Monday, February 12, 2018
Queen Victoria and Christian Compassion
Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth,
I therefore command you,
“Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”
Deuteronomy 15:11 (NRSV)
We haven't been watching the British series on PBS entitled Victoria. We started last year but I gave up on the melodrama about the British monarch of the 19th century and Ruth wasn't impressed by the beginning of the second season. We did stumble into an episode last evening and it was quite worthwhile. It explored one of the darkest eras of Queen Victoria's reign, the Irish Potato Famine. During a roughly seven year span in the middle of the century disease ravaged the staple of this nation of eight million inhabitants. Estimates vary widely but by the time of stabilization he population was halved either by starvation and disease (1-1 1/2 million and emigration (1-2 million). It has never recovered to that eight million figure and even in the 1970's the population was only around three million.
Back to Victoria! The focus of the episode was on a Church of Ireland (Protestant) priest, Dr Robert Traill , who served one of the most afflicted parishes where people sometimes died by the side of the road and lay unburied. Traill was initially fiercely anti-Catholic but put aside sectarian biases to work on behalf of the starving souls of the area. He wrote passionate and eloquent letters beseeching authorities to come to the aid of the afflicted
That's where Queen Victoria comes in, at least in the drama. She becomes aware of Traill's advocacy and gives him an audience. She, in turn, asks the Prime Minister to respond to what was one of the greatest humanitarian crises in European history. The British government had been fully aware of the unfolding disaster but chose to ignore it.
The historical Dr Traill is the great-great-great-grandfather of Victoria writer Daisy Goodwin who thought his story would be a good way to illustrate the terrible way in which the Irish were treated by the British government. Traill set up a soup kitchen in his parish rectory and eventually succumbed to disease himself, dying of "famine fever" in 1847.
What struck me was how overtly biblical this episode was. Traill quotes from Deuteronomy 15 and we are also given a snippet of 1 Corinthians 13 (the Love Passage) and a nod to the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.)
I think I've made a strong case for channel surfing here! Were you aware of the magnitude of the famine? Are you aware that there is a memorial to those who left Ireland on the Kingston waterfront? And don't forget the Heritage Minute about Irish orphans!