr. Sproule’s estimate - £30.

A poll was afterwards taken with the following result.

For £30 – Messrs. Kirkpatrick, Patton, Kyle, Young, McFarland, Moore, Sproule, Ellis, Alexander and Buchanan. Total 10.

For £12 – Messrs. F Owens, H Owens, Lyons, Ramsey, Baskin, Pollock, Martin, Clements, Gibson, McGinn, Harvey, Gay and Rogers. Total 13.

Mr. Owens amendment (£12) was therefore carried.

Mr. Moore gave notice that on that day, fortnight he would move that the foregoing resolution be rescinded.



Tyrone Constitution, November 11, 1881


The weekly meeting of the above Board was held on Saturday last in the Board-room of the Workhouse. There were present –

James Greer, J. P. (Chairman), George Hall Stack, Esq., J. P., Wm. F. Black, Esq., D. L., Major Thomas Auchinleck, D. L., Major R. S. Hamilton, J. P., A. C. Buchanan, Esq., J. P., Matthew Anderson, Esq., J. P., Conolly M. Gage, Esq., J. P., Captain R. H. Ellis, J. P. Robert Sproule, Esq., J. P., James Moore, Esq., J. P., Capt. Henry Irvine, J. P., Messrs. Michael Rafferty, Matthew Rodgers, Robert Harvey, Owen McGinn, P. McCarney, Wm. Rodgers, Patrick Gormley, Robert S. Clements, Claudius Martin, James Woods, Charles McFarland, Stephen McNena, Samuel Young, Finlay Buchanan, Robert Gibson, James John Gordon, Moses Baskin, Francis McCrossan, James Nugent, Patrick Ramsay, Thomas Kyle, James Lyons, Matthew Patton, Francis Elkin, Henry Owens, Francis Owens, John Lammy, Hugh Graham and James Kirkpatrick.



Mr. Moore proposed his motion (notice of which had been duly given) that NURSE CALDWELL be granted a Superannuation allowance of £20. He said on the first occasion he had brought forward he had proposed £26 and an amendment had been put of £12. On the same occasion a second amendment had been made by Mr. Sproule of £20, in consequence of which he (Mr. Moore) withdrew his motion of £26, thinking the Guardians would have acted honourably and given the poor woman an annuity which hardly exceeded a shilling a day. This however, had not been done and the matter was again before the Board. He had already said all he could say in support of the motion; nurse Caldwell had been 34 years and a half in the workhouse; during that time she had discharged her duties without a single complaint, she was now in declining health but she was still willing to work, if she had been allowed an assistant. He did not intend to ask for more than £20 a year for her, and he would show what that expense meant, over the whole union. To a ratepayer valued at £10 it would be one half penny in the year, and so on. And the landlord paid the half. So the Guardians who went in for such economy would see what a large expense they were fighting against.

Mr. A. C. Buchanan seconded the motion on no other grounds than those of right and equity. An Act of Parliament had been passed to enable them to superannuate deserving officers in a way commensurate with their deserts and to give this woman only £12 a year, as was passed on the last occasion, would not be just to her, or creditable to such a respectable Board as they had in the Omagh union. Besides this poor woman was not likely to live more than three months (laughter).

Mr. Henry Owens said he went on the very same principles as Mr. Buchanan namely those of equity and right – some superannuated relieving officers who retired many years ago, were to die off immediately, but strange to say some of them were yet alive (laughter). If the gentlemen who were for giving a large sum were through the country like he was from time to time and see the difficulty there was in collecting the rates – some people unable to pay, others unwilling – they would not be so ready to give away large sums. This woman who was, admittedly a good servant, had already been fairly compensated. She had served for thirty-four years, at an average wages of £10 per year. If she was as wise and prudent as represented, surely she had put past something. What farmer at that board could pay either his father or mother an annuity of £20, if they had to superannuate either of them? He moved an amendment that the sum be £12.

Mr. P. Ramsey seconded the amendment, and said that on £12 a year the superannuated nurse could live as well as many of those who helped to pay her.

Mr. Clements regretted the Local Government Board had not taken prompt action before, instead of deviating from their usual custom of sending down a sealed order after the decision of the Guardians. He thought £12 a year a very fair sum. When soldiers or policemen were pensioned, their barrack accommodation, &c., was not taken into account. This woman got £13 a year from the Guardians when in office, therefore £12 was an ample superannuation allowance. With regard to Mr. Moore’s observation about the landlord’s paying half the rates: - it was true an Act of Parliament had been passed making it incumbent on the landlords to pay half the poor rate, but it was a pity that at the same time a law had not been passed to fix a fair rent (a laugh). It was all very well to say the landlord paid half, but he generally put a proper margin on the rent to cover that expense (laughter). After a little time, perhaps, it could be said that the landlord paid half the poor rate, but that time had not come yet. The wind however was blowing in that direction. He did not expect to convince the ex-officio Guardians of this, for it was always their custom to vote in a solid body, right or wrong, for superannuations. When, however, things came right, as appearances now indicated, and as they were bound to do eventually, there would be perhaps a wail heard at Jerusalem (laughter) about the unreasonable Guardians who voted the money away.

Mr. John Lammy suggested £16 as a proper sum.

Mr. Robert Gibson supported Mr Lammy’s view.

Mr. Owens said he would not stand in the way of a unanimous decision in the matter, and would withdraw his motion.

Major Vesey said he had come to propose £18 as the sum to be given.

Major Hamilton said he would second Major Vesey’s amount.

Mr. Gordon said if Major Vesey put forward his motion, he would move that the amount be £10.

The Chairman spoke in favour of Major Vesey’s suggestion, and a considerable amount of discussion followed.

Finally the question was put to the meeting whether the pension should be £18 or £16 – with the following result.

For £18 – Messrs. Graham, Kirkpatrick, Kyle, F. Buchanan, S Young, McFarland, Woods, W. Rodgers, Moore, Ellis, Irvine, Vesey, Gage, Anderson, Hamilton, Auchinleck, Stack, Buchanan and Black – Total 19

For £16 – Messrs. Lammy, F. Owens, H. Owens, Elkin, Paton, Lyons, Ramsey, Nugent, McCrossan, Baskin, Gordon, McNena, Martin, Clements, Gibson, Gormley, McGinn, Harvey, M. Rodgers, M. Rafferty and Sproule – Total 21

The sum of £16 was declared carried.

Catherine Caldwell, medical nurse, died in Church Street, Omagh, August 7, 1883 aged 70 years. Cause of death, chronic bronchitis


Death Certificate for Catherine Caldwell

Registration District of Omagh, Co. Tyrone

Reg. No. 83:

Date and Place of Death: August 7, 1883, Church Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone

Catherine Caldwell; female, spinster, aged 70 years; Medical Nurse. Cause of death: Chronic Bronchitis; certified.

Informant: Caroline Campbell, (X her mark), Meeting House Hill, Omagh, present at death. Registered

Dated: Twenty-ninth September 1883; Geo. Conlon, Assistant Registrar


And further readingWill of Catherine Caldwell, Late of Church Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland, Died August 7, 1883